During your course at Writing NSW, students will draw inspiration from ‘wicked and virtuosic writers’. Who are your personal writing muses?
At my workshop, we will learn from writers who disobey structural boundaries, who resist cliched language and structure. I’m inspired by the work of Alice Munro (Canada), Ambai (India), Ryunosuke Akutagawa (Japan), and that’s just the beginning of a long line of muses.
Your writing style has been described as minx-like and mischievous. Why is being ‘wild’ valuable when writing short stories?
I take the term ‘rewilding’ from the global environmental conservation movement. It is a term that suggests the restoration of previously deforested areas, the preservation of fragile ecosystems, the insertion of new life.
In terms of writing, the term also evokes the possibility of making tame spaces wild again, and the possibilities of decolonisation. In my workshops I try to suggest techniques and tools that may aid in “rewilding”, i.e. adding freshness and momentum and a sense of enchantment to prose fiction, being open to newness from outside the literary canon. These techniques and tools are based on my own writing practice, but more heavily based on the techniques used by writers from different parts of the world.
I was educated in India, with a BA and MA in English Literature. We were schooled in the British and American literary canon and I grew up loving Enid Blyton, Jane Austen, and Charles Dickens. However, I’ve come to realise that while the great British and American writers, have much to teach us, we can also learn from the literary virtuosity of writers from other parts of the world, including our own Indigenous writers here.
So I try as much as I can to “decolonise” my workshops. By this I mean I try to centre the work of Indigenous writers, and the work of writers from formerly colonised nations. I do this to redress, in a tiny way, the power imbalance between the Anglo-American literary centre and the rest of the world on the periphery. But mainly I do this so that I can share the magnificent, bewitching writing that is being done in our own country and in so many different parts of the world.
What are your thoughts on the idea that short stories are the perfect genre for our time-poor society?
- Short stories are the original Instagram, but with more figurative potential, and therefore infinitely more engaging and wondrous. They are also easily shareable.
- Short stories are better value for money and their effects last longer than afternoon sugar hits. A short story can be read in the time it takes to finish a muffin or a latte. It provides an instant dose of wonder and delight.
- Short stories are shortcuts to the garden of empathy. On one’s daily commute, short stories can be the first line of illumination as we face our troubled world.
Roanna Gonsalves is the author of The Permanent Resident, winner of the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Multicultural Prize 2018, and longlisted for the Dobbie Literary Award 2018. Roanna is a recipient of the Prime Minister’s Australia Asia Endeavour Award, is co-founder co-editor of Southern Crossings, and has a PhD from UNSW.