Wyn’s interview on her writing, St Pat’s Day

Q&A: Bronwyn Rodden Interviewed by Pip Griffin
Womens Ink Autumn Edition 2024 (Society of Women Writers, NSW)

You had an intriguing short story, The Ritornello Principle in the last Women’s Ink. Does music have a strong influence on your writing?

I was fortunate to have parents who, despite very limited money, ensured we had music, art and literature in our home. My mother was an artist and four of my five brothers played in bands; one, Adrian, is a highly-regarded jazz musician. So, while I am not a musician myself, I enjoy a wide range of music and do find it influences my writing and art. The Ritornello Principle is actually a kind of defence of Vivaldi, whose music, despite being disparaged due to over-playing, is still incredibly interesting in its structure, inspiring reinterpretations, such as the Four Seasons recomposed by Max Richter.

 You’ve won many awards for your creative works across different mediums. What triggers your creative process across poetry, short stories, novels, and painting, and are there common themes or elements that consistently influence your work? Do you combine your art with writing?

I’m not sure about ‘many’ awards, but I’ve been fortunate to have won a few or been a finalist, which is really gratifying. Looking back, I can clearly see influences from my many ‘day jobs,’ including stories from people surrounding me. At times I’ve produced works from my emotional responses, such as seeing the enormity of the mining operations in Western Australia, which is hard to put into words, and which I found alarming at this time when we need to be so concerned about our impact on the natural world, so I created artworks around this.

However, I’ve also learned from many writers, from Shakespeare forward, the importance of a light touch and humour in work. Humour was also fostered in our home, with lots of word-play which I’m sure has its roots in my Irish ancestry. I’ve also drawn on humour in some of my artwork, especially, my linocuts which are often based on local yarns. I don’t usually combine my art and writing; I seem to be in different head spaces for these activities.

How have the different places you’ve lived and worked influenced your creativity?

While I enjoyed school and would have liked to finish high school (taking up a scholarship and two bursaries), I was the youngest of eight children in a poor family, so I was expected to start work as soon as possible. This was 1972. Women had only just been granted equal pay and there was considerable resentment about this. It was also a time of Affirmative Action and as a public servant, I was transferred into non-traditional jobs for women, which was at times very difficult. I completed a year of night school and left the city for the country when Whitlam’s TEAS scheme allowed me to attend college. Agriculture had vacancies and the first year covered mostly science, so I could perhaps transfer to another degree after that, but I found rural life fascinating and so I completed the course, gaining shearing and even some surveying skills, so unlike my own up- bringing on the city fringe. But I knew I was no farmer and instead found work in Agricultural Science, but when I realised that I was more interested in people than lab work, I moved back into the public service.

I’d always been impressed, however, with the resilience, innovation and long-term view of people who work on the land, something that was worth adding to the ‘stick-at-itness’ but not ‘big-noting yourself’ from my parents and ‘seize opportunities’ from my Dutch childhood friend Irene Sims. I decided that I would always seek out jobs that were of some interest to me, learning about many different lives in Corrective Services (including a role with the Women in Prison Program), and the natural world in the National Parks and Wildlife Service. I also worked with several Aboriginal staff in that organisation, which was a great learning experience. And I’ve been fortunate to travel, and connect with my family overseas, which influenced both my art and writing. Now I live on the Mid North Coast of NSW, Gumbaynggirr country, another inspiring location.

What inspires your crime writing? What motivated you to self-publish – can you describe your experience of it?

My first brush with crime fiction was competitive reading of our school’s Agatha Christie selection with Irene. But I have always read widely and know this is important for a writer. The crime fiction format is enjoyable for both the author and reader, and flexible enough to allow for a wide range of storytelling and characters. The Blue Mountains, with its exotic European architecture, grand gardens and World Heritage landscapes have been an inspiration for my mysteries.

After an evening college writing course, and some success in publishing in literary journals, I took a risk and left full-time work to study for my MA in writing, finally admitting that this was what I wanted to do, while still making art. Over time, I connected with other writers through that course, as well as groups such as Writers Aloft and The Poets Union. I was successful in winning some awards, though not a publishing contract. I thought I had a chance when Hachette/UQ selected my first crime fiction book for their Manuscript Retreat, and it was hinted that mine was one of three to be published. But then unfortunate circumstances at Hachette meant that they didn’t publish anyone from the Retreat that year.

So, self-publishing seemed to be my best option. It was liberating and has allowed me to publish what I like, while knowing the importance of a good editor or two if available. I have to acknowledge particularly my friend Janet Reinhardt (writer and artist) as well as my always-supportive partner, the poet and photographer John Bennett, for helping me with my manuscripts. If you want to sell many books, you probably need a publicist, although entering Indi awards is another possibility.

Does your creative process vary when working on poetry compared to crafting a short story, novel, or painting? Tell us about the form and themes of your poetry. Of all your different creative mediums, which form gives you the most satisfaction?

Recently, my focus has been on prose poetry, creating unadorned narratives around difficult subjects. But having said that, I also enjoy returning to word-play, and more structured forms in my surrealist poetry. I relish the freedom to move between poetry, prose and art, and can’t say which form gives me the most satisfaction. I think we have different parts of our creative brains and these enjoy working, whatever form it takes.

What are you currently working on?

Most recently, I was a finalist in the Newcastle Poetry Prize and have been focusing on two collections of poetry. I have also been invited to submit a poetry manuscript to a publisher and am putting together a new collection of short fiction, while having plans for some artworks based around birds. Also, I’m reading submissions for the Eric Hoffer Award (USA), for which I am now a first level judge.

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