Date Archives December 2012

The Next Big Thing: Kirsten Krauth, just_a_girl

just_a_girlI’ve been tagged by great ‘suburban noir’ writer Wendy James (see my interview from the Writing Mothers series) in ‘The Next Big Thing’ blog meme, which is winding its way through literary blogs, to let us know about new books being released in 2013 and beyond by wonderful Australian and international writers. 

It seems a bit weird to claim yourself this way but I guess My Next Big Thing is also My First Big Thing (when it comes to a novel) so I’m excited to talk about it here.

What is the working title of your current/next book?

My first novel is called just_a_girl. It will be released in June 2013.

Where did the idea come from?

I used to spend a long commute from Springwood in the Blue Mountains to my public service job in Sydney. On the train I’d hear teenage girls talking about their lives. I began to wonder what it would be like to be 14 these days, with access to technology (the wonders and dangers) and strangers in your bedroom, and wanted to explore the idea of being disconnected in a ‘connected’ world.

I also heard a story from a close relative who was a primary school teacher. She talked of a girl in Grade 5 who went to a school camp and exposed herself in the showers to a male teacher. This had real resonance for me. I wondered and worried about this girl: where had she come from and where was she heading? Layla grew out of that story.

What genre does your book fall under?

It’s contemporary literary fiction — told from the perspectives of three characters: a teenage girl (Layla), her single mother (Margot), and a Japanese man (Tadashi), who makes a cameo role, searching for lasting friendship.

Actress Rachel Griffiths
Actress Rachel Griffiths

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Rachel Griffiths can turn her talent to anything and she’d manage Margot, a woman who is numbed by her past, searching for meaning in her life after her husband leaves and finding it (or so she thinks) in the work of the Lord. Ashleigh Cummings was impressive in her role for Puberty Blues and she’d make a great Layla with her cheeky spirit. Takeshi Kaneshiro starred in one of my favourite films, Chungking Express, and has the composure and allure required for Tadashi.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Layla is only 14 but already has the world at her fingertips: she cruises online, catches trains to meet strangers, and her mother, Margot, never suspects,  not even when Layla brings a man into their home.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

just_a_girl will be released by UWA Publishing in June 2013.

How long did it take you to write the first draft?

The first draft took about three years (part time) as a research masters in creative writing at the University of Sydney. It’s had many, many drafts since then (and doubled in length), and been worked out around having two babies (all up about seven years!) and I’m still doing finishing touches.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

It’s inspired by books with a strong and compelling younger voice like Marguerite Duras’ The LoverPuberty Blues and Emma Donoghue’s Room. I also like the quirky, strange nature of Haruki Murakami’s writing and this is a big influence.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I was actually having a tough time in my life in my early 30s and needed to make a drastic shift. I decided to take a break from full-time work and go to university to see if I could write fiction (my real love and a dream of mine). It was a real process of renewal and realising that writing was something I really had no choice in: I had to do it. I needed to set myself on a new path. Or find some sort of balance. I hadn’t really written much fiction before (a few short stories at uni) but my supervisor Sue Woolfe was enormously supportive and encouraging (and David Brooks too), and convinced me I could get my writing published. I had faith in what she was saying. And began to see this character, Layla, take shape. So, taking the punt set me in motion for a career in writing and editing.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Drugs. Soft porn. The Lord. It’s Lolita with a webcam. And there’s a body in a suitcase.

Next up, I’ve tagged the following writers to give us the lowdown on their Next Big Thing and their posts will appear on their respective blogs in a week’s time (ish). They are all wonderful writers, and their novels and blogs are worth looking into or noting for a future date!

  • Anna Hedigan: The Moral High Ground blog and two novels in progress
  • Angela Meyer: LiteraryMinded blog and a novel in progress
  • Adrian Deans: novels include Mr Cleansheets and THEM and no doubt there’s a novel in progress
  • Samantha Bowers: Deliciously Fictitious blog and a first novel in progress

The World According to Gutkind: Creative Nonfiction (Australia)

The 'Australia' edition of 'Creative Nonfiction' magazine
The ‘Australia’ edition of ‘Creative Nonfiction’ magazine

Creative Nonfiction magazine, edited by Lee Gutkind, has been one of my favourite reads of the past couple of years. I like its focus on various forms of nonfiction: immersion, memoir, the lyric essay. Reading it has taught me a lot about style, and how to embark on my own nonfiction path (I have always found fiction easier). I tend to be drawn in by what Sam Twyford-Moore calls  ‘semi-fiction’ (in an article in Seizure magazine), that tender and fragile writing that’s kind of a personal history (but not quite).

When Creative Nonfiction called out that it was taking on an Australian edition, it was the incentive I needed. I had a subject looking for a place to live. It took me three months to write the 4,000-word essay. When I sent it off, I wasn’t completely happy with it. How do you fit into the ‘Australia’ idea. How do you corral a subject so it represents the small and the large? I struggled. Part of the problem was that I wanted to write about a journey as it happened, a search. But when I was doing the research, the people I was interviewing found this hard to understand. I was setting off without any plan. I had no end in mind. It’s difficult to get people involved, when they don’t know where you are heading or, more importantly, where you are going to end up. But this is the place in writing that I enjoy the most: the being lost.

I wasn’t successful in getting into the magazine. But when you’re rejected, stats always make you feel better. There were 343 submissions. Seven essays were eventually published. My rejection letter was also unusually exciting in that it said that the magazine was hoping to publish a book and my essay was of interest. Yay! Unfortunately this didn’t happen in the end. Which got me to thinking. What happened to those other 335 essays? I bet there are some beauties out there. I could easily do a website, or an ebook that throws them all together: the fish that John West rejected – McSweeney’s-style! If you’re interested, contact me. It’s a project I’d like to get my teeth into. For, despite the fact that nonfiction is a growing genre, and what the publishers want, there aren’t enough publishing options.

The launch of the ‘Australia’ edition of the magazine hit the Melbourne Writers’ Festival. Lee Gutkind was in the house. What I didn’t realise about Gutkind is that he has a message to push: You Can’t Make This Stuff Up. Because that’s the title of his latest book. He is an entrepreneur, regaling the audience with stories and passion. But the message is starting to wear thin (after you’ve heard it for the tenth time). There’s a culture clash happening here, and it was made clear on the night of the launch. Like most attending, I was keen to see who was in the magazine, what the essays were about and who had won the prizes (call me shallow). The ‘Emerging Writer Prize’ went to Susan Bradley-Smith for ‘Writing an Obituary in a Hot Climate: Seven Things’. (It’s interesting to me that Bradley-Smith is called an emerging writer, despite her bio saying she has been a journalist in Sydney and London, and has two publications under her belt — at what point do you emerge from emerging?) Her essay encompasses everything I love about creative nonfiction: it is in the form of a list; it is intensely personal; it is full of passion; and it frogleaps: from a runaway mother to the death of her child to racism to why we don’t read Australian novels to hating real estate agents to grey nurse sharks to the horror of fire to boys dying in car accidents. She read excerpts from the essay on the night and it was powerful and provocative.

Which brings me to the overall winning essay, Rachel Friedman’s ‘Discovery’. Now I have to admit it. When Rachel started reading her essay into the Wheeler Centre — via satellite  — the combination of an American accent and the words ‘James Cook’ in the opening paragraph threw me. I knew the essay competition was open to international contributors but I didn’t expect an American to actually, you know, like, win. I was doing battle: with my idea of cultural imperalism — of having an American tell me what Australia is all about. Suddenly I found myself feeling patriotic. The defender of all things local. I’d have to erect an Aussie flag in my backyard. Where was this coming from?

Now, having read Friedman’s article in a more open frame of mind, I realise, it just doesn’t compare with the other essays, in terms of style, spice, flavour of the place. Just look at Stephen Wright’s ‘Nation of Grief’, Madelaine Dicke’s ‘Battling Collective Amnesia’, Rosemary Jones’ ‘Arms of the Earth’, Kirsten Fogg’s ‘After the Flood on Harte Street’ and James Guida’s ‘Strong Loyalties’: these essays sing with a shared spirit. Friedman’s work may be clever and tricksy, but it doesn’t match up, for me.

As an editor, you’re always going to commission articles with a certain bent. But I think Gutkind’s framing of the ‘Australia’ edition is pushing his (somewhat conservative) idea of ‘true stories, well told’ too much, to the occasional detriment of the magazine. His quote by Geraldine Brooks on the magazine’s cover (‘It’s either true or it’s not true, and if you’ve made it up, then it should be on the fiction shelf’) seems a disappointing reduction of all the elegant questioning that’s going on within the pages. It seems a shame that much of the magazine focuses, in such a limited space, on the (old hat) musings of Brooks, Robert Dessaix and Robyn Williams, when it’s clear from the few essays reproduced that there’s a lot of insightful, exciting, questioning going on by other (less established) writers. I would have liked to see a few more.

Which brings me back. Where are those missing essays? If you have one (and it hasn’t been published), send it to me. And we can take it from there…

DO YOU LIKE READING CREATIVE NONFICTION? WHAT ARE YOU FAVOURITE JOURNALS, BLOGS OR WEBSITES?

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