Your short story I Will Save You is in The Australian Literature Review’s Basics of Life anthology. What can readers look forward to in I Will Save You?
For the anthology I submitted it under the theme of death, but it could have just as easily been friendship. It’s about the kind of supportive – and unlikely – relationships that can materialise when a person has been affected by tragedy. And it touches on life after tragedy, that transition from mourning to working out how to live again.
Dom, the narrator, is interesting in his own way but the focal point is his new best friend, Neil. I’m attached to him; he spruiks some romanticised ideas that, once in a while, I wish were possible. In a lot of ways the idealism in ‘I Will Save You’ is hyperbolic.
‘I Will Save You’ was actually a manuscript in its original form. It was a result of undertaking National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.org) back in 2007. Although the manuscript itself has never gotten past the first draft, ‘I Will Save You’ is a shortened form of much of its material, and I have woven together other short stories from adapted content. So it’s an example of how flexible writing can be, and how a story that may not quite work in one form may thrive in another.
On Thursday June 9th you will be part of a three author panel event at Book Street Toorak, with fellow Basics of Life contributors George Ivanoff and Belinda Dorio. What are your thoughts on the non-writing aspects of being a published fiction writer, such as book store events?
Honestly, I’ve never seen myself as much of a networker. When I first started out, attending the occasional launch, it was all I could do to not make an idiot of myself in front of potential friends. I’m only talking late last year when I say this. The commitments that I’ve taken on since then have made networking and events a neccesity for me, as they eventually become a necessity for anyone in the industry.
These days it isn’t enough to let a magazine or publisher do all the publicity for you. The simple reason is that there are so many books coming out on a regular basis, on the big stage and the small stage simultaneously, that it’s too easy for superb books to pass by unnoticed. You have to support your own material, and you have to know your own material and be able to discuss it. Many writers loathe the idea of networking and shmoozing; sometimes for good reason.
For something that I was incredibly uncomfortable with in the beginning, I’m beginning to like the networking, the discussion groups, the public side of being a writer and editor.
You are the editor of page seventeen, a publication featuring the work of emerging fiction writers. Could you describe what’s involved in editing page seventeen?
For starters, it isn’t just me. The committee for Issue 09 also includes Vicki Thornton, Ashley Capes, Emiko Hunt, Stephanie Heriot and Graham Nunn. I have competition judges in Tiggy Johnson (short story), Wendy Fleming (poetry) and Blaise van Hecke (photography).
By spreading the submissions evenly throughout the committee the workload has been relatively light so far. But June is the final month of our submission window, so the drizzle is about to become a deluge.
We make sure all poential contributors are read and have a fair chance at making it into print. As part of our reason for being, we give special consideration to emerging writers (which is generally considered to be a writer with three or fewer published works).
You also studied a two year RMIT Editing and Publishing course. How has that course and your first-hand experience with editing and publishing helped prepare you for writing your own fiction?
The people make the course. Not just the teachers, but the fellow students as well. I had some great teachers at RMIT with a wide variety of personalities and perspectives. Where one teacher coaxed me into exploring ideas and concepts without limits, another held me to mechanics and structure. And the workshops and discussions went well.
You get what you give, and I made sure I was generating as much material as humanly possible and running it past various teachers and fellow students. Lots of feedback and lots of trial-and-error experience. And friendships that can hold strong for a long time to come.
Honestly, I didn’t think I’d be an editor when I graduated the course. I delved into the mechanics of writing solely to help me with my own projects. But my personal path into the industry involved becoming an editor and assessor, by starting out in internships for Ford Street Publishing and [untitled] magazine simultaneously. And now I’m the editor of page seventeen, and I operate as a freelance writer and editor.
How would you describe the Melbourne situation for aspiring/emerging fiction writers?
I think anyone who was at Page Parlour – the magazine and press market that closed off the Emerging Writers’ Festival on June 5 – can guess my answer. Larger publishers and booksellers are having more than their fair share of woes, but on the ground floor, small presses and indie magazines are as numerous than ever. The SPUNC network alone (of which page seventeen is a member) has close to a hundred listed members, many of them based or operating in Melbourne.
There’s no doubt that there’s a lot of uncertainty, and a lot of contradictions in place; there’s a strong feel of there being a transition period between the old world and the new. Any casual pundit would proclaim zines dead or dying with the popularity of blogs, but that’s not the case just yet. For writers just starting out, it means that, just like everyone else in the business, they have to keep in touch with the news and know what’s happening.
But the magazines are still running, the publishers are still taking submissions, and the internet is becoming a more sophisticated platform for writers to be seen and recognised. I feel Melbourne can only thrive.
You are part of the Melbourne AusLit Writing Team, which involves a team of authors writing an integrated collection of short stories between May and September. What kinds of joys and challenges do you anticipateas this project progresses?
Even back at university, my stories were my own. Workshopping and feedback were meant to only be a guideline for me to make my own improvements. So the sharing of creative control is something I’ve never before done to this extent.
It’s been great so far. The biggest challenge so far has been the integration, and bolting down the fundamentals of the shared premise. But it’s been fun as well, as this is the stage where the ideas are free and unfettered. We’re writing on sheer exuberance right now, and later comes the part where we’ll attach the stories to each other and develop the world we have dreamed about between us.
Because the Melbourne Auslit Writing Team has developed a premise that encompasses the supernatural, we’re probably having an easier time compared to other projects, because we get to pick and choose our own mythology to a greater extent that the finities of a project including, say, international espionage. But it may make the struggle for ideas more heated, as we’re all developing our own perspectives. So the teamwork is only going to get more interesting.
What kinds of fiction do you most enjoy reading, and do you have some favourites?
I’ve always enjoyed fiction with strong, distinctive characters. Stories wth powerful narrators defined a lot of my reading while I was at university – Knut Hamsun’s Hunger (which was a strong influence on my writing for a while); Patrick McCabe’s The Butcher Boy; Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day.
I’ve always read some fantasy as well. The last trilogy I read was R.Scott Bakker’s Prince of Nothing saga, which was incredibly absorbing. And if I need a giggle, Terry Pratchett’s always reliable.
My list of books to read is massive at the moment. I attempt to read a wide range of fiction, so that I don’t have my influences limited to a single genre or style. So I’ll read something like Jules Borges’s Labyrinths or Gao Xingjian’s Soul Mountain, then I’ll read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or a Nick Hornby novel. Read too much ‘literary’ fiction and you forget good, simple stories. Read too much ‘popular’ fiction and you forget the sheer breadth that ideas/concepts/musings can encompass.
Who is one of your favourite fictional characters, and what makes them stand out for you?
I’ve never liked these questions much, because I can never give a simple answer. I mentioned above that I love strong characters and those who can tell a story powerfully. Whatever characters I list here, I’ll probably think of several more a week from now.
Good central characters generate strong emotions and reactions. Lolita‘s Humbert Humbert was entertaining while being loathsome. The infamous Igantius Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces is unforgettable. Jean-Baptist Grenouille from Patrick Suskind’s Perfume stayed in my mind for ages after I finished; Perfume remains one of my favourite books.
Do you have a main area of interest you will be focussing on for the subject matter or style of your fiction into the future, or are you more likely to write about a varied range of subject matter in various styles?
The short answer is no to the first part. I always drift back to writing fantasy in various forms, so that’s as close to an anchor as I’ll probably ever get, but in the end I tackle anything that interests me. I find an idea or a fact, and I find a way to explore and develop it. One story I’m working on at the moment is attempting a noir mood; I’m in the middle of reading Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep right now for ‘research’.
Writing is exploring, for me. I find new concepts I’ve never thought about before, and it’s like I’m playing them out in scenarios to see what’s possible from them. I love ideas, and I love good characters, so I suppose they define my ‘style’. But if that means that plotting is my weak point, then it just gives me a challenge for the future to step outside my style.
The Australian Literature Review