Dear Laurie

Dear Laurie

Thank you for dropping by today. Did we really just spend two hours chatting away? OMG! I can’t believe it.

Yes, I know I should get back to writing my novel, but hey, how often do I get to meet a lovely fellow writer such as yourself? I’m in total awe someone like you, being more than half-way through your PhD in Creative Writing and, like, totally awesome, is interested in spending some time with me. ME!

One day when Laurie Steed has become a household name and your works are part of school’s curricula I can say “Guys, have I told you the story of the day Laurie stood outside my door with a bag of croissants?”.

Yes, I know the fact that you’ll be moving in here next week may have a practical aspect of your visit, which sadly also means that I’ll be moving out of Mattie’s and my writing residency is ending. Anyway, I wish I’d taped our chat and could throw it up on YouTube…next time. For now, here is a snippet of this morning:

What made you decide to become a writer?

I’ve always been a fairly curious person, and particularly fascinated with human behaviour. In that respect, I’ve always been a writer, too; or at least, I’ve had a writer’s disposition. I spent most of my teenage years writing god-awful poetry and journaling my way through break-ups. While I didn’t formally commit to writing until ten years ago, writing, reading and oral storytelling have always been integral to both my and my family’s understanding of the world.

My mother was an actress, re-enacting memories from the audience as part of Playback Theatre; my eldest brother wrote pulp fiction, and self-published it too, sheets folded and stapled, red Texta traced bullet holes scattered over the front cover. Whenever I couldn’t sleep, my other brother told me lighter stories about responsible gang members and grannies with superpowers, tales that taught me much about entertainment and a willingness to think outside the square when it came to narrative storytelling. I guess my life as a writer was more a continuation than a decision. Storytelling has always been in the Steed bloodline.

What was your biggest challenge in your writing career (so far) and how did you tackle it?

In 2007 I found myself homeless, with few belongings and living roughly a thousand miles from everyone I loved. I wasn’t writing much despite my plan to make my latest journey profitable in terms of literary output. I was in a hostel with coin-operated air conditioning, living with six Belgian backpackers who slept all day and partied all night, telling me to keep down the noise and any natural light between the hours of 9am and 5pm.

The one thing I needed was help, but it was the one thing I was terrified of asking for. I’d spend most nights in the city centre seeking warmth and unlocked Wi-Fi connections, not able to complete even a first draft, such were my worries for the future. As to how I tackled this challenge, the answer is simple, as says more about my luck and privilege than anything else. I called my father. I asked if he could get me home. I asked, apologetically, if I could stay at his place until things got better, if indeed they were ever going to. And then, day-by-day, and decision-by-decision I chose to make things permanently better.

Can you tell me more about your Graduate Fiction Workshop at the University of Iowa? What made you choose Iowa?  How did you like it?

I could tell you all about my time in the US, such was the intensity of the experience! While I knew little about Iowa City, aside it being a UNESCO city of literature, I was aware of the esteemed reputation of the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop, producing, as it has, some of the world’s best writers past and present including ZZ Packer, Nam Le, Frank Conroy and John Irving.

I was selected to attend the Summer Fiction Workshop on the back of a writing sample and from there fought a number of obstacles to make the dream a reality (as documented here). ZZ Packer ran the three-week intensive workshop with energy and good humour. I would recommend it to any writer willing to expand their mastery of the craft. While it wasn’t always enjoyable, it was always enlightening… and Ms Packer is well read, erudite and just a little bit charming.

You’ve decided to discontinue your blog The Gum Wall. Why? How did you find the experience of creating and maintaining a blog? Would you consider a new blog project in the future (why and what would it be, or why not)?

Choosing to discontinue The Gum Wall was a difficult decision for me. Initially started as a hobby, it soon introduced me to some fine friends, including fellow writers and editors Sam Cooney, Johannes Jakob, Bronwyn Mehan, Karen Andrews, Alec Patric and Ryan O’Neill. It must be said, too, that I enjoyed every second of creating and maintaining the blog, and studying and reviewing the best short stories ever written is easily the most fun I’ve had while pretending to be working.

In the end I needed to immerse myself in an equally important task, namely my postgraduate studies at the University of Western Australia. The Gum Wall wasn’t the only casualty, employed as I was by The Small Press Network and in various reviewing roles. Although it was hard to shut down all other distractions, my first priority as a writer is to write. And so the blog had to go, at least for the time being.

I would certainly consider another blogging project in the future. I kept my position as a 2012 arts columnist for literary journal Kill Your Darlings, and I also guest blog for Verity La, Liticism, and LiteraryMinded, to my mind, three of the best lit blogs in the country. As for maintaining a new blog of my own, I guess it’s possible. I do think, however, that blogs work best when they aid others: when providing a service people might not otherwise be able to find. To put it another way: the world doesn’t need more writers setting up blogs because it’s a good move for their profile. They need more passionate people offering useful, informative or entertaining experiences, as delivered via blogs.

What are your thoughts about social media and the “author platform”?

I think for the most part, that writers criminally misunderstand the strengths and weaknesses of social media, for the most part. Many writers I know use social media to broadcast their career successes. Most editors (and even my best friend Jon, who doesn’t even work in publishing) realise how desperate this looks, and instead use social media to bond, to share knowledge and to build mutually beneficial relationships.

I also think that if, as an author, you’re more focused on your platform than your writing, you’re probably better off getting into marketing or public relations. If you’re asking me about clarity of vision and a definite purpose, then as a writer I have a strong and for the most part fairly positive opinion on how this might benefit one’s writing. I can also see the benefits of having an author platform when trying to sell or create interest in an already published book, particularly in a content-saturated publishing environment. Too often, however, new authors seem obsessed with their image as opposed to the quality of their writing…which is fine if you’re a hack, but fairly poor form if you’re out to build trust and loyalty with your readership.

What are your future aspirations?

My only real aspiration is to write the best fiction I can, learning constantly from both the writers who’ve come before me and the almost limitless number of approaches one can take to telling a story.

I’m happy to leave the rest up to time, fate, and circumstance. Half the fun in following your dreams is seeing the surprising places they will take you.

Thank you for your time again, Laurie. Wishing you good luck with your writing for the next four weeks!


PS: I just realised the traditional Tuesday soup lunch won’t be happening for the next two weeks, sorry! If life is too boring I might pop in with some soup?