I have yet another gorgeous essay for Writers in the Attic this week, this time from Deb Wain.
Deb’s tale of how she came to writing really resonated with me. In fact, parts of it are eerily similar to an essay I wrote for the Writing the Dream anthology last year, especially how she grew up surrounded by people who did ‘real’ jobs for a living and never considered writing as a career.
I loved books but something about their magic made them feel, to me, as if they were also created by magic, or at least by a very special type of person who I placed high on a pedestal, and who was like nobody I had ever known and was certainly a person that I could never be.
Deb Wain is a poet and short story writer who is passionate about food, culture, and the Australian environment. She has generally been employed in jobs where she is allowed to talk and tell stories for a living. When not writing or talking you can find Deb dancing in the rain, drinking coffee, or playing in the garden. Her work, which has appeared in Verandah, Tincture, and Verity La, is often inspired by the Australian communities in which she has lived.
You can read more about Deb at her website and find her on Twitter, too.
A Circuitous Pathway to Writing
My writing life, in terms of prose, didn’t start until I was thirty-seven years old. I didn’t write my first prose fiction until I was forced to by virtue of enrolling in a short story writing subject while studying a Graduate Diploma in Professional Writing. I even came to this course by accident after running out of things I found interesting within a journalism degree I had taken on.
I grew up in the western suburbs of Melbourne, fairly working class, with people who did real things for a living like driving trucks, or being a mechanic, a nurse, a bricklayer, or a teacher. I loved books but something about their magic made them feel, to me, as if they were also created by magic, or at least by a very special type of person who I placed high on a pedestal, and who was like nobody I had ever known and was certainly a person that I could never be.
Not only did I not know any writers, I didn’t know any people who made their living from any kind of creative outlet — no potters, painters, or photographers. So, although I loved books and as a small child would insist that my younger sister of only about fifteen months of age would sit still beside me while I ‘read’ her a story (that is, held a book and made it up), I didn’t consider writing as something that I could actually do.
Despite not knowing anyone who wrote, when I was a teenager I wrote poetry (truly awful poetry) regularly in a journal. I think my choice of this medium was primarily because the prying eyes of my little sisters or my mother would never discover my secret heartaches and innermost thoughts if they were cloaked in the heavy-handed metaphors of my poetry. (It was melodramatic stuff at the time!) I was too scared to show any of this writing to anyone (looking back on it now, that was a good move). I continued to write poetry, finally really focusing on it by taking an online course called The Pleasures Of Poetry in 2003. After becoming enthused by the online course, I started working with a local poetry group and in 2005 we published a collection of poems tied together by the theme of ‘childhood’. The idea that I could actually do something with my writing excited me but then I got scared again and didn’t pursue it. Just as an aside, I’ve kept all that awful poetry from my teenage years as a reminder that I have made actual progress.
Enter: a niggling feeling that I was rapidly coming to the end of my tether in my teaching career. This prompted me to look into ways of potentially using the skills I already had, one of which was writing, in order to find another employment option. I took on the journalism degree (I was still stuck on the concept of needing to do a job that is a real thing, a criterion that fiction writing didn’t meet). I started off the course being quite enthused about journalism but I ran out of options for subjects that I wanted to do before I had enough points to graduate — the subjects that I did want to pursue were creative writing ones… So, I changed my degree and took them on. I was still teaching, so I only took one subject at a time but this allowed me to really embrace the type of writing being explored in that particular subject and immerse myself in the readings. It was towards the end of my degree that I took a subject in writing short fiction. I have Deakin University to thank for sparking my love of the short story.
I continue to find it delightful in its concise and often poetic nature. I like its sparseness and its contained nature.
I have continued to pursue this form and I continue to find it delightful in its concise and often poetic nature. I like its sparseness and its contained nature. In its defence, Frank O’Connor depicts the short story as a visionary form and one that ‘represents, better than poetry or drama, our own attitude to life’ (The Lonely Voice, 1963). I have just completed and submitted my creative writing PhD thesis, which consists of a collection of short stories addressing ideas of food and culture, and women as cultural custodians through their use of food-making practices. I know writing a PhD is meant to be an arduous four-year journey during which you live on an emotional rollercoaster and can’t get off but I actually really enjoyed writing mine. I’m not going to suggest that every day was a joy or that there weren’t emotional ups and downs — that’s certainly not true. But overall I gained a lot of pleasure from spending my time writing, and great satisfaction from, for the first time in my life, writing being my job.
People sometimes ask if I’ll now move on to writing a novel, as if writing short stories can only be a kind of practise thing you do until you’re good enough to write longer form pieces. But at this stage, it isn’t my plan. Never say never, I guess. Maybe I just haven’t found an idea suitable for exploration in the novel form as yet. I’ll wait and see what’s around the next corner.
If you’d like to write a piece for Writers in the Attic, please let me know by clicking here.
I’m now booked until the end of April, so if you’ve been contemplating writing one, you have plenty of time! I love reading them and would be honoured to post your story, so please don’t be scared to take the plunge!
600-1000 words is a good length, and all I ask is that the topic is writing related. It can be anything to do with your writing life or what writing means to you.
I acknowledge the time and effort involved in writing these pieces and send a small gift as a thank you.
I’m really late with my newsletter, so don’t worry that you’ve missed it—you haven’t! I finished editing my novel last week and am way behind with everything—and I mean everything, including sleep.
If you haven’t already, you can sign up for my newsletter here. As well as the usual titbits about what I’m reading, interesting articles from the internet, and what’s on for writers in and around Perth, I’ll also talk about the structural edits I’ve just undertaken.
Remember, too, that if you’re on the subscriber list, you’ll be in the running for this month’s giveaway, which is a beautiful book: ‘Books I Have Read—Books I Want to Read’. The book is illustrated with decorated papers from the Olga Hirsch collection, and also has quotes from writers and famous people.
It’s absolutely exquisite, and I’m tempted to keep it for myself!
I love the way we seem to fall into this life of writing, or at least some of us do, like you Deb. Notwithstanding your poetry life as an adolescent. Like you Louise, I resonate here, too. And the way journalism seems to be about writing and of course it’s all about writing but is somehow so different from the stuff I long to do. I too struggled through parts of a journalism course once and felt as if I was in a strait jacket. It’s wonderful that you enjoyed your PhD , Deb, and wonderful too that you can now go on exploring where you’d like to go vis a vis your short stories and writing. It’s funny how the book, preferably the novel becomes the holy grail but all writing counts, including journalism.
So many lovers of books and words seem to start their careers in journalism. I guess it makes sense—journalism seems like an obvious job for lovers of words and language.
It amazes me how few writers leave school wanting to be writers—it certainly never occurred to me as a job option, for many reasons. Yet, we find our way there, as you say, Lis. Thank you for commenting. xx
Thank you Deb for this lovely post. And thank you Louise for bringing it to us. I love the way you fell into your natural medium and found your own way. And congratulations on submitting your PhD thesis. Like you, I had a wonderful time doing my PhD and it was both a journey of self-discovery and a creative journey. It is a precious time when you don’t have to worry about publishers, just examiners!
It’s so nice to hear these good stories of PhD’s—makes me want to try one! Who knows what lies ahead …
It’s wonderful to meet you, Deb, you’re one of our tribe — a writer! Welcome aboard! 🙂
I do feel like we form a tribe, and a damn good one, at that! Thanks, Marlish. 🙂
I am loving the vast range and style of authors that you are bringing together Louise. Hi Deb, I believe an audience for short stories are very much in demand. Great to read your journey, thanks for sharing x
Some of the best stories I’ve read have been short—and they’re hard to write well because you can’t waste a word.
I’m glad you’re enjoying reading about writers who visit the attic! Thanks for reading. x