Tolstoy tells us happy families are all alike. Raymond Chandler’s prescription for a good story includes a man with a gun. And writing teachers everywhere will tell you that conflict is the essential ingredient of plot.
But does that mean good writing has to be depressing and difficult?
Literature shelves are predictably packed with dysfunctional families, suicides, murders and anxiety. But surely it doesn’t have to be that way. Where’s the laughter, the levity and the light side of life in the pages of our books?
Celebrations of beloved books and characters are often dominated by the doomed Anna Karenina, cursed Cathy and Heathcliff, and other characters who seriously suffer. But we should equally celebrate unlikely romantic hero Don Tillman, unlucky (but laugh-a-minute) Candide, and other fictional characters who you don’t need to recover from after reading.
Chris Flynn chats to Toni Jordan, Debra Oswald and Shane Maloney about how and why good writing can (and even should) make us smile.
Chris Flynn is the author of The Glass Kingdom and A Tiger in Eden, which was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize. His latest novel is Mammoth, released in March 2020. His fiction and non-fiction have appeared in the Age, the Australian, Griffith Review, Meanjin, Australian Book Review, the Saturday Paper, Smith Journal, the Big Issue, Monster Children, McSweeney’s and many other publications. He has conducted interviews for the Paris Review and is a regular presenter at literary festivals across Australia. Chris lives on Phillip Island, next to a penguin sanctuary.
Toni Jordan is the author of four novels. The international bestseller Addition (2008) was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick, and was longlisted for the Miles Franklin award. Fall Girl (2010) was published internationally and has been optioned for film, while Nine Days (2012) was awarded Best Fiction at the 2012 Indie Awards, shortlisted for the ABIA Best General Fiction award and named in Kirkus Review’s Top 10 Historical Novels of 2013. Her latest novel is Our Tiny, Useless Hearts (2016). Toni has been published widely in newspapers and magazines.
Born in Hamilton in western Victoria in 1953, Shane Maloney is one of Australia’s most popular novelists. His award-winning and much-loved Murray Whelan series – Stiff, The Brush-Off, Nice Try, The Big Ask, Something Fishy and Sucked In – has been published around the world.
Debra Oswald is a writer for stage, television and fiction. She is co-creator and head writer of the successful TV series Offspring, which recently finished its fifth season. Debra won the 2011 NSW Premier's Literary Award for the Offspring tele-movie script, and the 2014 AACTA for Best TV Screenplay for the final episode of series 4. Her other television credits include award-winning episodes ofPolice Rescue, Palace of Dreams, The Secret Life of Us, Sweet and Sour and Banana in Pyjamas.
She is the author of three Aussie Bite books and six novels for teenage readers, and the novel Useful, published in 2015.