Writing Processes & Advice with Steve Toltz at Brisbane Writers Festival

Steve Toltz is a Sydney born Australian author who currently resides in New York. Originally a small time film director, his first novel, A Fraction of a Whole, received critical acclaim when it was shortlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize and the 2008 Ned Kelly Award in the same year it was published. The event, ‘In Conversation With Steve Toltz’, was a discussion between Toltz and creative writing lecturer Venero Armanno about Toltz's latest novel, Quicksand as part of the Brisbane Writers Festival.

Steve Toltz-author-guardian

Author Steve Toltz. Image Credit: David Maurice Smith for the Guardian.

The discussion between Toltz and Armanno tended to focus on the themes and inspirations of his novels. Revealing a universal theme of ‘fear’ featured in both novels and a possible third, with ‘the fear of death’ as the theme in A Fraction of a Whole and ‘the fear of life’ in Quicksand. Toltz explained that the title of his second novel, Quicksand, was chosen because the mainstream interpretation matched its theme.

The more you struggle the further you sink’, he explained.

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Toltz described the novel as a ‘spiritual biography’, meaning that everything comes from his perceptions of certain events rather than describing them from life experience. For example, Toltz found the inspiration for a particular character in his new novel after spending time in hospital, however, the character is in hospital for a very different reason.

When asked about his writing process, he replied with the following:

Writing is a process of understanding. It is a joy of discovering and a joy of invention.’

He went on to say that he only used a notebook 5% of the time and that most of his work came out in composition. Even going so far as to admit that Quicksand had a 25 page poem because that was the best way he could describe that particular situation. Toltz added that this had become part of his writing style and that the humour in his novel stemmed from this. As a result, description has always been the most difficult aspect of writing for him.

Sometimes I think that if I was a good writer I would write a description here, so that is what I do.’

No person is without weakness or sense of self and Steve Toltz communicates this perfectly. The importance of theme and individuality is an aspect of writing that is sometimes lost. Toltz writes in the style that suits him best and is probably the most important topic of this discussion. Every writer should be comfortable with his or her writing style and be ready to write about their perception of the world. This was the advice most important to writers and is some of the best that can be given.

Steve Toltz is a writer who writes to his style and his perception. If you are interested in reading his work you can visit his website.

For more information on the Brisbane Writers Festival, you can click here.

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