Kate McKenzie speaks to Tasmanian writer Susie Greenhill ahead of the Emerging Writers’ Festival Hobart Roadshow.
What skills do you think emerging writers should try to develop?
I think if you love what you do the most fundamental skills are intuitive – read, write – though it’s possible to forget to do both sometimes, and become pre-occupied with the idea of just ‘being’ a writer. As well as a source of inspiration, reading for me is about being part of a kind of vast, nebulous conversation. And while there’s no reason to let it restrict or even guide you, it’s helpful to understand the context you’re writing in when you’re creating work which you want to be read, particularly if there’s any kind of political edge to your writing.
The skill I most struggle with is the ability to write freely in stolen moments and less-than-perfect places – trying to conjure the muse in the rare minutes when my little daughter lets go of my leg. I think that writerly ideal of being locked in an attic with a notebook and an unbroken expanse of time is very rare. Even the most successful writers often need to fit their art around the demands of a career, a family, relationships, study – demands which tend to grow rather than dissipate. So developing the discipline to write when you just don’t feel like writing is pretty important. Sometimes (often) it’s hopeless, but you can occasionally be surprised.
Also, be brave and try to tell the stories that need to be told, go to the places you least want to go.
Where was your favourite place growing up?
My parents’ yacht, Moonbird. A 27 ft Eventide smelling of turps and varnish. On the water there was endless time to read – in the cabin by the light of a fish handled lamp, or in a hammock strung between mast and bow. We loved her, and she took us to indescribably beautiful places. I can still remember sitting in the dinghy clinging to her rails on the night she was sold.
Do you refresh your writing by travelling or do you find staying in one place gives you more stability?
I’ve always been quite restless. I’ve lived overseas and interstate and find movement and change do inspire stories, but in a sense they tend to be other people’s stories. For the past few years we’ve travelled very little. We have a small house by the sea and I do think there’s something incomparable about staying still – knowing a place intimately – that can be incredibly valuable to a writer. All those details and that experiential knowledge, accumulated over time, which encourages a kind of fidelity to place and which no amount of research can replicate.
There’s also something about the simplicity of stillness. Not long ago I attended a workshop by Cate Kennedy and she spoke about that desire of new writers’ to write everything – to tell everything you know in one desperately over-crowded story. I think the intensely stimulating experience of travel tends to have that effect on me, and on my writing. But I’ll still always do it, given the chance.
What is happening in the Tasmanian literary scene at the moment?
I had my first short stories published in the month my daughter was born, and we live in quite a remote part of the island, so I’ve only really been on the periphery of the literary community here. There seem to be a handful of enthusiastic and generous emerging writers and editors who are trying to re-invigorate the scene here at present, and bridge some of the gaps that have developed over time, and I look forward to being a part of that.
Can you tell us a bit about your work which was published in the Review of Australian Fiction Volume 7: Issue2?
My most recent short story, ‘This Butterfly,’ was published by RAF as part of the Tasmanian edition, put together by Rachel Edwards. It’s about two young teenagers living in a London squat, and the kinds of hope and refuge they find in the old London Butterfly House. It was paired with a story of Carmel Bird’s, who gave me some wonderful guidance and encouragement during the process of writing and after. I’ve always admired the RAF as a journal, and read it often, so it was a terrific project to be part of.
What will you be getting up to at the EWF Hobart Roadshow?
I’ll be reading an airy, lyrical piece I’ve written about the song ‘Caterpillar Girl’ by The Cure, for The Lifted Brow’s Mixtape Memoirs. I’m nervous about the reading part as it’s not something I’ve done before, but I guess it’s something writers need to learn to do eventually. The actual writing has been great. Knowing the work will only exist for that one reading and will never be published is very liberating, and probably an experience I can learn from. It’s also provided an opportunity for some delirious, four-year-old dancing.
Susie Greenhill is a Tasmanian writer who is working her way through a PhD’s worth of short fiction for Edith Cowan University. Her stories have been published by Island, Etchings, Review of Australian Fiction, 40 South, and in the e-book Women’s Work by Overland.
The Emerging Writers’ Festival will bring it’s Roadshow to Tasmania from Thursday 31 October to Saturday 2 November 2013. For more the full program and to book, visit our events page. Susie will be appearing at Mixtape Memoirs.