There’s a brilliant line-up at the 2018 Australian Short Story Festival, which runs from 19 – 21 October right here in Perth at the Centre for Stories.
This great initiative goes beyond the written word, with storytelling on subjects as wide-ranging as crime walks through Northbridge, LGBTQIA+ youth, and how to get into writing, along with an opening address by literary legend David Malouf. Kira caught up with organiser Susan Midalia to chat about the annual festival that celebrates this unique art form.
We Love Perth: Hi Susan, how would you describe yourself in 25 words or less?
Susan Midalia: I’m a published fiction writer, married with two wonderful adult sons, a freelance editor, a workshop facilitator, a mentor for aspiring writers, and an Eagles fan.
It’s so great to see the Australian Short Story Festival being hosted right here in Perth. What do you feel is special about short stories?
Short stories honour moments in time, and a memorable story reminds readers that far from being superficial and fleeting, moments can be profound and enduring; they can haunt us for years. They also deal with “the unsaid” – those words which people feel they cannot or must not say. In this way, the genre reminds us that the whole of anything can never be told; that life is always a contest between the spoken and the silent, the known and the unknown.
I also like the analogy coined by the American writer Lorrie Moore, who described novels as being like a marriage, while short stories are like a love affair. I think she meant by this that while marriages are typically about change and duration (and periods of boredom), short stories are intense, immediate and audacious; they take risks; and they often have unexpected outcomes.
Short stories are also a challenge for a writer because every word must be necessary, and every word must be the right one. There’s nowhere to hide in the relative brevity of a short story; readers will more readily notice stylistic sloppiness, cliches or inconsistencies.
You also have to know the strategies for combining economy and evocation, brevity and resonance. A good short story, in short, must be short (anywhere from 200 to 10,000 words), but it must never be superficial.
One of the sessions you’ll be hosting is titled ‘Write drunk, edit sober’: do you have any tips for our readers about ways to loosen up and write?
The title “Write drunk, edit sober” is a piece of advice from Ernest Hemingway, who famously wrote drunk much of the time, and whose kidneys probably told the story. I’m using the title as a metaphor, to advise people to write without being too critical of what they’re putting onto the page or the screen – to forget about planning, to write spontaneously, from the heart. Write a page, ten pages, an entire story, then come back to it later – a day later, a week later, even longer – with a clear head, and think hard about the creative choices made, and how they might be improved.
Writing spontaneously also gives writers the pleasure of encountering the unexpected. As a writer, I love the experience of never knowing where that first sentence might take me, of characters doing things I hadn’t anticipated, even ending up writing something quite different from my original intention.
That’s how the creative imagination works, after all; starting with a word, a sentence, an image, a memory, a scrap of overheard conversation, a sign on a billboard, then getting something down, working hard to make it better, and hoping it will eventually sing.
Can you tell us a bit about Stories of Perth?
Stories of Perth is an anthology of stories that – as the title suggests – are about the experience of Perth: as either a physical location, a cultural space, an emotional experience, a political space. It’s published by Brio and will be launched at the Centre for Stories in Northbridge, on Saturday 19th October at 4:30pm. The writers are all emerging Perth writers, so it’s a wonderful opportunity for new voices to be heard and given a national profile.
The sessions at The Alex Hotel look interesting – and what a great venue! How did that partnership come about?
The partnership with the Alex Hotel came about through the good work of the Director of the Centre for Stories, Caroline Wood. The Festival committee thought it would be a great idea to have the Alex as a venue, and Caroline persuaded them to come to the party. We’re really excited about the two events to be held there during the Festival.
The first is on Saturday 19th October at 10am, featuring three interstate writers: Laura Elvery, Yvonne Fein and Anthony Macris. It’s called ‘Three writers walk into a bar’, and even thought it’s too early for alcohol, the discussion will be suitably uninhibited and free-flowing. The second event is on Sunday at 10am; called ‘Are you sitting comfortably?’, it features local professional storytellers, and balladeers and guitarists putting music to stories. Both events will be a blast.
I also want to add here that the Alex Hotel has generously offered accommodation to the Festival’s keynote speaker, the internationally acclaimed writer David Malouf. We’re very grateful for their support.
Do you have any advice about how to make the switch from novels to short stories?
People often assume that short stories are simply shorter or abridged versions of novels, or serve as an apprenticeship to writing a novel. In reality, however, the two genres are different beasts requiring different ways of thinking and different kinds of writing skills. The fundamental difference has to do with our life-in-time: novels assume that we experience and try to understand our life as a series of events that unfold over time, while a short story assumes that we experience and try to understand our lives in terms of a moment or moments in time.
As the author of three collections of short stories and, more recently, the author of a novel, I found making the change from one genre to another quite difficult. For one thing, I had to make myself keep a timeline to ensure consistency. I learned from an earlier mistake, a novel I attempted to write around five years ago, in which my failure to create a timeline resulted in my main character being pregnant for 18 months! (It wasn’t a work of science fiction, either.)
Another difference is the need in a novel to maintain some narrative momentum to sustain the reader’s interest. As well, characters in a novel require some kind of development, whereas a character in a short story doesn’t have to change at all. So yes, a different way of thinking about plot, pace and character; it’s hard but rewarding work.
Who are some local emerging writers to watch?
The Festival has a great line-up of local writers; we’re really keen to give them a platform to talk about their work and to provide them with networking opportunities with publishers and editors.
Three local writers, Rafeif Ismail, Annie Horner, Holden Sheppard and Elizabeth Tan, are already on their way, all of them having had recent and substantial publishing successes.
Other local writers who are winning competitions or having individual stories published include Belinda Hermawan, Emily Paull, Hannah van Didden, David Wright, Mohammed Morsi, Tiffany Hastie, Judith Bridge and Wesley Roberston; these are all talented writers to watch out for.
The Festival will also have sessions about mentoring and getting published, and we hope this will encourage aspiring writers to come along and get some useful advice from experienced people in the business.
The host venue for the event this year is the Centre for Stories in Northbridge. What does the Centre mean to you?
The Centre for Stories, the venue for most of the Short Story Festival’s events, holds a special place in my heart. Founded by Caroline and John Wood, the Centre has a commitment to cultural, racial and sexual diversity in making and listening to stories. It provides a space for emerging storytellers to write or speak in a reflective, aesthetically beautiful space, and it provides opportunities for them to learn from more experienced practitioners.
My own involvement over the last few years has so rewarding and productive. I’ve been a mentor for people in a range of storytelling projects: Bright Lights, No City (growing up queer in rural and regional Australia); Youth Link (young people writing about their mental health issues and their road to recovery); stories from Africa; and, as we speak, stories from the Indian Ocean Rim.
I also launched my novel at the Centre for Stories, and I run workshops for teachers who want guidance in teaching creative writing to secondary school students. I can’t speak too highly of this unique and precious place and the encouragement that Caroline and John give to people who wish to tell those stories of difference and diversity, struggle and celebration, which might not otherwise be heard. We’re very lucky to have the Centre in Perth as a vibrant part of the culture.
The Australian Short Story Festival will deliver a weekend of dynamic and engaging events to celebrate the expression of stories in short form. The Festival will be hosted by the Centre for Stories in Northbridge, and will this year extend to the Alex Hotel, Gallery Central at North Metropolitan TAFE and the City of Perth Library.
On the weekend of October 19-21, 2018, join stimulating discussions, fun street-side readings, lively music and Aboriginal visual art. You can see the full program here.