What inspired you to write this story?
Small parts of it are autobiographical. I was an over-imaginative child, or a tragedy-centric child, so I was always conjuring up fears and disasters. The little girl who is afraid of snakes is me. I am still quite a cowardy custard, in fact. The much more serious element in the story – the deliberate poisoning of aboriginal people – grew out of a conversation I had with my mother, who could remember her own parents talking about similar murders in their region.
What do you like about the long story form?
I’m currently occupying two camps: the very short story (around 500 words) and, increasingly, longer short stories. I like the sense of freedom in the long story form. Not to waffle, hopefully, but to tell a big tale, vividly. Flash fiction feels like carving with a small, sharp knife. The long form is painting, to me.
The Carmel Bird Long Story Award was open to women writers only – how does the fact that you are a woman writing in contemporary Australia impact on you and your writing?
It’s a complicated question. Generally, it’s great to have quality opportunities like this. To be chosen as a finalist by a writer as talented and accomplished as Amanda Lohrey was a real thrill for me.
How does your usual writing process work? Where do the ideas for your stories come from?
The clearest image I can offer of how ideas come to me is one of those children’s toys where the child posts various shapes through the appropriate slot. If you shake the toy, sooner or later one will drop back out through its hole. That’s how it feels for me. I collect small shapes in my head and they seem to rattle their way out.
What writers do you turn to when you’re feeling uninspired? Do you have any tricks for getting motivated?
I often turn to poetry to inspire me and to get those shapes moving. I have no tricks for getting motivated, beyond a strong desire for producing the highest-quality writing that I can. The first page or two of a long story is often torture, then, at some point – in the best moments – the story becomes as clear to me as if I were watching a film.
Amanda O’Callaghan is a Brisbane-born writer. A former advertising executive, she has a BA and an MA in English from King’s College London. She has a PhD in English from the University of Queensland, where she is an Honorary Research Advisor. Her story Legacy appears in Review of Australian Fiction vol. 5, Issue 5.
Book available in ePub and mobi formats at Tomely