We had a record turn-out for our June meeting, which was most likely due to our guest, Laurie Steed.
Laurie talked to us about his journey as a writer, and then spoke from the other side of the desk, as a member of the board of Margaret River Press (MRP).
Before I go any further, I’ll remind you of Laurie’s accomplishments to date:
Laurie completed his Ph.D. in Creative Writing at the University of Western Australia in 2015. He won the Patricia Hackett Prize for Fiction in 2013 and in the same year, won the Creative Works Prize at the Higher Degree by Research Achievement Awards. He’s also been a recipient of fellowships from The University of Iowa, The Baltic Writing Residency, The Elizabeth Kostova Foundation, The Katharine Susannah Prichard Foundation and The Fellowship of Writers (Western Australia).
His fiction has been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and has appeared in Best Australian Stories, Award Winning Australian Writing, The Review of Australian Fiction, The Age, Meanjin, Westerly, Island, The Sleepers Almanac, and elsewhere. His non-fiction has appeared in Australian Book Review, Bookseller + Publisher, Kill Your Darlings, The Courier Mail, The Big Issue, The Emerging Writers Festival Reader, The Emerging Writer: An Insider’s Guide To Growing Your Writing, and elsewhere.
He has taught writing, publishing and editing at Monash University and Deakin University, and currently teaches Advanced Fiction for Writers Victoria. He is on the Editorial Board for MRP, is a former advisory consultant for the Emerging Writers Festival, and lives with his family in Perth, Western Australia.
Laurie has an agent for his interlinked story collection You Belong Here, which will hopefully be published soon.
Here’s a summary of Laurie’s gems of wisdom. (I doubt I jotted everything down, so if you notice I’ve omitted something, please add it in the comments.)
1. Laurie’s early stories were published in small journals, many of which are now defunct, and he kept a blog. That way, he learnt the craft of writing to a small readership—in a ‘safe space’.
2. Some stories just have to be written, to ‘clear space’ mentally. Sometimes, too, the same story must be written more than once, or the same topic, until it clicks.
3. Laurie estimates he’s written about 260 stories, of which 5-10 have been published.
4. Laurie’s connected series of short stories You Belong Here has been seriously considered by a publisher, however they wanted changes that Laurie felt would destroy the integrity of the book.
It can be difficult to decide which changes to make, he said, but you need to be true to yourself, and true to your writing, and at the end of the day, it’s the integrity of the book that’s important.
5. Laurie’s worked many jobs—including delivering alcohol and mulching at Perth airport—and he’s written in the time around his paid work. He’d recommend doing a PhD, as it gives you time to dedicate time to writing.
6. He also recommends getting out of Perth, even out of Australia, to write. Get out of your comfort zone and see what comes up in your writing.
7. Laurie had a fellowship at the University of Iowa in 2012, which he describes as a ‘literary Vietnam’. He used the criticism of one of his short stories (The Knife) to inspire him to rewrite it. It later won the Patricia Hackett prize and was published in the Review of Australian Fiction.
8. He reminded us that not everyone is going to like our writing, and nor do they have to.
As a Board member of Margaret River Press, Laurie also sees the other side of the submissions desk—the publisher’s perspective.
Caroline Wood began MRP in 2011. It is a not-for-profit press, set up to support diverse voices. Laurie is one of the project managers, and reads 20-30 submissions every couple of months, which amounts to about 150 submissions per year.
Laurie chooses the manuscripts he likes, and three members of the editorial board then read a partial of each. If they like the book, all members of the editorial board read the complete submission and decide if they’ll publish it. Each year, only two to four of the 150 submissions make it to publication.
MRP also publish an annual short story collection. About 200 stories are submitted, of which 24 are published—i.e., the odds are better!
What Laurie looks for in Submissions:
1. A polished draft.
A lot of editing work needs to have been done already. Things like static description, grammar/punctuation errors, and stereotypical characters detract from a manuscript.
2. Does it adhere to the ethos of MRP?
MRP is mainly literary fiction, but also publishes a few food and surfing titles that fit with the district.
1. Aim high.
2. Don’t overstate things in your bio. Truth and authenticity is good.
3. Be nice.
4. Personal approach is good. Research the publisher to whom you’re submitting to make sure your book fits their style.
5. Don’t take rejection personally.
6. You don’t have to be the best.
7. Never bite back when rejected.
8. Make sure your work blows you away because you have to be dedicated to it.
MRP’s latest short story collection, Shibboleth, will be launched in August. Emily Paull, one of our BLPG members, will be reading her story at the launch.
The fortnightly ‘Write Night‘ is coming up tomorrow night, July 5th, at Mattie’s House.
Creative Writing and Inspiration Day Course (School Holiday Programme)—July 8th and 15th.
Memoir Writing Group—August 4—More details to come.
Haiku Workshop with Matt Hetherington—August 7.
Sunday, 17th July at 10am, when we’ll welcome the author of numerous novels, non-fiction works, and poems, Brigid Lowry, as our guest speaker. I’m about half-way through Brigid’s latest book, Still Life With Teapot, which is a thoroughly enjoyable and quirky memoir. Read more about it here.
Meanwhile, keep writing and always remember: