The Australian Short Story Festival is an annual weekend-long event that celebrates everything surrounding the short story genre, bringing together ‘short story writers, storytellers, publishers, and editors of literary magazines, as well as readers.’ It describes itself as an ‘event with the short story at its core’ and is the first national event to focus entirely on this form of writing. With a diverse line-up of speakers, it was a rewarding and hugely entertaining weekend.
The 2018 Australian Short Story Festival will be held in Perth, Western Australia.
I originally intended to write a short piece for each of the panels that I attended, however, time is not being kind. Instead, I have chosen to post this blog in two parts. In the first, I thought it would be fun to pass along some of the comments/pieces of advice I picked up from Carmel Bird’s panel: Craft.
When Peter Goldsworthy introduced the title of Carmel Bird’s panel, Carmel grimaced and said, ‘Craft. I hate that word. To me, craft is imitation cheese.’
Awarded the Patrick White Award in 2016, Carmel Bird’s writing was described by the judges as ‘truly original: witty, stylish and allusive, it invests trust in the reader to appreciate her literary and cultural references’ a description that was reflected in a light-hearted but fascinating glimpse into Carmel’s take on the short story.
Throughout the session, Carmel referred back to her early love of fairy tales and how much of her writing has been influenced by tropes that are instantly recognisable by the reader. Peter Goldsworthy pointed out that many of Carmel’s stories contain tropes that lull the reader into a false sense of security before deftly turning our expectations into something startling, moving and, at times, vaguely unsettling.
They went on to discuss the importance of fairy tales, the rhythm of the prose and their influence on contemporary fiction. Carmel expanded on her love for rhythm saying that she often reads her work aloud, something she encourages every writer to do – ‘It is a sure way to hear if a line works or doesn’t.’
She described her love for of the Brothers Grimm and Dickens, as a child, revelling not only in the words but in the illustrations. She was, she admitted, ‘very visual’ and talked about the importance of detail in her writing. It is often her unnerving eye for detail that draws the reader in, mesmerising in its beauty yet, at times, subtly disconcerting. She demonstrated this wonderfully with a reading from The Woodpecker Toy Fact (Woodpecker Point), a collection of stories set in Australia. The story, about a simple burglary, was so profoundly ordinary in subject choice and yet so magical that it was transformed into something deeply humane. Described as a ‘masterpiece’ by Peter Goldsworthy, it was a highlight of the morning’s panel. It was also a glimpse into Carmel’s unique style of writing which can be both light and humorous, and, as Carmel put it, ‘a nudge to the audience.’ Carmel explained that she is very ‘carefree about her writing’ often leaving in things that ‘at first might seem silly.’ It is a combination that leaves vivid images in the reader’s mind long after the stories have been read.
Carmel Bird’s panel was a warm and engaging insight into the life of a well-loved short story writer, and I look forward to reading her short story collection, ‘My Hearts are Your Hearts’ and her classic guide to writing fiction, ‘Dear Writer … revisited.’
All I need now is a copy of The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
Carmel Bird is a writer of both fiction and non-fiction. She has published seven collections of short fiction and been nominated three times for the Miles Franklin Award. Her latest collection of short stories, The Dead Aviatrix, is available as an ebook.