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Working with Words: Elizabeth Redman

Read Sunday, 5 Mar 2017

Elizabeth Redman is a property reporter for the Australian. She chatted with us about deadlines, Hermione Granger and getting her start in student media.

Photograph of Elizabeth Redman
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What was the first piece of writing you had published? 

In my first year of uni I wrote something about how I loved living in Carlton because there were a lot of ice-cream shops there, which was published in the Melbourne Uni student newspaper, Farrago.

What’s the best part of your job?

I love getting to meet really smart, fascinating people and listen to them talk about topics they’re passionate about.

Put yourself in a situation where you have to meet a deadline. Not a self-imposed deadline … a real deadline with social consequences.

What’s the worst part of your job?

Realising I’ll never be able to read everything! There is so much I want to read.

What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?

When I was in New York I got to meet a fabulous corporate adviser and entrepreneur called Cassandra Kelly and hear her thoughts about how a whole bunch of Australian middle managers are wasting time in coffee meetings in a way that doesn’t happen in NYC. The story ran on the front of our Saturday business section and got great feedback – I think she wasn’t the only one feeling frustrated!

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

My former editor at Farrago (and now reporter at the Age) Bhakthi Puvanenthiran once told me to look dumb in front of your interviewee and not in front of your audience. That is, if you interview someone and they say something you don’t understand, get them to clarify it on the spot, so you can explain it clearly when you write your story. This is excellent advice and I take it several times a week.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself?

When I was writing about superannuation I kept watching friends’ eyes glaze over during dinner party small talk, and then one day my friend Madeleine Crofts shared one of my stories on social media, saying she knew when I wrote about super she should listen, which was very kind.

If you weren’t writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

At one stage I did think about studying commerce, law or environmental studies…

If you’re ever feeling discouraged about being a writer, remember that the creator of the universe is a writer too.

There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what’s your view?

Clear, concise writing can and should be taught. As my first-year uni lecturer Carolyne Lee explained, an effective subject and an active verb will make your writing easier to read. In terms of creative writing, you can read and learn and practise and improve, definitely, but there will always be some writers who have a natural gift.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?

Put yourself in a situation where you have to meet a deadline. Not a self-imposed deadline, like ‘I will write 1000 words before I eat the chocolate in my house’. A real deadline with social consequences, like ‘I have to write this piece today because otherwise my editor will have blank space on the page’. Good places to start doing this include community radio, student media, literary journals etc.

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

Mostly in person. In Melbourne I love Readings Carlton, and last year I spent a bit of time at Strand and Barnes and Noble.

If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why? 

I would like to have dinner with Hermione Granger and I flatter myself we would be good friends.

What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

The Bible. If you’re ever feeling discouraged about being a writer, remember that the creator of the universe is a writer too.

Elizabeth Redman is published regularly in the Australian in print and online. Read her work here.

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