This article was originally published in April 2019 on our ‘Writers on Writers Vic’ page, for our 30th year of operating.
Melanie Cheng is a writer and general practitioner of Chinese-Australian heritage. Her short story collection Australia Day won the 2016 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript and was shortlisted for the 2017 Reading Prize for New Australian Fiction and the 2018 Indie Book Award for debut fiction. The short story ‘White Sparrow’ was published in the collection Shibboleth and Other Stories, which contains the best stories from the 2016 Margaret River Short Story Competition. Her new book Room for a Stranger will be published in mid-2019. Melanie’s non-fiction has been published widely, including The Age, Meanjin, Overland, Seizure and The Victorian Writer.
In 2010, Melanie applied for the Grace Marion Wilson prize and was awarded fiction runner up for ‘Stone Baby’. After that she joined Writers Victoria and found many resources, including online courses, that helped her in the road to publication.
When did you first discover Writers Victoria?
I first found out about Writers Victoria in 2010 when I applied for the Grace Marion Wilson prize. I’m so glad I did because it has changed the trajectory of my writing career. Soon afterwards I became a member and enrolled in a short story course with Emmett Stinson. It was at that course that I met Mark Smith, author of the YA series of books: The Road to Winter, Wilder Country and Land of Fences. We were both unpublished authors back then and I had no idea that Mark would eventually become an important mentor for me.
Later, while on maternity leave with my son, I completed an online short story clinic with Maxine Beneba-Clarke. The advice I received from that course, and another course I completed with Fish Publishing, was essential in helping me complete the collection that would later win the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript.
What did these experiences make to you and your writing?
Reflecting on my answer to the previous question, I would say that Writers Victoria has played different roles throughout my writing career. Sometimes it has provided a space for me to meet and network with other writers. Other times it has provided reassurance that I am not alone. The Writers Victoria tutors were my readers when I didn’t have the luxury of a paid editor—they reminded me of the fundamentals, they demystified the process.
Throughout my career, when I’ve been faced with obstacles, I’ve looked to Writers Victoria for help. When I was trying to write with two small children, I attended the Bring Your Bubs: Finding Time to Write workshop, delivered by the wonderful Lorelei Vashti, where I discovered that I was not alone in my frustrations and that it was okay to think about your work-in-progress while playing blocks with your baby on the floor. Similarly, when I was at an impasse with my novel, I enrolled in a one-day workshop with Alison Goodman called Building Your Novel’s Spine, where I learnt about the mechanics behind a long work of fiction.
What kind of support or resources are most helpful to you as a writer?
The opportunity for meeting face-to-face with other writers was really valuable to me when I was young and single, but the availability of online courses was equally important when I became a mother to young children. I love that Writers Victoria offers something for everyone—the introvert, the extrovert, the city-dweller, the regional writer, the short-story writer, the novelist, the poet, the memoirist.
Based on your own experience, what advice do you have for aspiring and emerging writers about engaging with their local writers’ centre?
I always tell aspiring and emerging writers about Writers Victoria. Many, like me, are just bumbling along, feeling lost and isolated. Writers’ centres like Writers Victoria are invaluable in making writers feel less alone. For those who are looking for a community, they will find one there. For the writers who are more introverted (of which there are many), they may wish to remain an anonymous observer—reading the magazine, staying up to date with competitions, occasionally listening to a talk. Either way it is all contributing to their development as a writer.