Tell us a little about the inspiration behind your story ‘ The Uninvited’. At what point did you think it was ready for submission?
‘The Uninvited’ began a few years ago as a piece of freewriting – I started with a man running in bare feet. I didn’t know why he was running (and without shoes), only that he was fleeing his house and the woman he lived with. The setting is local – I pictured the Thirroul oval, the streets, the bike path and a typical cottage. Everything else is invented. It took me many drafts to settle on what had happened to Perry and Ella. At one point Ella was a psycho who’d cut out the toes of Perry’s shoes and lined them up on the back lawn. It didn’t work. It was too dramatic and heavy for the story. Instead I decided to make her hide his shoes. The reason becomes clear in the story. Both of them are hurting. I’m drawn to the dramas that seem small but which loom large in our lives. We all live in dwellings, often alongside others, sometimes alone. We all experience domestic dramas and I don’t like to rate these as any less significant than those in the larger world. They interest me, so I write about them. I try to imbue my stories with compassion and I like to explore unexpected or unlikely connections between people – often those who are isolated, lonely or hurt. For a long time the story’s title was ‘Shoes for the Uninvited’.
What’s one of your favourite short stories written by another writer, and why?
Miranda July’s ‘Something That Needs Nothing’ is filled with longing and pain, isolation and hurt, desperation and love, ugliness, beauty and humour. The sentences are lean and radiant, the dialogue is as disembodied as the characters – two teenage girls who run away (‘One of them had always been in love with the other’) and live in a ’roachy apartment. When Pip leaves with another girl, the narrator is bereft but has to pay the rent. She gets a job in a peep show, which is both awful and fascinating. ‘I hated my job but I liked that I could do it. I had once believed in a precious inner self but now I didn’t.’ The ending to this story is a wow.
Do you have any tips for a writer looking to submit to the Margaret River Short Story Competition?
Don’t be too precious. Write junk, write anything – then shape and add and subtract. Let it lie for weeks, months, years. Pull your character out of the story and write about them. Interview them. Write their back story. What do they look like? What do they want? Experiment with the story’s opening. Maybe a paragraph on page two would make for a better opener. Maybe everything that goes before this is in fact unnecessary, or can be woven in throughout the story. At some point – and this point is different for everyone – ask a writer friend to read the story and take note when they miss the point or don’t get what’s going on. What’s clear in the author’s mind is not always clear for the reader.
What are your aims and intentions as a writer? What would you like your readers to take away from your stories?
I hope that someone, somewhere will recognise themselves or others or the situations I’ve created. This would mean the writing is authentic. My stories won’t change the world. But if a reader laughs, or lingers over a scene, picturing it, or they’re moved, or they simply like the writing – that’s pretty good. In the end, this is what I have to offer. Try as I might, I will never be one of the writers I admire. Years ago I made a promise to myself that I’d complete one short story. I now have a collection, and it’s under consideration with a publisher. That’s pretty good too.
Susan McCreery is a short fiction writer, poet and proofreader from Thirroul, NSW. In 2014 she won two microfiction awards (Peter Cowan 600 Short Story Competition and The Joanne Burns Award), the Bundaberg Writers’ Club Short Story competition, and received an inspiring Varuna fellowship and a wonderful ASA mentorship (and is sometimes incapable of killing adjectives).