The Night – Bronte Surf Club
We were thrilled to see over two hundred people at the book launch for Roland Fishman’s novel, No Man’s Land a Russell Carter Thriller.
The evening kicked off with three writers from our Fourth Draft-Pathway to Publishing Coursewho read from the novels they are writing with us – Fred Talib, Liz Stevens and Elizabeth Farrelly.
Thank you and congratulations to all three of you. It is not easy to put yourself out there and read your work in front of the class let alone that many people. The quality of your writing and stories really demonstrated the power of classic story structure, sticking with the process and putting in the hard work.
It has been a real pleasure to watch you all grow as writers and storytellers, and see your novels come alive on the page. Many people commented on how much they enjoyed the scenes you read and how they want to buy your books! It is what the whole Writers’ Studio process is ultimately all about.
Panel discussion – the process of writing No Man’s Land
After the readings, Sean Barker, the MC for the evening, introduced a panel discussion about the process of writing No Man’s Land.
The panel consisted of Roland, Kathleen Allen his partner at the Writers’ Studio and in life and who was integral to the writing of the book, and Nick Lathouris.
Nick is a former actor and well-known dramaturge. He has completed a number of courses at the Writers’ Studio, worked as a script writer for over ten years at Kennedy Miller Mitchell Productions and co-wrote the upcoming Mad Max 1V – Fury Road starring Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron.
Nick is also in charge of our Pathway to Screenwriting Course where he is tutoring our screenwriters to take their scripts to a point where they are ready to be sent to producers, directors and funding bodies.
Roland opened by saying, “Thank you so much for coming tonight. After spending so many hours sitting alone in front of a computer in a darkened room with the story running round in my head, it means so much to see so many people here tonight, turning up to support the launch of No Man’s Land.”
Edited video of launch
Q & A Panel Discussion
This is the beginning of a blog highlighting some of the points raised in the Q & A. The edited blog focuses on the lessons Roland learnt about the story telling process through the writing of No Man’s Land.
NL: Roland what it is like running writing classes for over twenty years and then putting a novel out into the world?
RF: When I created the Writers’ Studio I wanted to set up an environment where writing fiction made sense and was supported. I wanted people to feel safe to experiment, create, take chances and make mistakes. Which is very hard for most us, and is, I believe, an essential ingredient of the writing process.
Having said that, I felt a great deal of pressure to write a novel that did the Writers’ Studio proud. Particularly as the story is in a particular genre and I didn’t want people to think it was the only kind of story that our processes are suitable for.
And I must say, the quality and range of stories read tonight (at the launch) shows how the process of classic story structure works for all forms of novels.
One thing that has really pleased me, is that people said how they not only enjoyed No Man’s Land, but found the novel inspiring and useful in terms of writing their own stories and applying the Writers’ Studio principles.
And probably most satisfying was that after giving the book to a number of male friends, I was thrilled to hear that their wives had picked up the book and read it in three or four days and said how much they enjoyed it.
NL: Are there any key lessons you learned from the classes?
RF: There are three misconceptions around writing that the classes have really highlighted.
One, that there are only a few people who have the sufficient talent to write something worthwhile.
The very first class of our Four Week Unlocking Creativity Course debunks this myth and demonstrates that everyone who has a desire to write has the talent to write in a worthwhile way. When everyone first reads out their piece in the first session after applying the tools and techniques that help them get in touch with the power of their imagination, it feels like a minor miracle.
Two, writing a novel or screenplay is a process. This is something many aspiring writers fail to realise.
There is a notion that there are a few lucky chosen few who have the God given ability to just channel a novel and type it out as fast as a court reporter.
This is the fantasy of uninitiated. Just finding the time to sit down and write is not enough. As people discover when they do our Ten Month Novel and Script First Draft Course, a good story doesn’t miraculously appear by accident. It is amazing how far people’s stories develop as they learn the craft of classic story telling and work their way through the process one step at a time. The stories become progressively richer, deeper and more dramatic.
Three, that to write an original novel or a screenplay you need to do it on your own. Our classes show that everyone’s work improves dramatically through the constructive input of others. It is always much easier to see what others need to do than see it in our own work. No Man’s Land was no exception.
I am very fortunate as a person and a writer to have Kathleen in my life. She is my greatest supporter and harshest critic, often pushing me to the point of failure and wouldn’t settle for anything less than my best.
Nick turns to Kathleen.
NL: So what’s your experience working with Roland
KA: As you know Nick, Roland is brilliant at what he does.
And with No Man’s Land, he had an incredible vision for what was, on one level, an entertaining page-turning thriller with incredibly high stakes and a larger than life main character.
But on another level, and what excited me, was that the story had the scope to incorporate a complex love story, some history, some philosophy, some interesting ideas around religion, spirituality and faith which is very dear to both of our hearts and through different characters, we could explore various facets of Islam through the eyes of the fanatic jihadist right through to the peace loving highly evolved Sufi.
But having said that it takes a lot of craft, a lot of work, and a lot of creative tension and conflict to convert that brilliance and vision into a novel that works on these levels.
In many ways Roland is no different to the wonderful writers who come through our courses at the Writers’ Studio trying to actualise their own talent and vision into the story they want to tell.
NL: Tell us more about the creative conflict between the two of you?
KA: As we often say to the writers in our classes, and you would understand this Nick, it is very hard to be objective about your own work, and Roland is no different. Our process was he would write something and I would read it so we had an incredible amount of back and forth.
I am an extremely tough critic and I do expect a lot from him and would push him to the point of failure and I wouldn’t let up on him until he did his best. And as a sensitive creative writer, at times that was hard for Roland.
It culminated in a lot of ding-dongs, which were unfortunately played out in cafés across Sydney as Roland was desperate to get out of the house after writing for hours and where we looked like the most dysfunctional couple on the planet!
But he would get back on that writing horse and come back and back and back until it was right and that is what touches me about him. He never gives up, he never gives in and he never complains.
And sometimes I would read a piece and I would be gobsmacked at the beauty that was on that page and the depth I knew he had gone to produce it. It was a privilege to witness his growth as a writer throughout the process.
And ultimately the experience changed us both, didn’t it Roland? Once we learnt to put our egos aside and respect each other’s process, it bought us much closer together as a couple which is similar to what happens to Carter and Erina at the end of No Man’s Land.
Nick turns to Roland
NL: Your classes very much focus on linking the character journey with the action of a story? How did you come to write in this genre?
RF: The challenge when writing this kind of story is that it is very easy to create a story that is all meaningless action where the novel just becomes one damned thing after another. I find stories like this incredibly boring.
No Man’s Land started to really work for me on the page when I identified what we call the premise, which you are very familiar with having worked with George (Miller). The premise is the underlying dramatic logic of a story. It links the character journey, the action and the theme of as part of a unified whole. (For example when George Lucas set out to write Star Wars, he started with the premise that he wanted to tell a story that showed young people the importance of being aware of spiritual forces in the Universe.)
When I realised I was writing about a character who had lost his faith and needed to re-discover his true purpose in life, the whole story started to take shape and work dramatically. Every event in the story then linked with that overall journey.
NL: You also said surfing was a metaphor for the book?
RF: The starting point of the novel came from that moment in the surf when you paddle into a steep wave. There’s a moment where one of two things is going to happen. You are either going to step up and connect with the highest part of yourself, enter another dimension, make the take off and fly across the face or you’re going to choke, wipe out, fail publically and enter No Man’s Land.
I love characters who, when they come under extreme pressure, respond by digging deep into their values and acting from them regardless of how circumstances might affect them personally.
When I read or write about characters who are capable of making and then acting upon these elevated choices, I find it inspiring. It makes me feel good about the character, good about myself and good about humanity in general. To me this is the deeper purpose of fiction.
NL: Why did you come to have an Indonesian terrorist Clan at the heart of the novel?RF: Another challenge of writing a high stakes story like No Man’s Land is to make the motivation of the opponents or antagonists believable. If this isn’t the case, they start feeling like cardboard cut-outs.
The antagonist sees himself as the main character of the story and they believe their actions are logical and justified.
For a character to believe they are killing in the name of God is a perfect opponent for this kind of story. It raises the stakes and gives the antagonist’s action a logic.
Plus it dovetails nicely with Carter’s journey of regaining his faith over the course of the story and gave me the opportunity to explore different forms of spirituality.
Kathleen joins the conversation.
KA: When Roland started writing the novel many years ago there was no hint of a domestic threat of terrorism and most Aussies would never believe anything would happen here. And it worried me a little that readers wouldn’t believe the story on that level, which is ironic, considering what has happened in the last few weeks.
But you never second-guess what is going to happen in life and you just have to go with your gut and your passion. I believe that for most Australians, the Bali Bombings have been seared into our psyche and as we researched more about why and how that happened and the history behind the Radical Islamic Movement in Indonesia, which by the way has the world’s largest Muslin population at over two hundred million, it just became a fascinating topic to research and explore and from what readers have said to us, brought a lot of context and realism to the story.
Nick turns to Roland.
NL: I particularly loved the scenes in the surf and in the helicopter. When the helicopter crashed it would’ve happened in less than four seconds, but you managed to detail it over two chapters, showing all the intricacies of the manoeuvres and the choices and reactions of the character. I am presuming this was deliberate.
RF: Everyone has a great story in their head, but making it work on the page is the purpose of craft and where you need help.
One of the good things about writing a novel is you can really slow the story down and get a sense of action and reaction and dig deeper into the character.
I really tried to write the novel so the reader would have a strong sensory experience. So they would be in the surf with Carter, in the helicopter when it got hit etc. I wanted to make it so the reader felt they were in the scene and give them a strong visceral experience.
NL: Can we expect more Carter novels?
RF: I’m well on the way to the next one – this time I’m sending Carter to the outback as I want to explore aboriginal spirituality and their relationship to the land.
By doing a series you can really dig deeper into the character, their relationships and who they are.
I really love the fact that when I take Carter on a dramatic adventure I go on it with him. And hopefully, I give readers the same experience when they read the novel.
To find out more about No Man’s Land: