Silvia Kwon’s take on writing

The Return by Silvia Kwon
The Return by Silvia Kwon

One of the great joys of doing the RMIT Professional Writing and Editing Associate Degree program is the connections made. As a part of on of the Developing a Writing Project course, we have masterclasses with published graduates of the program. They are student-run panels with the author and graduate talking about their process, book and anything else on writing.

Silvia Kwon
Silvia Kwon

My group was assigned Silvia Kwon, who I had never heard of. I found her book The Return, a recent release, and devoured it. I was eager to meet the woman who could write a book of such beauty – and I’m not just talking about the cover.

Silvia has a very light presence on the internet so I was interested to see if she was a quiet, or shy person. I was pleasantly surprised at how open and sharing she was with her knowledge and experience of writing, researching and publishing. The overwhelming feeling I picked up during our panel discussion was her humility. When she completed her manuscript of The Return, and had given it to an agent, she no longer cared whether it was picked up by a publisher. “I was just happy that someone was going to read it.”

This book that is set in post war rural 60s is a must read. The book looks at the post traumatic stress of POWs, and the impact this has on a family. It is not just beautifully written, but explores themes of love, hate and forgiveness are all explored in a meaningful and satisfying manner.

Tips I picked up from her were:

  • establish a good work ethic – Silvia hasn’t watched TV for five years now as she puts that time aside for writing.
  • research – Silvia stayed in a horrible run down hotel in a country town, spoke with the local historical society, stayed on a farm, and explored a desert national park all, to understand it better.
  • be prepared to chuck out words that aren’t working – Silvia threw out the first 30,000 words, twice, as she wasn’t happy with the point of view.
  • listen to feedback – Silvia’s agent gave her very valuable feedback about needing a stronger through-story for the main character. She had to understand the very important question of ‘What is at stake for Merna?” and on understanding this, the story was clear and strong.
  • never stop believing in your story – Silvia was driven by the need to tell her story.
  • make your characters real – All of Silvia’s characters are people who you can relate to, even the minor characters. She draws on all of her observations of people over the years for her characters.
  • understand your setting – Silvia understood the floor plan of the kitchen, which plays a major role in the story. She found it very useful to visualise all of the settings in the story. The farm that she stayed at during her research helped her to understand Frank and Merna’s farm.

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