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Excerpt from The Singularity by Karoline Magpily

And so begins Karoline Magpily’s award-winning story, The Singularity. Karoline’s story took out three awards at the 2020 Tim Winton Award for Young Writers, winning her category of Lower Secondary (Karoline is a Year 9 student), going on to win the overall Tim Winton Award and the inaugural Subi Voice Youth Award. I was thoroughly hooked by the very first line, laughed out loud, and after reading put down the story with a huge grin on my face. At the awards evening, I was fortunate to meet Karoline. Happily, she agreed to answer my questions…I think you’ll agree this is one young writer we’ll be hearing from again in the future.

NLK: What inspires you to write stories?

KM: My inspiration usually comes as this feeling — a kind of restlessness or excitement saying, there’s something here to be explored, there’s something here that I want to talk about. I never know where or when it’ll find me next. Sometimes it comes in the form of tastes or textures, sometimes as snippets of dialogue or a theme to explore. Writing for me is about finding that feeling, bottling it up, extrapolating it, teasing it apart, rearranging it and — the most exciting bit— putting it in a way that can transmit it from my head to someone else’s head. That feeling, and the possibility of sharing it with other people — that’s what inspires me to write.

NLK: What are your favourite books and who are your favourite authors? Why?

KM: I recently read This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone and I loved it from the first sentence. The prose is utterly gorgeous, at the end of every chapter I’d go back to the start of that chapter and reread it just so then I could savour the way the words flowed over each other and seamlessly created entire worlds. I want to be able to write like that someday. Another book I keep coming back to is George Orwell’s 1984; I love it because of how it explores how words control thoughts and by restricting the words people can use in turn restricts the thoughts they can think and communicate with others. I’ve always been a little bit obsessed with the importance of words and the influence of an external authority on people’s own inner workings; I love stories that articulate and explore that.

NLK: Is your creativity affected by what’s going on around you? Eg climate change, COVID etc

KM: I’d suppose so, my creativity is pretty much joined at the hip with my feelings; writing for me is a way to rationalise and understand the big, overwhelming issues unfolding in the world. Things like climate change and the pandemic and discrimination and the influence of big corporations — there tends to be at least a hint of the kind of things I’m worried or scared or passionate about present in my writing. 

NLK: The following questions relate to your winning story, The Singularity

NLK: Can you tell us about the title? Where did you get the idea for the title?

KM: Honestly, the least amount of thought went into the title, which is odd, because usually I’ll spend hours mulling over the exact wording of a title. It was taken from the idea of the technological singularity— the point in time where the capabilities of technology and artificial intelligence surpasses that of human intellect. But singularity also means one of a kind — different — which is ironic since the unseen protagonist is in fact not one of a kind and presumably made the same decisions as everyone else who had uploaded themselves to Secondlyfe™, but befitting, because of the experimental, thus one of a kind, way I decided to tell this snippet of their story.

NLK: What was the main inspiration for this story?

KM: I started writing this as a way to explore how many elements of a story I could take away and still have a story. For example, there is no physical setting, virtually no plot and the protagonist is irrelevant to the story. But somehow, there’s still a story there. I was first introduced to the idea of the Singularity though the documentary Year Million and I felt that the impersonal, detached nature of intelligent — but incapable of being empathetic — technology it explored was the right medium to explore a story devoid of as much feeling and metaphor as possible. 

NLK: How did you feel writing it?

KM: It was simultaneously exciting and terrifying; I’d never written anything quite like it before. I remember just having a grand time staring walking around and thinking about what the next membership plan below bronze should be and playing around with sponsored ads and singularity sites. I suppose there was a part of me that worried about whether someone who doesn’t live in my head could understand what it was meant to sound and feel like to read — but I didn’t write it with the intention of really showing it to anyone so it wasn’t my main concern. 

NLK: Can you tell us about your writing process? How do you start? Where do you write? How did you know when the story was finished? Did it take you long to edit the story?

KM: Writing for me starts long before I put pen to paper. Once I pinpoint the particular feeling, issue or premise I want to write about, I’ll sit with it for a little while — just take it in and let it fester away in the back of my head. A lot of this festering is actually done while pacing around the dining table. I find that while pacing, fragmented snippets of the story will come and find me. Eventually, I’ll make a mind map to help get my thoughts in order. When I start to physically write it, I won’t usually start at the beginning; for The Singularity, I started at the different membership plans and then jumped between multiple sections I was writing almost simultaneously before figuring out how to string them together. Most of the editing was just trying to figure out the best way to put all of the pieces together. I don’t have a particular time and place dedicated for writing; I write wherever I can carve the time out to do so. I knew The Singularity was finished when I didn’t feel like tinkering around with it anymore — at first, this story wasn’t intended for anyone but myself so, once I felt satiated, I didn’t feel obliged to try and draw it out any further. 

NLK: How did you feel when you found out you had won, not just one, but three prizes?

KM: Mostly shock. And then disbelief. And then overwhelmed. Honestly, I don’t feel like I deserve them. It still baffles me that people, other than myself, found me funny or enjoyed reading what I wrote. Nevertheless, I love that what I wrote made someone laugh and think and discuss their thoughts with other people. 

NLK: Will you continue to write? (Please say yes!)

KM: Well, of course! I’m not sure whether I could make a career out of it but I love to write. I love how writing challenges me to create new ways of telling a story that makes a reader stop and see their world through a new lens. I love how it gives me the means and the tools to explore new perspectives and to play around with my own view of the world.

I hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I have. I am blown away by Karoline’s answers and feel there is much we can learn from this young, talented writer. I look forward to following her writing.

You can read The Singularity and all the winning stories from this year’s Tim Winton Award here.