Life ad­vice

Aus­tralian au­thor DE­BRA OSWALD learnt to let her sons ven­ture off into adult­hood, but the for­mer Off­spring head writer, 58, has a harder time say­ing good­bye to the char­ac­ters she cre­ates

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - The Whole Bright Year by De­bra Oswald (Pen­guin, $32.99) is out now.

Off­spring’s De­bra Oswald on let­ting go.

Most of us hate the idea of our chil­dren hav­ing any kind of suf­fer­ing or pain. That’s why we some­times wish we could hold them close to us and hope they never grow up. At the same time, we know that’s non­sense. You don’t be­come a proper adult un­less you’ve ex­pe­ri­enced some hard­ship.

Once you have a child, you’re vul­ner­a­ble. But even though I worry about my kids [Oswald and part­ner Richard Glover have two sons aged 25 and 30], and still ask them to send me a text when they’ve done a long car jour­ney, I was pretty happy to let them go out into the world. I think I have man­aged to con­tain my anx­i­ety to ap­pro­pri­ate lev­els, at least.

The char­ac­ters I cre­ate are like my chil­dren. That prob­a­bly sounds slightly patho­log­i­cal, but I love them all; even when I am mak­ing them suf­fer, I feel so guilty about it. I will some­times cry in the su­per­mar­ket when they play mu­sic as­so­ci­ated with a char­ac­ter I’ve made suf­fer or I’ve killed off. And as a writer, if you’re lucky, you get to see how your char­ac­ters af­fect oth­ers. You get to see that you’re land­ing in peo­ple’s heads and hearts, im­pact­ing them in some way.

Nowhere has this been more ob­vi­ous than with the killing of [ Off­spring’s ro­man­tic lead] Pa­trick. The other writ­ers and I ex­pected some re­ac­tion, but we had no idea of the in­ten­sity of it. It was both a bit scary – we joked we’d be put into wit­ness pro­tec­tion – and re­ward­ing as we knew we had touched our au­di­ence.

The sto­ries we tell are pow­er­ful be­cause when a char­ac­ter goes through some­thing, it’s like a re­hearsal – for the reader or the viewer – of what it would be like if that hap­pened in our own lives. Or it’s a re­minder of some or­deal they have been through. As long as the story is han­dled with care and love, the process can be a re­ally nour­ish­ing one.

It’s just as dif­fi­cult to let go of a char­ac­ter as it is to let go of a cast and crew once film­ing ends. I love the col­lab­o­ra­tive side of tele­vi­sion – that’s what I miss most as I write nov­els, which is a much more soli­tary process. The team we had on Off­spring was in­cred­i­ble. It’s the most fun you can have in a room to­gether. Well, there are prob­a­bly a few things that are more fun… but you know what I mean.

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