DY: Ira, how did you come to fiction writing? Is this something you’ve always wanted to pursue, or something you came upon at a certain point in your life?
IM: I have to say I’ve always been interested in writing. I wrote my first ‘mystery’ at age seven: ‘Detective Fox and the Case of the Missing Chickens’. I also wrote Mills & Boon style romances for my high-school friends. On demand—kind of like PG porn involving my friends and the object of their (current) affection! Then of course there were many years when I didn’t write. And it wasn’t until I started my degree at Griffith University that I thought I might be any good at it. I still don’t think I’m particularly good at it, but I love it, and I work at it. I was once told by someone that women come to writing at a more mature age. Maybe that was it…
DY: You’ve recently begun a creative writing PhD at Griffith University on the Gold Coast. How did you come to this, and can you tell us a bit about the application process?
IM: The situation in publishing is, from what I’ve seen and heard, that you don’t earn a hell of a lot money from writing, so I needed a ‘day job.’ I’m one of those people who absolutely loves university life. I love the creativity, the ideas, the people you get to work with. And so it seemed like a natural progression after my Honours to continue to PhD—especially since I need a doctorate to be a candidate for tenured lecturing positions. I didn’t find the application process all that arduous—I mean I hate paperwork just like anyone, but what the University is looking for is a well thought-out project, and I already knew exactly what I wanted to research and write about, so that made it easier. I also used some research from my Honours year to bolster the application. The other thing was, that I was awarded the University Medal for my Honours, and had a few things published – that all goes a long way to put you at the top of the list for the scholarships.
DY: Presuming your PhD involves an artefact + exegesis, does the idea of the exegesis terrify you? Are you able to give us some idea of the artefact you are working on, and how you go about fitting that into an appropriately academic theoretical framework?
IM: My artefact is a creative project, which is going to be a series of short stories, pretty much based on my family and myself. Fictionalised memoir I guess, if you want to categorise it. The exegesis doesn’t terrify me that much, but mainly because I have two excellent supervisors, and I have a very clear view of where I am headed. As much as the thesis must be academic, I am still a creative writer, so I am not too concerned about the ‘language’ of the thing—it seems to me a lot of people get caught up in the academic language, but if you read any well-written essay, they are usually erudite, but clear—if your audience can’t keep up with you, what’s the point? Kevin Brophy is one of the people whose writing I really admire and aspire to. It’s intelligent but accessible. And my academic framework really follows creative writing academics—there are some of them working with really interesting theories, and I’d like to keep things within current research. I’m going on a limb and saying I will not be relying on any French philosophers… What it all comes down to is that the exegesis speaks about how I go about doing what I am doing, and I am ‘speaking’ to the other academics working in the same field as me. And the exegesis and the creative fiction are like a mirror image of each other. I feel like I’m rambling now…!
DY: Do you have any advice for writers hoping to follow the PhD path?
IM: Really look at the reasons you are doing it. If it’s an avoidance tactic—as in Hey, I’m not ready to go out into the real world yet, then I wouldn’t recommend it. Study something else. It’s at least three years of your life, and these days you really have to show you are actually working at it. There’s the Early Career Milestone at six months, your confirmation at one year, and it is expected you will be published during your candidature, and that you will present papers at conferences. If you’re not academically inclined, and you don’t think you will work in academia, then don’t do it. You need a bit of passion. Other than that, try and get involved with other PhD students—they understand what you’re going through. And networking is incredibly important. That’s how you can find publishing and work opportunities. And I guess be organised, but I kind of think most people who start a PhD are that way inclined anyway.
DY: How did you come to submit your work to Tincture Journal?
IM: I’m a bit of a social media nut… So of course I found Tincture Journal on twitter and when there was a call-out for submissions, I thought why not? These days I’m a big believer in sending out as much of your work as possible. I was lucky enough, a couple of years ago now, to have a regular correspondence with Frank Moorhouse, and he admonished my reluctance to send out stories. He said If you don’t let people read your writing, why do you bother writing? Stories are meant to be read. And I thought Well, shit, Moorhouse is right, obviously! And I’ve had plenty of rejections. That just goes with the territory. Ignore rejections and just keep going, keep trying to get better, re-draft and re-write things.
DY: You submitted a series of three flash fiction pieces, all around the theme of being exposed. Did this begin as a writing exercise, or evolve more organically?
IM: I’m not a big fan of writing exercises. I write most days, and I think my only problem with writing is that I get too many ideas. I have an ‘ideas’ folder on my desktop, and when I get one, I bang out the first draft and save it in that folder. Then I go back to that folder later and edit those stories. Sometimes I edit one story many times. With the three that Tincture Journal published, they just seemed to fit together. I was going through a difficult phase when I wrote those pieces, so my writing tended to be rather melancholy. It’s actually still melancholy, but I try to process that melancholy as an uplifting thing, or something with a silver lining, rather than darkness. Not all melancholia is about darkness. Some of it, for me anyway, is about nostalgia, and memories, and how things used to be. So I guess it was organic.
DY: You wrote two pieces in the first person and one in the third person. How do you go about choosing a narrative voice? Does it come naturally based on the topic, or do you have to put a lot of thought into it before choosing? Do you ever write a piece in one narrative mode and find yourself having to switch?
IM: Oh god. Hard question… Honestly, I really tend to find first person my default setting. And it just comes with the story. I have read back a story and literally said to my partner Oh hey, look—I wrote in third person. I get pretty caught up when I write. I’ve two kids, and I’ve an uncanny ability to block them, their noise, the television out, when I have an idea. But I don’t often think about the technicalities in first draft. I just try and get the story out. In drafting phase, that’s when I start to look at themes, or whether the narrator is working—the meat and bones of a story comes much later. A novella that’s languishing in a desk draw right now is one of those things that I am having terrible difficulty with. I’ve switched it from first person to third person, and back again. I’ve tried a different voice. It’s annoying, and it’s driving me up the wall, but the idea won’t let me go. It’s one of those things I have to keep working on intermittently and hope that one day I’ll have a break through, and be able to send it off. I’m reluctant to admit that maybe it’s the idea that sucks! I’ve invested four years into it…
DY: The camera is an important symbol in the first of the three pieces, and this struck me in two ways. Firstly, the standalone camera is largely disappearing from our culture, yet at the same time we all carry cameras in our phones. In your story, the camera almost seems to link old-world and new-world ideas. In one moment it “makes a sound, like rusted cogs”, but you go on to mention photo-shopping. In the final line, the narrator is looking out of a high-rise window and it’s “like staring through the eyepiece of a camera”. Can you elaborate on the function of the camera in this piece?
IM: I’ve always loved taking photographs. I was always the one carrying a camera with me everywhere, and spending a fortune getting film developed when that was a thing. There’s just something about the idea that we all take photos, but those photos just don’t represent reality. We’ve all done it—had a shitty time somewhere, had a fight with our partner, someone takes a picture and you are immediately smiling like nothing is wrong. I love the duality of occasions like that. Photography was also something I started to look at in my Honours year. I read Susan Sontag’s On Photography, which resonated. I also read Roland Barthe’s Camera Lucida. Both speak about that kind of falsehood. And a camera seems to me like an object that lends itself to spying, falsehood, representation—and this represents the family in question in the story. Obviously there’s a struggle there. The wife isn’t happy. Maybe the husband isn’t happy. But the photos from that trip, especially when viewed through the lens of time (hah!) will show the opposite. And don’t get me started on photo-shopping. Just the idea that you take a million pictures to get one good one, which can then be filtered and tricked up. There’s a reason there are PhD students, sociologists and social commentators writing all sorts of theories about that right now. It’s utterly fascinating.
DY: Robyn Annear’s article in The Monthly about Australian literary magazines has sparked a lively debate about the value, audience and purpose of these journals. Do you subscribe to any, and if so, do you have a favourite? If not, is it due to lack of reading time, or because the journals are not engaging enough?
IM: I don’t understand people or specifically writers who don’t read lit journals. How could you not? They are so valid in giving exposure and giving a voice to those writers who might not get the chance in the mainstream. At the very least it’s a way to keep up with emerging writers. (I hate that term, but for the purpose of clarity…) I subscribe to a few journals—Griffith Review, Meanjin and Overland. When I visit Avid Reader in Brisbane, I always try and pick up copies of Kill Your Darlings, The Sleepers Almanac, Going Down Swining, The Lifted Brow and I buy The Big Issue. I support the journals because they support writers. Seems fair. Besides, you read some beautiful stories and essays in most. I don’t have a favourite. I think each journal gives you something unique.
DY: What do you like to read? Do you get much time to read while juggling everything else in your life, including family?
IM: I read a lot, and I will read absolutely anything, as long as it’s well written. I say that, but I don’t often veer into genre. Mainly because I find some of it generic… I like things that surprise me. Genre conventions are there for a reason, but then that reason is why I don’t often read it. I’m not a book or genre snob at all. I think most writing is valid, depending on your audience. When I was in my teens I went through Stephen King, I read a lot of Patricia Cornwell, I had a major genre phase. Then gradually I fell out of love with it. My all time favourite book is The Road. I also absolutely loved The Virgin Suicides and The Old Man and the Sea. Hemingway is just ridiculously good. Anything by Sonia Hartnett—she is wonderful. Helen Garner, Cate Kennedy, Annie Proulx—unbelievably good. Tove Jansson—I’ve read The Summer Book several times, and I don’t tend to repeat books. And of course the queen of amazing and beautiful micro-fictions—Josephine Rowe.
DY: I’m so glad you mention Josephine Rowe’s micro-fiction, because this is something that has recently blown me away. Josephine had a one-page piece called “King Serpy” published in Issue One of The Canary Press, which I recently reviewed for Writer’s Bloc. Have you read this one?
IM: I did order a copy of Issue One of The Canary Press and of course as soon as I saw Josephine had contributed, I flicked straight to that page. I’m a huge fan. I absolutely adored How A Moth Becomes A Boat, and in particular Maps, from that collection: it’s really playful, and she describes things in a way that always feels new or unexpected, but so fitting. Like I once read Anna Krien describe seagulls at a beach as hovering ‘like a mobile’, and I was floored because it was so simple but so apt. (Yeah, there’s another strong, Australian writer!) I really fall in love with writing like that, and writers who can produce that kind of work.
DY: Your flash fiction has appeared on napkins recently! How did this come about? And where can we find one?
IM: Twitter! A lot of people bag social media and twitter, but for me it’s been extremely fruitful. Again, I followed Tiny Owl Workshop because I follow a lot of lit journals, publishers, and other writers. Anything to do with writing. They did a call-out, and I thought Yep, got two stories for that. One obviously got rejected. I know they’re available at Avid Reader, Riverbend Books and Teahouse, Black Cat Books, Southside Tea Room—they’re going into sixteen cafes around Brisbane.
DY: It seems you are involved in the Queensland literary scene. Is this based mostly in Brisbane, or does the Gold Coast have a scene as well? Can you tell us a bit about what’s happening in Queensland these days?
IM: I’m involved in a little writers group right called Writenoceros. We get together fortnightly and joke that is should be called Eatnoceros because we eat a lot… But it’s basically a night every fortnight where we get together, do some writing, talk about that writing later, compare notes. It’s a nice and friendly support group. The Gold Coast is one of those places where you have to make your own scene. And sometimes that’s a good thing. Things like Rabbit + Cocoon came out of people wanting to connect creatively, wanting a space for artists. So they made that happen. Of course Brisbane has a huge scene right now. I’ve dropped back form that a bit lately—mainly because I’m so bloody busy with family as well as research and writing, but I try and attend events at Avid Reader. Stilts organise a lot of reading events and things as well, and I go along to the Brisbane Writer’s Festival each year. A few years ago I was involved with two writers collectives and we organised a lot of readings around the Gold Coast and Brisbane, and attended the Newcastle Young Writer’s Festival, helped organise and run the Fringe Festival, that kind of thing, but as you get older, you have less time it seems… Or you get lazier.
DY: Your pieces in Tincture Journal are very short flash fiction, although they do form a longer coherent whole with their linked theme. Do you enjoy reading flash fiction, do you gravitate to longer pieces, or do both have their place?
IM: Each has it’s own function. I love flash fiction. I love that I have to do the work sometimes. Like I said, I enjoy surprises, and shorter fiction is kind of forced to do that. Longer fiction has the time and leisure to develop character and place more I guess, although you can’t say short fiction doesn’t do that too, because it does, and sometimes very succinctly. Honestly, put something in front of me and I’ll read it.
DY: Do you have an all-time favourite short story? And a favourite recently published?
IM: Um… Chris Somerville is a good friend. His collection of short stories, We Are Not the Same Anymore, is wonderful. I met him at uni and I remember reading a short story of his back then and thinking Wow, I got nothing… I read Cate Kennedy’s collection Like A House On Fire two weeks ago, and I’d like to meet her so I can hug her.
DY: Picking favourites is stupid. But to continue: Favourite novella? novel?
IM: Like I rambled before, The Road. Can’t go past it. Excellent.
DY: What else is exciting you at the moment?
IM: Besides The Bachelor, Australia? Kid you not! It’s so fricking awful I just love it. And gym… I’ve just joined. I’ve a friend who is a personal trainer and he is lovely and enthusiastic and I saw him just today to join up. I tend to be moody if I don’t exercise. I think exercise helps creativity. It also helps me to eat more cake, so there’s that. Eat cake, exercise it off, everyone is happy. And coffee, although I love the ritual of a tea-pot, tea-cups, and all that nonsense.
DY: Ira, thanks so much for your time.
Thanks so much to both Daniel and Ira for taking the time to give us some insight into Ira’s process.