Anna Trembath

We interview Earworms audio story author, Anna Trembath, who has written and narrated, ‘The Wild’, a story set in Timor-Leste. Listen to an excerpt of ‘The Wild’ below.

1. Who are the short fiction authors you admire (Australian or otherwise, alive or dead)?

There are, of course, many! Some of my most favourite collections are by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (The Thing Around Your Neck), Pam Houston (Cowboys Are My Weakness), Jhumpa Lahiri (Unaccustomed Earth), Annie Proulx (Close Range: Brokeback Mountain and Other Stories), and Doreen Baingana (Tropical Fish). There are so many great Australian masters of the form. Some of the Australian authored collections that I feel to be classics are Nam Le’s The Boat, John Murray’s A Few Short Notes on Tropical Butterflies, and recent release Maxine Beneba Clarke’s Foreign Soil. I’ve also been introduced to some really exciting voices through Spineless Wonders. Reflecting on my favourites, I see that I’m attracted to the same themes as drive my own work: the importance of place, difficult and beautiful global interconnections, questions of gender, race, culture and power.

2. What is the most memorable short story you have read? And why does it stand out for you?

Just one?! Too hard. I’ll give you two. Coincidentally, both deal with death, grief, love and womanhood.

I first read Cynthia Ozick’s ‘The Shawl’ earlier this year, prompted by the New Yorker Fiction Podcast. I listened to Joyce Carol Oates read this painful, beautiful story as I pushed my young baby in the pram after another sleepless night. It is a perfect specimen of a story. The language is poetic yet exacting and honest, the dreamlike sensibility powerfully conveys the horror and starvation enveloping the characters, and the love that Rosa feels for Magda is so powerfully juxtaposed against Stella’s all-consuming need for self-preservation. At the close of the reading I too felt like howling.

I return often to Pam Houston’s ‘In My Next Life’. It is such a moving story of an intimate friendship between two women. It’s rare to find the intensity, love and solidarity of a female friendship rendered so exquisitely. The language is so simple and straightforward, the voice so honest.

3. What do you like about the short story form?

The instant immersion in a world, a moment, a seminal point in a character’s life; the sharpness that comes from the discipline of the short form.

 4. How would you describe your own writing?

Golly. I suppose somewhat ethnographic: place and how it influences people and culture is incredibly important to me. I’m interested in political questions regarding gender, race and culture. However, I don’t begin my fiction with a political question in mind; rather these are the background filters through which I see the world. I’m also interested in how people come to love and mistreat each other in the complexities of the contemporary world.

 5. Which of your stories are you most fond of right at this moment and why?

Though I have written others since, I am still fond of ‘The Wild’. Often my writing is driven by place, with character more challenging for me. In this instance, the protagonist Ze drove the story and took me to some surprising places. It was quite a wild ride stepping into his skin. I loved that feeling of seeing the world through eyes entirely different to my own, and coming to a place of empathy with this somewhat unlikeable protagonist.

 6. Where do the ideas for your stories come from? (Take us through the genesis of the story published by Spineless Wonders.)

I suppose unsurprisingly given my background as an ethnographer, something in the relationship between place, culture and people often sparks my work. From whatever the kernel of the idea is, over time I jot down notes and attempt some writing. From there, I start finding connections between seemingly disparate things in an entirely intuitive manner. Everything takes on meaning around me as I become attuned to what could enrich the story.

In the instance of ‘The Wild’, the story originated from an experience that I had of flying back to Melbourne from Timor-Leste during a time of great upheaval in Dili. I experienced the gang fight and the delay in Dili that Ze confronts. From those particulars, the characters slowly emerged as I imagined how the situation could bring together people who may have little reason to interact otherwise.

The story lay dormant for some years. I had initially attempted writing it from the perspective of the Australian woman that Ze meets in Dili. It felt really lacklustre, but I knew that there was something in the idea that I wanted to return to.

As soon as I made the decision to switch point of view and write the story from Ze’s perspective, the story kicked along. I ended up writing through it really quickly. Ze’s backstory appeared to me on paper, and I both feared and revelled in the brashness of his voice.

After entering the story in a competition, I was lucky enough to work with a couple of great editors who gave critical and helpful feedback to help polish the work to the point of publication.

7. What is your writing process – from idea to publication? (Do you go it alone or are others involved?)

With short stories, I allow myself maximum freedom to cogitate an idea and experiment until I find the narrative. Once that happens then it’s all about getting something on paper to work, and re-work, and re-work some more.

I’ve worked with one mentor, and that was a terrific experience, not least in having someone objective say ‘yes, I think this is ready to be considered for publication’. Otherwise, I go it more alone than I would like to. I think this is a product of having really begun on this path while living overseas, then being chronically ill for many years which limited my ability to interact with other writers, and now having a young family. I feel hopeful that I will find my ‘community’ and other mentors really soon.

 8. What’s the most useful piece of advice you’ve received as a writer?

Nothing original here: to write, and to do it as regularly as possible, with little regard for quality on the first rendering. These are still lessons that I am learning! But I am definitely all about the re-drafting. And that requires words on the screen to work with, no matter how rubbish they are. As close to daily immersion in the story is essential too, I find – that way, the subconscious works away at it when I’m not writing. A good walk always helps me to refresh my perspective and draw new connections.

9. How do you feel about your work being published in non-print forms such as digital and audio?

Great! It’s exciting to have opportunities in non-traditional formats. I particularly love listening to audio short stories – it’s an immersive experience – so it was a kick to have one of my own published as audio.

Anna Trembath is a Melbourne-based writer. As well as Spineless Wonders’ Earworms, her short stories have appeared in Mascara, Peril, and Birdville. With ‘The Wild’ she won the 2012 Perilous Adventures Short Story Competition. As well as short stories, Anna is currently working on a novel set primarily in Timor-Leste.

To purchase ‘The Wild’ audio story, click here.

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