Saturday, October 11, 2014

Blog Hop - About My Writing

Thank you to Julie Koh for putting me up to this and forcing me to blow the dust off this cobwebsite. This entry is a response to an invitation from Julie to participate in a blog hop. Julie writes terrific, surreal fiction - her story 'Civility Place' which was published in The Sleepers Almanac No. 9 was recently selected for Best Australian Stories 2014. If you want to read her responses to these same questions, you can find them here on her blog.

What are you working on?

I am working on a novel that has been busting my chops for a  couple of years and which I recently decided to throw to the wolves, only to find that by abandoning it, I started to understand what I needed to do in order to fix it. And so it crawled back out of the grave and started clawing at my ankles again. In the meantime I have another non-fiction project which I don't talk about much because of its rather terrifying scope. I'm waiting until I have something a little more concrete than 40,000 words of research notes before I dare to describe it. 

How do you think your work differs from that of other writers in your genre?

What I have published so far has mainly been "literary" short stories, whatever that means. From my perspective it means something like: oriented to character rather than plot, concerned with the subtleties of human experience, and interested in the aesthetics of words as much as their information content. Although I find it hard to characterize my own work beyond those extremely broad parameters, I do recognize certain characteristic preoccupations and emotional tones. Specifically, I think there is an undertone of melancholy and black humour in a lot of my stories, and I have noticed that they frequently seem to revolve around themes of relationship fracture and the intensity, vulnerability and confusion of growing up. I find it interesting to observe this curiously strong psychic fingerprint that seems to emerge no matter how I try to disguise it or override it.  

Why do you write what you write?

Now there's a question. It's been observed that children and young people write about their fantasies - heroic adventure, romance - while older people write about their fears. I think we walk a fine line in fiction between a real world we can't entirely come to terms with, and an idea of a better one that we can't quite believe in. It's an effort at redemption in some way, an attempt to stitch together the way the world is and the way we want it to be. Even when I write very dark stories, I try to write them poetically, and I've come to recognize that poetry as the redemptive element in my work. If I can render something terrible and harsh in a way that is beautiful, then I feel like I've redeemed some tiny part of the world's horror. But of course, that is not really a conscious thing. I've only arrived at that realization by thinking very hard about why I would feel the urge to write such sad things.

That is one answer. There are others. When I was a kid I used to write stories all the time, and fill notepads with animated stick figure battles. I invented space-pigs, a race of plasticine pigs that took over the house and eventually starred in the epic sci-fi adventure film (OK, slideshow) Escape From Planet Sty, cinematography courtesy of my father. As a teen I filled notebook after notebook with Dungeons and Dragons worlds, every city described in near-autistic detail: its politics, trade, customs, dress, history... In short I made worlds; it was my way of being a god. Writing fiction stems from the same impulse. It is endlessly fascinating and delightful to me to see a world of my own creation come to life before me, as if I'd not invented it, but just polished a window onto it.

What's your writing process and how does it work?

I used to sing quite a lot, and write songs, and to me there is a connection between singing and writing. The moment I seek in writing is the one in which it becomes a kind of singing, in which the cadence of the words becomes the expression of an inner song. And it's the sense of having something to sing that is the thing that often drives me to the keyboard. Unfortunately this romantic approach is a poor way to think about the discipline of writing, which ninety-five percent of the time is not at all song-like. The song, if it comes at all, usually only emerges very late in the process.

I have therefore become more practical about the writing process. For several years I had a day a week that was dedicated to writing, but unfortunately I have been forced to give that up. Nowadays I squeeze in writing where I can between full-time work, part-time parenting, a second job teaching at The School Of Life, and my many other fascinations and obsessions - at the moment I am teaching myself quantum physics, learning Spanish and dabbling in animation.

Let me now hand over to Darby Hudson, a poet and artist whose strange, charming work you really should check out - it is infused with vulnerability, pain, love and above all honesty.