Q&A with Ariella Van Luyn

Dr Ariella Van Luyn lectures in Creative Writing at UNE. She is the author of the historical novel Treading Air (Affirm Press) and her short stories have been published in international and Australian journals including Voiceworks, Overland, Southerly and The Lifted Brow. Her areas of research are Creative writing, Practice-led research, Online writing pedagogy and Historical fiction. See more of her bio. 


Ariella, like yourself, many trade published writers can also be teachers, editors, publishers, researchers, festival organisers ….

In terms of actually making a living, yes, you’re right, it’s very hard in the current Australian book industry. You need to be passionate about writing. And, I think, tap into your creativity to think about other ways you can sustain that passion. It doesn’t have to be writing-related work – just something that gives you time to enjoy your craft and practice. 

Thinking particularly of young writers planning their life ahead but daunted by the fact that earning a living from book sales alone is rare, what would your advice be?

My advice to writers who are just starting out, of all ages, would be to read a lot and to write what you would love to read yourself but haven’t found yet. I really love Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer because of the way it gives you some tools for honing your reading practice and cultivating an eye for learning from the work of others.

Some of the best amateur writers we’ve met are middle-aged and work full-time outside the Arts. Most of them don’t dream of replacing their day job with full-time writing, but do you have any suggestions how they can improve their chance of being published?

Haha, yes, time is always a problem. I work in academia, a job that has no boundaries! I am finding at the moment that getting up in the morning and writing 1-2 pages before I start work and definitely before I open my emails, has been very helpful. Breaking long writing projects into smaller tasks makes this less daunting. Another way I have created dedicated time for my work is to take some leave and go to a writers’ residency. There are some lovely ones on our doorstep in the Blue Mountains you can apply for that I’ve been to and can promise will be really generative:

Mt Wilson Artist in Residence. This one is free in exchange for a workshop: https://www.mtwilson.com.au/mt-wilson-study-centre/artists-in-residence
BigCI. (Has some fees attached): https://bigci.org/
You can find other residencies further afield at: https://resartis.org/
In case you needed it again: do not check your emails while you are away!  

Most writers learn to avoid offering works to the wrong editor or unsuitable competition, but we can still struggle to identify the difference between our rejected work and work that is published. Any advice on how to review with fresh perspective?

It’s almost impossible to see the underdeveloped parts of your work. You need others to tell you. You can learn so much from looking at other writers’ work as well and seeing how they draft and revise. That’s why writers groups like New Writers are so important: they give you a community where you can see lots of other writers’ progress and approaches to writing. You can learn that different writers have different ways of approaching things and drafts improve with revision. There is no such thing as a lone genius in writing!

Are there arts other than literature that inspire or support your creativity? Music, visual art, drama?

I follow a lot of artists, researchers, costume designers, museums, libraries and even a few mermaids (yes, you can be a mermaid in real life) on Instagram. I really like the way that Instagram is so visual and you get to see the day-to-day of making art and evolving thinking about the world. I would suggest finding the artists you like and then seeing who they follow. That way you build an online network of inspiring creatives!

Finally, which two creatives (dead or alive) would you most want to invite to your picnic rug at an outdoor Arts festival?

I would invite Charlotte Bronte and Terry Pratchett. I would love to hear their gothic and satirical take on the current state of the world, but I’d also like to know what hope they might have for the future. I think both of these writers are unafraid to want a better world by pointing out the injustices in this one by showing its impact on others. I think we might all need more of that on our picnic rugs!

Header photo: Mihaela Cristescu