gillpolack (gillpolack) wrote,

Women's History Month - Deborah Kalin

Given the majority of my professional colleagues are Australian women authors, the brief for this blog post seemed impossible. How could I possibly pick just one?

So I decided to be a little unfair, and pick the woman who first taught me about writing, at least formally: Margo Lanagan.

I really don't think I need to sing the praises of Margo's writing: if you know of her work at all, you'll know it is fearless and flawless. But it isn't just her writing that's lovely: Margo herself, it won't surprise anyone to hear, is a wonder to know.

I had the honour of being one of her students at Clarion South 2005. She took us for the fourth week -- so anyone who's heard anything of Clarion should know what I mean when I say we were all decidedly loopy from sleep deprivation by this point. I was also completely without any story ideas, and tied up in knots by that. First thing Monday morning, Margo gave us each a card with an image on it, and asked us to write one paragraph on that image. Just one paragraph, anywhere our minds and that image took us. I was so paralysed by the fear that we'd have to read out prompt paragraph aloud to the class that I couldn't write a single thing until the third and last card, which had the words "The children knew better." (I still have the paragraph that line prompted; one day it will turn into something.)

My fears turned out to be unfounded, of course. When we'd all finished our paragraphs, Margo smiled and said, "You have 3 weeks of Clarion left. Now you have three stories started, ready to write. So you don't need to worry about having no ideas."

I was utterly blown away: that she'd come to us with an attitude not of what she could teach us, but of what she could give us. She understood where we were in the grinding mill that is the Clarion process (i.e. starting to fall apart), and in asking us to write those three paragraphs she gave us the light at the end of the tunnel. It was such a quiet, thoughtful, enabling gift.

I remember her "rules": never to use amongst, amidst, or whilst; never to employ the scent of jasmine; never be afraid of inventing a word if the perfect meaning you need lies only in a word having an imperfect fit in the rest of the sentence. They were all delivered whimsically, but all touched on a firm truth: that a writer can never be lazy, can never settle for "near enough" when searching for the perfect word or scansion. That a writer must not flinch from their subject matter. I wrote Shadow Queen -- with its difficult tale of a young girl trapped and twisted by a captivating personality who has more power than she -- with Margo's voice in my head telling me I could never back away from what I'd put on the page.

Margo taught me that precision matters. One day I hope to do justice to that lesson.

Deborah Kalin is not entirely sure who she is. The author of The Binding books, she cannot help but hope one Christmas will bring her a pet quetzalcoatlus. In the meantime, she'll settle for a book.

Website link:

ETA: Twelfth Planet Press is delighted to announce that fantasy author Deborah Kalin has joined the Twelve Planets series with a collection featuring her beautifully horrific story, “Wages of Honey”. Read more about this announcement at the TPP blog ( and on Deborah's blog (

  • (no subject)

    Blogging has had to fade into the background recently. First I didn't have time to read blog posts and then I didn't have time to write them. Now you…

  • (no subject)

    Right now, I spend between 30 minutes and 180 minute a day, every day, answering questions, listening, chatting about subjects of concern. Mostly…

  • Just thinking

    I wrote this before I did all my travels. Given it's IWD today, it's not a bad time for pondering from my (very female) perspective. In case someone…

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.