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The Short Story – Jeannie Houghton

Published 3rd March, 2016 in Writing

Your story, ‘Weight Bearing Exercise’, published in  Lost Boy and other stories was an intelligent meditation on race, responsibility and moving forward, and yet it’s never didactic. How did you balance up the needs of the narrative with a deeper, subtle approach to the political elements?

I’m pleased Laurie, that you enjoyed and appreciated the story on so many levels. I believe the best short stories leave the reader with more than the written words and images of the story, instead with a lingering connection to the people, the place, and the dilemma. Just as a photo shows us part of what was happening in a room- the best stories make us think outside the framework the writer has set up.

For me the best stories reflect the human condition and the society we have shaped. They always make us ask why do we do what we do?

How we as writers accomplish that is a mixture of instinct, experience as readers and writers, and training. Balancing  the narrative with political elements is a matter of being observant and truthful, I guess. Write what you know, write what you care about. 

What first led you to socially relevant writing? Is social relevance something that was cultivated in you from an early age, or did you discover it during exploration of your style and voice as a writer?

I think at heart all writers want to communicate to others. Whether the urge is based in ideas, idealism, entertainment, emotions such as outrage or revenge, simply holding up a mirror, or capturing a sense-filled, wondrous moment, the aim is to connect with the reader and give them something new.

As for social justice, yes, I think I did become aware of the polarities of almost every aspect of life when I was young. My parents were immigrants establishing new lives for their children’s benefit. The wealth divide, educated/ignorant, white collar/blue collar, communist/capitalist , givers/takers  have always been part of  the big picture and establishing for myself where I fit, how it all works.

The other thing that struck me in ‘Weight Bearing Exercise’ was your willingness to sit within the scene as its unfolding. Does this tie-in to your playwriting, that inherent grasp of scenes, and their power to drive the narrative?

I think playwriting is very different, more driven by a need for dramatic action. Short story writing allows me much more leeway to examing something minutely, to become introspective and explore how I feel about things.

In terms of plot, my characters go up a hill, look at the view and come down again. It is the gradual revelation of each to the other, the trust and sometimes discomfort implicit in their exchanges that drive the narrative. And it is the recognition of their differences and similarities that give the characters their humanity.

Do you feel our current society is defined by representations of reality, as opposed to immediate interaction? I’m struck in your work by this immediacy of experience, as discussed in another of your pieces, ‘Wild Dogs’.

I like work that is based in reality. From reality we can journey into the whimsical, the bizarre, the twisted,  but truth can always be recognised, no matter how much we play with our readers/audiences. Of course not all of them want truth. They actually want to be transported away from it. I think our readers/audiences are battered by the constant barrage of horrific and negative media coverage of global events. They seek uplift and shelter in the ridiculous, the banal and distorted.

As writers we work harder and have more competition for our readers and must be very skilled and subtle in the delivery of “messages”.  And yet the aim of writing to capture someone’s thoughts, to float an idea or give a new perspective, to bring to their attention, to present an alternative or an insight, still stands. I have written fluff but I have less and less time for it in my writing, reading and as an audience member.

How did you find the experience of being published by Margaret River Press. How long did the story take from conception to publication?

I was very happy with Margaret River Press. Initially cautious regarding changes, as I have had stories significantly weakened by interference, I was pleased with their minimal intrusion.

The story has been worked on for years. I  am always making subtle changes, playing the verb tense, POV and so on, right up to the day I post them off.

Margaret River Press get the THUMBS UP from me.

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