The 2015 Sydney Writer’s Festival In Focus – Andrew’s Highlights

Can you hear that?

Pages being briskly bookmarked, notepads scribbled on frantically, publicists sweating over author schedules…

The Sydney Writer’s Festival is nearly here!

And because I’m getting all excited, I’ve picked out some of my highlights for the 2015 edition, take a gander. For more details head to www.swf.org.au

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British study reveals author, librarian and academic three most desirable careers

WritingBooklovers know it, and it appears the rest of the world is starting to catch on.

A bookish job is a great job!

The “aura of prestige” connected with a career in writing or academia is preferable to jobs that brought promises of wealth and celebrity status, according to a survey conducted by UK market research firm Yougov with more than 14,000 respondents.

Being an author was the most popular choice among both men and women, with more than 60 per cent selecting it as their dream job. It was followed by a career as a librarian (54 per cent) and in academia (51 per cent). Lawyers came in fourth place, with journalism in sixth behind interior design.

Writing Paper Planes – The Movie And The Book (a Guest Blog from author Steve Worland)

Author Steve Worland

Writing a novel is more difficult than writing a screenplay.

Why do I think this?

Two words.

Word count.

My three action novels run between eighty to one hundred thousand words each. A typical screenplay? Twenty thousand, if that. I had one horror script come in at sixteen thousand a few years back. So, obviously, that means the time investment is very different too, about a year for a book versus three months for a screenplay, though if you get your skates on you should probably knock it over a lot quicker than that.

Also the prose of a screenplay is much simpler than a novel. Scripts are all about being brief and succinct. You want it to be easy to read so there’s no reason for a producer to put it down and move on to the next project on the pile. And it’s not like you need much description anyway, unless you’re detailing an important element of the story. If the hero drives a ‘beaten up ute’ then that’s all you need to write. Any more description is superfluous. The director and production designer will do the rest.

Now what about money I hear you ask. Yes, screenwriting pays quite well, certainly compared to what you make if you’re a first time novelist.

So why would you ever write anything but a screenplay?

quickBecause getting a novel published by a major house, as difficult as it is, and it is extremely difficult, is a whole lot easier than getting a movie made, even one with a low budget. Getting any movie into production is, in its own way, a miracle. And if you write action adventure stories like me, which cost a fortune to produce, well, it’s even harder. I can write anything in a novel, a formula one car driving at three hundred kilometres per hour, upside down, on the roof of a French motorway tunnel (that’s in Quick, my latest book by the way), or a Space Shuttle landing on the deck of an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Pacific Ocean (that’s in Velocity, my first book) and not have to worry about the cost. In a movie those sequences would have a producer in your ear immediately: ‘I mean — does it really need to be a Space Shuttle, Steve? We have enough money for a Cessna. Can it be a Cessna?’

And then there is control. As a novelist you have a great deal and can mostly do as you please, though I would always urge new writers to listen to the sage advice of their experienced editors, publishers and agents, whereas in the film business the screenwriter is the low man on the totem pole whose importance to the project falls somewhere after the director, the producer, the other producer, the other other producer (who is often the first producer’s half brother) and, always, the star. A big part of your job as a screenwriter is to juggle the disparate story and character ideas of that group and then finesse a solution that will make the script work and everyone happy.

This was something that, when I was starting out as a screenwriter, I enjoyed. I loved to take stories from the page to the screen. But the reality is that you don’t get a chance to make a movie very often and when you do it can take a long time before you see it at the cinema. You are lucky to get one made every couple of years. You can be writing all the time but the percentage of screenplays that actually get up is extremely low. So that means you can write an amazing story but if the German tax money falls through or the star is offered something more lucrative or the director bails over creative differences with the producer (and his half brother) the movie can keel over. The thing about screenplays is that you can write something you think is wonderful and, literally, no more than eight people may ever read it. Screenplays, unfortunately, don’t have value to the public as reading material, unless somebody wants to see how one’s written so they can write their own.

paper-planesSo, considering this screenplay/novel conundrum, it was interesting that with my latest project I had the opportunity to write both. A screenplay and a novel, in that order. It often happens the other way around but not with Paper Planes, an idea my co-writer and the film’s director Rob Connolly had a number of years ago. At the time we both had young children who, we realised, had not seen any Australian children’s films. (It was before Red Dog). That was a shock to us because, when we were kids growing up in the 70s and 80s, we saw Australian films regularly, everything from Storm Boy to Crocodile Dundee to The Man From Snowy River to BMX Bandits to Fatty Finn to Blue Fin. They were a part of our lives.

But that wasn’t the case with our daughters. For many reasons, some economic, some creative, some cultural, Australian films don’t have that kind of traction in the marketplace any more. So we wanted to see if we could change that and offer up a genuinely entertaining family film for an Australian audience. After all, if Aussie kids aren’t watching Aussie movies when they’re young how can we expect them to watch them as adults?

So it was my job to not only co-write the screenplay but to novelise it into a book children would embrace. There were two major jobs to do: flesh out the prose from the succinct and sparse language of the screenplay and find a writing style that kids could hook into.

As the Paper Planes movie runs ninety minutes you only have time to include the most exciting and emotionally satisfying parts of the story, so the aim of the Paper Planes novel is to give the readers the hero’s journey — a young Aussie bloke making new friends, clashing with powerful rivals and coming to terms with his family’s past as he attempts to create a paper plane that will compete with the best in the world — then flesh out the characters and backstory to add a little more depth while making sure the story is a satisfying read for those who haven’t (yet!) seen the film.

SamI’ve been writing action adventure novels for adults for the last couple of years so I though writing a book for young readers would be a doddle. I was so wrong. It was a real challenge to alter my style. I really had to stretch. Mainly I was mindful that I didn’t want to speak down to the kids. I also had to make sure my cultural references are spot on. It ultimately came down to practice. Doesn’t it always? Thankfully I had a wonderful team at Penguin Young Readers to guide me and point out the pitfalls before I stumbled into any large, unseen crevices.

One element of the process I didn’t realise would take so long and be so complex was organising the book’s ‘added extras’, specifically the section of colour photos from the film. For some reason I thought it would be simple but getting clearances from all the actors and photographers was a huge undertaking that took months. The book’s other ‘added extras’ include a Q&A with the Rob who talks about directing the film and a foreword by the film’s star Ed Oxenbould (whose uncle was the lead in the aforementioned Fatty Finn, if you can believe it). My favourite ‘added extra’ in the book are the folding and throwing instructions for a paper plane. There’s something about seeing the film that makes you want to fly a paper plane immediately, so hopefully the readers will feel the same after they finish the book.

As I said before, movies take a long while to get made so by the time Paper Planes hits theatres on January 15th, Rob and my daughters will be four years older than the little girls who inspired us to tell the story in the first place.

Even though they’re approaching their teens we’re sure they’ll love the movie, and the book, as much as we do.

Grab your copy of Steve Worland’s Paper Planes here

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Steve Worland co-wrote the screenplay for the Australian family film Paper Planes with its director Robert Connolly, whose previous work includes Tim Winton’s The Turning and Balibo.

Steve has written scripts for Working Title and Icon Productions, worked in script development for James Cameron’s Lightstorm, wrote Fox Searchlight’s Bootmen, which won five Australian Film Institute awards and worked on the Hugo award winning sci-fi series Farscape.

He is the author of the action-adventure novels Velocity, Combustion and Quick and recently novelised Paper Planes.

For more from Steve, check out his website www.steveworland.com, and catch him on twitter at @StevenWorland

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paper-planesPaper Planes

by Steve Worland

One paper plane flies straight and fast and true. Dylan’s.

Twelve-year-old Dylan Webber lives in outback Western Australia in a small country town. When he discovers he has a talent for folding and flying paper planes, Dylan begins a journey to reach the World Junior Paper Plane Championships in Japan.

Along the way he makes unlikely new friends, clashes with powerful rivals and comes to terms with his family’s past before facing his greatest challenge – to create a paper plane that will compete with the best in the world.

Steve Worland brings you the exciting, heartwarming story of Paper Planes, adapted from the award-winning family film that features a cast of Australia’s finest actors, including Sam Worthington, Deborah Mailman, David Wenham and Ed Oxenbould.

Grab your copy of Steve Worland’s Paper Planes here

GUEST BLOG: Notes from the Other Side by Jo Riccioni, author of The Italians at Cleat’s Corner Store

9781922070883

I can remember the exact moment I started crossing over to the Other Side, the first time I made that tentative transition from happy avid reader to somewhat less contented beginner writer. It was ten years ago, almost to the month. I recall it so precisely because I came to writing comparatively late in life.

As a child, I was a bookworm but I wasn’t an endless scribbler, never kept diaries or notebooks, and didn’t always long to be a writer. My first attempt at writing fiction was made somewhere between mashing pumpkin and changing a nappy, and I found that my 8-month-old was cutting his teeth at about the same time as I was cutting mine on short stories.

I wish I could say it was a lot more romantic than that, but the truth is that writing rarely is. It’s an odd little obsession, practised by a surprisingly diverse set of people, in the face of all sorts of obstacles and knock backs. For me it started out as mummy therapy: a lifelong love of reading, meets a new laptop and a baby monitor on the kitchen counter.

Two months ago my first novel, The Italians at Cleat’s Corner Store, was released in Australia. So how did I get from a laptop in the kitchen to a publishing contract? In short, with baby steps. It took ten years for me to hold my own novel in my hands. Here are a few of the things I’ve picked up on my trip to the Other Side, things I’m still learning about writing and publishing, and a few I wish someone had told me sooner.

1: It’s Hard, But Not Impossible

The first short story I wrote gave me a ridiculous sense of accomplishment: it came in second out of a whopping 52 entries in a local writing competition. I was ecstatic. I signed up for an evening course for beginner writers at my nearest community college. I read some famous books about writing. And then I went along to a day seminar at a regional writers’ centre to discover all about that Holy Grail: ‘Getting Published’. For four hours I sat there intently taking notes while a panel of novelists and publishers detonated the industry from the inside out. My writing ambitions (never overly robust to begin with) were left in smouldering ruins somewhere under my chair.

‘If you can do anything else that makes you happy or makes you money, then do that because writing sure as hell won’t make you either,’ a novelist told the audience.

‘The reality is that even good novels are getting passed up regularly in today’s uncertain climate,’ an agent announced bleakly.

joroccino

Author Jo Riccioni

‘There’s no such thing as manuscripts being picked up from the slush pile anymore,’ a publisher admitted. ‘We don’t even have a slush pile, we just have a bin.’

I went home and did what any self-respecting wannabe author could do. I filled a large glass of wine, opened my laptop and carried on writing.

But I didn’t bury my head in the sand either. And I don’t deny that I probably needed to hear what those industry experts had to say. However, what I took issue with was their attitude. It seemed to be all jaded doom-and-gloom, topped with a smidgeon of insider condescension. And yet I’d read three or four Australian debuts that year alone, so I knew there had to be gaps in that publishing stronghold, passages into the fortress somewhere.

Some time later, in a fit of masochism, I took a job in a bookshop. I highly recommend it as a gauge of serious intention to all aspiring writers. Book selling has to be the bracing cold shower to any writer’s burning ambition, especially if you’re writing literary fiction. If you’re still typing away after sending back boxes of unsold new releases, then you really have got it bad.

The flip side to this, however, is that unpacking all the new books means you get to see what’s trending in publishing, what’s actually selling and sometimes (not often but, reassuringly, sometimes) those books are works by new writers. The industry has to have new material. It needs fresh voices. It’s looking for the next big thing, or even the next medium-to-fairly-modest thing. And until you actually write, how do you know you’re not the person to give it to them?

I’m happy to say things appear to have changed a little since that first seminar I attended. Several publishers started accepting unsolicited manuscripts in a more structured way a few years ago and others have followed suit. Check out Allen & Unwin’s Friday Pitch; Penguin’s Monthly Catch, Pan Macmillan’s Manuscript Monday and Hachette’s open submissions, among others.

2: “Overnight Success” is a Marketing Construct.

Ten years after I wrote my first short story, I got a jiffy bag in the mail. Inside it was the finished copy of my debut novel. Sounds great, right? I really showed them, didn’t I? Almost … if it wasn’t for the ‘ten years’ part, maybe?

But ten years is what it took and those years are precisely the important bit, I now realise. I wasn’t actually writing the novel that whole time: I was learning how to write something publishable. Novels might be discovered by a publisher overnight but they certainly aren’t written overnight. One of the lessons I’ve learned is that, in the majority of cases, the publication of a book and its apparent ‘wildfire’ success shouldn’t be confused with its gestation or the period of apprenticeship the novelist took to get to the point where she could write that book. Whether that apprenticeship took the form of a series of ‘bottom drawer’ novels, or years writing short stories and poetry, or studying creative writing, or even simply a lifetime of careful reading, it is still an apprenticeship of sorts. Becoming good at anything takes time and patience, and writing is no exception. For me, starting to write felt like learning to read all over again – this time as a writer.

97805529920463: Get Help

I’ve been a long-term student of literature as well as a teacher of it, and no one ever criticised me for wanting to learn to be a better reader. I’m at a loss, then, as to why creative writing courses (namely, learning how to be a better writer) should be so frowned upon by some in the literary community. Perhaps we secretly want to think of great writers as being born, not trained? Otherwise, anyone could have a pop at a novel, couldn’t they? And then the intrinsic merit of writing as an elusive (or should that be exclusive?) art form would surely be devalued? I was as guilty as anyone of believing this when I was a young literature under-grad. And then I started meeting novelists and learning about how they work.

Many excellent writers never finish a novel while some pretty average ones manage to publish a whole shelf full. It’s Edison’s famous quote about genius being 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. A good quality writing course can help teach you to read as a writer (analysing structure, voice, narrative arc and the technicalities of the written form), but it can also offer practical tips for carving out the time to write, managing unproductive attitudes to your work, setting goals and deadlines and giving industry insights from other writers, publishers and agents about how to begin getting your writing into the public eye.

Writing courses can’t write your novel for you, though, and signing up for them continuously without putting in the hard yards is kind of like trying to train for a marathon by only studying a sports science manual. At the end of the day, it’s just you, your keyboard and 100,000-odd words (see below). But, forewarned is forearmed, and a good teacher or mentor can make that prospect seem a hell of a lot less scary to a beginner writer.

4: Being a Writer Means Actually Writing

I wish I had another novel for every time I’ve heard an aspiring writer (including myself) say: ‘I just don’t have the time to write.’ There are lots of valid reasons why we tell ourselves we can’t write, but most of these rapidly lose credibility if, in the next breath, we go on to analyse the latest plot twists of Breaking Bad or who got voted off The Voice. Yes, novels take time. They take a ridiculous amount of time. And yet the average Australian adult manages to dedicate 13 hours a week to watching TV, pretty much without thinking about it. Perhaps I’m being harsh. But sacrifices have to be made. Ask the tough questions and if writing doesn’t come out on top, then give yourself a break. Let someone else write the novels. There’s nothing wrong with that. Life’s too short to put yourself over the rack for something that’s not a genuine priority.

Having said that, once I’d decided it was a priority, I wished someone had told me that writing productivity does not necessarily increase when you reduce other professional work. I found that I wrote as many words when I had a part-time job and young children as I did when my kids were older and I quit work to finish my novel. And I’ve heard other writers speak of a similarly unproductive relationship with ‘too much writing time’. Sometimes all you’re doing is giving yourself even more hours to procrastinate. I wish I’d kept my day job. Then I’d have a novel and new shoes. Lack of time can sometimes make you more productive.

5: “There is no such thing as good writing, only good re-writing.”

I’m a firm believer in John Irvine’s famous quote. Most of my time spent writing, whether it’s short stories or novels, is spent editing. And any small success I’ve had with getting my work published has been because I’m reluctant to let it 9780552992053go out into the world until it’s the best I can make it. (Even when I’m thoroughly sick of it, I’m more likely to file it away than put it out there, if I don’t think it’s ready). You often only get one shot with an agent or publisher, so don’t get so excited at finishing your draft that you forget it’s still a draft. Make it the best it can be and get help if you think you need it.

6: Getting Published is the Easy Part

I know, I know, don’t you hate hearing published writers say this? I used to convince myself they were lying, that they were saying it to big note themselves, or because they derived a martyr-like satisfaction recounting the endless hardships of the writing life. What is there post-publication that could seriously be harder than getting up at 5am in the middle of winter to a blank screen, having decided to cut three chapters and four months’ work? Or, knowing in your heart you’ve got to get rid of a character and feeling like you’re murdering someone in the family? Surely it’s so much easier to do all this with the comfort of a publisher in the wings?

Well it’s not. I got signed by a publisher before my novel was completed and the security that offered was definitely offset by knowing I was writing to please someone else not just myself. Getting signed also didn’t preclude a scenario almost worse than not getting published at all, and that is thinking you’re getting published, only to have your book rejected at the last. I managed to avoid this but it does happen to writers at all stages of their careers. I wished someone had told me that ongoing performance anxiety was par for the course in the writing life. Thankfully, I’ve just recently discovered the excellent conversations between Charlotte Wood and Alison Manning in a Mind of One’s Own, which pull apart many of the psychological hurdles writers face and the self-sabotaging blocks to writing. They’re like an ‘on-demand’ pep talk and I’ve found them a great help.

Before my novel was released, the only end result I focussed on, like most debut writers, was getting that published book in my hands. I now know that really is just the beginning. When I was writing the novel, I was so engrossed in its world, in my artistic integrity, in making it the best it could be, I was barely aware of the book as a business proposition, a product. And that’s the way I wanted it. But the moment a book gets released, there’s no denying it becomes a commodity the author must help shift. I found I was changing hats again, not from consumer to creator this time, but from creator to promoter.

As much as I’d tried to familiarise myself with the post-publication world, I wasn’t prepared for just how involved I had to be in the actual marketing of my book. I’d made the grave mistake of thinking I could take some much-earned downtime between finishing my proofs and the book hitting the shelves. But this is in fact the busiest time for a writer. This is the time to take leave from your day job. This is the time to get out all those notes you took at that Marketing Your Book course you were smart enough to enrol in before it actually got published (and, no, I was not smart enough to do it before publication). This is the time you should be tweaking websites, spruiking social media, and offering giveaways in advance of release, setting up interviews, events with local libraries, bookshops and book clubs, and writing features that may help plug the book. Don’t assume your publicist is going to secure any of this for you. Don’t assume you are going to be able secure any of this for yourself, either. Debut fiction, especially the literary kind, is notoriously difficult to promote – which goes hand-in-hand with debut fiction being notoriously difficult to get published. Difficult, but not impossible.

There is plenty you can do and plenty of resources to teach you how. Take the knock-backs on the chin, keep plugging away, and continue until you get some takers to profile your book. After all, getting published was the easy part: you should be up for a little challenge by now!

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Jo Riccioni’s debut novel, The Italians at Cleat’s Corner Store, is published by Scribe in Australia and the UK. Her short stories have been published in Best Australian Stories 2010 and 2011, The Age and the Review of Australian Fiction. She has a Masters in Medieval Literature, is a Varuna Fellowship Alumna and also a graduate of the inaugural Faber Writing Academy in Sydney.

faberacademy

A Booktopia Exclusive: Waiting for the Man by Arjun Basu

Booktopia is so excited to be in an exclusive partnership with New South Books to present the debut novel of Arjun Basu.

If you’re a fan of twitter, chances are you’re a fan of Arjun Basu. Arjun has over 142,000 followers on twitter, where his 140-word short stories have drawn a huge following and a mountain of imitators.

We caught up with Arjun to chat about his new book, writing career, and spiffy tracksuits.

Waiting for the Man by Arjun Basu

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9781770419971Q: Where did the idea for Waiting for the Man come from?

A: This is a long long story. So sit down. Throw another shrimp on the barbie (oh dear, I am so so so so sorry about that, I promise I won’t go down the sordid and silly road of national stereotypes again…). Waiting for the Man starts with images: a man on his steps. A man lying in tall grass. A road trip pit stop. And then these varied images started to coalesce. The first part of the book I ever wrote, a long time ago, is what we read at the end of the book. The last few pages. It was a snippet of a short story that I liked and filed away. And somehow the image within it kept coming back. And then one day I realized these disparate elements were all part of the same story. Did I answer the question? Are we still on speaking terms? I truly am sorry for the shrimp on the barbie thing. I think I had to get it out of my system. At least I didn’t say “g’day” right?

Q: What was it like to translate that idea into a full novel?

A: It is a long and drawn out process and involves quite a bit of drinking. And pacing. And the judicious use of hammocks.

Q: Waiting for the Man tackles some big issues about happiness, media, and celebrity culture. Would you say this novel offers some life advice?

A:  I am not offering advice to anyone. Really. I don’t even take my own advice. This is not a self help book and I’m not a life coach. I can’t ever be a life coach because I look silly in a track suit.Basu_Arjun

Q: What would you do if you encountered the Man?

A: I would run in the opposite direction and I would never stop running. Unless I owned a really spiffy tracksuit.

Q: You already have thousands of fans on Twitter that love your “Twisters.” Can they expect to find the same wit and humour in your novel?

A:  I hope so. Though let’s admit that we’re speaking of two very different mediums that are only connected by the use of words and punctuation. I like to think I’m funny, but that’s not really for me to judge. There is no bigger boor than the loud guy who laughs at his own (unfunny) jokes.

Q: Did you find it difficult to continue writing your Twisters while writing Waiting for the Man?

A: No. The Twisters are kind of mental therapy. Gymnastics even. They use a different part of the brain. Or I should say adjacent. The parts of the brain used for Twisters and for novel writing are like those hotel rooms with those locked doors that you hope are permanently locked but are probably opened up for large families, raucous bachelor parties and sales conventions.

9781770419971Q: Waiting for the Man is set in New York, yet you’re in Canada. What about this novel makes it able to resonate across borders?

A:  First, the story was originally going to be set in Montreal. I think any Montrealer will recognize the idea of a guy sitting on his front steps as a very Montreal thing. The front stoop is a part of Montreal’s architectural vernacular. But then the story took over and it demanded to be set in New York. On one level, this novel is very American. But on a deeper level, it is a universal exploration of something very human, and very basic.

Grab a copy of Waiting for the Man here – exclusive to Booktopia

Q: Food is featured a lot in your novel, from mundane pieces of pizza, to home-cooked lunches, to saucy ribs. Does food have a special significance for the story?

A: Food does feature in the story. But quite a lot of human things are featured. I mean, the novel is populated with humans! Eating. Sleeping. Bodily functions of all sorts. The little things that make us what we are. I might be more food obsessed than a lot of people but I think our culture is pretty food obsessed right now. And has been for a while. I mean, for the longest time I thought the best magazines in the world were the food magazines coming out of Australia.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: I’m writing. Another novel. I can’t believe I’m diving into this again, so soon, but I have this idea that I can’t let go so I’m going to see where it takes me. Interestingly, the main character is someone who came out of my Twisters. It’s grown to become more complex, naturally, but this novel, which is threatening to be quite a big one (much longer than Waiting for the Man) got its start in 140 characters. The door between the adjoining rooms must have been open. Perhaps for a raucous bachelor party.


Grab a copy of Waiting for the Man here

Don’t miss Booktopia’s Finest at the 2014 Sydney Writer’s Festival

Looking for things to see at The Sydney Writer’s Festival?

Come along and hear some experts from Booktopia chat about the wonderful world of books…

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GUEST BLOG: Flash Fictions – Key Words and After-Images by Angela Meyer

Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka

There’s a very short story by Franz Kafka, called On the Tram, where the narrator, ‘unsure of his footing in this world’, watches a woman move towards the steps, ready to alight. He is taken in completely by this vision:

She is as distinct to me as if I had run my hands over her.

He describes her appearance and dress, ending with this:

Her small ear is close-set, but since I am near her I can see the whole ridge of the whorl of her right ear and the shadow at the root of it.

He wonders, at the close of the story, how she is not amazed at herself.

The narrator never tells you that the woman is attractive, or beautiful, but she comes alive to the reader, due to words that convey intimacy (and we must acknowledge that word choice in this case involves the work of the translators Willa and Edwin Muir).

In a short story, every word must count. What is left out is as important as what is left in. The writer must create and maintain a particular tone, or mood, and create a piece that feels whole (not a fragment) but that may evoke much outside its confines. With my own very short stories (also called flash fictions or microfictions), I want the characters, images, themes to live long in the reader’s mind. I want them to have some impact.

You might compare a very short story to a complex painting – a narrative-based painting – where the symbols nestled in the setting and upon the figures work together to not only suggest a particular story but hopefully move you to feel something, something you may not even fully, consciously comprehend.

Angela Meyer

My own stories are not abstract paintings, they are figures in a landscape, though some are expressively warped: the stories in Captives range from dark Edvard Munchs to (superficially) bright Andy Warhols.

I’ve always been a visual person, and I think that’s one reason short stories appeal. Often they centre around an image, or a series of images. Think of Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants, or the new cloak in Gogol’s The Overcoat. In flash fiction, the central image might burn on the reader’s retina, difficult for them to blink away.

One of my favourite very short stories by Janet Frame, The Linesman, is about a woman watching a man repair a telephone line from her window. She cannot seem to move away from this image, despite being hungry and thirsty. The final line is: ‘You see, I was hoping that he might fall.’ The images are sometimes related to epiphanies or indications of character. Often, they are absurd and tell you nothing overt at all (which may really be telling you more).

Mine include a man pointing a gun at his beloved, a woman swallowing objects, an empty cradle, a locked toilet, a newspaper headline, a man on a tightrope, and actor Anthony Perkins’ bum. I hope that the characters will come alive, like the woman on Kafka’s tram did for me, that the stories will produce a range of effects, and that an image or two will remain long in your mind.

Angela Meyer is a Melbourne-based writer and reviewer. Her short stories, articles and reviews have been published widely.

Her new book Captives contains touches of Annie Proulx, the way a lonely death can creep up on you and the way our sexuality will not be denied, though we may try to cover it up. There are many glimpses of ordinary people struggling with everyday madness in extraordinary ways.

Grab a copy of Angela Meyer’s Captives here

captivesCaptives

by Angela Meyer

Short, intense and mesmerizing. Read these very short stories on a train, a tram, a bus, or waiting in the check out line. Captives by Angela Meyer will fit into your pocket, your handbag or tucked into the cover of your ipad.

Captives opens with a husband pointing his gun at his wife. There’s a woman who hears ‘the hiss of Beelzebub behind people’s voices’, a photographer who captures the desire to suicide, a man locked in a toilet who may never get out, a couple who grow young, and a prisoner who learns to swallow like a python.

Movie stars appear throughout reminding us that people live on through images: Paul Newman, Anthony Perkins, Divine, and a girl who died in a car crash are all caught eternally on film.

Grab a copy of Angela Meyer’s Captives here

 

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