Your story ‘Sheen’, begins Joiner Bay and other stories, and, in some respects, sets the tone for what’s to come in the collection. How did you approach the story from conception through to completion? Were there certain challenges in its execution, or did it come to you near fully-formed?
That’s so nice! But also funny because the story is about a sad robot who ends up killing their friends so hmmmm… I actually wrote Sheen a number of years ago and I’m really glad it’s finally found a home in Joiner Bay & other stories as it’s a piece I’ve always found I couldn’t quite let go of. I think the setting of the story came to me really vividly, as did the feeling of sadness and longing which informs the narrator’s voice. I tinkered with Sheen over the years, but essentially it came to me pretty fully-formed. Though I workshopped it a number of times with various people and I think that process was really important in refining the voice.
How do you approach short stories as a writer? Have you noticed certain threads reoccurring in your work, or do you explore particular types of characters?
I love the short form because for me with writing it’s often a moment or a feeling that I want to explore, and I think short stories allow that in their brevity. Currently I’m writing a lot of speculative fiction that explores climate change and technology, particularly AI (I’m fascinated by robots in case it wasn’t obvious!), so there are lots of similar threads through the stories I’m producing. But I think with all my work there are reoccurring themes, exploring the connections between people and landscapes. I also often don’t ascribe gender to the narrator in my fiction, as I think it’s really interesting how we as readers interpret that and superimpose our own ideas onto the characters – I love writing in second person and allowing ‘you’ to be anyone.
In addition to being published by MRP, you’re currently studying Creative Writing at RMIT. How does formal study feed into your own creative exploration?
I used to be quite resistant to the idea of studying creative writing in an academic context but actually I’ve found that it enriches my creative practice so much. Last year I had an amazing class about literary theory where I ended up doing a lot of reading around posthumanism and postcolonial science fiction and that’s been incredibly useful in informing the writing I’m doing now. I also can’t speak highly enough of the faculty in the BA of Creative Writing at RMIT – I have been so fortunate to have been taught and mentored by such inspiring writers and thinkers.
As Program Manager for the Emerging Writers Festival, you’re in contact with various writing and industry professionals. What, to you, differentiates good writing from that which transcends the genre, or current style of the time. Can originality and creativity exist alongside the greater commercial world of publishing?
Haha wow that’s a hard question! I’m always hesitant to categorise writing as ‘good’ or ‘not good’. I read so many different forms and genres and I enjoy them for different reasons. I think you can write with originality and creativity even if you are writing within a ‘commercially viable’ genre or to a specific readership – I’ve read some really exciting YA and fantasy lately, and just because it might not be considered ‘literary’ doesn’t mean it isn’t great writing. For me good writing is that which makes me pause and linger over a word or sentence, that socks me in the heart, that makes me think – and that can really be any kind of writing at all. But for me being commercially successful isn’t always a measure of something being good – some of the best writers I know aren’t hugely commercial and that doesn’t take anything away from their work.
What are the challenges in collating a manuscript of short fiction? Are there ways in which one can create a shape or structure that feeds into the work, or has fed into your own work?
I’m finding it interesting with the current collection I’m working on how I’m thinking about structure and the connections between the stories as I’m writing, as this isn’t something I’ve done before. Having common themes and a kind of context for the work as a whole is ultimately going to be a good thing, as it’ll make the collection feel cohesive, but sometimes it’s frustrating for me because I’ll have an idea or begin work on a story and then realise ‘oh this isn’t going to fit in the collection’. I think I kind of just have to set that feeling aside and write each story that comes to me, knowing that some of the pieces I love probably won’t end up in the final manuscript. But then who knows? Sometimes I write what I think is a completely unrelated piece and then realise there’s links that I didn’t see before. And it’s still a work in progress so I guess I’ll just see where I end up!
Else Fitzgerald is a Melbourne-based writer. Her work has appeared in various places including Visible Ink, Australian Book Review, The Suburban Review, Offset and Award Winning Australian Writing. She has won or been commended in prizes including the Grace Marion Wilson Prize and the Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize. Else is a WrICE (Writers Immersion and Cultural Exchange Program) Emerging Writer Fellow for 2017. She is currently completing a BA in Creative Writing at RMIT and working on a manuscript of short fiction. Find her at elsefitzgerald.com