Monday, 28 January 2019

Countdown to October: Where do short stories come from?

It's the question writers dread: where do you get your ideas?

This has been on my mind a bit this month, first as I had been reading John Boyne's new novel A Ladder to the Sky in which a sociopathic young writers steals ideas for his novels in a myriad of ways, all varying in their degree of moral bankruptcy, and then second as I struggled to write any new short stories for my forthcoming book.

There was a period of time, perhaps even two years ago although I really hope it wasn't that long, when stories used to be single sitting affairs. I'd have ideas buzzing around me like a swarm of wasps, irritating me, getting under my skin, and then off I'd go to my laptop or my notebook and the idea would just come rushing out.

Lately, I've longed for that to happen to me again.

It got me thinking about where the ideas for those particular stories had come from.  For my story The Sea Also Waits, I was inspired by the real life disappearance of a Russian free diver, which I'd read about on The Guardian. For my story From Under the Ground (published in the most recent issue of Westerly), it was the arrest of a man in connection with the Claremont Serial Killings which had been on the news every night when I was in primary school. For the story A Moveable Farce (which will appear in the next Margaret River Press anthology), it was the attacks on the Bataclan Theatre in Paris.

I began to worry that, because I no longer watch the news with my parents as part of our nightly routine, perhaps the steady feed of issues to worry me and make me anxious, while generally being better for my anxiety, was having a detrimental effect on my creativity.

But there are other stories in the collection that have come from other places. Some are fictionalised accounts from my own life-- where I give my characters the chance to change the outcomes, or stand up for themselves, or get the clarity that they need to in order to move on faster. Others are amalgams. Writers are like bowerbirds, building their nests and we take snippets from all over, combining them together to make something new. I've heard rumours that say Helen Garner carries a notebook with her always and writes down fragments of what she overhears to use later as dialogue. I've often wondered if her friends and family hear themselves when they read her work, or if they'd even recognise something that they might have said. I've taken birthday parties that I attended or hosted and mixed them with different groups of people; I've transplanted conversations that I've had into the mouths of others; I've imagined people who I've never met walking in places where I've been. One of my stories was inspired by a story in Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge, for the people in the story could have walked right out of the Western Suburbs of Perth, so I tried to mimic the style of the piece.

The pieces always grow from the original seed that is planted.

Nothing ends up exactly where it started.

I'm no closer to finding that common denominator that links all these things that have set my neurons firing, but perhaps I should stop looking. If I were to understand the magic trick, and put it to use whenever I wanted, I worry that I would not enjoy the experience as much.

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Countdown to October: Some Short Story Collection Recommendations

Short story collections. You either hate them, or you love them.

I hope that you, the person reading this post, is in the camp of those who love them, as come October this year, I'll have a collection of my very own out in bookshops.

(It feels weird to say that, because I haven't even finished putting it all together, but more details will come as I know them and I am planning on blogging through the whole process.)

In the lead up to the really hard work of getting it ready, I've been thinking a lot about short story collections I love, and short story collections that I really want to read.  I thought today I would post a list for you of amazing collections to check out if you're wanting to get into the genre, or if you're just looking for something new to read. These are in no particular order:

Short Story Collections I Have Read and Loved

* Like a House on Fire and Dark Roots, both by Cate Kennedy
* Trick of the Light by Laura Elvery
* Pulse Points by Jennifer Down
* Australia Day by Melanie Cheng
* Bird Country by Claire Aman
* Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke
* Heat and Light by Ellen van Neerven
* The Weight of a Human Heart by Ryan O'Neill
* You Think It, I'll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
* The True Colour of the Sea and The Bodysurfers by Robert Drewe
* Feet to the Stars by Susan Midalia
* Only the Animals by Ceridwen Dovey
* The Circle and the Equator by Kyra Giorgi
* The Love of a Bad Man by Laura Elizabeth Woollett

Short Story Collections I Really Want to Read

* Little White Slips by Karen Hitchcock
* Zebra by Debra Adelaide
* Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
* Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang
* The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night by Jen Campbell
* You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian
* Common People by Tony Birch
* Any collection by Joyce Carol Oates
* After the Carnage by Tara June Winch
* The Secret Lives of Men by Georgia Blain
* Kiss Kiss by Roald Dahl
* Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood
* The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel

Let me know if there are any collections missing from this list-- I want to be inspired by what other writers are doing in the genre!

Happy reading.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

A few goals for a new year

Remember whenI used to publish a full list of the resolutions that I'd made on my blog?

I think there's been a lot of backlash towards New Year's Resolutions growing for a while now, and I see this reflected in the people that I follow and am friends with on social media. Most people are actively rejecting resolutions, seeing them as naive and often too lofty to be achievable. Also, there's this recognition that you shouldn't have to wait until January 1st to start making positive changes in your life. People are constantly growing and changing, so it's a little naive to think that January is the only time when you can reflect on the active changes that you want to make. But, it's a good time to hit reset, and to think about the habits you've gotten into and maybe some of the new habits that you would like to form, so with that in mind, I just wanted to say a few words about a couple of goals that I am working towards at the moment. They're largely not writing related, but I still think they'll be interesting.

The first one, and this is the biggest one, is that I am wanting to change my attitude towards money-- towards saving it, and towards spending it. In the first half of 2018, I was very stressed. I reached a peak in my anxiety and I was unhappy a lot of the time. There were various reasons for this and I won't go into them, but I had been avoiding thinking about a few changes that I really needed to make in order to make that stress go away, and instead, I had been doing other things to relax. One of those things was shopping.

Had a bad day? Buy something. Feeling stressed? Buy something. Bored? Buy something.

This all sort of culminated in me realising, when I changed jobs and had to look at my finances, that I was living in a way that was unsustainable, and it meant that when I had bills that I wasn't prepared for or if something happened to my car (i.e. the flat battery I got one week before Christmas, thanks Santa), I just panicked. I loved spending money when it was for something I could enjoy, but when I had to spend it on bills and other 'necessary' items, I was a real Scrooge. My progress towards this goal already began in 2018, when I started using a budget, and when I shopped around for better deals on things like my phone plan, but in 2019, I am going to look at being more mindful about what I buy, and try to reset my attitude towards shopping. Shopping is NOT a recreational activity anymore.

I think the area that this is going to be hardest in will be with regard to books.

Most of you know that I was a bookseller for about six years, so I feel very strongly about supporting bookshops. I have a habit of walking into any bookshop I pass, and I feel guilty if I leave without purchasing something-- so often I have bought something on every trip.

Books are something that bring me joy and I won't apologise for this. But I have been acquiring books at a faster rate than I can read them, so my second goal for the year is to participate in The Unread Shelf Project challenge. I counted how many unread books were in my apartment (it was a lot) and I have committed myself to reading at least 45 of those before the end of this year. My Goodreads goal is to read 105 books this year overall, so that gives me lots of wiggle room to read new books... but I am going to be making use of my library in order to do this wherever possible.

That's not to say that I won't be buying ANY books at all. I'm still me. But again, I am going to be mindful about the ones I bring home.

I do have other goals, like riding my bike to work more, and being disciplined about writing regularly, but these are the main ones, and the ones that I already feel like I am making progress towards.

If you have any tips that might help with either of these, I'd love to hear them.  Or, if you just want to share your own goals.

Happy reading and writing!