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Steve Carroll Talks Writing and Rhythm – A Review

steven carroll willy lit fest 2015

The relationship between you, the page and the pen

I arrived unfashionably late to Steve Carroll’s session and entered to catch Carroll talking of once having been in an Eagles cover band. As a fan of the original band, this confirmed that the man was sure to know what he was talking about (and the fact that he’s Miles Franklin Award and a Prime Minister’s Literary Award winner probably adds to his credibility, too!) Hearing other writers talk about their experiences as writers is always fascinating and Steven Carroll made it more so. Over the next hour he covered, among many things, his own journey into writing which came ‘slowly’ in his late twenties, to the importance and value of learning from the greats—Hemingway, Eliot.

My curiosity is around the writing process so I was interested in Carroll’s account of the physicality of writing and the important relationship formed between the writer, page and pen. He argues that writing by hand develops the rhythm that gives you the words and in doing so, the words the writer ends up with are usually the ones “most laden with meaning”. He talked of Eliot’s ‘auditory imagination’, the cadence and rhythm that we intrinsically understand. He explored writing chapters of novels as short stories, and the idea of writing intensely. While there was a lot in the session for writers interested in plying their ‘trade’ as he likes to call it, there was equally as much for reader.

Carroll spoke of the journey of writing his latest novel, Forever Young, and also took the audience back through his earlier works including The Art of the Engine Driver. He told intriguing facts of how engine drivers of those days raised their work to an art form (hence the book title) and were meticulous in their approach to the everyday. For example, shaving their faces in both up and down directions so that their cheeks were extra smooth. This allowed the driver to put his head out of the window and, by feeling the wind on his face, judge the speed of the train. Carroll’s notion that what you do in everyday life can “achieve artistic value and give your life meaning” was a wonderful one to adopt. There is a beautiful mindfulness in Carrol’s writing; the intensity of landing on the right word and bouncing off it to the next.

Steve Carroll ended the session with a reading from Forever Young. This session had been about rhythm, cadence and the sound of words falling to, and rising off, the page. It seemed the perfect place on which to end.  

Lucia Nardo