Interview with Dianne Highbridge
Many people feel daunted by the prospect of writing, and yet, it is one of the most valuable skills one can possess. Whether it is to advance a career in communications or to express oneself through a story, learning to write well is a powerful tool you will want to have handy when the time comes. Check out our writing courses and let's find out more about them from one of our writing instructors.
Could you tell us about your background?
I was born in beautiful Sydney, Australia, into a large extended family, full of stories. I graduated from the University of Sydney, taught for a time, and when I had saved up my fare, set out to see the world. My first stop was Japan, and this brief stay was the beginning of an intense interest in Japanese history and literature. In London, I worked in small bookshops, learning the book business, and loving working with books. Then I returned to graduate studies, at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. I received a Monbusho Scholarship, which brought me to Japan as a research student in history at the University of Tokyo. Then everything changed. One evening my roommate, an American student, came home from the library, and found me typing at the kitchen table. "What are you writing?" she asked. And I said, "I'm writing a story." In this new life, in Tokyo, I had found that what mattered most to me was writing, both as an element of my studies and as a way of exploring the world around me. That first story was, miraculously, published in Australia—and so, although I was to learn later that it isn't always easy, I had become a writer.
Since then, I have lived and worked as a writer—of long and short fiction, magazine articles, book reviews, marketing and advertising copy—and as a teacher, above all as a teacher of writing.
What courses do you teach?—How can these courses help students and in what field?
I teach three courses. Writing for the Commmunications Professional (WCP101), focuses on business communications and on writing for public relations purposes. In Magazine / Feature Article Writing (MFW101) students work on the skills of non-fiction writing related to their personal concerns, emphasizing ways of interesting, impressing, perhaps even inspiring the reader. Creative Writing: Telling the Story (ICW102) is the longest-running of my courses, for students who are eager to write with the imaginative freedom that fiction allows.
Students often move on from one of my classes to another, exploring their writing abilities. And some, starting out to find their own unique voices as writers, head straight for Creative Writing: Telling the Story, and return to the class as often as they want—because this course keeps changing along with the students' own needs and enthusiasms for different kinds of writing, from literary fiction to fantasy.
The writing skills learned in all these classes transfer from one objective to another; all kinds of writing are related, and enhance each other. Learning to write seriously in any medium is demanding, but flexibility and insight open up options in work and in life. It's wonderful for me to see students find and use abilities that will help them in their jobs, whatever fields they work in, at every stage of their careers—as well as enable them simply to enjoy writing well.
Do you know of any success stories of students who took your course?
A number of students from Creative Writing: Telling the Story have started projects in the class and then returned to their home countries to finish their books, and eventually to publish. Another went home to a job as a TV scriptwriter. Several former students have gone on to take Masters degrees in Creative Writing in the US and UK. A student working as a translator has recently published his Japanese translation of an American novel, while continuing to develop a story of his own.
Students of Magazine / Feature Article Writing have published in various media, from trade publications in their own fields, to travel, sports or family magazines, and company or individual blogs. Some have used report-style articles written as course projects to get new jobs or change careers.
And students in Writing for the Commmunications Professional can look forward to success in jobs they have sometimes been assigned to without first having learned how to write effective press releases and marketing copy, deal with sensitive PR situations, or communicate with colleagues and clients in appropriate tones. And now they can do all these things with confidence.
What backgrounds do your students have?
I'm always amazed by the great variety of countries and first languages my students represent, as well as the variety of working backgrounds they come from. They're teachers, journalists, interpreters, fashion or automobile or airline industry professionals, stay-at-home parents, workers in restaurants, IT firms, kindergartens, or embassies, and people who are between jobs, perhaps doing arubaito—all bursting with ideas and experiences. Some are senior, looking at second careers, and some are just starting out, but in class they meet on an equal footing, listen to each other, make friends, give and receive encouragement. They are very generous to each other, supportive of each other's efforts, and I like seeing that, even when I know that later I'll be scrawling multi-coloured comments over the pages. And no matter what backgrounds they come from, students understand how those comments are going to help too, in a different way!
Did you know?
Dianne's book of linked stories set in Japan, In the Empire of Dreams, is studied in Australia by scholars of cross-cultural fiction. And now an American film director, Kyle McCloskey, who has been working in Tokyo since the beginning of his career, has adapted a story called "Teaching the Nightingale" from In the Empire of Dreams for a short film, starring Japanese and Australian actors. He plans to take it to Japanese and international film festivals. Dianne has learned a great deal from this experience about the adaptation and film-making processes, and is looking forward to sharing with students who are interested in movies, and in screenwriting.