When crafting You Belong Here, did you always have such a fantastic soundtrack in mind? Where can we go to listen to your playlist?
It’s funny; my life has always had a fantastic soundtrack: alt-rock, grunge, brit-pop, and hip-hop all rose as I was growing up. When it came time to write a book, I wasn’t distinctly focused on music, though. That changed when I wrote one chapter, ‘Just Hits ’85’, which deals exclusively with mixtapes and with favourite songs. From there, music rose up out of the book. For every feeling that Alex, Jay or Emily could not describe, there was a song or emotional state as rendered in song.
You can find the soundtrack here if you’re on Spotify. I hope you enjoy it!
Is there a character you relate to more strongly than others?
At a push, I’d say I feel closely tied to Jay. He’s almost the natural, unfiltered expression of love; on a bad day when I feel sunk by fear and regret, I’m a bit more like Alex. I can be selfish too, like Emily, and I’ve also felt like Jen and Steven at different times in my life.
Why, then, do I relate more strongly to Jay? Because he’s who I’d like to be, and sometimes am, when I get my shit together.
If you could sit down and chat with any character from You Belong Here, who would it be? Why?
I always wanted to know more from Suresh, who works at the Hungry Spot. He’s saving to get his wife over from India. He works long hours, and yet he thinks a lot too. There’s often that preconception that if someone’s at a counter, they’re less smart than those on the other side. In my experience, this division makes no more sense than spotting two birds on a vine, and saying one would be better at woodwork.
Suresh is most certainly flawed, but he wants to be better. And maybe one night, long after the events in his chapter, ‘Give or Take’, he’ll again be able to connect, and be able to forgive, and be able to balance the sadness and the joy in his life.
You’ve written a lot about your experience as a writer, especially the jobs you’ve taken on over the years. What advice can you give to young aspiring writers in terms of time management, career management, finding time to create, etc.?
There is no right or wrong when it comes to being a writer, or the right is only about your aims or ambitions. Wanting to be famous, for example, is an aim served better on any number of other entertainment platforms than writing. Making money is similarly a task that one better achieves in the professional or entrepreneurial workspace.
If you need to write, then there are ways to make the journey less painful. Read a lot. Write a lot. And not just writing a lot of toss, but writing with the aim of deliberately improving your work. Writing for writing’s sake is a sort of ego-onanism, like smearing paint on your hands, rubbing them feverishly and shouting, ‘Look, Mum! Look what I did!’
Successful writers don’t just write, they write well, or they aim to, at least, and are forever searching for ways to sharpen the saw, or tell a story better. Hacks are continually searching for ways to be told they’re better when the one thing that could help them is consistent practice and a much longer-term perspective.
Writing is hard. But it’s easier when you stop trying to get ego boosts, and you’re humble, hungry and focused on the story, first and foremost.
You Belong Here launches in March. What’s next for you?
I’m still working on The Doppler Effect, a story collection exploring emotional intensity, and The Bear, about two amateur filmmakers in search of the perfect film location. Other than that, the kids keep me busy, and joyous and worried.
Life, it seems, is again ready to take centre stage.
Laurie Steed is a writer and editor from Perth, Western Australia. His fiction has been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and has been published in Best Australian Stories, Award Winning Australian Writing, The Review of Australian Fiction, The Age, Meanjin, Westerly, Island, Kill Your Darlings, The Sleepers Almanac, and elsewhere. His debut novel, You Belong Here, is published by Margaret River Press. You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter, or find out more at his website, lauriesteed.com.