This year you won the Josephine Ulrick Prize for literature with your story 'Tryst' – a vivid tale about the 'loss of innocence' – how did this further your writing?
It's such an honour to win the prize and it has enabled me to be introduced to a wider circle of other writers, agents and even publishers. I'm still working on capitalising on the recognition this year so ask me again in another twelve months :). However, winning the Josephine Ulrick Prize has boosted my confidence as a writer more than anything. As writers, we all suffer a little from the 'self-doubt' monster, so having the quality of my writing and my ability recognised and validated has put that monster to bed for the time being. It's given me the confidence to think 'hey I really can do this.'
Why did you decide to quit your full time job to work on your writing for a year? What is it about the writing process that needs such dedicated time?
This question goes back to my answer above. I have found in the past that balancing a full time job, a relationship, children, and trying to maintain a balanced life, makes sitting down to write for days at a time difficult. My writing was always squeezed in around everyday life. When I won the Ulrick Prize, I thought 'it's now or never, I need to give writing as a career a real shot.' Quitting my job to focus on writing full time was less about needing more time to devote to it (although that is definitely a factor) and more about taking a leap of faith and believing in myself and my ability.
Melbourne is usually referred to as the centre of creative writing and publishing, but could you tell me a little about the resources and networks you've found in Brisbane and the Gold Coast?
I am a graduate of the creative writing program at Griffith University (Gold Coast) and to be honest I can't imagine receiving a better grounding in the craft than I did from the teaching staff there, all of whom are published writers. There was always also a real push to support each other, our fellow students, in getting our work out there, organising readings and events, and travelling to writing festivals. Even five years after graduating, I am still in touch with other writers I had studied with, the teaching staff and even newer students that have come through the program. I've seen a lot of success from others as well, which is a testament to the university's program. Queensland as a whole, on a creative level, is often underestimated, but there are a hell of a lot of talented writers there.
'Tryst' is incredibly visual – the reader explores the place just as the young protagonist does. How did you conjure up and write this place?
The street depicted in the story is real. I actually did spend several years in Townsville as a child after moving here from the UK. The description seems real and vivid because it was exactly like that. It is still so vivid in my mind and I 'drew' it from memory. Even the characters are real people I remember: family friends, some of whom I'm still in contact with. The sequence of events is completely fictional but based on a fleeting 'what if?' that I had one day. I remember thinking that my parents back then were younger than I am now, and I know what I got up to in my twenties. There must have been all kinds of shenanigans the kids didn't see. I let my imagination do the rest. Funnily enough, I'm a little wary of anyone from that time and place reading 'Tryst,' as the street would be immediately recognisable; I'm worried they'll think it really happened. What a can of worms that could open!
You say that 'words and stories, books and writing are an essential part of who I am.' What is it about the writing process that immerses or captivates you?
I go a little stir crazy if I don't read constantly and don't get ideas and thoughts and stories down on the page. I have an overactive imagination (the constant 'what if's?'). Writing is my way of offloading it all, whether it is in my journal, a blog or working on my novel. I also have an absolute love of language. I love to play with words. I enjoy the musicality of them and creating not only compelling stories but sentences, phrases and paragraphs that have rhythm and music.
As you have an entertainment background (both journalism and entertainment publicity), how does this affect your writing or the images you create?
I'm not sure it affects the images I create, however the industries I've worked in and the people I've encountered have certainly given me some fantastic ideas for stories and characters. Working as a publicist and a journalist has taught me the value of 'economy of words' and succinctness. I sometimes get carried away with long, lyrical sentences. Being able to write sharply and simply as well gives my writing balance.
What are you working on now, your debut novel? What are the next stages for that?
I am currently working on two manuscripts. One is at second draft stage, currently being edited. It is commercial women's fiction, a comedic mystery tentatively titled 'The Hollywood Effect', and is a novel I started writing for fun to cure writer's block that I was experiencing with my other manuscript. That first, original manuscript, 'HUSH', is darker, much more like 'Tryst' in style, and it is the work that I would prefer to have published as my debut novel. It is based around the sequence of events that takes place in a small outback Queensland town after a young female backpacker is found murdered. It explores how those events affect the relationships between various townsfolk, in particular a young teenage girl and her two best friends. At the moment I am spending my days at the State Library or The Edge, attempting to finally finish the first draft of 'HUSH' and editing the other. The next step is to secure that elusive creature: 'an agent' and then a publisher. I'm hoping that winning the Josephine Ulrick prize will either open some doors or at least make agents and publishers more willing to look at my work.