Drown in the idea

Tuesday, June 26, 2018
Anna Krien interviewed by Elisa McTaggart

A portrait of Anna Krien
Anna Krien, credit Jesse Marlow

Literary journalism is fast finding its feet in the online era, with audiences hungry for nuanced, beautifully crafted non-fiction. Ahead of her workshop, Writing Long-Form Journalism, we talked to Anna Krien about her creative process, the importance of deep research and how to give new life to over-exposed subjects.

Can writers find a unique and compelling angle for a subject that is already saturated in the media?

An important step would be to ask of the subject what are the consequences of the media saturation? How has the subject changed in the spotlight? Has it warped or transformed? Is the world a better place for the saturation, has insight been achieved or has the subject only been further muddied? Focus your lens on the media. Analyse its role in the subject. The media has skin in the game and that needs to be acknowledged. Another question to develop would be the unanswered silences, are there any left? Has someone, an entire group, or something been wrongly demonised? Are you brave enough to question a seemingly overwhelming affirmative response, are you nuanced enough to dig in and tease out its complexities and failures? Crucially - remember the humanity of a story. Often when something has been done to death in the media, it is quite literal - the people and creatures involved have become pawns in a narrative. Bring the subject back to life.

Do you have any creative processes to help you tease out and develop an idea?

I'm not sure if it's a creative process but I basically drown in the idea. I clear the decks and read and think and read and everything ordinary and daily that happens in my life has a bearing on my newly gleaned insights. I dream about it and when it feels like I've hit a wall, I swim laps, dance, talk it through with a trusted person, or sit for hours with my boys and make collages, the idea always in the back of my mind, teasing itself out, colouring itself in.

How much weight do you put on research and interviewing in your creative process?

Almost all of it. They are the foundation and the inspiration of the creative process.

There's been a huge resurgence of interest in long-form and literary journalism in recent years. Do you think the form has a special role to play at the moment?

Yes, I do. I get the sense many traditional news sources struggled in the past two or three decades to understand its place in a media-saturated world. For print, radio was one thing to navigate, then television, but the Internet seemed to tip the balance entirely. News became a race, a 24-hour echo chamber and has been warped into clickbait, fake news, cut and paste journalism, and so on - and out of that, thankfully, came a nostalgia for literary journalism. For reporting that is nuanced and intelligent, delivered in a transportative craft that is cinematic and fluid, reaching back into the past and linking it to the present. In recent years, I think many traditional news platforms have since found their feet, remembering what is relevant and important, but I believe the desire and necessity remains for literary journalism. 

What are some of the best publications to pitch long-form journalism in Australia?

The Monthly, the Fairfax and The Australian weekend magazines, The Guardian, The Big Issue, Meanjin, Griffith Review, Quarterly Essay, Overland.


About Anna Krien

Anna Krien is the author of ‘Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport’, ‘Into the Woods: The Battle for Tasmania’s Forests’, ‘Booze Territory’, ‘Quarterly Essay 45 Us and Them: On the Importance of Animals’ and ‘Quarterly Essay 67 The Long Goodbye: Coal, Coral and Australia’s Climate Deadlock’. Her work has been published in the Monthly, the Age, the Big Issue, Best Australian Essays, Best Australian Stories, Griffith Review and frankie. In 2014 she won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award in the UK.

About Elisa McTaggart

Elisa McTaggart is the Program and Marketing Intern at Writers Victoria. She works freelance as a writer, photographer and project manager, while establishing a wilderness photography and nature writing art practice.