Your story, 'Mojitos in Tehran' in Lost Boy & Other stories struck me as one of the more original stories I've read in recent years. Tell me a little bit about its conception.
I think this story came out of a desire to explore a life that is very different to mine. As a naturally cautious person, I’ve always been fascinated by people who thrive on taking risks. I have friends who’ve worked in development in places like South Africa, South America and Indonesia. They would talk, sometimes, about how living in war zones (or ‘conflict zones’) can be addictive, and about how they struggled to adjust to everyday, suburban life when they came home. Mojitos in Tehran grew out of these conversations. (Though the main character, Vivienne Bonne, is a work of fiction and not based on anyone I know.)
Originally, part of the story was going to take place in Indonesia (in Aceh, after the earthquake). The reason for choosing this setting was pragmatic: I’ve been to Indonesia before, so felt relatively comfortable writing about it. However, in the course of writing the story, Indonesia turned into Iran – a place I’ve never been.
For me, one of the joys of writing is research, and I spent weeks and weeks reading about Iran. Hardly any of this research made it into the final story, but it does undergird it. One of the few details that made the final cut is the name of a real apartment building, ‘Tower of Shadows’. This gave me the opening line for my story: ‘Tower of Shadows was the name of my apartment block in Tehran’.
Do you work only in short fiction? What about the form appeals to you?
I've been writing fiction for about two years and so far, yes, I've only written short fiction (though I'm about to embark on writing a longer piece). What I love about reading and writing short fiction is dipping in and out of other places and other lives in, what can be, a very intense fashion. As the fabulous Lorrie Moore puts it, "a short story is like a mad, lovely visitor with whom you spend a rather exciting weekend."
I think that writing short fiction is good training, because it makes you think hard about every word, every bit of punctuation you put on the page. Everything has to earn its place and there is no room for wasted space. Cate Kennedy sums it up beautifully when she says, “There is nowhere to hide in a short story.” This can be confronting for a writer, but it’s also a great challenge to take up.
How has being published in Lost Boy & other stories helped your appreciation of the publishing process, and the development of the craft?
It’s definitely given me an insight into the publishing process – from what it’s like to have a story edited (in this case, by the wonderful Estelle Tang), to thinking about the more pragmatic aspects of selling a book. To this end, Caroline Wood, the Director of Margaret River Press, has been incredibly generous in sharing her knowledge about the publishing industry and the state of play for the short story in Australia.
In terms of craft development, it was interesting to see how a story I had written fit into the bigger picture of an anthology. I loved the themes that Estelle Tang drew out in the Lost Boy collection, and how the stories complemented and contrasted with one another. Writing can be a solitary process, so it was great to be part of something bigger with this collection.
What led you to submit 'Mojitos in Tehran' to the 2015 Margaret River Short Story Competition? How did you ensure your story was ready for submission prior to the competition deadline?
The possibility of being published in real, hardcopy book was a huge drawcard for me. It's fantastic that Margaret River Press makes this investment in the short story form, and in new and emerging writers.
Getting my story ready involved months of revision and editing to make sure it was the best it could be.
What would you say to a writer considering entering this year's competition? How might they maximise their chances of being selected?
Do it! It’s a great competition because it gives you the chance to get published. And what makes Margaret River Press stand out is their hands-on approach: they make a real effort to get to know the contributors and foster their work.
Send off the best story you’ve got, and make sure that someone else has cast their eye over it.
Magdalena McGuire is a writer and researcher who was born in Poland, grew up in Darwin, and now lives in Melbourne with her husband and her collection of vintage dresses. She writes fiction and conducts research into human rights topics, including women’s rights and the rights of people with disabilities.