Ruby Porter says writing is a craft anyone can learn. Read her story.

Novelist and tutor, Ruby Porter reflects on how she first started to write and how she developed her own skills through study.

My first ever job was as a writer. There used to be a children’s radio show called That’s The Story, which held a short story competition each month for under eighteens. The third time I won it, the producer called my English teacher and asked if I wanted a job. I was twelve years old.

That’s The Story was a one-man production. I don’t remember that man’s name now. Of the details which do remain, I don’t know how to sunder the real from the figments of my memory.

None of this may be true: I remember he was Irish. I remember his big, curly, red hair. I remember he lived near Western Springs, in an art deco house with an overgrown garden which smothered his studio out the back. I remember him giving me my first (and only) invoice book and teaching me how to write invoices.

I do know he paid me $150 for every short story. The suggested length was just 300 words. I didn’t realise how good I had it. Fifty cents per word remains my best writing rate. At the time, I was just embarrassed the programme aired on Classic Hits.

The next year, I started at Northcote College. Two teachers there organised a writing group. At first, it was just me and my friends. We would get half a day off to do writing exercises and eat the teacher’s brownies in the library. When classmates asked where we’d been, we would say ‘rugby club’. We were a bunch of nerdy kids who often wagged PE. In our final year of high school, they turned our writing into a journal called Line Out.

By then, my job for radio had ended; ‘adult themes’ had begun to emerge in my stories. I put more effort into being an artist than a writer. I went to Elam, though I did an English degree on the side. I was cocky when I enrolled in the stage three prose paper. I thought I knew it all: cut your adverbs, no dialogue as exposition, load up on sensory details. I almost considered skipping the seminars altogether and only going to the workshops. They were, I believed, the ‘important part’. I turned up for the first seminar, but I didn’t take out paper or a pen. Within seconds of the tutor opening her mouth, I was scrambling inside my bag for refill and a biro. It was a class on point of view, and everything she said was new to me.

This course, more than anything, taught me that writing is a craft anyone can learn. I’ve been teaching creative writing for eight years now. Point of view is my favourite topic to cover. It was my focus for a masterclass with Northcote College’s writing group. That group is popular now; the rugby club joke fell flat. I live ten minutes from Western Springs, too. Sometimes I feel that if I walked down that Irish man’s street, I could still point out his house.

Start to Write: Fiction
with Ruby Porter
7 – 21 May 2024