Back in 2015, Spineless Wonders was thrilled to publish Sam George-Allen’s book of hybrid writing, I Put A Spell On You as part of our Slinkies Collection series by writers under 30 curated and edited by Bridget Lutherborrow. Early in 2019, Sam’s full length non-fiction book, Witches: What Women Do Together is due to be released by Penguin Books Australia. To celebrate Sam’s latest publication, we
are reposting this interview in which she talks about magic, makeup, midwifery, her inspirations and her writing process.
To download a copy of Sam’s digital collection, I Put A Spell On You for just $4.99 click here.
SW: What drove you to write this particular collection? And what’s your favourite aspect of the collection?
SG-A: I got a crush and it felt like voodoo. When I was a kid I was into Wicca (like a lot of weird teenage girls) and having a crush made me start thinking about witchcraft again because it felt so external, like an outside force manipulating me. When I started researching voodoo and other magical traditions, everything I found was absolutely fascinating. I had to write about it just to piece it together for myself, the whole connection between women and power and magic and community. I’m always learning about the feminine and what it means to be a girl/woman and the frame of magic/witchcraft really makes sense to me. There’s so much more I could write about it; this feels like just the start.
SW: The form you have written in is a hybrid of fiction and non-fiction. How did you come to choose this form and why?
SG-A: I’m predominantly a non-fiction writer, but I found that the themes I was exploring in the essays were very close to what I was trying to illustrate in the short stories, even though I’d written the fiction some time before I began to think critically about witchcraft and women. I liked how the two forms reflected and complemented each other. I’m not sure that it’s something I’d set out to do again, but when I put the two side by side, I was happy with the whole they created.
SW: How do you fit your own writing into your day-to-day life? Do you have any unusual writing habits?
SG-A: My day job is editor of a Brisbane city guide website, so I write every day for a living – which is nice, because when I write for my own projects it feels like a holiday. It’s still hard to fit it in and I’m a chronic procrastinator, so self-imposed deadlines are usually the way I make myself write. I also have the (maybe universal?) millennial habit of insane multi-tasking, so especially when I’m editing I’ll do it in fits and starts between other screen-related tasks.
The best thing I can do to get myself to write for long periods is to get stuck into research. If I have a stack of books on my desk that I’m working through and taking notes from, it helps me to get into that focused flow state where it feels like I’m understanding my work on every level of thought. Then I can write for hours.
SW: Is there one particular author or book that you look to as a source of inspiration for your own writing?
SG-A: Janet Malcolm is the best longform non-fiction writer ever ever ever. She is a huge inspiration and I’ll be thrilled if I ever achieve a tenth of her insight, clarity and sensitivity to story.
SW: What experience has been the most challenging for you as a writer?
It can be hard to overcome self-doubt. I still often find myself going, who do I think I am, thinking I am qualified to write about this – or anything? If you give that thought-impulse too much weight it can be crippling. It’s work to remind yourself all the time that You Can Actually Do It.
That being said, doubt can be good for you. Being self-critical makes for better art. Complacency never did anyone any good.
SG-A: Any advice to share for those stuck in a writing slump?
It’s okay to start small. Writing a sentence a day is better than writing no sentences a day. Plus you can’t edit something that’s not there – at least if you’ve written down some garble, you can work to make it better.
I also like the idea of allowing yourself periods to lie fallow. It is unfair and unreasonable to expect yourself to produce creative work all the time. Sometimes your brain needs rest; you can let it rest. There’s always stuff going on below the surface.
SW: What are you reading now? Any recommendations?
SG-A: I’m struggling through Sex At Dawn by Cacilda Jethá and Christopher Ryan. The material is interesting but I am well over popular science/anthropology books being condescending and the tone of Sex At Dawn strays too close to smug too often for me to fully enjoy it. I recently read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, which was great. I will recommend Zadie Smith’s On Beauty and Janet Malcolm’s The Silent Woman to everyone who will listen. Those books changed my life.
SAM GEORGE-ALLEN is a Brisbane writer and musician. Her work has been published in The Lifted Brow, Stilts, and The Suburban Review, among others. She is a co-founding editor of online literary magazine Scum.