I first met Melinda Tognini through a mutual friend. I had finally committed to giving my writing a fighting chance, and Melinda was amidst the final editing stage of her first book, Many Hearts, One Voice. We met for coffee and hit it off.
Melinda’s book Many Hearts, One Voice published by Fremantle Press (November, 2015) has opened new doors; she has spoken at the Perth Writers Festival, participated in a panel at the Centre for Stories, been a guest speaker at numerous events and conducted a number of writing workshops. But Melinda says that in many ways, life has remained the same; becoming a published author doesn’t make you rich.
Nor is the writing path a linear/straightforward one. When Melinda’s son was a baby she wrote every day during his afternoon nap. A few years later, her daughter was born with a complex heart condition, and Melinda gave up writing to focus on caring for her seriously ill child. However, it was eventually the ordeal of her daughter’s illness that brought her back to writing. She was offered the opportunity to submit a personal essay about this experience, and as she sat down to draft the piece, something inside her ‘came alive’. She realised writing was the one thing she couldn’t not do.
Initially, the driving force behind my first MS was the motivation to get published and prove to the world I could do it. At some point I realised that, despite being an adult, part of me was stuck in adolescence and I was being driven by a need to a stick it to the kids who’d picked on me during high school. Deciding that wasn’t a particularly healthy motivator, I began to ask myself how I could use my writing to make a difference.
Since then, Melinda has become passionate about helping others find their voice and it’s one of the reasons she was attracted to writing about war widows, whose stories have rarely been told.
Her current work-in-progress tells the story of an Iraqi man seeking asylum in Australia.
It’s partly a way of helping him to feel heard and understood. At the same time, it puts a face to an issue where much of the debate dehumanises those seeking asylum.
I was curious to see what advice Melinda would give to new writers:
- Persevere. If writing is core to who you are, don’t give up. Keep writing.
- Establish a regular writing practice. What that looks like will be different for each of us. I know writers who write for half an hour every day and others who write full time. When my son was small I wrote for two hours each day during his afternoon nap. As my children have grown that’s stretched out to school hours, although I’m not always as disciplined about it as I’d like to be.
- Prioritise your writing. If you don’t, nobody else will, and you will soon see your creative time whittled away by other people’s requests and demands – and even your own to-do list.
- Nothing is wasted. My first manuscript, a young adult novel, was rejected by six publishers, and lies abandoned on the top shelf of my wardrobe. Add that to numerous writing exercises and journal pages, that’s a lot of words that have never been published. Rather than seeing it as wasted time, I consider it to be the ‘deliberate practice’ necessary for developing my skills as a writer.
I asked Melinda what the future looks like for her writing journey.
Hopefully, I’ll write more books, run more workshops and tell more stories. I don’t want to be doing anything else.
Melinda Tognini is an Australian author who has written fiction, non-fiction, a short play, feature articles, travel articles and personal essays which have appeared in magazines and anthologies in Australia and the US. Melinda is particularly passionate about telling invisible stories – those stories absent from the dominant narratives in history. In November 2015, Melinda’s book Many Hearts, One Voice: the story of the War Widows’ Guild in Western Australia was published by Fremantle Press.
Melinda has a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from Edith Cowan University. She grew up in North East Arnhem Land and resides in Perth with her husband and children.
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