This article was originally published in September 2019 on our ‘Writers on Writers Vic’ page, for our 30th year of operating.
After winning the Grace Marion Wilson Emerging Writers Competition in 2014, Else volunteered at Writers Victoria, worked at the Emerging Writers Festival and studied creative writing at RMIT. Else has been published widely, including Visible Ink, Australian Book Review, The Suburban Review and Offset. Her fiction has won or been shortlisted for awards such as the Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize, the Lord Mayor’s Creative Writing Awards, the Fair Australia Prize, the VU Overland Short Story Prize and the Margaret River Short Story Competition. In 2018 she was selected as a recipient of a VicArts grant from Creative Victoria. She is currently ‘working on a collection of short speculative fiction, tentatively titled Nearly Curtains. All the stories are exploring landscapes, language and technology and the ways they may shift and alter in a radically changing world. Hopefully there’ll be a couple of individual stories published this year.’
Can you tell us about your involvement with Writers Victoria?
I started at Writers Vic as a volunteer about 5 years ago. It was right after I won the Grace Marion Wilson fiction award, which kind of introduced me to the WV community. I was really keen to be involved so I started working one day a week in the office helping to organise the 25th Anniversary celebration with Jen Squire, who was the programming intern at the time. The staff were so welcoming and supportive, and my day each week became such an important anchor for me at a time when I didn’t really know what I wanted to be doing professionally. I was working two busy hospitality jobs and being able to come to a place where I was surrounded by a community of writers was such a nice change.
What difference did volunteering made to your writing?
Volunteering with WV was a life-changing experience for me—it introduced me to a whole literary community in Melbourne and also the resident organisations in the Wheeler Centre. After six months volunteering with WV, I applied for one of the Creative Producer roles at the Emerging Writers Festival (another incredible experience) and from there I ended up working at EWF for three years. I’ve stayed connected to the building over the years and I currently do Front of House work on Wheeler Centre events. I really feel that my time at WV kick-started my career in the arts! And over the years working on WV events as a volunteer I got to be a part of so many fantastic workshops and seminars, and being a member has benefitted my writing enormously.
What kind or support or resources are most helpful to you as a writer?
I feel like it’s the most common thing for people to say about writing, but it is lonely! So having a way to connect with other writers—for workshopping, feedback, support, solidarity—is really amazing. I’ve met so many wonderful writers though WV over the years, people who’ve been incredibly generous with their work and supportive of mine. I’ve found doing the WV short story clinics really valuable—I’ve done a few of them over the years, and they’ve been excellent for making me accountable and to actually produce work (which is often the thing I find the hardest!).
Based on your own experience, what advice do you have for aspiring and emerging writers about engaging with their local writers’ centre?
I think if you’re interested in a career in the literary arts, then volunteering at your writers’ centre is a great way to get a foot in the door. I think it’s important to acknowledge that volunteering is something that is a luxury and not possible for everyone, but the wonderful thing about WV is that as a volunteer you get to participate in the workshops and seminars you work on. And you get so much back from being involved in such a great community!
I also love getting the opportunities and competitions listings from WV. One piece of advice I’d give to emerging writers is to just get your work out there—submit to literary journals, send your work to competitions. You’ll get plenty of rejections (we all do!) but you also learn to be ok with that. And the more you submit the more chance you have of being published—if you believe in a story and you’ve workshopped it and you know it’s good, someone else will see that too.
Applying to grants, fellowships and residencies can be daunting, what’s your advice for emerging writers?
I think the biggest hurdle is getting over the fear of rejection—you will never be successful with opportunities unless you put yourself forward for them. That said, often grants and fellowships have quite onerous application processes so I think if you’re working on a project that could benefit from these kinds of opportunities be strategic and find several you can apply for around the same time—that way you can use the same application material and tweak it for each one. Always make sure you read the guidelines and do exactly what they ask too—sounds so basic, but it really is important.
Why do you think that speculative fiction is having a sort of resurgence in Australia?
I never know how to answer this kind of question! I guess in some ways there seems to have been a shift in that ‘genre’ fiction is being more widely read and recognised in areas that used to be very ‘literary’. But I suspect it’s also to do with what’s going on around us. The past few years I’ve been mostly writing speculative climate change fiction and for me that’s a direct result of living through the times that we are—I’m trying to process my feelings and fears about the environment through my work, as I think many people are at the moment. Whatever the reason, I’m glad cause I love reading it!
What are your writing plans for 2019? Any forthcoming projects?
I’m working on a collection of short speculative fiction, tentatively titled Nearly Curtains. All the stories are exploring landscapes, language and technology and the ways they may shift and alter in a radically changing world. Hopefully there’ll be a couple of individual stories published this year.