Michaela McGuire is a Melbourne writer. Her first book “Apply Within: Stories of career sabotage” was published last year by MUP. She co-curates and hosts ‘Women of Letters’ which is Melbourne’s loveliest literary event TM. She is currently working on her second book, a collection of essays, that will be published by MUP in 2011. Her writing has appeared in The Age, Kill Your Darlings, The Big Issue, JMag and is forthcoming in The Lifted Brow.

Writing: necessity or luxury?

I sort of make it a necessity by signing contracts so that I am then forced to write by law. These opportunities are of course in themselves luxuries, but I don’t think I am compelled to write nearly as often as any one of my writer friends seem to be. That said, once the ink on a contract has dried or I realise that I’m one day from deadline, I often love nothing more than tapping away at a keyboard. It just takes the prompt of another person and the ticking of a clock to get me to do so.

So, Michaela, you seem to be getting a lot done lately. Care to give us a break down of what you’ve been up to?

Lately? Er, well, if by, “a lot” you mean sangria, proscuitto, bowls of basil and mozzarella, mandarin gelati and muchos mucho vino tinto, and by “getting done” you mean “putting in your stomach,” then why yes, thank you! I have been getting a lot done!

Aside from eating Spain, I’ve also been using my holiday to send several hundred emails to Marieke Hardy, who is my co-conspirator for Women of Letters. We’re embarking on a crazy festival junket over the coming months so that’s taken quite a bit of organising.

Once I return home to Melbourne in two weeks I’m looking forward to setting up camp in the Nicholas Building along with how ever many heaters are required to convince me it’s still summer. The heaters, myself and six other writerly folk are moving into a lovely studio that has ‘Private Detective’ written on the door. I am convinced that this refers to the mysterious nature of my yet to be written second book. What I do know is that it is a collection of essays that will explore a number of bizarre events and trends – anything that gives me the space to reflect within a social, political and observational framework. David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster is actually an easier example of what I’m on about than the preceding sentence.

It’s tentatively due at the end of the year, although I just read a David Mitchell interview where he said that he wasn’t planning on handing over his next book until it was better than The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, so maybe I’ll try that line on my publishers and further test their patience.

I’ve also recently been very kindly asked to do some work for The Big Issue, JMag, Kill Your Darlings and am about to start writing a big piece for the 8th issue of The Lifted Brow. Benjamin Law and I recently took part in a filthy conversation for this journal that is sure to be the end of both of our careers.

Can you give us a glimpse of how it feels when someone tells you they want to publish your book?

When my editor first called to say that MUP wanted to commission a book from me I had just pulled into a McDonalds and was inhaling a McChicken burger. I was working in a law firm, was hungover, and had to drive the other side of Brisbane to pick up a part for the photocopier that had just breathed its last. Once I hung up the phone, I finished my McChicken and then cranked LCD Soundsytem’s ‘Daft Punk Are Playing At My House’ and continued singing that until I eventually picked up what turned out to be the wrong photocopier part entirely.

Unfortunately the book that I’d been asked to write was, at the time, a 3,000 word legal minefield that I’d bashed out in a few hours whilst drinking half a bottle of Tanqueray. And so once the wild, crazy, dancing in the street lunacy subsided it was very quickly replaced by a mantra that ran through my head for the next year; “Michaela, you had better not fuck this.”

When (if ever) have you been fired from a job?

I’ve been fired from two jobs, both of them Italian cafes in Brisbane. Once was for drinking water in view of the customers, an accusation to which I couldn’t really begin to formulate an argument. I’ve left the rest of my jobs by what I like to think of as a mutual understanding. I quit a strip club when they changed my uniform to a bikini. I parted ways with the casino in Brisbane because I’d been granted leave to go to St Jerome’s Laneway Festival and my supervisors revoked that leave at the last minute. So I went to the festival anyway and then walked out on the job the following day before I could be given a talking to by the Food & Beverage Manager. I suppose I was also technically fired when the Labor Party won the 2007 Federal election, as I had misguidedly accepted a position with a Federal Liberal Member of Parliament seven months prior. But in fairness, I had been told that I’d lose my job regardless of the outcome of the election, which is why I did almost no work at all.

In hindsight, I really ought to have been fired from more jobs than I have been.

The internet: friend or foe? Discuss.

Friend. Have you seen the video of the baby sloth orphanage?

You can punch one person in the schnoz and get away scot free. Who do you clobber?

Angelea Johnson from Cycle 14 of America’s Next Top Model. I spent the first few days of my holiday chainwatching this show, and at first I thought Angelea was completely awful and insane but you know what? I came around to her after a few episodes. She had all of my support. I wanted her to win. And then, she did this.

If you could read anyone’s journal or raid anyone’s hard drive, through whose would you?

Joss Whedon. As a friend of mine once accurately stated, the man is the greatest hero of our time. I spent my high school years reading and re-reading The Watchers Diaries, and before I realised that I had no talent for fiction, I tried writing scripts for Buffy. I cried real, furious tears the day that I found out the seventh season of the show was to be its last and realised that I would never be able to be a writer for Buffy.

I would get an indecent amount of pleasure from being able to pick through Joss’s journals, hard drives, fridge, laundry basket and hell, even his rubbish bin.

What’s the best book anyone ever recommended to you?

A very clever writer once suggested that I read Joan Didion’s essay, Goodbye to All That. I had a premature midlife crisis after reading the line, “That was the year, my twenty-eighth, when I was discovering that not all of the promises would be kept, that some things are in fact irrevocable and that it had counted after all, every evasion and every procrastination, every word, all of it.”

This same friend bought me Didion’s collected book of essays, Live and Learn, for my 24th birthday and I then spent a great many weekend afternoons in bars eating olives, reading this book and fancifully imagining that one day, perhaps in four years time, when I stopped wasting my afternoons in bars eating olives, that I might one day write a sentence one-hundredth as good as any of Didion’s.

Have you ever hit a cane toad with a golf club? Could you?

I spent many childhood summers staying with my cousins in Ayr, which is a small town a few hours outside Townsville. My cousins lived next door to a mango field and one day, when I was eight years old, we went traipsing through the pulpy ground with cricket bats in hand. We didn’t find any toads that day, but the following week when we went to visit a friend of theirs who had a new litter of kittens, my cousin Daniel pointed out a cane toad that was sitting in the garden bed. I took to it with a cricket bat and gave it a few pathetic hits. It hopped to the side, I hopped from one foot to the other, and it is very hard to say which creature was more traumatised by the incident.

What are you reading now?

Right now I’m reading Let the Great World Spin by Colin McCann and am doing so whilst listening to Sufjan Stevens, on the recommendation of a great new blog called The Book Tuner that matches books to music in order to create the perfect literary ambience. I’ve finished Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion and a few issues of The New Yorker so far this holiday and have 12 days to make my way through The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell, The Passage by Justin Cronin, The Echo Maker by Richard Powers and Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon.

  • http://www.expressmedia.org.au/voiceworks/ Johannes Jakob

    every bit of this is so cool I don’t even know where to begin.

  • http://www.toothsoup.com phill

    Is it just me or are horn-rims just plain sexy? The billion issues of Frankie my girlfriend has collected seems to suggest it is not just me.

    Great interview, thanks for sharing! (:

  • patches

    phill, you are correct. Horn-rims are just plain sexy.

  • RBS

    I just sobbed all over my screen – baby sloths! Happy old sloths! Sloths! I just want to give them all a kiss.

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