Do you think Chance plays a role in Successful Art ? #IWSG #writetip

As part of my ongoing guest post series in this blog, we recently heard from award-winning author Susannah Rickards.

Today, it is my pleasure and honor to welcome award-winning Australian author, and contributor to the Cooked Up anthology, Patrick Holland.

I’m a fan, and have been gobsmacked by the beauty of his prose. In this interview, he has answered questions on writing, based on his long experience as an outstanding author of short stories, and very atmospheric, eloquent novels. My highlights in blue.

If you have questions for him, please drop them in the comments.


Insecure Writer's Support Group

Insecure Writers!

This is my IWSG post as well. Thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh for organizing and hosting the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG) every month! Go to the site to see the other participants.

In this group we share tips, self-doubt, insecurities, and of course, discuss the act of writing.

In the post below, Patrick Holland talks about the role of chance in successful art: while writing a story, he can see the end on the horizon, but must grope his way there, without complete pre-planning. Language dictates his writing to an extent, and I identify with this.

I’m unable to completely understand planned writing— the many how-to books that tell you how to write a bestseller.

I hope the interview will be useful for the IWSG members, and invite comments and questions from one and all, writers, readers, bloggers. If Patrick Holland’s work is new to you, I encourage you to go grab his books– I’m reading his short stories now, and relishing them one by one: very evocative, poignant and true.


Without further delay, I’ll post Patrick’s answers to a few of my questions:

1. At what age did you start writing fiction? What prompted you?

Do you love Food Fiction?

Cooked Up: Food Fiction from around the World

As I remember, I wrote from the time I knew how to shape the letters into words. I was always making stories and poems. Stories about exploration, outer space, and prayers, poems and confessions. Then, as a teenager, like most teenagers, I became very much a herd animal and played football and tried to fit in. I re-discovered literature again when, having dropped out of Accountancy at university, my sister had me go to the library to fetch a rare book of poetry by Ernest Hemingway. That was the crucial moment. I wanted to do what he did.

2. What are your preoccupations as a writer? Do you have an ideal reader in mind as you write?

I have many themes that occur. Or perhaps, they are parts of a single theme. I write about home and lost-ness and journey. As for an ideal reader, never. I like to think that one day I will write a book that both a child and a professor of literature could take something valuable from.

3. For someone new to your work, which of your books should they read first?

The Mary Smokes Boys is the book that people most often want to question me about. It is very confessional, and it represents the first time I really tried to write in the minimalist style I most often do. So that book, or else my short stories The Source of the Sound. I always think short stories are a nice, gentle way into a writer’s work.

4. Who are your writing influences, the authors whose work has inspired you?

Patrick Holland Novels

The Mary Smokes Boys: Patrick Holland

I’m inspired by so many artists, and not always writers. I think, in recent years, Arvo Pärt’s music has influenced me as much as anything else. And even more recently, Italian film director Paulo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty) and video game designer Jenova Chen (Journey).

As for writers, there are so many, Hemingway I’ve mentioned, but also Graham Greene, Kipling, Emily Bronte, Lady Murasaki, Dante, Borges, Heinrich Boll, Yasunari Kawabata … and as for living writers, the Americans Poe Ballantine and Barry Lopez come first to mind. Australia’s Brian Castro is a marvelous and criminally underrated writer.

5. What advice would you give to someone starting out on the writing life?

It’s not too late to get out. Unless it is. In which case, read. And learn from what you read. There isn’t a ballet dancer in the world who thinks they’d be better off never seeing a ballet, but there are writers who think they don’t need to read books.

6. What is your writing routine like?

When I can, I write three hours first thing in the morning. And two hours last thing at night.

7. You write both short stories and novels. Do you find either form more challenging than the other?

The novel is undoubtedly more challenging for me. It’s architecture is something I grapple with each and every time. And the short story is, perhaps because of its brevity, and the lack of necessary logical problems, more enjoyable to write.

8. Your books are very character and language driven. Do you begin writing a book knowing some of the events in it in advance, or do you discover them as you write?

Good question. It’s a mixture of both. I typically see things on the horizon, I point the writing towards them, and eventually, I get … well … somewhere. But the language does often dictate. There is always an element of chance in a successful work of art. East Asian artists always acknowledged this, and made use of it. As do many composers of music, like John Cage.

9. Please tell us about your story in the Cooked up Anthology, and what inspired you to write it.

I often write about estranged people. And the shortly-to-be-retired porn star in this story gave me an opportunity to write about someone who – perhaps ironically – was estranged from his emotions, where love was concerned, for twenty years. I liked the idea of him having sex with a woman as a matter of course, but then being afraid to ask her if she wanted to get a cup of coffee, and I wanted to explore that.

Patrick Holland Novels

Patrick Holland

Patrick Holland lives between Brisbane, Saigon and Beijing. He is the author of the travel book Riding the Trains in Japan: travels in the sacred and supermodern east, as well as the short story collection The Source of the Sound, which won the Scott Prize. His novels include The Darkest Little Room, a thriller set in Saigon, and The Mary Smokes Boys, a story of horse thieves which was longlisted for the Miles Franklin Award and shortlisted for the Age Book of the Year. Talk to him on twitter at @phollandwriter

His most recent novel is a redux of the journey of St Brendan called Navigatio. His next novel, One will be released early 2016.


Is it too late for you to skip the writing life? Do you agree with Patrick’s advice? Do you believe that chance plays a role in successful art? Have you considered signing up for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group? Do you have questions for Patrick?

For those who don’t write, but love to read, have you read any of Patrick’s work? (If you love gorgeous language, evocative writing, and poignant stories skilfully told, he’s your kind of writer.)

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How Do You Define Yourself ? #Compassion #Peace #Humanity

I’ve been thinking a lot about identities lately.

Each identity tells its own story.

For those who watch/ listen to/ read the news each of the following words, garbled up, might mean something:

Shooters Far right Right wing Anti-gun activists Bleeding hearts Liberal Democrat Republican Muslim Shia Sunni Hindu Catholic Buddhist Christian Protestant Syrians Jews Migrants Left wing Believers Atheists Bhakts Sickular Mullahs Minorities Blacks Niggers Whites Mexicans Politicians Actors Musicians Artists Authors Prostitutes Doctors Astronauts Communists Capitalists Transexuals Mainstream Gays Lesbian Diversity Chinese Indian American Malaysian Russian Japanese Malay Refugees Migrants Locals Foreigners Indigenous Tribals Urban dwellers Europeans Arabs Racists Jews Supremacists Fundamentalists Terrorists Experts Farmers Drivers Dreamers Children

Such an abundance of terms. I could go on, so could we all.

Such a variety of  ways to describe this species, that science recognizes with the one term: Homo Sapiens.

Such insignificance in the history of this planet. If the entire history of the planet is mapped to twenty four hours in time, humans occupy less than the last two minutes.

How Do You Define Yourself? Damyanti Writes

How Do You Define Yourself?

Such utter insignificance in this universe, less than a microscopic dot in a minuscule corner of one of the billions of galaxies.

And yet.

And yet we’re at each others’ throats, we murder, we rape, we shoot, we kill, we wipe out entire generations of humans, animals, plants. We can’t give life back, but we don’t hesitate for a minute before we take it. We live as if we’ll never die, as if this planet can bear our depredations.

I say We, because I believe that all of us, including me, are culpable. In living our lives without an awareness of what we’re part of, of our place in the scheme of things, we’re culpable.

Some of us believe that the destruction and mayhem afoot on this planet is pretty ho-hum, it happened in each age, we survived dark ages and holocaust in every generation, and like indestructible cockroaches, we shall survive this one.

But in all the other ages, the world was spread out– civilizations rose and fell mostly in isolation, affecting each other in historical ripples. Can’t deny that it is different this time. Globalize and Glocalize are words now. Human population is set to exceed sustainable levels soon.

In all of it, I see one hope: the fact that humans as a species are capable of as much beauty as we can create ugliness, as much compassion as cruelty, as many dreams as nightmares.

Do you see hope for Humanity? For our planet? What name do you give yourself– of your country, your tribe, your religion, your profession, your relationships? What do you teach your children about who they are: who they should love and who or what they should hate? How do you define good and bad to them?

And perhaps, most importantly…

How do you define Yourself?

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How much does Validation matter? #writing #life

Damyanti Ghosh Best of the Net

Thorax of a Blowfly:

This morning, three different rejections landed in my inbox.

Also got a note on Facebook from that they’ve nominated my story Thorax of a Blowfly for the Best of the Net anthology, 2015. It’s an icky story, and not really competition material, so I’m kind of stunned they chose it. It goes like this:

She could hear the little darlings. They made minute scrapy-whispery sounds as they fed on flesh, desperate to grow, so they could get on with their brief lives as the hairy maggot blowfly. Their dirty-yellow warty bodies looked true to their common name, but Farah preferred to call them Chrysomya rufifacies. Sounded scientific, and so much better. Read more…

I’m grateful to New York Writer’s Workshop for their faith in my work. I’m fortunate, blessed.

The validation is great, don’t get me wrong, but just like the rejections, their effect on me is short-lived. Like I said on a writing forum today, I’ve become a believer in ‘Action without Attachment.’

The stories get my very best, and I shop them around. Rejections are par for the course, so a little validation once in a while is good. But neither matter when faced with the blank page. Some days, words follow one another. I blog or edit when the words don’t flow. That’s all there is to it.

Some days are harder than others, but the effort everyday is mostly fulfilling. Frustrating too, sometimes. But the frustration reduces the more I show up on the job, on the page. Not that it will entirely go away, I don’t think.

What about you? In life, or writing, does external validation make you feel worth it? Does fear of rejection prevent you from participating? What’s your secret coping mechanism?

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How many #Books do you read in a Week? #amreading

I read two books a week these days. Less, sometimes, depending on how big, or difficult the book is. I’m trying to squeeze in more reading time, but it seems like an uphill battle.

I have a sky-high To-be-read pile: enough to last me years if I keep reading at my current rate.

They make me anxious, all these books I haven’t read. Some days I wonder whether I would ever finish my TBR pile. When I die, I want a just-finished book in my still-warm hands.

The Reading Experience

The Reading Experience

I’m thinking of taking a Reading Sabbatical next year– a month or two (or more!) when I would do nothing but read, no writing or blogging if I can help it, just minimal life-activity.

What about you? How many books did you read this week?

Ever had a panic attack about the number of books still on your To-be-read list? What is your reading strategy?

Thought of taking a reading vacation?

Want to add to my TBR list? Fire away in the comments!

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Do you remember the last time you sat down and listened to someone? #compassion

Listening to someone in trouble

Listening with complete presence, and no judgment

Over the weekend, I’ve been chatting with friends online and off, and have come to realize how much that means: listening.

Listening is an act of love, I think. It is through recounting and listening that we become friends and bond as families.

When you listen to someone, without judging, without offering advice unless asked for it, and with your entire body, it can often heal not just the person you’re listening to, but also you.

Listening can be a true act of compassion.

Do you remember the last time you sat down and listened to someone? Do you remember a time when you felt heard, or acknowledged? Do you remember a time when someone you’ve only met online has provided that listening ear?

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Want Tips from an Award-winning #Shortstory Author? #writing

As part of my ongoing guest post series in this blog, we heard from Elaine Chiew,  editor of the Cooked Up  anthology, a few weeks ago.

Today, it is my pleasure to welcome award-winning author, and contributor to the Cooked Up anthology,  Susannah Rickards. She would be answering questions on writing, based on her long experience as an outstanding author of short stories, a sought-after writing teacher, and esteemed judge for various short story contests. She has given very useful, practical advice, some of which I’ve highlighted for you in blue.

If you have questions for her, please drop them in the comments.


1. At what age did you start writing fiction? What prompted you? 

Thirty. I was an actress, cast in a play where the director told us all to write a story explaining what had happened to our characters before they came on stage for the first time. When the story was casually praised, the elation I felt was a revelation. It meant more to me than any good theater review.

Do you love Food Fiction?

Cooked Up: Food Fiction from around the World

2. What are your preoccupations as a writer? Which of your stories would you recommend to a reader who has never read your work?

I’m fascinated by the gap between who we are and who we think we are. Beau de L’Air tackles this, as a schoolboy discovers he is a crucial figure in the lives of people he doesn’t know. Another, Ultimate Satisfaction Everyday, explores a dog food salesman’s need to feel he’s amounted to something. Another recurring theme is indifference. People with cold fish hearts scare the life out of me. It’s fun to write what scares you.

3. What makes a successful short story?

I love stories that cast a thin wedge of light on a world so vivid and complex that the reader’s mind supplies the full length novel; that contain language with the potency of poetry – so tight that any omission would create a loss of distinction. (That’s not to say pared to the bone. I’m bored by linguistic anorexia.) Also, good architecture: an enticing structure.

4. Which authors have been your biggest influences?

Fitzgerald, Carver, Joyce, Graham Greene, Kyle Minor, Janice Galloway, Munro, Proulx for emotional depth and complexity; Stephen Dixon, George Saunders, Karen Joy Fowler, James Kelman, Russell Hoban for form.

5. Could you name five short stories you think all writers should read?

Nobody Said Anything – Raymond Carver. Because it’s word perfect.
Babylon Revisited – Scott Fitzgerald. A novel in a few words.
A Day Meant To Do Less – Kyle Minor. His distinctive prose style is led by his humanity and that’s rare.
My Chivalric Fiasco – George Saunders – a reminder of the joyful possibilities of linguistic liberation.
For Work, Yes by Tania Hershman. A wonderful story which took years to get published. Just proves that some of the finest work can get overlooked.

6. You’ve won many prestigious awards for your short stories, and judged various writing competitions. What pointers would you give a writer submitting to these?

  • Work all the time so that you have a range of stories ready and can choose what to submit.
  • But also, for the hell of it, write to order sometimes.
  • Set yourself a technical or narrative task that’s out of your reach and wrestle with it.
  • Edit every story several times. Do specific edits for clarity, energy, scene shaping, viewpoint, language, syntax, accidental repetition, thematic development, succinctness. And so on. Often, the best stories have been edited dozens of times.
  • Say what you want to say, never what you think people want to hear. Say it in a way it hasn’t been said before.
  • And assume your readers are intelligent – don’t write down to them.
Hot Kitchen Snow by Susannah Rickards

Hot Kitchen Snow by Susannah Rickards

7. When planning a short story collection, what factors do you keep in mind?

How to refresh the reader is key. I’ve heard claims that short stories should be savoured like fine chocolates; one a day. Seriously, who eats great chocolates one a day? I read whole collections in one go, and so work on the principle that someone else might too. I try to balance 1st person with 3rd, male POV with female, long with short etc. Also, create an arc. My collection starts with a funeral, has a prison sentence in the middle and ends with a birth. That was intentional. Get a good editor. I was extremely fortunate to have Elaine Chiew’s input in story order, along with another wise author. The two of them helped immeasurably.

8. As a creative writing teacher, what advice would you give to aspiring/ emerging fiction writers?

Read superb writers. Ones who make your hair stand on end. Ones who make you cry because you’ll never be that good. Read them actively. How do they form sentences? Paragraphs? Where do their scenes begin and end? What makes you jealous of them?

Tap into your own emotional superlatives. What rouses your anger? Your joy? Your wit? What catches your eye that doesn’t seem to catch other people’s?

Find good, serious fellow authors and share work with them. It’s great to swap with authors you admire hugely whose work is different from your own. They add a critical dimension you might lack.

Send out work regularly. Make it a part of your week. Keep a spreadsheet so you know who you’ve sent what to.

But don’t dwell on it. I had an unbroken year of rejections. Then two major prizes, a commission, a magazine acceptance and a book deal, all in two weeks. If you are shortlisted or published, CELEBRATE!

9. Please tell us about your story in the Cooked up Anthology, and what inspired you to write it.

Often a story comes out of the crucible for me when two unrelated ideas fuse. This was one. A friend sent me a photo of a pawn shop window with the word Unredeemed in flashing lights above some diamonds and I immediately wondered who not what was unredeemed by pawning jewellery. At the time, a couple of friends had been left stranded by husbands who simply ‘forgot’ to pay maintenance, leaving their own children destitute while enjoying a good life with new lovers. Indifference and lack of self-awareness – ping. I wanted to show the gap in the most fundamental way possible: through the food they eat at Christmas. As I’m allergic to shellfish, I made Frazer gorge on it and suffer the consequences. The final element was structure. As soon as I realized that every scene was set on a threshold: oyster bar entrance, pawn shop doorway, old home porch; landing and bathroom floor; kitchen doorway, porch again, the story came.


Susannah Rickards Writing advice

Susannah Rickards

Susannah Rickards is a UK author who lives near London. Her collection of short stories Hot Kitchen Snow won the Scott Prize. Her work has appeared in anthologies and literary magazines including 33: East, The Yellow Room, World Wide Writers, Real Writers, The New Writer, Pleasure Vessels, Brittle Star, The Independent, QWF, Even the Ants Have Names, To Her Naked Eye, Front & Centre, The Piano On Fire, The Source and online at Pequin, Conan Doyle Society, Surrey Herald and Haiku Journal. Her work has won and placed in a number of awards including The Conan Doyle, Society of Authors, Commonwealth Short Story, BBC Opening Lines, International Pen, CWA Debut Dagger, Eastside, Ian St James and The New Writer. She’s in the final year of a PhD in Creative Writing at Northumbria University, writing a crime novel set on the Northumbrian coast.


Do you read or write short stories? If you do enjoy them, why? And if not, why not? Checked out the Cooked Up  anthology? Have you submitted to short story contests? Do you have questions for Susannah– about her work, the publishing scene for short stories, or her experience as a judge at writing contests?


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How is your #Novel coming along? #writing

The many challenge sof Fiction writing

Writing challenges

Every time I meet people at social gatherings (rarely, but I’m not a total recluse), I’m often asked: How’s the novel coming along?

They mean well, I know that. But the cartoon above makes the dilemma of the writing life clear.

I wonder if any other profession poses the same challenges as that of a novelist.

I’m writing a novel, but I’m not a novelist yet. Not only am I not sure of making any money on it, I’m entirely unsure it would see light of day at all. I’ve written 400k words in multiple drafts, and I’m told I might just need to shift around a few chapters here and there before I can consider it ready to be looked at.

I toss out chunks of 10k words or more pretty casually these days: Point of View change- slash, not much tension- slash, not the right order of things- slash slash slash. And then once in a while, I get days like this one– I stare and stare at the screen.

I don’t think about my lack of talent– that’s a given, but am physically paralyzed– what word can I write that would lead to another?

For those of you who write, does the above cartoon make sense to you? For those in other professions, have you faced a similar challenge? Want to share words of advice for the would-be, or established, novelist?

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