Your story 'No Man is an Island' is strikingly short – in fact, it's the shortest story in The Annual Fiction Edition. Did you make a conscious decision to write it this way?
I never intend for my stories to be so short. They usually start off much longer, but by the time I draft and draft – get down to the essence of the story – they often end up under 1000 words. I think this is just the way I write. It is frustrating sometimes!
The story is told from a child's point of view and you've effectively written from a young girl's perspective. How did you get into her character?
I think character or voice is something that comes with just sitting down and writing (and writing and writing and writing). It comes slowly and not all at once, but when it's there and that voice is talking, there is an energy to follow – a line of truth. It becomes more of a feeling then. I know I have to feel it or there won't be any heart in the writing. There won't be any emotional truth.
We have been inundated with images of the isolated writer, working hard in a mountain cottage, driving him/herself into insanity. Do you ever feel isolated when you're writing?
I know that I have to be alone when I write, edit, and think about my writing. I can't have my phone or the internet on. I can hardly even listen to music. But I think it is important to talk and meet up with other writers and artists or just meet a friend for coffee. Otherwise it can get very lonely. I can also get very negative about my work after being alone for too long.
I am part of a writing group that meets once a month to workshop and share problems and ideas. This helps me stay on track and be accountable. I also find reading helps me feel less isolated. Good writing always brings new motivation for me and makes me feel part of something bigger.
Your first novel, Past the Shallows (Hachette, 2011) reflects on the fragility of youth. What draws you to writing about this? Maybe you're not consciously propelled to writing about it, but do you think that there is something about a child's fragility that makes you write from their point of view?
I keep writing from the child's point of view. I think my writing is naturally simple. I have written from an adult's point of view before, but for now the child's voice keeps on coming and it is always best to go with what's urgent.
With Past the Shallows the first thing I had was place. This isolated ancient place at the end of the earth, the south coast of Tasmania. The voices of Harry and Miles came to me naturally – as if this story could never have been told by anyone else. It is their story. It belongs to them. But why did the voice of children come so clearly? Perhaps it is because I was young in the early 1980's when the book is set. Or because I was a child when I moved to Tasmania, a place I found old and dark and very sad. This is a feeling that stayed with me and is still with me now.
I am writing about Tasmania again in my next book. It keeps coming up in my writing, so I know there is something there, something for me to explore. But this does not mean my work is just a loosely-veiled autobiography. Past the Shallows is not my story – not even close, and yet part of me is in the writing. Part of me is in all my writing. And part of the child me is in the writing too.
You are also a surfer – what draws you to water? Is it animalistic to surf?
I love watching seals surf. They can be right in the wave – right inside the pulse and it is so easy for them. They are streamlined and perfect. I am not a fantastic surfer, but for me, surfing is just about getting in the water. Watching the sun come up, being aware of tides and wind and the cycle of the moon, concentrating on just one thing at a time. The Victorian coastline is really something. I love it best when the sky is grey and the water is slate green, and it is cold and clean and not too crowded.
What is your next project?
I am working on my next novel. I keep calling it different things, different working titles and I'm not 100% sure what the story is yet. So far the voice is the one from the No Man is an Island story and there are lots of scenes loosely hanging together but not fully connected yet. It is set in Hobart. It is about islands, about darkness and the light. The Southern Ocean is in there too. In a few weeks I am sailing from New Zealand down to Macquarie Island and then back up to Hobart. I think the trip might give me the structure for the book (I say this with great hope). It is a dream trip for me.