Barry Divola loves short stories so much that he wants you to write them. That’s why he’s running a course called Jumpstart, to get your creativity flowing and give your story writing a kick in the pants. The author of Nineteen Seventysomething (Affirm Press) recently won the Margaret River Short Story Competition with his story ‘Knitting’, which has just been published in Knitting & Other Stories (Margaret River Press) and has been selected to appear in the upcoming Award Winning Australian Writing 2013 (Melbourne Press). Here he talks about that story and writing in general.
Knitting is written in the first person from the point of view of a pregnant woman who becomes obsessed with covering public spaces with wool. Being a man, was that difficult?
In a word, yes. It’s hard enough writing convincingly as a fictional male character, so I’d say this was roughly 3.5 times more difficult. I was very conscious of getting the tone right and not sounding clichéd.
Where did the inspiration come for Sylvie, the main character?
For over four years I wrote a regular monthly column for the (sydney) magazine about different people around Sydney. These weren’t famous people but regular folks who had an interesting story to tell. I met so many wonderful characters writing that column. A few of them sparked something in me. I decided I wanted to write fictional stories using them as a kick-off point. For example, I interviewed Don Richie, the man who lived in a house opposite The Gap in Sydney for decades. He prevented dozens of people from jumping off that cliff and taking their own lives. I wrote a fictional story called Life, Be In It, which wasn’t actually about Don, but was inspired by him. It ended up winning the FAW Jennifer Burbidge Award. That was all the encouragement I needed to try a few more of these stories. Knitting was inspired by a woman who called herself a guerrilla knitter. She went around the city wrapping public places in knitted wool. Once again, Knitting is not actually about her, but she kicked off the idea for this character.
Have you published a book of your own short fiction?
Yes, I have a collection of stories called Nineteen Seventysomething that was published by Affirm Press. It’s actually more like a novel told in stories, as it follows the same character over ten years of his life, as he grows up as a kid and then an adolescent throughout the ’70s. Three of those stories – Nipple, Cicada Boy and Nixon – won the Banjo Paterson Short Story Award in separate years, and I found myself returning again and again to this character named Charlie as he grew up. It was great fun to write, because I wrote it to a soundtrack of chart hits from the 1970s, and those songs often seeped into the narrative, along with a lot of popular culture from the era.
Do you make your living through writing fiction?
God, no. Otherwise I would be even poorer than I am. It’s very hard for most of us without super powers such as those possessed by Tim Winton to make a living as a fiction writer in Australia. As a mere mortal, I make a living as a journalist.
Who do you write for? And what do you write?
I write regularly for Rolling Stone, The Sydney Morning Herald, the (sydney) magazine, Men’s Style, The Sun-Herald and Monocle. I write a lot about music, travel, food and popular culture. And I’ve been the music critic at Who for so long that when I started I still had hair. I’ve also written three non-fiction books – one about music fans called Fanclub, one about toy collectors called Searching For Kingly Critter and one about backpackers called The Secret Life Of Backpackers. Then there’s a series of kids’ books I wrote with illustrator Paul McNeil. There are three of those: M Is For Metal, Never Mind Your P’s And Q’s – Here’s The Punk Alphabet and The ABC&W – The Country And Western Alphabet.
Barry Divola will teach Jumpstart Your Short Story on Sunday 11 August. Knitting & Other Stories will be launched in Sydney on Saturday 3 August at 3:30pm at Gleebooks.