Sometimes you need a reminder of the power of creativity.
Sometimes you need a reminder of the power of creativity.
Here’s the full cover of my upcoming novel ‘One’ – looking pretty good if I do say.
“Andrew Hutchinson’s One is a compelling and unsettling novel. The control and the lucidity of the writing are formidable, and Hutchinson never once lets the narrative force lessen: the directness of the prose keeps us riveted and keeps us frightened. And we are always aware that beyond the engrossing story that the novel is opening up crucial and complex questions about memory, obsession, grief and love. This is a stunning book and Hutchinson is a stunning writer.”
It’s getting real now.
With the first hours of 2018 almost upon us, it seems like a good time to take a moment to reflect on the year that was in cinema, and the best things that I got a chance to see over the last 12 months.
It’s an interesting time for movies. Advances in TVs and home cinema have somewhat lessened the value of the big screen experience – why pay to go to the movies when you can get much the same experience by staying in the comfort of your own home?
This is not a new phenomenon, of course, it’s been this way for the last five or so years, but it seems like 2017, more than any other year, saw studios putting all of their focus on big budget movies – those which are able to provide an experience that you can’t re-create at home. Which has seen arthouse films losing out.
Many of those directors who would be making more niche hits are now shifting across to Netflix and other providers, giving us TV shows like Stranger Things, which may once have been a breakthrough indie film. Yet at the same time, while smaller productions seem have been getting less exposure, a recent raft of disappointing big-budget films may herald a new wave of creative, inventive cinema, and force production houses to re-think their creative process.
That, I think, has been somewhat exemplified in the top films I’ve seen. Here’s my top five from the past year.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Technically, Arrival came out in 2016, but I only caught it early in January, and even now, it stands out as one of the best films I’ve seen in recent times.
I’ve written about how much I love Denis Villeneuve’s work before, with both Enemy and Prisoners being stand outs (Enemy is far more divisive, but it’s one my favourite movies ever). Arrival showcases the best of his abilities, with an intriguing story (based on a short story called ‘Story of Your Life’ by Ted Chiang) which enables Villeneuve to shift his narrative structure for the biggest emotional impact.
Directed by Greta Gerwig
There’s a lot of hype around this film, and it’s totally justified. Lady Bird is a reminder of how great cinema can be, of the emotional impact of the medium.
The film tells a simple story, but captures each key moment in a relatable, intimate, and affectionate way, which invites the audience in to share the experience – an experience which everyone can relate to on some level. A must-see that likely won’t be playing in your local Hoyts.
Directed by Craig Gillespie
I have to admit, I would not have picked Margot Robbie to become the force she has developed into. Not only is her performance stand out in this film, but she also co-produced, further building her brand.
Everyone knows the story of Tonya Harding on some level, which, if anything, makes it more difficult for I, Tonya to succeed, because you know where it’s headed. But Gillespie’s direction – which reminded me of how Andrew Dominik approached ‘Chopper’ in many ways – elevates it, and along with Robbie’s performance, makes it a stand out.
Directed by Patty Jenkins
After seeing Wonder Woman, my first response was that they should give all the superhero movies to Jenkins. The pacing, story and development is exactly what a big-budget blockbuster should be.
Sure, it’s a Hollywood movie, so it sticks to familiar beats, but Wonder Woman has succeeded where so many other Marvel/DC movies have fallen short. In a year of major disappointments on this front, Wonder Woman stands out – the major producers should be taking notes.
Directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina
Again, with so many big studios falling short in the narrative elements of their films, Pixar shows us what good storytelling is all about.
In fact, Pixar have got the process so down-pat that you pretty much expect it, but still, Coco manages to remain fresh, and highly relevant, despite following the familiar Hero’s Journey structure which has been Disney’s staple.
Those are the ones that stood out most for me this year – though admittedly I haven’t caught everything I would have liked (I haven’t seen ‘The Shape of Water’, ‘Call Me By Your Name’ or ‘Get Out’, all of which have been highly praised and I have been meaning to check out). But even so, the films I have seen have highlighted to me that there are new sparks of life within the cinema landscape, that deserve attention beyond the mainstream sequels and prequels and adaptations. The positive to those films falling short is that it’ll provide more opportunity for new voices, while the expansion of alternative platforms will also enable greater opportunities for good, original stories.
Is your writing story-driven or purpose-based? Do you start with a story in mind or a message, a topic or idea you want to explore?
I guess, both can come concurrently, but when I write, I’m always first driven by a question – ‘how does that happen?’ – then the story develops from that initial seed.
For example, my first novel Rohypnol is about a group of guys who drug and rape girls at nightclubs – that idea came about because I’d heard and read reports of an increasing number of drink-spiking cases in Melbourne, where I lived, and I couldn’t understand why someone would want to do that. Adding to this, there was a notorious case of a group of gang rapists in Sydney, which I was even more confused about – that one person would do such a thing was horrendous, but that a group could do the same together, and not one of them stopped it, that was even more confounding.
That then lead to me trying to imagine a possible scenario where something like this could occur, to try and understand what was happening, why it would happen. Now, there’s always going to be nuance and variability within any story, you can’t possibly explore every element, particularly of such a terrible crime, as it’s beyond the realm of most people’s understanding. But what could lead to that thing occurring?
A simple newspaper headline is never the story, and the only way make sense of anything, even something you might find horrific, is to contemplate it. For me, writing is thinking, clarifying my thoughts, trying to understand more of the world and the people within it.
For my second novel, One, I wanted to explore the extremes people go to when they’re in love, the fact that some people will destroy their own lives, will risk everything for even the basic acknowledgment of another.
In another, in progress, story, I’m looking at the illusion of control, how things can change in a moment, and how your past defines your future more than you think.
For me, it’s important to have these defining purpose objectives to keep my story on track. While you might want to explore certain developments or character shifts, it’s also important to remember what it is you’re trying to achieve, when you’re trying to say, and what you want to leave your reader with. Story is still absolutely crucial – you’re not going to be able to deliver any message without a compelling narrative – as is the writing itself, ensuring each sentence works within itself, and maintains the flow of the character voice, or voices.
This also helps when you find yourself stuck and/or struggling to resolve plot points – going back to the core message can help you re-frame your work and see it in terms of what you want to communicate.
That’s not to say this is the only way to write – everyone has a different approach, and different objectives with their work – but I think most authors will find, at some stage, that there’s a clear message they want to explore, an idea that best captures the core of what the story is about, even if that’s not how they initially started out working on it.
And once you do find it, that core, driving element, it can greatly help clarify and solidify your work.
Looking forward to 2018.
One of the hardest things about writing, and creating an honest, true to life story, is that you have to include personal details. But how much personal info is too much – and what happens when people recognize themselves in your work?
Personally, I’ve never had anyone say they recognize themselves in my stories – or at least, not accurately. Some people have suggested that ‘character X is John’ and they’ve been wrong, but definitely there are some characters in my work who are based on real people that I had in mind when writing.
The tricky part is, how can you create an authentic character – who, ideally, lives and breathes beyond the page – without referencing your own experience? And really, you can’t. Your perspective is what makes your writing what it is, so you need to establish the balance of knowing what the character would do in a situation, and not what you, or someone you know, would do, or has done. And you can only do that through your understanding of people, which is informed by your experience.
This was more of a consideration with ‘One’, as it explores relationships, and how the character has responded to them. None of his responses were my own (I don’t think), but I can see how people might have got to certain points in their relationships, so it is, in part, built around the framework of my own history.
That’s concerning because people will read it, people will read into it, friends and ex-partners will see themselves, whether it’s there or not.
But the thing is, you have to be honest. You have to put your heart on the line, to a degree, and go with the pull of the story. At times, that’s going to be uncomfortable, but shared experience is what all good writing is. Even science fiction and fantasy stories work based on mutual understanding, on being able to capture a mood and re-create the emotion of the scene within the reader. They can only do that because you’ve shared something real through your words – and often, that ‘realness’ will be based in your own perspective.
It’s always a delicate balance, but you have to be honest, and put that out there, to create truly resonant work.
Music has always been one of my keys to writing. Not in a ‘while writing’ sense, as it’s too distracting, but when coming up with scenes and ideas, I’ve often been inspired by a song, or had a track embed itself as the soundtrack for my imagined scene.
I think this partly comes back to when I was growing up. I lived in Kinglake, which is just over an hour outside of Melbourne, but it’s fairly isolated. Because of this, if you ever wanted to go anywhere to catch up with friends, or do pretty much anything, you had to drive.
The drive becomes automatic after a while, you just cruise through, and while I was on those daily two-hour return trips, that became my prime thinking time, piecing together stories. And because I’d be listening to music, that music would then sometimes inform a certain scene or sequence.
I still have several songs that, when I listen to them, I can see a scene playing out in my head, or imagine where they fit in a certain story. At times, it’s helped add pace or heighten tension in time with the rhythm.
And of course, I wouldn’t assume I’m unique at all in this regard – I’m sure plenty of writers use music and certain songs to inspire their work. But if you haven’t, it’s worth trying out. You don’t want to get totally tied to a track or driven by its progression, but maybe try to think about what visual sequence best goes with the song, what story comes through, without being necessarily guided by the lyrics.
As some of you may recall, back in 2007 I wrote a novel. And it did reasonably well, in relative terms – it sold okay, it won some awards. Some people liked it, some didn’t – but at the end of the day it was, in my opinion, the best it could be, in terms of story and structure. And it was a dream come true – I’d always wanted to write a book and be on the shelves with those other real authors on bookshelves. And I did it.
At that time, my publisher asked if I had anything else. And I did – I’d been working on an idea for my second novel for some time, and I put it all together, locked down a first draft and sent it through.
Except, it wasn’t very good.
There are several reasons for this – the biggest one, I think, is imposter syndrome, thinking I wasn’t good enough. The best explanation I can give is this – when my first novel came out, I was asked to speak on a panel at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival. The panel was on… actually I don’t remember what it was on, but it was an academic sounding subject to which my book was tangentially related. And I studied for it, I researched, I wrote an in-depth speech that I felt fit the theme.
I did all this because people were paying for tickets to this, people were paying to hear authors talk – real people paying real money to hear real authors. And I wasn’t so confident that I was the latter.
Everything I said, everything I did around that time was all prefaced with the thought that I had to sound smart. I had to sound like a real author, like someone who knows what he’s talking about.
But I was a real author. I had written a book. I knew exactly how to write, and exactly why I wrote it. Yet, for some reason, that didn’t feel like enough.
This feeling pervaded into my second novel – my first book was an experiment, a test of sorts, to see if I could actually do it. If I could put together a reasonably compelling story and a few of my friends liked it, that’d be great. Actually, before I signed a publishing contract, I was pretty much consigned to the fact that it would only ever be an experiment. I’d sent it to a couple of publishers, a couple of competitions, with no idea what else to do with it. It had been a couple of months, I’d not heard anything. I thought maybe that was it, onto the next.
But because that’s how I approached it, there was no pressure, there was no concern, I didn’t feel like it had to be anything it wasn’t. The second time around, this manuscript was going to real publishers, it was all set on a clear track to be published. It had to be good.
That self-made pressure made it almost impossible to write. I had a draft, I had an idea of what I was aiming for. But I was trying too hard to be something I wasn’t, to be a published, award-winning author, rather than just letting myself breathe and create.
And it became stifling.
There were other things along the way – my day job, getting married, having kids, all the regular challenges. But the real challenge was imposter syndrome, heaping pressure on myself. No one else did this. It was all in my head.
But I never gave up.
People would sometimes ask why I stopped. I didn’t. I never have, and never could. Writing is part of who I am, it’s something I can’t help doing. I’ve always been writing, I’ve always been thinking of stories, of characters and angles and plot points. I’ve written a heap of things in the last decade, various pieces of fiction that have been published in literary journals and such, and an inordinate amount of non-fiction that’s posted all over the web. Writing is what I do – it’s not even really a choice. And I continued to develop and evolve the story of my second novel, till I got it out.
And now it’s done.
My second novel, ‘One’ will be published in 2018. It took me stripping it back to its core principles and messages and re-starting the whole thing – I doubt a word of that initial draft I put together has made it through. I kept poking at it, kept thinking it through, kept writing till it all became clear. And I’m immensely proud of the result – not just for my sake, but for the sake of my editor and publisher, and anyone else who’s given their time to offer feedback who’ve helped me refine it into what it is.
It’s a lot different from my first novel, hopefully a lot better. It explores the challenges of all-consuming relationships and how they shape who we are.
If you’re looking for something to read, give it a shot and let me know what you think – more release info here.
For those unaware, my first novel was published in 2007. It’s a long time ago, I understand if you forgot.
I’d launched my first novel at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival in 2007, and after it came out, the natural query from a lot of people was ‘what’s your next one?’ But obviously, I haven’t published another book since. So what’s the deal?
Eventually, people stop asking if you’re writing anything else, then they forget you wrote anything at all – the momentary shine of being a published author dulls pretty quick (and reminding people of the fact just doesn’t cut it the same).
The next question people ask me is why I stopped – ‘why did you stop writing? Why’d you give it up?’
The truth is, I didn’t. I just stopped writing anything good enough.
The truth is, being a writer is part of who I am – I’m always writing, even at times I’ve got other things on. I’m always taking notes and putting down words, hoping they’ll all come together. Writing, for me, is not really a choice – I write because it’s part of who I am, and how I make sense of what’s happening.
That’s actually how I first learned that I was, or am, a writer, that this is what I wanted to do. After finishing high school, tertiary courses hadn’t grabbed me, and none of the subjects illuminated some clear career path in my head. I ended up working full-time, in a job that didn’t really have a future for me. And yet, every night, after I’d gone home, I was writing.
Now, what I was writing at the time ended up being junk – I wanted to write a novel but had no idea what I was doing. But it showed me that, despite everything, writing was what I wanted to do, what I did, almost in spite of myself.
I have countless notepads and loose pieces of paper floating around at all times, I’m always noting things down or imagining stories based on things I see and do. I’ve never stopped writing, and I can’t imagine I ever will, but I just, kind of, lost momentum for a moment, caught up in day-to-day stuff and not really able to give it the focus I wanted.
But I never stopped writing. I never stop.
And soon I’ll have something new to show for it.
I haven’t posted anything here in quite some time.
There is a reason for that.