‘Leaving Elvis’ by Michelle Michau-Crawford won the 2013 ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize. Michelle has a PhD in English and Comparative Literature and is a Perth local. I am so excited that Michelle will be speaking at the Australian Short Story Festival and just had to catch up with her beforehand.
NLK: How did you start writing?
MMC: I did a lot of other things with my life before taking the leap and working towards officially ‘becoming a writer.’ That said, my earliest memories revolve around reading, writing, observing and eavesdropping – all crucial skills for a future writer.
I always read prolifically, and wrote a lot too. For example, for many years, back when people wrote letters instead of Facebook status updates and SMS messages to communicate, I was an epic letter writer. I also wrote very creative ‘please excuse little Johnny from PE today’ type letters to schoolteachers. And in various employment positions where words were required on the page for one reason or another, I transformed every task into a creative writing project.
It was probably not until around the 1980s that I realised that writing was the one thing that I really wanted to pursue and set about making it happen. Then I spent about twenty years reading and learning from other writers before I felt I had something of my own to contribute.
NLK: Why are short stories satisfying to write?
MMC: On those occasions when it all comes together and actually works – an appropriate voice is found, language is credible, and I feel that I have managed to adequately communicate something that has been banging around in my head for a period of time – it is a very satisfying outcome. That satisfaction is not exclusive to approaching the short story of course. Whatever the form, any writing that actually works is rewarding for the same reasons.
NLK: What makes a short story successful?
MMC: I measure a successful story firstly by the response it evokes. That initial response tends to lean more towards an instinctive reaction to the story than an intellectual or critical analysis. Later I find myself asking questions about why it lingers in my mind long after the first reading, and what it is that draws me back to read it multiple times. Inevitably a good story will be subtle, and with each new reading I will gain a deeper understanding or insight of the story or even better, of myself and my own life.
NLK: What’s your favourite short story?
MMC: You may as well ask me which is the favourite of my three children. If I have one, I can’t admit to it, can I?
I have a lot of favourite stories, and by favourites I mean stories that linger, stories I find myself compelled to reread, stories that speak to something inside me and continue to offer something new at different stages of my life. I tend though, to reread specific authors rather than single stories.
Some examples of my eclectic chocolate box of short story author favourites include, in no particular order and by no means comprehensively: Cate Kennedy, Gillian Mears, Alice Munro, Annie Proulx, Raymond Carver, Tim Winton, Anton Chekhov.
NLK: What are you most looking forward to in relation to Australia’s inaugural short story festival?
MMC: At this stage I’m most looking forward to simply spending time with writers and readers. When I started writing I was often discouraged from focusing on the short story form for my first full-length publication by well-meaning people with more experience than I had. By being stubborn and by taking my time to throw my work into the mix I eventually became part of the fashionable set! So, in the year of publication of my first book, it is particularly rewarding to be invited to attend a festival where the short story is the focus of the entire weekend.