Writers On Writing / Leah Kaminsky on writing the body

‘Find fresh language that only you could write – don’t tell me about a ‘sore throat’, ‘aching back’, ‘supple muscles’.’

Leah Kaminsky is a physician and award-winning writer. Her debut novel, The Waiting Room, won the prestigious Voss Literary Prize. She is poetry and fiction editor at the Medical Journal of Australia. Her book We’re all Going to Die has been described as ‘a joyful book about death’. Visit leahkaminsky.com.

Which came first: the writer or the physician?

In grade 2 we had to make puppets of what we wanted to be when we grew up. I drew eyes and a mask on a ping-pong ball and made scrubs out of green crepe paper, proudly telling everyone I want to be a ‘sturgeon’. In grade 3 my first poem, ‘The Royal Beetle Bug’, was published in the school magazine. It was about a king beetle and I even slipped in the words ‘psychedelic’ and ‘chromathetic’. So, I guess the dream of being a physician preceded that of being a writer!

You’re an author and physician: how do you balance these aspects of your life?

They feed each other. Being a doctor gives me exposure to the gamut of human experience, which enriches my life as a writer. But more importantly, writing, as well as reading, help me better listen to patients’ narratives, which I hope in turn helps me be a more empathetic and compassionate doctor.

What’s one key tip for writers keen to express the bodily?

Find fresh language that only you could write – don’t tell me about a ‘sore throat’, ‘aching back’, ‘supple muscles’. Break clichés and find your own voice to engage your reader.

Join Leah for a brand new course, Writing the Body, taking place Sunday 23 July, 10am-4pm at the Centre.

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