Cassie Hamer is a writer, mother, and compelling human being. She spoke to us about her work, her inspiration, and the community of like-minded souls she's found since being published by Margaret River Press.
You’ve twice been featured in the Margaret River Short Story competition anthology: ‘The Life in Her Hands’ was published in 2014, and your story ‘Glory Season’ was selected for Lost Boy & Other Stories. Tell us a little bit about the conception of each of these stories.
‘The Life in Her Hands’ was born out of my experience of early motherhood. As babies, none of my three children slept more than 2-3 hours at a time. At times, I loved those middle of the night feeds (the dark, the silence and the nourishing of a child is a potent combination) but at other times, the bedroom felt like a prison from which I would never escape. At some point, I wondered – what would happen if my baby and I walked out the door? Just walked out into that dark, that silence. This was what prompted the story, though the eventual character and setting are by no means autobiographical!
‘Glory Season’ had a slightly more straightforward conception. I was listening to the AM program on ABC radio and there was a report about this natural phenomenon in outback Queensland – the morning glory cloud – which happens every September and always draws a crowd of hang gliders to ride it. The cloud itself looks like a breaking wave in the sky, and gliders ride it as such. It just seemed a fabulous back drop to a story.
How has being published in the Margaret River Press anthologies helped you develop as a writer?
To see your story published in a beautifully produced book is an absolute thrill, and I think it’s given me a little more confidence in my writing. Through publication, I’ve also had the chance to meet a wonderful community of writers – like minded souls – and I’ve continued this into the online world where I’ve found nothing but support and generosity. It is a troll-free zone!
You’re also a mother of three daughters, in addition to being an avid reader, and a writer too. How do you manage these various responsibilities? Do they feed into each other, in terms of living a meaningful life?
Being a stay-at-home-writing-parent absolutely has its ups and downs. On the upside, parenting young children involves daily repetition of mindless and endless tasks (yes, this is an upside, stay with me) and the beauty of this tedium is that it gives you ample opportunities for day-dreaming. I can be pushing a swing, watching Dora for the 100th time, or making school lunches, and my mind will be completely in another world - working out knotty plot points, or dreaming up new dialogue (no, I won’t win an Oscar for mindfulness, but I’m ‘present’ when I need to be). And then there’s the fact that my kids just love to sit around and watch me tap away at the computer. NOT! Getting uninterrupted computer time is difficult but I have a wonderful family and a very understanding husband who support me in this loss-making but extremely satisfying venture. Of course, I feel guilty about doing something so frivolous, but writing delivers a sense of satisfaction that I can’t explain. It makes me a more fulfilled person.
Actually, having children has been the catalyst for me re-discovering creative writing (which I only took up, seriously, four years ago). I am constantly amazed by their creativity and vivid imaginations. In fact, I’m yet to meet a child that doesn’t have this endless well of creativity inside of them. We are born to create. It’s all there. As adults, we just have to unpeel some layers to get to it.
You studied Creative Writing at the Masters level. What key aspects of writing well did you pick up in this forum that would otherwise be difficult to develop? Would you encourage others to study writing at the postgraduate level?
A Masters is excellent for understanding the technique behind writing. It helped me to become a far more analytical reader, which I think has been key to improving my writing. Would I recommend it to everyone? Not necessarily. I love learning. A classroom is like a second home for me. I also like getting critique for my work and I enjoy deadlines. Plus, there was so much I didn’t know. Not everyone is like this – and I certainly don’t believe that postgraduate study is a pre-requisite for becoming a writer. Some simply have natural ability. I wish I was like that…
What tips would you give to a writer hoping to submit to the Margaret River Press Short Story Competition?
Gosh, I feel like a bit of a fraud offering advice, especially when others do a much better job of it. Last year, Estelle Tang edited Lost Boy and spoke about the judging process, saying, ‘I was looking for stories that evoked a strong sense of place and character, and set up a tension that I would feel somewhere in my body.’ I think this beautifully sums up the idea that a short story must be an experience for the reader. Something must happen. Is that too vague? Possibly. So here’s something more concrete - don’t send your first draft!
Cassie Hamer has a background in TV journalism and public relations but these days prefers to write fiction rather than fact. She lives in Sydney with her young family and tends to write a lot of stories in her head while walking around Centennial Park. Occasionally, she writes them down. In 2015, she launched a blog about books and writing at BookBirdy.com.