- The Luminous Solution, by Charlotte Wood. Allen & Unwin, $32.99./
At first glance, Charlotte Wood's new book, The Luminous Solution, may seem to be a craft book for writers - which it is, in a way: writers will find much to ponder, digest and inspire them. However, this book is also a commentary on art, creativity and philosophy, and it should appeal to anyone who has an interest in the creative process and other forms of artistic expression and exploration.
Wood has gathered this collection of essays from her writing and thinking about creativity over the past decade. Some works have appeared in literary journals and other publications.
But in The Luminous Solution these essays have been revisited and revised. The book also includes key findings from Wood's PhD, in which she analysed problem-solving within the creative process, and identified nine different methods for finding and resolving roadblocks.
This all makes the book sound very dry, but it is, in fact, a rich exploration of creative ideas, valuable to both readers and writers.
Of special interest are the chapters in which Wood delves into the inspiration for, and the themes of, her own work, including her novels The Natural Way of Things and The Weekend. She discusses questions and problems she encountered during the writing process, but also analyses questions that arose afterwards. Sometimes writers don't realise what they've done until their work goes out into the world and is probed by others who bring their own light and ideas to the subject. Wood argues that this is when a creative work gains new life and ceases to be the property of the creator - when it is renewed and remade by the reader or viewer.
Throughout her creative journey, Wood has been inspired by other artists and artworks, and these influences have appeared in her work, sometimes subconsciously. Her viewing of The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries had a major impact on her portrayal of young women in her novel, The Natural Way of Things. The tapestries were revelatory to her in their depiction of women and creatures. The effort to tame wildness. To control and contain. Captivity within imposed roles. Women's complicity in this.
The topics Wood tackles in her work are unpacked through careful thinking and reflection. If you've read any of Wood's fiction, you will find this particularly interesting - how her metaphors and motifs evolved; where her characters came from; how her narratives developed; how she learned where to dig deeper; where to pull back; where to leave room for the reader.
There's also plenty of advice for creators, especially writers. Tapping into dreams. Welcoming the struggle that accompanies the birth and evolution of art. Exploration of personal and private objects to enliven creative work.
Wood quotes Amanda Lohrey who recently won the Miles Franklin Award for her novel, The Labyrinth: "There is the literal surface of life, and then there's that oceanic meaning underneath." Wood talks about instinct in writing - the "unconscious selection of a seemingly random image that ... might hold inside it a great deal of suppressed meaning".
She also explores what it means to embrace difficult ideas - concepts that frighten and repel us - and how to use art to question these ideas and protest against fear and hatred. "The impulse (is) to turn away, to ignore - and thereby on some deep and dangerous level to accept and legitimise." "But Art can give us a way to refuse."
Wood draws on other artists to illustrate her points and ideas. In To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, Lily Briscoe reveals the challenges and dissatisfactions of the creative process - the inevitable failure of a creator to achieve what they set out to achieve. This being the stimulus to keep trying, to attempt yet another creative work in the quest to say something unique that approaches the creator's original vision.
There is value for creators, Wood argues, in allowing trusted people to comment on your work during its creation. But this must come at the right time when the work is "sturdy enough to withstand a good critical nudge without collapse, yet still malleable enough to allow substantial change". However, the artist must be receptive and prepared to take on constructive feedback.
Much of this may sound pertinent only to writers, yet many discerning readers will find it illuminating to see inside the creative process and understand how a writer's mind works. The tricks and techniques that are often at play, how "laughter and pain are inextricably linked", how anger might serve as useful creative fuel, and the way writers build sentences.
All of this not only helps writers tap more deeply and effectively into their creative wells, but can also shape how a reader engages with literary works and what they derive from the experience of reading.
- Karen Viggers writes contemporary fiction. Her latest novel is The Orchardist's Daughter.