Writers On Writing / Felicity Castagna’s tips to succeed in HSC English Extension 2

‘The earlier students start writing, the better off they will be, even if they haven’t done all of the research they need to do when they start writing.’

Felicity Castagna is a former high school English teacher who now teaches creative writing in universities, community organisations and schools. She is an experienced Extension 1 and 2 teacher and HSC marker. Her book, The Incredible Here and Now, received the Prime Minister’s Literature Award (YA).

Is success in English Extension 2 just about producing a piece of quality writing?

Yes and no. Of course the markers are looking for quality writing and students want to use their time in the course to develop the skills that will make them into quality writers outside of the classroom. But at the same time, students need to have an awareness of the outcomes and requirements that they have to meet. As a former marker of Extension 2 for the Board of Studies I saw a number of examples of quality writing that didn’t do very well because the student didn’t meet the outcomes or the requirements of the form they were writing in.

What were your writing ambitions during high school?

I always knew that I wanted to write and teach. I’m very lucky because I now get to do both! As a writer, I think I’ve had to work my way through all the different forms until I found the one that suited me. In high school I wrote a lot of poetry. I moved to fiction when I was in university because I realised that I needed more space to explore the kinds of ideas and issues I was interested in. But that early practice as a poet has really shaped the way I put stories together with an emphasis on imagery and metaphor.

What advice would you give to parents who have teenagers doing HSC English Extension 2? 

The earlier students start writing, the better off they will be, even if they haven’t done all of the research they need to do when they start writing. The number one issue with students not doing well in this course is that they leave the writing to a very late stage so they don’t have enough time to polish it before they submit. Writing is really all about editing. It doesn’t matter if the first draft is bad or if the student doesn’t know every fact about the historical time period they are representing. It is only by writing that you work out what you really need to research and it is only by getting something down on the page that you are ready to begin really shaping your story.

Develop your HSC writing skills with Felicity in her course Everything You Need to Succeed in HSC English Extension 2 on Sunday 29 October, 10am-4pm at the Centre or Sunday 5 November, 10am-4pm at Casula Powerhouse.

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