A couple of weeks ago I was in Paris (article tba) and I got to meet a bunch of artsy people. Unfortunately, Michelle Wright, an Australian authoress, was not one of them – even though she would have been the one I would have had most things in common with, I assume. I guess our paths were not meant to cross that week. Thank God for e-Mails! A mutual friend made sure our paths would cross after all and here I am now typing down these introducing lines to an interview with the lovely Michelle. I sent her a couple of questions and she was free to edit and answer them. As a writer myself I am always interested in hearing about a fellow’s writing process and maybe less in the accolades one has earned. (Knowing that Michelle did win a prestigious award though,) I am sure we can all learn or be inspired by her words.
Quick fire questions: (feel free to comment!)
Print or eBook? Print. I love seeing books by my bed, on the shelves, piled on the floor.
Coffee or tea? Tea – green – and litres of it very day.
Outline or on the go? On the go for short stories, but I’ve discovered (the hard way) that I need to do an outline for novels.
Morning or evening? Definitely evening. I sometimes don’t get out of my pyjamas till midday.
Summer or winter? Summer! If I could hibernate through winter, I would.
Australia or Europe? Australia is where my heart (and kids) are, but Paris is where I feel most alive.
Salty or sweet? Sweet. I’d be happy to live on just mangoes and dark chocolate.
Now onto the actual questions 🙂
What’s the last book you read? Did you like it?
I tend to read three or four books at the same time – a mix of fiction and nonfiction – and often don’t finish them. I’m not very patient with novels, so need to jump around between several. I’m doing a lot of research for my novel at the moment, so have been reading books about World War Two. I’m also rereading Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky, so that’s what I’ve been spending the most time with this week.
What’s your favourite book and can you explain your choice?
I can’t think of one favourite book. I’m not really someone who reads the same book multiple times like some people do. And I have a terrible memory when it comes to books. I usually have a vague recollection of how the book made me feel, but am completely incapable of telling you what it was about, who any of the characters were, even how it ended. One book I do remember really liking recently was Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.
How did you get into writing?
One day my uncle told me a true story about my family’s history and I was so moved, angered and saddened by it, that I decided I had to write about it. When I finished that story, I realised there was a childhood memory that had been with me for decades and that I really felt the need to write about. I enrolled in a short story course and received a lot of very constructive and encouraging feedback about the story. I entered it in a big competition in Australia, and won. That gave me the confidence to believe that what I was writing was worthwhile and that I should continue.
….Have you always wanted to become a writer?
Not really. I’ve always enjoyed writing, but didn’t really consider dedicating myself to writing till quite recently. It was just the strong drive to tell certain stories that led to me eventually becoming a writer.
What does writing mean to you?
It’s the best way I’ve found to explore what the world is all about and to try to understand my fellow human beings. I find people incredible interesting, but also fundamentally unknowable. Trying to imagine what is hidden deep inside others (and myself) and putting that into words is a way for me to try to satisfy my curiosity about people. Hopefully my writing also encourages readers to ask their own questions about other people and about themselves.
What’s your source of inspiration?
Often the source of inspiration for the subject matter of the stories is real people I’ve known or heard about, or experiences I’ve lived. The source of inspiration for the writing is beautiful writing by other authors. There’s nothing like reading a stunningly written passage to inspire me to try to write something half as good.
Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process? How do you come up with a story and how do you then put it on paper?
It works in various ways. Sometimes I’ll simply overhear a conversation, see a photo or notice a detail in the street and that will trigger a small idea for a scene or a character. From there, I just write a paragraph or two and if I’m lucky, things will keep flowing. If not, I’ll write questions to myself. For example – “Why is she sleeping in her car?” “How did his mother die?” “What does she do when she gets home from work?” etc. This takes me down various paths, some of which I abandon, and others which lead to the final idea for the story.
I always write in a notebook to begin with. I like being able to see all the hesitations, crossing out, thoughts inserted into sentences and scribbled in the margins. Then I type up the notes, print them out and edit them on paper. I find editing on a screen much more difficult.
What’s your reward for having written a chapter/how do you relax while writing?
I’m a compulsive word count checker. So, when I’m writing my novel, I feel an irrational sense of satisfaction when I reach a particular word count – one thousand, ten thousand, twenty thousand, etc. And I find writing in cafés and with other writers very relaxing. I like to have a bit of a chat, followed by a good stint of heads-down writing and then a pause for another short chat. I find it encouraging to be surrounded by others who are writing. I also like the vibrancy and energy you get in busy public spaces.
Are you a disciplined writer? And if so how do you motivate yourself to finish a story?
I’m not disciplined in the sense of having a strict writing routine and sticking to it. I’m very easily distracted by Facebook, emails, etc. And I can also get lost down research rabbit holes – looking up something I legitimately need to know, but then following link after link till I’ve spent three hours looking at websites and have found out hundreds of fascinating facts that I have absolutely no use for. I often find, though, that this exercise gives me several ideas for new short stories. Competition deadlines also provide good motivation for finishing stories.
How did you get your stories published?
I started by sending individual stories off to competitions and if they won they were published – sometimes in large newspapers, sometimes in literary journals and sometimes in anthologies. Eventually I had enough stories I was happy with to put them together as a collection which I submitted to an award for an unpublished manuscript. I came second in the award and that’s when I received offers from publishers which led to a two-book deal with a large Australian publisher.
What would you suggest to young writers struggling to stay motivated?
Don’t forget that no one is forcing you to write. In the world today, it’s a privilege to be able to write and to have the freedom to write. A lot of people don’t have that privilege. If you’ve chosen to write, then stick with it, but accept that there will be periods when you might feel less motivated. That’s natural. When I go through patches like that, I don’t force myself to write. I edit stuff I’ve already written, read, research, watch movies, visit exhibitions, talk to people. Sometimes I just copy out beautiful passages of other people’s writing. I’ve been through enough cycles to know that the motivation will eventually come back. And all those other activities are necessary to feed your writing (and your life!)
Who is the first person you ask to read your story?
My daughter. She’s 24 and studying creative writing at university. She’s a good writer herself, and even more importantly, she’s a very perceptive reader and brutally honest with me. She’ll tell me when things aren’t working, give me useful suggestions, as well as praise when it’s deserved. I really trust her judgement.
You’re from Australia, currently staying in Paris (hope this is still correct). Can you feel a different vibe, if so, how does it influence you?
I lived in Paris for 11 years – from the ages of 22 to 33 – very formative years – so I feel like Paris is responsible for a large part of who I am. I’m very at home here, very comfortable. There’s a freedom in Paris that I feel when I’m here. A willingness to explore, to be open, to not judge. I love living in Australia, but I feel more constrained by expectations there. There’s a kind of subtle social pressure to conform there that I don’t feel in Paris. And living in the Cité Internationale des Arts for six months is enormously influential too. There are so many interesting artists here from so many different countries. I’m inspired by all the different types of art I’m discovering thanks to my fellow residents. In Australia, I spend most of my time with other writers, which is also stimulating, but the interdisciplinary contacts and collaborations I’m experiencing here are just so important for my creative growth.
Maria was listening to ticking clocks while writing this article.