This month, our Spotlight shines on Judith Daley: a wonderfully active long-time member of the NSW Writers’ Centre.
Judith is a retired public servant and, in her retirement, has taken up occasional ‘acting’. ‘I’ve called it “acting” because I don’t know what else to call it, but I think what I do is the furthest thing away from real acting imaginable!’ says Judith, who is an extra in TV shows and commercials or on photo-shoots. She does this for fun and to meet new people, and says it also provides wonderful material for her writing.
For the last 14 years of her working life, Judith conducted child protection investigations for a State Government department. Prior to that she worked for the Human Rights Commission as a conciliation officer, investigating sex discrimination complaints and disability discrimination complaints. Judith was also an Industrial Officer with the major public sector union in NSW.
During her time at the union, at the age of 49, Judith got the opportunity to go to university for the first time. Her industrial work experience was deemed to be the equivalent of a lower degree, so she went straight into a Masters. She also obtained her licence as a private investigator.
Judith was required to write very detailed investigation reports in the Industrial Relations Commission, and that’s where she did the bulk of her writing in those days. Some of those reports were very complex and lengthy.
Apart from the draft memoir mentioned below, Judith has entered a few writing competitions. ‘I like these because they give you a word count, frequently a topic, and a deadline so you cannot keep procrastinating,’ she explains. Judith was shortlisted and published in the anthology of the Melaleuca Blue Writing Competition in 2014. Her entry was called ‘Biscuits’ and started its life in the NSWWC group in which she participates.
Judith has also written a piece for ABC Open in support of doctor-assisted death and voluntary euthanasia. You can read it here.
You’re the convenor of Writestuff, a weekly writers’ group that meets at the Centre. What sort of members are in the group, and what does each meeting entail?
The group is comprised of men and women who are seeking to practice their writing and have some specific brain stimulation each week. Ages range from about 40s to 70s, although given that we meet on Wednesday afternoons at 3.00pm, the timing may restrict people with full-time jobs.
There is a core group of about eight people, although sometimes we have up to a dozen. We have a general discussion about the week that was and out of that we each select one word. We then write for 30 minutes using those words, and when time is up we each read aloud what we have written. It is ‘raw’ or ‘spontaneous’ writing and can be both stimulating and hilarious.
What do you love most about your writers’ group? How do you think it benefits you and the other members?
I love the enormous variety that can be created with the same set of eight or so words. There are several different genres and styles practiced, even occasionally some poetry, and it is fascinating to see these evolve into widely different but coherent stories.
These rough stories are sometimes worked on and polished or extended as an entry into a competition, a chapter in a book, or the kernel of a novella idea.
It is my belief that these weekly exercises build confidence in our writing ability and demonstrate our capacity to be immediately creative as well as stimulate our imaginations, because we are often challenged with unusual words that are not common in our vocabulary.
You’re also one of our more active members. In what other ways have you found yourself involved in the NSWWC community?
I’ve attended several writing courses at the NSWWC and found these extremely helpful. I’ve also participated in writing festivals and information presentations, as well as events held for members that demystify, to a degree, the publishing process.
However, despite all this, I found myself having a conversation with one of the Centre directors asking what other groups at the Centre did. This evolved into a very informative writers’ group showcase last year, where a presenter from each writers’ group explained how their group functioned, what the purpose was and whether it was open or by invitation. I presented for my group and thought it was great evening. I hope we repeat this exercise.
It also became clear at that event that members of the NSWWC can create their own groups if they have the desire to do so. For example, a group like mine may be more suitable to be conducted of an evening to allow participation by people who are unable to attend a daytime group.
At the Sydney Festival earlier this year, you participated in an event called All The Sex I’ve Ever Had. Can you tell us a little more about what this involved? Did you enjoy the experience?
The concept for the All The Sex I’ve Ever Had show was created by a Canadian company called Mammalian Diving Reflex. Six older people, three men and three women, were selected from all the applicants after being auditioned. Sixty-five was supposed to be the minimum age, but one man had such an interesting story he was allowed in at 63. I was the second oldest at 71. At the very beginning we had two ‘trust-building’ exercises that gave us an indication of the wild ride we were about to undertake. Then each of the six participants had an individual four-hour recorded interview with the Directors. Mine went for about four hours and 45 minutes because I had so much to say! (And perhaps some of the others did too, but we didn’t hear each other’s stories at that stage.)
Out of this 24-plus hours of recording, the Directors selected the stories that would be told in performance and developed a script using all our words. During the performances each of the six participants had more or less had equal time, and the stories covered the years from our birth to now. We lined up on stage in press conference style and then read the developed script. Some of us lost some of our favourite stories but we had to trust that the Directors could see the big picture – their expertise allowed them to see how the peaks and troughs should flow. Each performance lasted for approximately two hours and included some very controlled audience participation.
It was a brilliant, tempestuous, invigorating, exciting experience and I am so honoured to have been one of the participants. I was the ‘featured artist’ on an ABC 7.30 report about the show, and I was also featured with two of the men in an article in Spectrum for the SMH. We had to put on an extra show because we sold out the four scheduled ones; we got standing ovations and five-star reviews, so it was a very heady and fun experience. I’d do it again in a flash.
What sort of writing do you enjoy most? Are you working on any particular project/s at the moment?
Most of the writing I do is memoir-style, although there have been a few occasions when I have developed a fictionalised story that is based on a kernel of real life. My aim is to be able to write a completely fictitious story that is simply created from the words that we are given in any week. So far I haven’t achieved that.
I have written a 70,000 word memoir based on my life with my now-deceased partner. We were together for 33 years and he was expected to die during all that time, so we had lots of terrifying medical excursions, but we had other exhilarating adventures too. I understand there is a one in 500 chance of getting published and I have 495 refusals to go. But I’ll keep plugging away.
Do you have a regular writing routine? If so, what does it involve?
I wish I did have a regular writing routine. I’m very busy with other activities – some weeks the only writing I do is at the NSWWC Writestuff group, and that is probably why it is so precious to me.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given?
I think the best piece of writing advice is to just do it. Write something every day. Unfortunately I don’t always follow that advice.
I’ve also attended the writing courses at the Centre conducted by Beth Yahp and Benjamin Law and both those authors shared many motivational and creative ideas that were often pure gems. I only hope I can do them justice one day.
In your opinion, who/what is the most inspiring…
Writer/Poet? Gosh – just one? There are so many. Including many current and traditional playwrights. I love going to the theatre.
Book? A book that had a very powerful impact on me was Craig Silvey’s Jasper Jones.
Weather? The crispness of autumn.
Time of day? Late afternoon.
Music? I’m an operaholic but want them traditional and not fiddled with. I’m a complete sucker for nearly any choir and particularly the 300+ voice classical works. Carmina Burana is a favourite.
Location? I visit the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney frequently and another very evocative place for me is Horderns Beach in Bundeena. Perfect for a seaside walk.