Laurie Steed’s debut novel You Belong Here for publication by Margaret River Press in early 2018. With his novel on the horizon, Laurie has been thrown into the weird and wonderful world of becoming an author. We had a chat with Laurie about the ‘behind-the-scenes’ process.
You’ve been working on this book for quite some time. Tell us about how you transitioned from short stories to a novel. Did its form come as a surprise?
Very much so! I see now that I took great solace from the finite qualities of a single story, and even the limited scope of a story collection. To elaborate, one is capable of crafting expansive, exquisite worlds within the short form; it’s just that as a writer, you can stay in the one moment. You choose when your story ends. There is no ‘what happened next?’ because a short story is concerned with a tone, time, or a particular event.
As I continued to work on You Belong Here, a couple of astute readers saw its potential as a longer, more interconnected work. In the original collection, each character had a story told in 1st person point-of-view. The natural extension, then, would be a novel that tells it all in 3rd person point-of-view but is the story of a family, rather than just the stories of the members of the family, if that makes sense.
Only now do I see it was meant to be told in a novel to enable the transition from generation to generation. In a novel there’s a chance to breathe; to learn; to hurt and heal, and that, for me was the most exciting part. Knowing that, unlike with my short fiction, here I could have both sides of a single character. In one chapter, they might betray, and in another, be betrayed. At an earlier point, they’d be lost but then later find hope or happiness in new surroundings, in forgiveness, or even a new character that had not previously been part of the narrative fabric.
What was it like ‘rebranding’ yourself as an Author? What process did you go through?
I’ve never been great at branding or rebranding, to be honest. I will say, however, that I’ve become a little more expressive since the book’s been picked up for publication. That’s partly just because, after eight years, it’s a relief to move onto the next project. It’s partly that I learned a lot while working on You Belong Here, and hope I can both save writers from unnecessary mistakes, and help writers be kinder to themselves as they make their way towards publication.
With all that said I did revisit my website, get some new portraits done. As with the publication of the book, the portraits were an organic process, taken by Chris Gurney, a guy who was once our neighbour down south on holiday, and is affable, easy-going, and far more stylish than me. Here, it was less about rebranding than emphasising. I took two jackets to the shoot, for example, asked which best fit the task at hand. He pointed to the one I was wearing, said ‘your wife buy you that?’ I nodded. ‘I thought so,’ he said. ‘You don’t look very comfortable.’
Although it’s not the case for all authors, for me, my ‘Laurie-ness’ (for lack of a better word) is not optional. We can tweak, and tailor to some extent, but I’m so unavoidably me in all my quirks, tastes and eccentricities. Slowly, I’m beginning to accept that as more strength than a shortfall.
How did the editing process go for you?
I was incredibly lucky to be able to choose my editor, and for my choice to be even better at her job than I thought she was going to be. Kate O’Donnell from Line Creative Services is insightful, compassionate, generous, wise, and willing to discuss inconvenient truths about a manuscript’s strengths or weaknesses. In my journey, Kate balanced out character across both genders and wasn’t afraid to call bullshit if I shied away from a difficult subject, or had presented a simple answer, where, in truth, there was a deeper, more difficult one to discuss.
We pored over chapters, sentences, and intent in equal measure. The resulting book, if it’s any good, owes much to Kate’s support, patience, and belief in my overarching vision.
“You Belong Here is an unforgettable exploration of the things that hold families together, and tear them apart. It finds the extraordinary in ordinary lives, and brings a tenderness, honesty and sense of humour that’s rarely seen in Australian fiction. It’s beautifully written and stays with you long after it is finished.”
– Ryan O’Neill, author, Their Brilliant Careers, The Weight of a Human Heart
Laurie_Steed is a writer and editor from Perth, Western Australia. His fiction has been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and has appeared in Best Australian Stories, Award Winning Australian Writing, The Age, Meanjin, Island, Westerly, and elsewhere. He lives in Perth with his wife and two young sons. To find out more about Laurie and You Belong Here please click here.