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18 April 2014 ·

My friend’s son is in jail

My friend’s son is in jail. These aren’t words I ever thought I’d write; they’re not words my friend would have ever thought I’d write. And at first glance, they’re not words about books and writing, which is what this blog is about.
But writing comes from life, and our characters’ thoughts and deeds spring from our own reflections, no matter how deeply buried the source sometimes seems to be. We’ll never grow as writers without reflecting on the harsh times of life: even the cheeriest story has at least the threat of some misery, or there’d be no plot at all.
Writing can sometimes seem cannibalistic, gobbling up other people’s traumas for story fodder.  I can’t imagine that I would ever write a story based on this particular tragedy, but anything that I care deeply about it is likely to inform some story in some way. It’s not a simple matter of being grateful for the roads my own children have chosen or pitying my friend’s family. It’s not even my respect for the extraordinary wisdom that she has grown into. It’s just sitting and reflecting on the feelings of all those concerned; of truly imagining what it would be like to know that you will not be leaving this room for another twelve hours, or leaving this building for another six months. Of imagining the complex web of emotions for the family on the other side of the walls. And it is complex, more than I’d ever considered before.
Whether I ever use any of these complexities in a book is irrelevant. Allowing myself to contemplate the issue from all its different angles can only help me grow as a human being, which is, ironically, not only more important than any writing skill, but basic to it.
I hadn’t intended this as a Good Friday reflection, though perhaps it’s appropriate. So, whatever your religion or beliefs, why not take a moment out of your day to imagine someone else’s suffering, and their road through it. It won’t hurt – you have the choice of stopping whenever you like – and it just might lead you into new understanding and stories. 


  1. Robyn Bavati Great post, Wendy. And you're right - imagining yourself in someone else's shoes really is the stuff good stories are made of.
    April 18, 2014 at 6:26 pm · Reply
  2. Wendy Orr Thanks, Robyn. Actually, it's what we do all the time, isn't it? It's just sobering when it's real life instead of something we made up.
    April 18, 2014 at 7:57 pm · Reply
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Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Cuckoo’s Flight, a companion to the highly acclaimed Bronze Age novels Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Read full bio