Wendy Blaxland's blog

Wendy Blaxland's blog

Writing processes blog tour


What am I working on?

I am working from historical material at the moment. My first project, Pioneers in Petticoats, is a play about Australian women in colonial times. It follows from last year’s successful play CROSSING, a play written for the Bicentenary of the crossings of the Blue Mountains, in one of which my ancestor Gregory Blaxland took part. Like CROSSING, Pioneers in Petticoats will have a short version for primary schools and a longer one for families in public performances, which will include more material. Pioneers will bring to life a number of feisty, extraordinary women from Australia’s past, such as Mary Bryant, a convict who stole a small open boat with her husband and others and escaped in it, with her two young children, all the way to Batavia (Indonesia). Then there’s eleven-year-old Eliza Hawkins, who travelled with her family on a bullock dray to Bathurst, painter and scientist Fanny Macleay who kept busy looking after her eight younger siblings while helping her father with his insect, shell and plant collection, Matilda Fish who owned one of the early land grants on Sydney’s North Shore and was robbed (twice) by bushranger William Geary, and much-married exotic dancer Lola Montez, whose exploits (including horse-whipping critics she didn’t like) fascinated the Victorian press from Bavaria to Ballarat.

I’m also gestating a novel for young people about Eliza Hawkins, based on her mother’s vivid account of the crossing of the Blue Mountains and other family documents. Oh, and a Babies Proms play for the Opera House this Christmas.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Very few other people are producing plays for young audiences based on historical characters; yet this is such a vivid way of engaging them with the history of their own country. It takes both wide and deep research (and generous historical consultants to check my script) to give an authentic idea of what life used to be like, especially for women.

Why do I write what I do?

I write about topics that fascinate me: real life events that still give me space to create my own characters and voices; but I also write about topics that producers or publishers suggest. Anything can be wonderful if you have the right attitude. I love creating.

How does my writing process work?

With my historical work, I look first for riveting stories that make me want to find out more. That’s my next task: finding out as much as I can about the real story and characters, their society and others like them. Then I have to leave my source material behind and create a play or novel that has its own structure, rhythms and characters, so that it lives. Now I know the process I can feel when the characters begin to stir inside me, and speak with their own voices.

Then I need to write and discover the form that best fits the material – poems and songs are also part of my plays - and read it out loud again and again to find out whether it works. Next I test it with colleagues like my co-producer daughter, the director and actors, before a final script emerges. I work with composers and designers to bring in the elements of music, set and costumes. Theatre is a very collaborative process – and so is writing a novel, where a good editor is a huge help as they query, support and suggest.


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