This unit of work was created in partnership with The Garret and accompanies their interview with Charlotte Wood. Please click here to access the Interview, Bibliography, Show notes and Transcript, and Author profile.
The following activities have been designed to be adapted and selected for teacher and teaching context. The activities have been formulated for use with a whole class or small groups. All activities can be adapted to suit smaller groups or individual students. Each activity is linked to a specific section of Charlotte Wood’s interview and the relevant portion of the interview is noted at the beginning of the activity.
The lessons can be taught in sequence or as single lessons. The expectation would be that students would have listened to the full interview prior to this sequence and then re-listen to the relevant sections as required.
Getting to know the author, including:
- cultural background
- family, family history and relationships
- personal experiences
Activity one: Exploring gender and agency issues
This activity relates to 26:09 mins–47:00 mins of the interview.
Note: There is an excellent teaching unit which covers the gender issues challenged and critiqued in Wood’s novel, The Natural Way of Things, on the Reading Australia website. If a teacher wishes to cover in depth the issues relating to gender in Wood’s best-known work, they could use any number of the activities suggested there.
In her Garret interview Wood recalls an answer a friend gave her when asked why she thought that The Natural Way of Things had affected so many readers:
I think there’s a whole lot of men who understand feminism to be a good thing and they’ve got partners who are feminists and they’ve always been so supportive, but they’ve never understood what it feels like to be treated like in the way that the women in (your) book are treated.
Also, in the interview Wood speaks of ‘(t)he enculturation of women to be small and fearful and all that crap.’ It is unfortunate that this statement still has particular relevance in the present time.
Teachers may wish to prompt discussions of gender, agency and female success further by using the song lyrics and videos of Australian musician, Courtney Barnett, (‘Pedestrian at Best’). Barnett is an example of a successful female artist who has experienced the Australian cultural response of targeting ‘tall poppies’. Wood reflects on her experiences of winning the 2016 Stella Prize and being nominated for the Miles Franklin in 2016 in the context of this culture. Teachers may wish to discuss the ideas represented in the video clip for Barnett’s song ‘Pedestrian at Best’ to lead into a discussion about gender and gender expectations. The depiction in the video of competition explores the ideas discussed by Wood about the dangers and pressures of success. She also refers to her interview with Christos Tsiolkas for The Writer’s Room and his comments about the effect of success:
Charlotte: And he said he wasn’t prepared for a whole lot of things about that. And the thing that really struck home to me was he said, ‘I didn’t like the way…I wasn’t prepared for how greedy it makes you’. And I thought that…I was so glad that I had talked to him and thought about that a lot before I won anything because I totally get it. And it’s like you can go, ‘Oh well now I have to win the next one’. And it’s creepy. It’s not good.
And also you can, if you buy into it too much, you can really turn into a real jerk. And I’ve seen that too, and it’s horrible, and it damages your writing. That’s what it does. Once people start feeling entitled about prizes and getting angry when they don’t get shortlisted for something, that’s like, ‘Dude, you’ve got to just stop there’. It’s not, it’s bad for writing.
- What are the standards for success for the artist/writer?
- How do we measure success for Australian artists/writers?
- How might the gender of the artist/writer affect the measure of success?
The following sources and resources can be used to engage students in their discussions around gender, agency, power and control.
Teachers might choose to direct students into small groups and assign to each group: one of the two video clips from Courtney Barnett, the monologue from Lisa Wilkinson and Wood’s introduction to Nineteen Eighty-Four. The teacher should scaffold the discussions and ask students to consider contemporary gender, agency and control issues.
- The songs ‘Nameless Faceless’ from Barnett’s 2018 album Tell Me How You Really Feel and ‘Pedestrian at Best’ address issues of female agency as well as being the target of ‘trolls’ online. Using the video clip and lyrics for this song, begin a discussion of the treatment of those who transgress. Wood brilliantly addresses and represents these issues of female agency and space/place and wilderness in her novel The Natural Way of Things.
- In her introduction for the Text Publications edition of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Charlotte Wood identifies how the control represented in Orwell’s novel resonates in contemporary Australian culture and society. Look at this introduction and discuss its ramifications and relevance to today’s society.
- The social debates about gender, equality and agency which arose from the rape and murder of Eurydice Dixon in Melbourne provide a good example of the debate around gender in Australia in 2018. The monologue from Lisa Wilkinson on The Project could be used as starting point to explore this issue.
The writer’s journey, including:
- development of approaches, style and individual writing characteristics
- themes, issues and motivations.
Activity two: Confidence and risks in writing
These activities relate to 18:46 mins–24:20 mins of the interview.
An idea that Wood returns to in the interview is one of being confident or insecure about one’s writing. She discusses gendered approaches to writing (refer also to Activities one and four) and the ways in which writers develop confidence. She refers to Tim Winton who has claimed that ‘confidence is a discipline.’ She also discusses the importance of taking risks when writing and that these two factors are at odds; if a writer feels confident then they do not feel as if they are taking risks.
- Students are asked to consider a list of similes (PDF, 119KB) and identify those which they consider to be successful. Where do they believe that writers have taken risks and were these risks successful?
- Students are asked to write similes for particular situations, characters or contexts, in which they take risks with their own figurative writing. They may share these with the class. To encourage students to take risks they may like to share their writing anonymously (printing out their writing in a previously agreed font). Teachers may choose to complete the related trust-building activity (PDF, 81KB) regarding group work prior to asking students to share their writing, as students may feel increased stress or lack of confidence and trust in sharing their work.
The writer’s craft, including:
Activity three: Setting and character
These activities arise from 17:07 mins–18:45 mins of the interview.
Wood discusses the significance in her writing of setting, and of addressing the question: Why are these people together in this place? Her settings/contexts are the reasons her characters interrelate with each other.
Students are shown images or photo portraits from which they will develop their own characters. Teachers can source these online (searching ‘photo portraits’ in Google images, but please ensure that the use of these images conforms to educational ‘fair use’ copyright provisions) and arrange their choices in a PowerPoint presentation. As students are shown the photo portraits, they are asked to provide the following details for each person pictured:
- a name
- where (s)he lives
- with whom they live
- their relationships (family/friends)
- a trait/habit
- a secret or regret.
Once students have a range of characters, they are to consider a place – a setting in which all these characters co-exist and ask themselves the question posed by Wood: Why are these people together in this place?
There is an opportunity within this activity for students to share their work and ideas. It is possible that after they have developed a character in response to a photo portrait, they can share or exchange characters with other class or group members.
Teachers may also consider that instead of having students consider just one setting, they could create a range of setting prompts – through images, within the same PowerPoint presentation as the photo portraits. Students might be asked to consider which location seems to suit which character and can also be challenged to locate characters in settings where they at first seem out of place.
(NB: This is a first draft exercise; however, if the student feels that this piece has potential, they may return to it later and develop it fully for the culminating rich assessment task.)
(ACELR021) (ACELR022) (ACELR033) (ACELR036)
Comparison with other writers and texts
Activity four: Voice
This activity relates to 4:52 mins–6:24 mins of the interview.
In discussing getting started in her writing career, Wood touches on many elements of a writer’s craft, but comes back to the features of voice and of setting. Indeed, the notion of voice underpins all that Wood discusses: in terms of confidence, taking risks and developing one’s own writing style. When discussing her 2016 Stella Prize-winning work, The Natural Way of Things, Wood reveals her concerns that this narrative was ‘too dark.’ She reflects on this in her interviews and discussions with other writers when writing her non-fiction text, The Writer’s Room.
This is a group activity in which students are given extracts from the Australian writers mentioned by Wood in the interview (see list below). Under the provisions of educational copyright, teachers are to provide the first three pages of the chosen selection of the following novels to class groups.
- Kate Grenville: Lilian’s Story
- Kim Scott: That Deadman Dance or Taboo (Students and teachers may be interested in listening to Kim Scott speak about Taboo in the recent Garret interview with the 2018 Miles Franklin shortlisted authors.)
- Amanda Lohrey: Camille’s Bread
- Tegan Bennett Daylight: Six Bedrooms
- Malcolm Knox: The Life
- Craig Sherborne: The Amateur Science of Love
(In using the opening pages, students could be further inspired to seek out the novel/s and read them in their entireties.)
In their groups, students are to annotate the extracts to identify the elements of a writer’s style. How has the writer used the following elements to create a voice unique to this piece of writing?
- figurative language
- assonance, alliteration and anaphora.
Students are to document their analyses and report back to the class on their findings. Their insights will support the development of their own writing in the next activity.
(ACELR021) (ACELR034) (ACELR036)
Students are to adopt the voice identified in their discussions/analyses from Activity four above and attempt to write a well-known children’s story (such as The Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood or Jack and the Beanstalk) using this voice.
Using the well-known story as a basis for this task prevents students from becoming caught up in imagining a new narrative and allows them to focus on the voice of the piece they are creating.
(NB: this is a first draft effort – if the student feels that this piece has potential they may return and develop it fully for the culminating rich assessment task.)
Culminating rich assessment task
Choosing one of the first draft imaginative pieces of writing from Activities three or five, students are to develop their chosen piece fully, right through to publication stage.
When they submit their final draft for assessment they are to also complete a reflective statement in which they evaluate the development of their own voice or the appropriation of another writer’s voice.
Download Rich Assessment Task (PDF, 92KB).