Q&A with Angela Meyer
Bronte Coates talks with Angela Meyer about her new collection of micro fiction.
Why flash fiction? (And can you describe to new readers what it is?)
The terms flash fiction, and micro fiction, are relatively new ways to categorise an old form: the very short story. Some of my favourite writers in this form are Franz Kafka and Janet Frame, and I’ve been undeniably inspired by contemporary Australian writers such as Rodney Hall, Josephine Rowe, Tom Cho, Paddy O’Reilly, Christopher Currie, A.S. Patric, Christopher Conti and more. Listing these writers reminds me of what a range of ‘types’ of flash stories there can be as well; many different subjects, themes and voices.
I like the idea of a flash, as from a camera, which occurs quickly but can linger long on your eyelids. Each word counts in producing this effect.
The book is beautifully packaged, with illustrations placed throughout. How involved were you in the design process, and how important do you think good design is?
I wasn’t involved at all, besides sending on a few sentences to my publisher, Donna Ward, and designer Sandy Cull, about what I thought was the ‘tone’ of the book, a little of what I felt it was about. Sandy and Donna had a lot of discussion, and I was surprised and delighted to see that Sandy played on my love of Kafka in the design (the drawings are riffs on his own). The typesetting is beautiful, and I love that people can interpret the cover image in different ways, which reflects the way the stories, in their brevity, meet the reader half way.
The design is very important for any book, but particularly with a debut author (to encourage people to pick it up and give it a go, even if they aren’t familiar with the author’s work), and particularly with such a small book, which might otherwise get lost on the shelves. I’m very happy with how it has turned out.
There’s an ever-present darkness lurking within this collection, as well as in the stories commissioned for The Great Unknown anthology, which you edited. Do you think you’re particularly drawn to exploring this darkness, and if so, why?
I began to notice my writing getting better when I entered some fearful place inside myself – the part of my brain where I am inadequate, cowering, anxious, upset, confused, a little cracked. Even a beautiful moment can be frightening, because it’s transient (an idea at the heart of some of my own favourite writing).
I think a tension is created, when I go to ‘that place’ when I’m writing. Because the act of writing itself is an attempt to infer some shape or order onto the madness (while knowing it’s futile? There’s the tension). So even creative expression, for me, has its own dead ends, hence why I may be drawn to characters who are stuck, trapped, both literally and metaphorically: in places, relationships, situations; sometimes trapped by their fears, sometimes by their desires.
I’m also interested in extremes, including of personality or passion – the idea of being outside or acting outside what is considered socially ‘normal’ (and questioning what ‘normality’ even is). Perhaps some of the dark characters and situations come out of that interest as well.
Who are other authors you admire working with flash fiction? Do you predict we’ll be seeing more of it in the future here in Australia?
So I mentioned a few above, and that as a form it’s actually been around a long time. But there does seem to be a fresh interest in flash fiction: competitions, for example, are springing up all over the place. And some magazines and journals have introduced flash fiction guidelines and dedicated flash fiction editors, separate from short fiction. Island was doing that years ago, with Islet. But recently there’s been Seizure’s Flashers series; the Canary Press is strong on flash, Tincture likes to publish them, and there are other examples. I don’t know if we have a dedicated print flash journal yet, like NANOfiction (USA)… (Readers can correct me if I’m wrong.) Small publishers, and those interested in both poetry and short stories, seem to be interested in the form (i.e. UQP, Spineless Wonders, Puncher & Wattmann).
You’ve recently travelled overseas to participate in the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and have also participated in festivals occurring on our own shores. What are some differences you’ve noticed between the literary community overseas and our own here in Australia?
The Edinburgh International Book Festival is massive, and yet, being there didn’t feel too different to being at one of the larger Australian festivals. The panels, interviews and crowds were quite similar. Around the events I had beers with other writers and journos just as I would in Australia. The festival was very well organised and the panels and interviews were of a high standard. I saw many stimulating sessions, including many in a sub-program on graphic novels, and my own (as chair) were well attended. I wrote a few of the stories for Captives during that period: stories inspired by writers talking about brains, about Calvino’s letters, about Muriel Spark…
And finally, because here at Readings we love getting reading recommendations, what books are currently on your bedside pile?
I always read a few books at once – at the time of writing this pile is a mix of reading and ‘to read’. I’ve just finished both the novellas by writers under 30 published by Hologram. Pictured is Elisabeth Murray’s The Loud Earth, dark and moody with an intimate focus on an isolated character and that character’s new lover. On top of the pile is Kate Middleton’s Ephemeral Waters, she’s a friend and an amazing poet and I’ve just started reading this beautiful meandering work. Tales of the Braes of Glenlivet is research for the novel I’ve just begun, as is M by Peter Robb, but in a different way; one of my characters appreciates Caravaggio. I’m loving this book, with Robb’s rich and yet laconical, almost off-hand writing. His descriptions of the paintings are so delicious. I won’t say too much about Michael Cunningham’s The Snow Queen because I’m writing something long on the book, and his work. Three marked as ‘to read’ that you can see are Emily Bitto’s debut novel The Strays, and another Australian author Laura Elizabeth Woollett’s debut The Wood of Suicides (published by NY-based The Permanent Press). Lastly, there is David Malouf’s An Imaginary Life, because I love what I’ve read of his already and I haven’t yet read enough. On my phone I’m reading some crime: P.M. Newton’s Beams Falling.