Place as Person – Kaaron Warren

We’re joined today in our Place as Person series by one of the most intriguing writers I know, Kaaron Warren. She has an exercise for us! Except that if you do it her way, you won’t be able to help but transform everything you do into good writing… 



Try this exercise; step outside your front door and walk around the block, treating as if it’s the first time you’ve done so. Notice everything; the colour of the house next door, the angle of the rubbish bin, did they take their bins in? The rubbish in the gutter, the depth of the bark of the dog around the corner, where the cat sits, how the sunlight falls, what sort of letterbox? Sounds, smells, open your mouth and taste the air, touch the wall and see if it’s warm.

This is the stuff I love; living place.

What I don’t like are stories so anchored in place they read like sat nav instructions. “She turned left on Sharpe Street, knowing as she did so she would be assailed by that street’s famous pigeon sellers, young boys with birds tied to filthy lengths of rope stolen from the alley at the back of the morgue…” except that’s not what I mean at all. Already Sharpe Street has taken on character, when I didn’t want it to. I can smell the birds, having recently smelled them up close in Sydney’s Hyde Park. The birds there are so tame they’ll take the crumbs from the corner of your mouth. Not that I allowed such a thing. But they did pick the crumbs from my hem. I can use the smell of those birds to make my Sharpe Street real, transport the reader so that their foot will slip on slime, what is it? Bird shit? Phlegm? Blood? And be tempted by the food stalls up the end, the smell of them drawing you away from the pigeon boys, away from the noisy, demanding person Sharpe Street has become.

What I meant to write was this: “He turned left on Sharpe Street, walked one block past Abbott Lane and Dill Alley, then turned right on Small Street. After walking for 22 minutes he came to a crossroad. Turn left, he hears his mother say. Always turn left at a crossroad.” Oi! Where’s she coming from. Idiot woman with her idiot prescriptions for life. Never moved from the town she was born, how can she….” And place intrudes again. I guess what I’m saying is this; if your ‘place’ lives, your stories will, too.


Kaaron Warren is an award-winning author with six works of fiction in print. Her three short story collections are The Grinding House, The Glass Woman and Dead Sea Fruit. Her novels are Slights, Walking the Tree and Mistification. She’s lived in Melbourne, Sydney and Fiji and now lives in Canberra, Australia, with her family.

Find out more about Kaaron on



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7 Responses to Place as Person – Kaaron Warren

  1. Kim Falconer says:

    Hi Kaaron,

    I love this exercise. Just did it spontaneously on your suggestion. In the rain. But it’s all so clean and warm, and grey and slippery. Everyone’s hiding from the drizzle but me. What fun!

    Thank you!!

    • Kaaron Warren says:

      Hi Kim,

      Sounds gorgeous, and I love that you were out there in the drizzle alone. No people to distract you from place! I like to do it to remind me that every place has a story to tell.


  2. Bahiyyih says:

    It was the sensation of bird shit under the ball of my foot that did it for me. What a place! Thank you …

  3. Kaaron Warren says:

    Thank you, Bahiyyih! I try to be concious of what lies underfoot. The sharpness of stone, the smoothness of tile.

    I’m curious; were you imagining bare feet as you walked up Sharpe Street?

  4. Bahiyyih says:

    I live in France where shit underfoot is such a daily hazard that it ought to be banal, but I’ve noticed that the very fact that it IS shit makes you feel you’re stepping on it barefoot even if you’re wearing knee-high boots. So no, I was not imagining bare feet as I walked up your Sharpe Street, but yes, I felt as though my feet were bare on the shit – or phlegm or blood or whatever other unmentionable manner of slime it was – that skidded beneath me in the – (horrors!) – reading dark. But I’d like to know whether I should have been barefoot or not, according to your plot…

    • Kaaron Warren says:

      I know exactly what you mean, regarding feeling as if you are walking barefoot. I will have to think about whether or not you should have been barefoot! Because it will say a lot about who you are (in the context of my story!), and what your circumstances are…

  5. Gillian says:

    I’m torn between saying “Stop doing this to me!” and “Thank you for the reminder – this is what develops that sense of place.”

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