Archive for December, 2008

Should I write a musical?

Many years ago I co-wrote a musical for the children in my class. I wrote the script and a colleague wrote the songs. Together our classes performed the musical to the rest of the school and to the parents. Highlights of the play were shown on a national children’s television programme. Later the script was published in an Education Department booklet. It was subsequently performed in other schools.

A few days ago I had the brilliant idea for another musical. It would be based on the lives of a small group of hoon drivers who fight against an invading army using their high volume car stereo systems as a weapon. Eventually they are forced to head over the mountains to escape.

I’m thinking of calling this play The Pound of Music.

Learning the craft of writing

 ‘Creative writing can be systematically approached and successful work does not arise only from talent or inspiration.’ Hazel Smith.

 That is what I really appreciate about the Creative Writing course I am currently undertaking at university. While one of the incentives was to achieve my Master of Arts, the major motivational impetus came from a desire to improve my writing skills. I knew I could write; I’ve had quite a few publication successes already. (Read about this here). I desired to improve my chances of getting regularly published by improving my skills.

In the course I am doing the nuts and bolts of effective writing are taught systematically and with patience, understanding, appreciation and encouragement. Sure – it helps to have dollop of talent, a bucket of inspiration and a truck load of persistence, but the methodical approach to the teaching of writing has been so beneficial to me. I know many other students feel the same.

Doing a creative writing course may not be for everyone; it has worked for me and I would encourage all potential or struggling writers to at least consider this option. It is not the only way of learning the craft of writing.

How to learn the craft of writing – some suggestions:

  • Read: read, read, read – if you want to write fiction, you must be reading fiction. If you want to write poetry, you must be a reader of poetry.
  • Self education:  buy or borrow books about writing and study them diligently, applying what you are learning. There are thousands available, so be selective.
  • Join a writers’ centre or writers’ group: these organisations often have informative newsletters and run very useful seminars.
  • Attend seminars: seminars and conferences about writing are held in most major cities. Take extensive notes – and apply what you are learning.
  • Attend workshops: many writers’ groups run workshops where you can have your writing critiqued. This is an excellent way of honing those skills.
  • Search the internet: there are thousands of web sites just like this one. Many offer advice on being an effective writer. Apply what you learn.
  • Write, write, write: the bottom line is that regular writing improves one’s writing skills. Write frequently, write regularly and don’t give up.

Good writing.

Christmas Greetings

Christmas greetings to all of my readers.

I hope you have a great day with family and friends.

A Gift

Come to the fields,
Hear a heavenly throng
Praise our wonderful Father
In rapturous song.

Come to the stable
A wonder to see –
A child in a manger,
A gift given free.

Come to the lakeside
With the sick and the lame,
Hear all of those needy
Call His precious name.

Come to a hillside –
No glamour, no gloss.
Watch the Man who has died
Upon that stark Cross.

Come to Jesus, Christ Jesus –
No tinsel, no tree.
Just Jesus, our saviour
His gift sets us free.

Copyright 2007 Trevor W. Hampel.

All rights reserved.

Can writing be taught?

 ‘No-one can teach a writer how to write or how to use imagination, only life and experience can teach that, but he or she can and should be taught technique.’ Rumer Godden.

While I agree with this statement in general I do feel that many people can taught the basics of how to write. I guess that is what is meant by ‘technique.’

My response comes from many years of classroom teaching, where I took essentially illiterate children from ‘zero’ to ‘hero’ in two intensive years, or less. You can read all about my experiences here: The Power of Journal Writing – a Story of Hope.

Even people with reasonably rudimentary writing skills are able to communicate their ideas in written form. With intensive help they can improve their skills to the point of competency or even better. I’ve proved that with many of my students over the years. Sometimes it is a hard slog, but eventually the skills are developed.  Again, I guess I am talking about technique. Almost anyone can, with some effort, be taught how to string words together to form sentences, and to combine sentences to form paragraphs and put these together to make a story or article or whatever. If the student is also a reader, or exposed to good writing, this assists in this process. By reading good writing the student is exposed to how language works.

But can you teach someone how to use the imagination?

This is much harder, but I believe it is possible with most people. If the person is an avid reader this is made much easier. In the process of reading, especially fiction, the student has to use the imagination to appreciate the story. In the mind the reader can imagine that boat hurtling down the rapids,  that fierce dog barking at the intruder or that gun pointing at the head of the hero.

To use the imagination in reading a text is one thing. To develop the imagination in the mind of a writer is entirely another thing. This was where I must admit that I struggled as a teacher of writing. Some people have naturally fertile and creative imaginations, especially young children. Somewhere in the process of becoming an adult, people lose that imaginative sparkle. Keeping that sparkle alive is what every writer needs. Again, an active reading life can help.

Getting the first idea

What I have most commonly encountered is people who just cannot come up with that new idea, that first spark that will lead to a story. That is why I have developed many short story starters on this blog. Use these ideas for writing to get those creative juices flowing. Use them to inspire you to write short stories – or even a novel or two. You are free to use them however you please. Already I’ve received feedback from writers who have used them effectively in their own writing. Sometimes all you need is a small spark to get your imagination’s engine firing.

Good Writing.



Review: “The Well” by Elizabeth Jolley

Novel: The Well by Australian Author Elizabeth Jolley

I came to this novel with eager anticipation. I had read some short biographical articles about the life and work of Elizabeth Jolley and seem to recall seeing her interviewed on television some years ago. I knew of her reputation as a writer and the long period of apprenticeship she served before being regularly published and acknowledged as a skilful writer. Getting recognition so late in life gives some of us writers renewed hope! I can only ever recall reading a few of her short stories before attempting this novel.

I read this novel in just a few sittings over three days. Despite the fog in my brain, the coughing, wheezing, sneezing and other nasty symptoms not worthy of mention here, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. The exciting first chapter gives us the mystery on which the whole story unfolds. I found it an interesting technique to have this chapter first, followed by the background story leading up to that fatal moment when Katherine hits the man on the track with the ute. Including the accident in just the first few pages hooks the reader into reading on to discover what happened next. Mind you, it takes the entire novel to find out, but that is clever writing.

I found that the brooding mood of the first half of the novel totally compelling reading. It was like observing two lives thoroughly absorbed in one another. I could almost not imagine Hester and Katherine without each other. They each depend heavily on the other for support. Each of them would hardly exist without the other. Into this almost blissful, isolated and protected environment, Jolley introduces three wedges, each of which, in turn, destroys the almost symbiotic relationship between the two main characters.

The first is Hester’s friendship with Hilde when she was much younger. This overshadows her relationship with Katherine, always bringing comparisons between them. I had the impression that Hester couldn’t decide which she loved the most.

The second wedge occurs when Katherine receives a letter from her former school friend Joanna. This friendship brings a new threat to Hester who fears that it will come between her and Katherine. She fears the influence of Joanna on Katherine. She desperately clings to Katherine, all the time fearing that she will one day marry and leave Hester.

This threat is further accentuated by the man killed in the accident on the track. They bundle him into the well, but then Katherine imagines he is talking to her, promising to marry her when she gets him out of the well. This is the third wedge driven between them. Hester’s closeted and cosseted existence was threatened by his appearance. It matters not whether he was dead or alive; his appearance had stirred feelings within Katherine that threatened Hester.

In the latter half of the story both main characters slide into a desperate and dark world of confusion, change, threats and accusations. Jolley skilfully destroys the safe world of the first half of the story and each of the characters begins a downward spiral fed almost entirely by their imaginations.


Jolley, Elizabeth, 2007, The Well. Penguin, Camberwell.