The Writer Behind The Curtain 0 Comments

The Writer Behind The Curtain

Voiceworks talked to three of the writers featured in Voiceworks #88: Translate.

Oliver Mol
Cunt Angel
Page 14

VW: Did anything in particular inspire this piece?

OM: When I was young, maybe nine, I had my first kiss with this girl named Melanie to Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time After Time’. Not a proper kiss, just on the lips. Then she moved away and I moved away and all this time passed and one day I said what is her name maybe I can find her on Facebook and then I did find her on Facebook and she had moved to Armidale and was pregnant and was part of this group “I like blokes who drive utes” and “yewww utes” or something. Then I thought about contacting her. I guess this was my inner monologue or my way of dealing with it. The story, of course, is a tragedy.

VW: Did the voice and the humour in the story originate naturally, or were you quite deliberate about what kind of funny you wanted to be?

OM: When the story began it was not going to be funny. I was just recalling past events and wondering what would happen and at some point it became this big parody of whatever culture you want to call it: bogan/gym junkie/corporate/consumerist… I’m not really sure. I suppose the story is, at least stylistically, indebted to Dave Eggers, and further to the writers at McSweeney’s. They are all very good at writing. Except I am not really answering your question, I guess the voice and humour came naturally after a lot of reading and editing.

VW: You sent us this piece to consider for the previous issue, and we asked for some changes and a resubmit. What was that redrafting process like for you?

OM: I did not really change that much except that I removed some sentences and words that were not really needed which made the first half tighter. Then I wrote the whole second half. I guess when I first submitted it was not really a story. I probably would have left it and not looked at it again if Voiceworks had not brought this small detail that is actually integral to a story to my attention. The redrafting process was fun. I kept on thinking what the tattoo of a cunt angel would actually look like. Since, I think I’ve seen it on the arm of this guy who looked like a sailor.

VW: What’s your writing practice like?

OM: Last year I wrote probably 800 words a day for most of the year which is hard if you are at university and are working so I quit my job and lived off Centrelink and unintentionally became a vegetarian but not the smart kind and developed an iron deficiency. Then I thought oh shit I have headaches behind my eyes and I cannot read because my head hurts so I got a job again and my writing dropped to, maybe, 400 words per day. I do not really have a set time but I do like writing in the mornings.

VW: Any writing advice you wished you’d gotten a few years ago?

OM: Read. Read anything you can get your hands on. Pick authors who you like and read everything by them. Find the authors they were inspired by and read everything by them. Ray Bradbury said write one short story a week for a year. At the end you will have fifty-two short stories and there’s bound to be something good in there. I think that’s pretty good advice.

Jennifer Peterson-Ward
Kill People, Burn Shit, Fuck School
Page 12

VW: The tone and style of music reviews, which you’ve written plenty of, are quite different to that of a piece for a literary journal. Did that present a challenge?

JPW: Totally. There is very little that is similar about them. For music reviews, the writing part is almost an afterthought. With music reviews, it is basically the job of synthesising a gigantic amount of information and opinion into something crystalline and relatively short. It usually only takes me a couple of hours to write a music review.
When writing for literary journals I am doing something entirely different – I am letting it rip in an almost unconscious state to see what I come up with, and then I decide what to do with it.
When writing a literary piece, I am dealing with the world. There is a kind of great feeling that happens with longer, essay-style pieces, this sense of clarity about a subject and an excitement about sharing that in all of its nuances. Then, of course, comes the challenge of processing all that information and turning it into something interesting. Once I reach that point, the writing is equally as easy.

VW: Similarly, the editing process for a journal article is a lot more collaborative. What was that like for you?

JPW: I have a great deal of respect for editors who have a hand in shaping their writers’ work. For this particular piece, the editor I worked with helped me eliminate some passive sentence structures that made the piece much better in the end, as well as providing me with ideas on words or sentences she thought would work better.
Best of all, my editor made a point not to drastically edit work or change my original voice and tone. She edited my work for errors, but not for lifeblood. At the end of the day, every writer’s work is its own colour. I adore an electric crimson, but I also respect a tuscan red, the colour of a raspberry and the hue of dried blood. My vision may be the colour of a burning flame, but if my editor’s isn’t, what right do they have to paint it in their own way?

VW: What’s your writing practice like?

JPW: I have an almost paralysing fear of the blank page or screen, so my practice involves writing very badly. My first drafts are filled with lurching, clichéd writing, outright flailing around. Writing that doesn’t have a good voice or any voice. But then there will be good moments. If I have something – anything – written down then it’s a little less daunting the next time I come back to it.

VW: Any writing advice you wish you’d gotten a few years ago?

JPW: I think something I didn’t realise until I began writing for publications outside university is how important the revisiting and rewriting stages of the process are. It’s a mistake to be too precious about one’s words. I feel the same way about criticism. It’s pretty tough to stick it out, and no matter how brilliant a writer you are or how inspired you feel you’re never going to write the perfect piece first time around. So, get used to it! People are not always going to like it. Okay! You’ll live. They said ‘no’. You know what? Everyone gets said ‘no’ to a million times. You’ll live! If that is something that you really can’t tolerate, then writing with the aim of publication in a magazine or journal probably isn’t for you.

Amy May Nunn
Mother Tongue (Calling Long Distance)
Page 11

VW: Is there anything in particular that inspired you to write this poem?

AMN: I come from a family with incredibly itchy feet, we’re spread out across the globe and nobody stays in one place for too long. As a family constantly having to express things long distance, we’ve become very adept at conveying huge amounts of information (and love) in these verbal flash fires. There’s something wonderful about that, but also peculiarly aggressive, and it’s always fascinated me. The use of parentheses in the poem was to do with those quick bursts of intimacy, and distance becoming something visceral, a kind of heightening force. Obviously it’s quite specifically about a maternal distance, and that separation forcing us to know each other in new ways.

VW: You’ve written a few prose poems for us in the past, what draws you to that style?

AMN: I think it’s a combination of two factors. Firstly I’m very, very dyslexic, so I’ve always written in big messy chunks, often with very little structure and rife with grammatical errors. I’d be lying if I said prose poetry was initially a conscious choice, but then of course I realised it was a style and became increasingly intrigued by it. I also come from a theatre background, and grew up sitting through an alarming amount of plays, so a focus on narrative was learnt behaviour to a point. The first pieces I wrote were more like monologues than anything else.

VW: What’s your writing practice like?

AMN: I have a fairly cluttered mind so I actively seek routine with my writing as a method of balancing if nothing else. I find it grounding to have a certain amount of definition surrounding that time, I carry a notebook around with me, but write mainly at my desk these days. The methodical becomes quite freeing, without cutting off from spontaneity, obviously.

VW: How do you edit your work after the first draft?

AMN: I usually write poems in one sitting which creates a kind of adrenaline, so I’ll almost always put the first draft away for a day and come back to it. Then it’s usually a matter of reading it out loud countless times and trying to catch my own thread, kind of like slapping an arm to find the vein (in an entirely non-heroin way). I’m not known for impeccable grammar so I’ll offer it up to a human spellcheck, but only one detached enough to say things like ‘you spelt the same word four different ways here, what’s wrong with you?’ I’m not sure that a poem ever feels entirely finished, but eventually it feels okay to leave it alone.

VW: Any writing advice you wish you’d gotten a few years ago?

AMN: Actually I was at a wedding about a year ago, and a British playwright whose work I really admire happened to be there. Later in the evening, after we’d all drunk far too much, I approached him and not so subtly angled for some writing advice. There was a significant pause and then he opened up into a sequence of little belches, and stumbled past me to the dance floor. I told myself (out of sheer desperation) this was in fact a profound encounter, and his way of telling me to be in the moment. He was really saying don’t become too hunched over your own creativity, it’s awfully limited. Writing, like any art form, requires an element of the obsessive, but it should absolutely push you into the world and not withdraw you from it. Or maybe he was just drunk.

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