Uh, I like the pretty standard kind of literary, ‘intellectual’ short story writers that, or so it seems to me, are liked by slightly pretentious, overeducated bourgeois dudes like myself. So people like Donald Barthelme, Julio Cortazar, James Joyce, William Faulkner, David Foster Wallace, and so on and so forth. I do like Chekov and Carver and Hemingway, although I’m not very interested in most contemporary ‘realist’ fiction (with notable exceptions, like Brad Watson’s brilliant Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives). When I was growing up, I loved (and still love) Edgar Alan Poe, Ray Bradbury and Roald Dahl’s adult short stories (which have probably ‘influenced’ me as much as anything). Most contemporary Australian short fiction is written in a ‘taken-as-read’, minimal-realist mode that’s not really my cup of proverbial tea, but there are great books coming out here. Last year, for example, I loved Catherine Harris’s Like Being a Wife, Jospehine Rowe’s How a Moth Becomes a Boat and Wayne Macauley’s Other Stories.
2. What is the most memorable short story you have read? And why does it stand out for you?
Probably James Joyce’s ‘The Sisters’ for the simple reason that it utterly baffled me when I first read it at the age of thirteen. I remember re-reading it in my last year of high school and actually ‘getting’ it, and feeling really excited about that—like I’d happened on a new way of seeing, and that I understood a whole new set of possibilities for what writing and fiction could do.
3. What do you like about the short story form?
These days I tend to read more prose than poetry (it used to be the reverse), and I read more fiction than non-fiction (in my spare time, anyway). I like well-written, stylised prose that’s interesting, challenging and beautiful and I don’t really care if it’s long, short or in-between.
4. How would you describe your own writing?
Erm, I’d prefer not to, I suppose. My book, Known Unknows, runs the gamut a bit, I think, with some ‘realist’ stories, some ‘experimental’ stories and even a piece of speculative fiction. At the moment, I’m not writing or interested in writing any more realist fiction, but this could change with all the speed of Melbourne’s weather. I guess I’d say that I write literary fiction and would be happy to leave it at that.
5. Which of your stories are you most fond of right at this moment and why?
I find that my feelings about my own work vacillate wildly, and I try not to think too much about work I’ve published once it’s published, because it isn’t really mine anymore (which is what Nietzsche called the melancholy of things completed). At the moment, however, I am still fond of my most recent story, ‘The Funeral’, which was published in The Big Issue last year, and is available online at Verity La.
6. Where do the ideas for your stories come from? (Take us through an example)
Very occasionally from my own life, more often from stories that other people tell me (so be careful what you say to me), and frequently from other books that I have read, which spark an idea. I like to spend a long time thinking about stories before I write them (for example, I spent something like three years thinking about the final story of Known Unknowns, called ‘Great Extinctions in History’, before I finally sat down to write it). Usually, I like to have a first and last line written in my head before I start writing (although they may change), but more and more I find the process of writing every story very, very different. I’m not a big believer in creative writing process—at its worst, focusing on process is a deadener that’s sure to result in boring writing, and at its best, it’s incredibly dull to talk about. To be honest, some of the most painfully boring conversations of my entire life have been about ‘Creative Writing process’, but I think I’m just much more interested in books than I am interested in authors.
7. What is your writing process – from idea to publication? (Do you go it alone or are others involved?)
I’ve been in lots of workshops in the past, which have been helpful although usually not in direct ways, and have had trusted friends who would read over things. These days I feel much more confident about what I want to do, and don’t really show anyone anything until I feel it’s finished enough to be edited. I tend to agree with Lawrence Sterne’s view of process: ‘I begin with writing the first sentence – and trusting to Almighty God for the second.’
8. Do you feel the short story form is valued in Australia? What makes you say this?
It’s absolutely, positively clear as day that the short story form isn’t valued on any particularly significant cultural level in Australia aside from a few thousand devotees here and there, and (very) occasional interest from a larger reading public (itself a small subset of the broader public). To say otherwise is absurd, but, thankfully, I don’t think either short stories or the short story as a form need to be measured in terms of public outcomes.
9. How do you feel about your work being published in non-print forms such as digital and audio?
I feel great about anyone who wants to publish anything I’ve written in any form at any time, especially if they’re going to pay me for it. If they pay me well, I feel even better about it. Sadly, this is rare.