5 minutes with author Christine Sykes
In 5 minutes with author, Over60 asks book writers about their literary habits and preferences. Next in the series is Christine Sykes, a novelist and memoir writer based on Sydney’s south coast. After working as a Public Servant for 30 years and volunteering at Dress for Success Sydney for four, Sykes is now enjoying life’s simple pleasures and is regularly involved in tap dancing, acting, painting, and playing the flute. Her debut novel, The Changing Room was inspired by the experiences of the women behind the charity Dress for Success. Her latest title, Gough and Me, is out now.
Over60 talked with Sykes about writing routines, Jenny Hocking, and tough reads.
Over60:What book do you think more people should read?
Aside from my two books! There are so many wonderful Australian writers to choose from.
The book I think people should read to get an understanding of the way history can be manipulated is The Palace Letters by Jenny Hocking. It is a gripping account of the ground-breaking work undertaken to reveal the truth behind the sacking of the Whitlam government and the extraordinary steps to hide that truth.
How did you make the transition from the Public Service to writing?
While I was in the public service in Canberra, I undertook short creative writing courses at ANU. This resulted in me writing many short stories and rediscovering my love of children’s stories.
When I retired, I decided to treat it as a writing sabbatical and try writing longer works. The Year of Novel Writing course at Writing NSW, gave me a structure to my time and a great foundation for writing my first published book, The Changing Room. I continued to explore writing through other courses and writing groups which led to the publication of my memoir, Gough and Me.
What was the last book that made you laugh?
The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village by Joanna Nell was hilarious, and a book I wish I’d written.
What does your writing routine look like?
Most of my writing is done in the morning, which is my most creative time. I usually begin writing in longhand in exercise books, and move to typing on the computer when the story has taken shape. The afternoons are good for walking and letting the story settle in the back of my brain where new connections are made. Some people call this composting and it’s an important part of my creative process.
When I edit, I tend to work into the afternoon and often find different places to read the manuscript, which gives me an alternative perspective.
What is your best writing tip?
Invest in your writing, through whatever means are available to you, such as doing a course, having a professional mentor or editor, being part of a writing group or having a writing friend. This really helped me when I didn’t feel like writing or was questioning my ability to write. I also give myself permission to write badly – it’s better to have something on the page which I can then edit and mould, than swirling thoughts in my head.
Which author, deceased or living, would you most like to have dinner with?
My first choice would be Anais Nin – a prolific writer of journals, novels and essays. I adored her descriptions of the soirees she held in Paris with interesting people from the arts, politics and life. I hope she’d bring some with her and would love for her to include Gough and Margaret Whitlam.
What do you do when you can’t seem to finish reading a book?
Usually I push through, hoping the author will grip me again, and sometimes I skip sections which are less interesting. There have only been a few books which I have abandoned.