One of my favourite lines in Working Girl is, ‘At the end of my shift, there is too much ink on my body to wash off in the factory bathroom, no matter how much soap I use or how much I scrub.’ What is your writing practice like? Is this line the product of dozens of drafts? Or is it something you found expression for quite naturally?
This is one of those lines that just came to me as it was and, actually, Working Girl as a whole flowed quite easily once I knew what I wanted to do with it. Before I start a piece I usually have a clear idea of the beginning and end, and often a closing line already in mind. Middles are hardest, mostly because I know what needs to happen, but not always how to formulate it.
I’d say at least half my writing comes from bursts of inspiration, usually late at night or first thing upon waking. The rest I kind of see as connective tissue; it holds everything together, but it’s not the beating heart. I find it hard to focus creatively during the day—I don’t know if it’s a circadian rhythm thing or just being easily distracted by mundane stuff—so I tend to use any free time I have then for editing, thinking, and maybe slowly pecking out a few sentences.
Though I write every day, there are weeks where I only come out with a page I like. Other times (much rarer), I’ll write 6,000 words over a weekend. The more creative I’m feeling, the less sleep I tend to get and the more absentminded I am in everyday life. So it’s probably a good thing I don’t feel inspired every day.
This piece is non-fiction, but you also write fiction. Do you have a preference? Is there ever a time when it’s not until you get to the end of a piece that you realise which one it is?
Fiction is my great love, mostly because it allows me to get under the skin of different characters, living different lives. I think I’d grow bored if I had to write about myself or people with similar lives to mine all the time. Often my fiction is inspired by real-life people and events and involves a lot of research, so there’s an interesting intersection with nonfiction. But as long as I’m imagining scenes, putting thoughts in people’s heads or words in their mouth, I think it’s inevitably fiction.
I was inspired to write Working Girl while visiting my family in Perth, where the story is set. I got to thinking about that particular time in my life when I was 15-16 and how strange and dense with experience it was. I thought it would make a good story and, while writing it, thought of my younger self as a ‘character’. But I never thought of presenting it as fiction. It’s so different to my usual fiction and, since I knew my family would recognize themselves in the story, I figured I may as well acknowledge it as ‘nonfiction’.
You were a fiction editor at Voiceworks for nearly three years. How did you manage the movement between writing your own work and then editing other people’s writing?
One of the best things about being an editor for Voiceworks was coming across all these young writers with voices totally different to my own. Often I’d read something and be like, ‘wow, I wish I thought of that’ or, ‘how’d they do that?’ Sometimes there would be faults that were apparent on first reading but, with all the work that was chosen, there was always a sense of wonder about what was working, and a desire to bring that out more than anything.
Most writers I’ve met enjoy being edited. I know I certainly do. It’s encouraging to have someone pay close attention to one’s work and, on both sides, there’s generally an overarching respect for the work that makes the process mutual. As an editor, I always felt that the changes I was suggesting were minor compared with the work that had already been done by the writer, and the kind of suggestions I would’ve been open to receiving about my own work.
I never found it difficult to move between my own writing and editing other people’s, since the two processes always seemed very different to me. In fact, I enjoy editing as a way to take a breather from my work while keeping my mind on writing-related problems, as there’s always the possibility of reaching new understandings of my own work through working with other writers.