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  • Writer's pictureMandy Whyman

Writing insights - Frank Prem

I am so pleased to be able to introduce Frank Prem, Australian poet and writer, as my guest blogger.

Frank has been a storytelling poet for 40 years and has been published in magazines and online in Australia and beyond. For more information and links to Frank's recorded poetry readings, do visit his site at

How can a writer turn experience into expression? How can life be made over into a written form, so that another person – a reader – can empathise with the experience and associated feelings?

I’m Frank Prem, a poet and author from a rural area in Victoria, Australia, and I tried to do that – turn experience into expression - with my free verse memoir – Small Town Kid.

When I contemplate this process, there are a few things that come to mind. The first is the old maxim of ‘show, don’t tell’. A reader will only feel an emotional quickening if they can ‘see’ the experience, and I’m aware that readers have a diverse range of backgrounds and personal experiences – each of them unique. Mine was in a small town in Australia, someone else might have grown up in a London suburb, or a Zimbabwean farm, or perhaps rustbelt America.

I don’t want to tell my reader about a kid who grew up in the 1960s and 70s as though that was the only childhood possible. I want them to step back into that time and place with me, and then to use my opening of the door as a means to re-experience their own childhood. The story of Frank Prem is pretty boring, but the story of childhood and growing up is always filled with adventure and excitement and drama.

So, what happened in my life back then that a reader might respond to? Here are some of the things that I tried to convey as the experience of a small boy, and I’ve posed the kind of questions that I hope my readers might be asking themselves as they read.

· The annual town fete is on. There are wood-chopping competitions, Knock-Em-Down stalls, fairy floss on a stick. Carnival sounds fill even in a small town, starting with the garbled spruiking of a loudspeaker mounted on a car that no-one can understand, and don’t need to. People are everywhere, children are running all over the show ground. Excitement that even the adults are feeling. Delight at being among friends and neighbours in the noise and glamour of an EVENT!

What big local social event can you recall from your childhood that was long anticipated every year? A parade? A fete? The Agricultural Show?

· For weeks we build a bonfire to light on Guy Fawkes night. Higher and higher, with rubber tyres and a straw man to burn on the top. Kids buy or steal crackers to let off on the night. Fathers hide secret stashes.

Will we explode some crackers in the Deputy Headmaster’s letterbox again, this year?

Were there rituals in your local area on the big holidays and occasions? What regular or traditional mischiefs were indulged?

· What is a sunset? What does it look like? Where do you see it – through trees; across a valley; outside your back door?

What is your Sunset memory from childhood? Don’t think hard, just allow an image.

· What happened when the town was sewered for the first time? What changed? Did the toilet migrate indoors?

Moving toilets and laundries indoors was a generation-changing event in my community. Changing whole lives and especially, I think, for wives and mothers. Was there something similar that you experienced during your childhood? What effect did it have on your community?

My experience of reading these poems to an audience has been that there will be a queue of people afterwards with a desire, and need to tell their own version of the same stories, along the lines of those questions that I’ve posed above. ‘That was a good cracker night poem, but wait till I tell you about mine . . .

And there, I think, is the key. The writing needs to be aimed at conveying an experience, but inviting the reader to find or re-visit their own equivalent. To see it dance before them again.

I’ll finish this visit with one of the poems from Small Town Kid. This is a small moment of childhood exhilaration. I hope you are able to feel a little wind in your hair, and a little racing in your hearts.

I rode my bike

for sweet maureen

from beechworth to yackandandah

fourteen miles

of love-smit pedalling

down the hill

of the rising sun

a million miles an hour

not fast enough

but my breath

was taken away

I was drawn

down the road

descending like a bullet

from the barrel

of my rifle

drawn to ride

to sweet maureen

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Nov 18, 2020

You've explained so clearly and insightfully how to write about experience in a way that brings meaning to the reader that I need to figure out how I can work your comments into my writing process course. Students don't seem to believe me when I tell them that they don't need to explain their feelings in a personal narrative for the reader to know how they felt. They just need to put the reader in the experience with them.


Nov 17, 2020

Thank you for hosting my few thoughts here, Mandy. It was a delight to make a contribution.

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