Book review: Creative Differences and Other Stories, Graeme Simsion

A novella and collection of stories from the creator of the 'Rosie' series.

Creative Differences is a novella brimming with discussion about the art and craft of writing, and here it is delivered alongside nine of Graeme Simsion’s short stories that date from the first 13 years of his writing career. So, judging by the quality of the content, if not the length, you could easily say you are getting two books for the price of one.

One of the short stories, ‘Like it Was Yesterday’, is high on my list of the best short stories I have ever read. As the title implies, it is about remembering. To explain in any detail why this story deserves a superlative rating would constitute a spoiler. Suffice to say it is everything you could wish for: an excellent plot, a character with whom it is easy to identify, conflicting opinions and a worthy theme. 

Of the other stories, ‘The Klara Project: Phase 1’ stands out the most; it features the first glimpse of Simsion’s unforgettable protagonist Don Tillman, later to star in his charming debut novel, The Rosie Project. Simsion says that the stories are taken from real life, with two of them being ‘for all intents and purposes, memoir’. But reality can be boring or fascinating depending on how it is recounted and Simsion is a master raconteur. Even if you have read these stories before, they are worth another visit.

Creative Differences, on the other hand, was originally released as an audiobook. While it makes excellent reading, it is arguably best experienced in that format rather than via the printed page because the voices of the three main characters are not sufficiently differentiated, although what they say is.

The story is narrated by Scott and Emily who have a love-hate relationship, and by Piper, one of their students, and finally by Gideon, a friend and publisher. Scott and Emily are writers and teachers of writing. They have tasted success and experienced failure. Much of their conversation and most of their thoughts relate to the challenge of writing something of literary worth. Debating whether they should write together or not – and confusing that with being together or not – they differ most starkly on how they value ‘planning’ or ‘pantsing’ (plotting by the seat of their pants).

Read: Book review: In Bed with Animals, Bronwyn Lovell

While an enjoyably easy read for anyone, Creative Differences would likely be of special interest to aspiring writers, and perhaps even to experienced ones. I suspect many of the author’s own views on the subject are canvassed here, and such a successful author deserves the aspiring novelist’s attention, as does his poking fun at some of the things taught in writing workshops:

’Or boy meets girl; boy loses girl; boy gets girl,’ I said.
‘Boy kills girl,’ said Emily. ‘Girl kills boy. Girl kills boys. If you make her a serial killer, you can have the best of both worlds.’
‘I was about to say that there’s plenty of room to be original within the rules of the genre. But you’ve just demonstrated the Scott Solera technique for creating original concepts. Bring two apparently unrelated ideas together.’

The moment I finished reading this book, I searched my bookshelves for whatever Rosie book I could find. And surely there can be no greater compliment to an author than that, after reading one of their works, you immediately long to read another.

Creative Differences and Other Stories by Graeme Simsion
Publisher: Text Publishing
ISBN: 9781922790149
Format: Paperback

Pages: 176pp
Publication: 10 January 2023
RRP: $32.99

Erich Mayer is a retired company director and former organic walnut farmer.