Day 3: Walter Mason

Welcome to Day 3 of the totally unofficial EWF Book Club.

If this is your first time here, please have a quick read of this page (don’t worry it’ll open in a new window) to get the rundown on what EWF BK is all about.

Now, on with the show…

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Today we discuss Walter Mason’s The Occasional Traitor.

“I told them [your book] was going to be exactly like EAT, PRAY, LOVE.” he said.
“Except fat and gay.”

Well, I laughed. And Walter Mason’s piece gave me a great mix of laughs and insights into a genre which is very unfamiliar to me – travel memoir. Here’s another quote that hit me…

“Don’t be wedded to a single idea, or a specific shape. I have seen too many writers walk away from a contract or a career because they were adamant that nothing and no-one was going to change what they were doing.”

The title of the piece refers to the need to carefully ‘betray’ (note, it’s not quite the right word) people you meet when researching non-fiction. It’s something that Ellena & Helen touched on in the piece we featured yesterday.

Walter was kind enough to send some thoughts – and more tips!

I didn’t really pitch to be included in the book – the editor approached me because he had enjoyed my talk at the EWF one-day roadshow in Sydney. This proves my point that, no matter what, you’ve got to get out and about – writing opportunities happen as a result of meeting people and taking risks. They never fall into your lap. As I said at the opening session of the EWF weekend conference this year, never give in to the urge to stay at home.

The editor gave me quite a specific brief: to talk about the practical and ethical challenges of writing about travel. This was the central focus – it was my job to get there in a way that was entertaining and interesting.

I am always a big fan of the light touch. I think you can make your serious points much more powerfully if people don’t think they are being preached at or self-consciously instructed.

Such a short piece always makes me anxious because you don’t have much time to impress. Because it was intended for such a specific audience it was actually more difficult to construct, because I knew I had to get to a very specific point sooner rather than later. But I suppose I get anxious about every piece I write – every writer does.

I write for pleasure, and I always feel a bit of a fraud when teaching others. The fact is I am a complete gonzo – all I do is write down stories in the exact same way I’d tell them at a drunken dinner party, and I hope like mad that they will be interesting to people. And I do consider very carefully the feelings of the people I write about, just as I do the people I talk about.

I always feel vindicated when people laugh at something I have written – it is very, very hard to make that happen. I am also pleased when people tell me that someone read my book who hasn’t read a thing in years. While I love experimental, meditative and form-challenging writing, I also think that people need to read for fun occasionally, and not be considered totally illiterate when they express such a desire.

Be honest when you are communicating with other writers, and never try to sound smarter, harder-working or more literary than you actually are. The romance of writing is wonderful, but such ideas can destroy young writers, or cause them to delay their careers for years and years. The more realistic and honest we are about the industry, the better emerging writers can work their ways around it. And always preach the gospel of choice – there is no longer any one true way when it comes to creating a writing career. Choose to experiment and try as many things as you have time and excitement for.

Walter also included a photo of the temple courtyard in Quy Nhon taken on the very day he wrote about in the Emerging Writer piece: 

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So, what did you get out of The Occasional Traitor? Do you read/write travel memoir?
Please – hit the comments below!

Come back from 9am tomorrow and we’ll feature our first Academy Award-winning writer…

For an easy no-spam reminder, just scroll ‘up and to the right’ and subscribe via email or RSS. Or follow me on Twitter. I’ll be tweeting the latest post each day with the hashtag #EWFbookclub.

Of course, this a book club discussion becomes more interesting with each new member who contributes.   Can you help spread the word?

Today’s tweet..

It’s like EAT, PRAY, LOVE… except fat & gay.
A quote from today’s #EWFbookclub featuring @walterm http://wp.me/p3mjAG-4b <click to tweet this>

Or here’s a generic one…

Let’s read/discuss the @EmergingWriters book. 36 articles/36 days. Join us? http://wp.me/p3mjAG-2D via @gabemcgrath #ewf13  <click to tweet this>

If you’re not a Twitter user, a quick link to this post on your Facebook, blog or similar would be appreciated.

Thanks for joining the totally unofficial EWF book group – see you tomorrow!

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About Gabe McGrath

Freelance writer, radio creative, retro gamer and a dad. Gabe's writing has appeared in Wired.co.uk , My Child, Retro Gamer, Crikey.com.au , Huggies.com.au & more. Editor in Chief of JustOneMoreGame
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4 Responses to Day 3: Walter Mason

  1. Edwina Shaw says:

    I liked this piece. A lovely funny voice,. I
    agree with Walter too, it doesn’t pay to be too precious. Yes, stick to your guns if it’s really important but pick your battles – it’s like parenting teenagers, save your energy for the fights that really count!

    • Gabe McGrath says:

      Yes, you often read of people writing in a particular “voice” but this is a nice clear example. Oh and parenting teenagers? Thank god I have 9 years left to worry till I’m doing that……

  2. Sam Ryan says:

    I enjoyed the interesting discussion towards the end of representing real life people, and possible reactions. And the classic advice of not being too stubborn in terms of what you will write (about) if your intention is to make some money. Even if the aim is merely to engage people and explore ideas, you really have to negotiate your way to them, you can’t expect people or publishers (I guess they are people too!) to just come to you.

    • Gabe McGrath says:

      Yes Sam, representing real people seems to be a total balancing act – somewhere between ‘boring depiction’ and ‘everyone hates me’ appears to be the target! Alas, a single word here and there could be enough to tip you in either direction, so I can only admire nonfiction writers who can pull it off.

      And yes, resisting the ‘my way or the highway’ creed is certainly something to take onboard. I wonder though, if it needs to be moderated a bit for genuinely ‘ahead of the trend’ ideas that the audience doesn’t know they’ll love… until they read it? Mind you, the number of writers who are being ‘ahead of the trend’ versus merely stubborn could be quite small….

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