How I started to learn to write…

I quite literally fell into writing short stories. Writing short form can be daunting and freaking scary, but with encouragement from the amazing Cory Martin, I gave it a go. I discovered that not only did I love writing short stories, but that I also adored reading them. I devoured short stories by Raymond Carver, Charles Bukowski, Lorrie Moore, F Scott Fitzgerald, Angela Carter, Shirley Jackson and Albert Camus. Then I moved on to Australia’s own Julie Koh and started picking up books of short stories when on overseas holidays. Almost two whole shelves in my book collection are dedicated to short stories.

When I decided to give the short story a go, my very first attempt was published by Write Out Publishing. It was a story called ‘Disappointment’ and although my protagonist had been living my head for a while I didn’t know what to do with her. I started thinking about growing up on the outskirts of Freo, about what it felt like to be poor and to be the kid at school who wasn’t going to get anywhere. I played with words and capitalisation and I shocked myself with the finished story. I didn’t want to write sanitary pieces, I wanted to experiment and see how far I could go. I want to tap into the childhood memories which were hard to grasp and mix them with a reality I imagined in my head:

Her mother had been shagging the manager at the 7-Eleven where she worked the day shift. It was a swift shag in the alleyway, behind the incongruous shop, squashed between Subway and a nondescript burger bar. — from ‘Disappointment‘ (January, 2016)

Published by Write Out Publishing (small fee to read)

I started asking people to tell me stories. I wanted details to play with. Visiting my fireman brother in Sydney he told me a story which beggared belief. For his fortieth birthday, I decided to write him a tale based on the farfetched details he regaled me with around his kitchen table. The result was ‘Dinner’s Ready‘ and was published in Shorts by the Draft Collective (scroll to page 24). It’s the kind of story that fits the mould of stranger than fiction. Here’s a tiny taste (without spoilers):

The burnt out apartment is a charred mess. District nine is the kind of location you live in when you’ve given up on life. It’s a wasteland inside the metro area with high crime and squandered dreams. Joel wonders about the female occupant–heart problems last week and back in hospital today and nowhere to live. He wonders how people fall into such deep holes. — from ‘Dinner’s Ready‘ (2016) 

Published by The Draft Collective (free to read)

I don’t always write about horrible things, I also try to slice a moment from a lifetime and write a truth that will hopefully resonate with someone else. I think writing is ultimately about trying to connect with others. We see something important and try to shine a light of recognition onto that moment and see if another person sees the same refraction.

I was still pestering people for stories when a tennis buddy of mine told me about an island holiday where her two daughters fell for the same boy and the result was utter havoc. I tried writing the story from one of the daughter’s perspectives but the story wouldn’t unravel so I stopped trying and waited to see what would happen. It was the mother who spoke to me and she spoke of her marriage and of middle age and what it felt like to be slightly out of focus. I had found the angle but struggled for a while with trying to reach the depths of the story which Cory (from Write Out Publishing) wanted from me. The result was ‘Triangulo Amoroso‘ or in Spanish, Love Triangle. I set the story in San Sebastian in the north of Spain where I had stayed briefly with my husband in the late 90s. Writing can be a way of reliving moments in time; I sometimes think I’m so greedy for life that I try to live it twice!

Twenty-three years, four countries, three miscarriages, two daughters and two careers later, we are back holidaying in Spain. Antonio romances me occasionally and I try to remember to keep lubricant in my wash bag. Age has crept up slowly, insidiously, and suddenly it’s not me on the back of a Vespa anymore. It’s not my arms snaking around Antonio’s middle, it’s Livvy’s turn and I have become — what does Greta call me? — old, boring and hopeless. — from ‘Triangulo Amoroso‘ (2016)

Published by Write Out Publishing (small fee to read)

Story fodder can come from remembered holidays and current holidays. While on holiday in New Zealand, my husband and I took an evening stroll along the beach. Excitement! An orca was swimming along the coast and beachgoers were delighted. We hurried along the shore and kept our eyes on the magnificent creature. The NZ Government was building a superhighway at the time, right through the region’s greenbelt and the locals were outraged. I added this to my mix and Violet, a young bereaved widow was born. The title was long and rather a mouthful: ‘The Peka Peka Expressway and Other Routes to Progress’ but luckily that didn’t put off the editors at The Sunlight Press:

The orca has swum into deeper waters. Violet stops on the shore. The orca turns and a gush of water spurts from its blowhole. Water falls back down into the ocean with a great splash. He is saying goodbye, she thinks. Giant ripples run out over the ocean as the orca slaps down its tail and Violet raises her arm as if to answer ‘I have seen you.’ — from ‘The Peka Peka Expressway and Other Routes to Progess‘ (August, 2017)

Published by The Sunlight Press (free to read)

Another widow of mine is eighty-five year old Tilly who is getting ready to cause hell in a nursing home. Tilly is the embodiment of South Perth; her life is the life of the city from the 1930s up to now. In ‘Tilly’s Tea-Chest‘ published by The Regal Fox, I tried to give a historical account of the place I have grown up in and loved. I’ve tried to make sense of the history of the place by creating a woman who has loved and lived well:

Tilly picks up their wedding photo from 1950 running her fingers over Lewis’s face. Six years ago, he finally left her for good. Tilly keeps some of his ashes in a zip-lock plastic bag folded into neat squares and hidden away in Lewis’s old cigarette case. It’s her guilty secret. She couldn’t bear to leave all his remains at the bottom of the Swan. — from ‘Tilly’s Tea-Chest‘ (April, 2018)

Published by The Regal Fox (free to read)

I can’t seem to leave the theme of grief alone maybe because it can change everything. In ‘As Good As Gold‘ I tackle the subject of grief again. A friend told me the story of how her family used to grow tomatoes in their market garden in Geraldton and how her family fled Vietnam in the late 1970s and arrived in Australia by boat. I again drew on my childhood memories of Freo and my protagonist, Kim was born. She’s vulnerable and tied down by the strings of her family but she’s generous and lovable. She’s lost.:

Kim snaps her phone shut. It’s not that she isn’t happy for Laney, weddings just make her uncomfortable; like she’s been forgotten. How many 36-year-olds live at home? How many single, almost-virgin (her relationship with Michael ended over seven years ago) 36-year-olds live at home, look after their dad and the family business? Mostly Kim doesn’t go into the bakery, her brother, Danh, took over the business. Kim does the books. Danh inherited the family business and Kim inherited their father. — from ‘As Good As Gold‘ (June, 2018)

Published by Other Terrain Journal (free to read)

I was listening to the radio one day when the announcers asked people to call in with stories of people whose partners had had affairs with their better half’s best friends. The challenge was set and I wrote a short piece called ‘Parradice Lost‘:

Chad manfully sucked on a ciggie and Tiff busily applied her signature red lippy. They weren’t touching but there was something in the way their bodies leaned close that made River pull back into the shadows. He was jostled by incoming patrons when his phone pinged. It was Tiff. She was stuck in one of those bloody sales meetings. River stopped, just for a moment. Tiff was lying. She’d always been a good liar. — from ‘Parradice Lost’ (May, 2018)

Published by Tulpa Magazine (free to read)

Flash fiction are stories that have an even shorter word count than short stories. ‘Parradice Lost’ is flash fiction and so is ‘The Girls at Number 25‘ which was technically difficult to write as I try to surprise the reader at the very end. If you read it, please let me know if the surprise worked!

Rosemary’s from Guelph. She used to live on a farm, but rural life didn’t quite go down as well as she thought it would. She was pleased when she met Margot and Margot suggested she move to Raumati Beach. Raumati isn’t the big smoke, but at least it’s not the country. Rosemary can’t stand mud. — from ‘The Girls at Number 25‘ (August, 2018)

Published by The Wild Goose Literary E-Journal, pp151-153 (small fee to read)

I’ve got quite a few other short stories looking for publication but finding them homes can be challenging at times. I’m patient. It takes time to house short stories and when I can finally share them with the world, there is no better feeling. The joy of writing them returns and for a time I have the privilege of sharing the little worlds that reside inside my imagination with readers.

I do hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my short stories. Of course I would love you to click away and read them all. Of my small body of published work, I have favourites. If you want to know which is my favourite short story and which one I would most like you to read, please drop me an email and we can chat! If you’d like me to let you know when I have another short story available to read, feel free to sign up for my occasional newsletter. Wishing you a wonderful 2019, may it be full of stories that bring you joy and make you ponder. Happy reading!

If you enjoyed this post, why not check out some of my earlier posts:

Social Media and the Short Story

What now?

The Debilitation Lows and Divine Highs of a Writer’s Life

Find out more about NL King