I’m thrilled to welcome Laurie Steed to the attic today. Laurie and I first met at a blogging workshop back in 2013 and, over the years, have become firm friends. Last year, after our début novels were published within a few months of each other, we not infrequently corresponded via email, checking how the other was faring. I cannot overstate how much Laurie’s affirming and encouraging emails kept me buoyant during some of the more turbulent periods post-publication.
Given we met at a blogging workshop, it feels like coming full circle to have Laurie as a guest in the attic today.
Laurie Steed is the Patricia Hackett Prize-winning author of You Belong Here, published by Margaret River Press. His fiction has been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and has been published in Best Australian Stories, Award Winning Australian Writing, The Review of Australian Fiction, The Age, Meanjin, Westerly, Island, and elsewhere. He is a recipient of fellowships from The University of Iowa, The Baltic Writing Residency, The Elizabeth Kostova Foundation, The Katharine Susannah Prichard Foundation and The Fellowship of Writers (Western Australia). He lives in Perth, Western Australia with his wife and two sons.
The Short Way Around
Once, I wrote a novel. And yet, I also wrote a short story collection. My book, You Belong Here, seemed both. It was a composite novel, and a collection of stories, and arguably a short story cycle too, but let’s not get into that, except to say that with all these paradoxes at play, it is easy to see why it took me this long to have my first book out into the world, and why my coffee mugs get more action than I do.
I tried to write a ‘standard’ novel three times before completing You Belong Here. Each time, the result felt forced. Mine were solid, serviceable attempts and yet they were also just me in smart trousers and a button-up shirt, an ill-fit, done more for the interests of others, and less for my own independent self-expression. And so I continued to write short stories between each longer work, with my shirt out, and trouser-legs draped down the backs of my shoes. I’d go to seminars, launches, and festivals where editors, publishers, and heck, even the cleaners, would tell me that short stories don’t sell. And so I would return to a longer manuscript, as though novels were right, and short fiction unconscionably and irredeemably wrong.
My stories kept coming. Even after writing You Belong Here, I had five, ten, twenty more stories. And so I wrote them, and in time accepted I am destined to reflect upon those moments when a life shifts tack, or is irrevocably altered.
Most days, I’m not sure what, or who has shaped me. I often don’t find out until I write my next story and another, and the next one after that.
Imagine you had written almost 200 short stories that perpetually cycled around loss. Imagine, years later, discovering that your work is as much about consolation; those things, moments, or people that guide you in the face of such loss.
There is something about the short form that favours, thrives on such subtlety of meaning. It’s as if short stories are love letters from the perennially shy. It’s as though these stories are quiet whispers that somehow echoed out into the world. As my lifeline and release, they enable me to be and love, and never grasp too tight for my place in the world.
It’s pride, I think. The knowledge that if no one cares, we still know that we’ve toiled in search of that perfect ending, or killer line. It’s passion, I think. The speaking of secrets with similarly-minded writers who work hard, but so often find indifference in a market-driven literary economy.
Perhaps it is fear. The thought that we don’t have the answers. That, in crafting tiny worlds we are only then able to face deeper conflicts, or moments of dissonance and live without their resolution. Or maybe it’s hope. The dream that in finding our truths we might be freed from all those other truths we’ve had to face in worlds too harsh and too real.
For now, I’ve returned to the short form. It’s not yet my permanent home, but it’s enticing; to revisit a world of too-steep narrative arcs and truncated endings; to again not know how a world will or should come together. To test my boundaries, resisting the simple or convenient in search of something pure, honest, and sufficiently complex.
Once, I wrote a novel. And now it’s time to go and write a short story collection.
If you enjoyed reading this and would like to read more by other writers who have visited the attic, click here.