Susan McCreery is a poet and writer of micro fiction from Thirroul, NSW. Her new book, Loopholes, is like a wonderful degustation menu of fiction. Each snippet only takes a minute to read but leaves you hungry for the next course.
I’m thrilled to welcome Susan to Seeing the Lighter Side today, in conversation with Nicole Schalchlin.
Make sure you to read to the end so you can listen to two special sneak previews from Loopholes, recorded live at Little Fictions, a monthly spoken-word event held in Sydney!
Nicole: Can you tell us about Loopholes?
Susan: Loopholes is a collection of very short stories, otherwise known as microfiction. There are 67 of them and the longest stories are 250 words and the shortest is 25 words.
There are relationship stories: father / daughter, there’s grandmother / grandson; there’s couples stories; stories from the point of view of children and adolescents. Most of those fall under the umbrella of realist stories, although they can lean towards the absurd.
For example, there’s a story called ‘Monoculous’ which is a story about a woman’s dislike of her man’s glass eye. There is another one called ‘Loadbearing’, which is about a bricklayer who finds himself gradually being transformed into a brick.
They could be called story poems – glimpses.
Nicole: What was your inspiration for Loopholes?
Susan: I wanted to keep writing. I had a friend who was posting a drawing a day on Facebook and I thought, well why not do a piece of writing a day and make it short.
So I went out to Officeworks, bought myself a spiral bound notebook of heavy art quality paper and started on the first of January 2015.
At that point, I had no idea that I was going to get a collection out of it. The idea was just to continue writing and keep practicing and hopefully, every now and then, a good piece would surface.
Nicole: Microfiction can look deceptively simple. Do you think that it takes a lot of crafting to do microfiction well?
Susan: Yes. You have to make every word count. You can’t afford to have any flabby bits of prose, because you only have a limited number of lines to work with and you’ve got to try and get as much in there as possible. It does take trimming. Some came out almost fully formed but that was quite rare. But that is the fun of writing anyway. I love the crafting part.
Nicole: I was impressed with your expert use of implication – a particular characteristic of microfiction. How did you go about achieving that?
Susan: I think that is part of having to get so much into a short space. You’re going to have to imply a lot because you can’t spell it out. You don’t have time to set up a scene; … or describe characters. You’ve just got to plunge in [and] let the reader go ahead and figure out what happens next. The reader is pretty clever.
And it’s fun leaving things unstated, or understated and letting the reader fill in the blanks. Does the guy shoot the attendant in ‘Hold Up’? Does the girl come out of the cave in ‘Missing’? You make your own mind up.
Nicole: How do titles help each story?
Susan: I think the titles are very important. UK writer, David Gaffney, was adamant that a title is very important.
For example I had a different title for the one now called ‘Anchor’. It was called ‘Sober’. Then I got the image of the anchor on his door, that is the only thing he had taken with him when he left the family and it links in with him being an anchor for the girl [in the story] who is about to have a baby and she has gone in search for her father. It feeds through the story.
Nicole: There is an overarching theme of Loopholes, arguably moments where we feel like we are falling through the cracks. What has made you want to write about these moments? And why from so many characters’ points of view?
Susan: A lot of them have kicked off perhaps from something that happened in my life, or someone I’ve met or experiences I’ve had and I just give them a twist or make them a different person and then put them in a different situation and then it just takes off.
For example, the young mother in ‘Broken Down’. I have been a mother to a newborn and I actually did get my breast pads caught in the washing machine and the washing machine broke down as a consequence. Nothing else was real [but] I know what it was like when I had my second child feeling that sort of exhaustion and desperation.
And I do like writing about people that are flawed or confronting something. We all are flawed and vulnerable and I don’t want to particularly write about or read about people who have got everything solved. I would rather read about people who are like me: who are sort of bumbling along, trying to make a go out of life.
Nicole: You’ve written some stories from the child’s perspective. ‘Values’ – the child who believes they can buy friendship; ‘Something You’re Not’ – the boy who is stuck camping; the teen arsonist in ‘outlet’, and ‘The Present’ – the boy wanting to buy a present for his Dad after parent’s divorce. You have two teen boys.
Do you think that impacts the stories you tell and how you can write a story from a child’s perspective?
Susan: I reckon there are a couple of stories in there that are probably informed by having teenage sons, in particular, ‘The Present’.
And Scouts, I can imagine what it’s like when you go camping as a scout in wet weather, thinking, what the hell am I doing here?
… and ‘outlet’, well I don’t know anything about arson, but the themes that are woven through that story are more than just setting fire to a place.
Even just the mention of the woman who he passed who had a smile like his gran’s … you get an idea that he loves his gran and he probably doesn’t see much of her and his Dad’s just too drunk or can’t be bothered to know.
Nicole: You have written some stories on domestic violence: ‘Disturbance’ – about a man reflecting on his own experience with an ex-wife; ‘Illusion’ – what goes on behind closed doors; and ‘Burden’ – a woman finding out her husband has a history of violence. It is certainly relevant. Are you passionate on that particular topic?
Susan: It’s violence against women in general. I am reading on social media the things that men are saying to women. Verbal [violence] leads to worse things.
Having my two teens, I am concerned with how they are going to treat women. I have to educate them. I didn’t go writing these things with that in mind. I guess it just concerns me.
Nicole: A lot of your stories reflect the inner resilience of women. Do you think of yourself as a feminist?
Susan: Absolutely! I don’t intend to write about strong women but perhaps it informs me [so] it informs my writing.
‘Manifesto for A Woman Walker’ is about a strong woman. That particular piece just struck me when I was reading Sylvia Platt’s journal – something she said. And it’s something that still applies today, that women really don’t have the freedom to walk where they want without anybody bothering them or sleep in an open field, or walk into a pub and have a beer, like a man can, without anybody thinking, oh, what’s she doing here alone. Or I should go up and talk to her or crack onto her.
I love walking and I love the wilderness and I would love to go wherever I want, but you do feel restricted.
Nicole: You have lived such a diverse life. You have taught English in Greece, you’ve fronted game stalls at Lunar Park, tutored children in reading and spelling and now you are a professional proofreader. How do you think your life experience has shaped and inspired your writing?
Susan: I don’t think I would have been able to write this collection 20 years ago, particularly so many different characters and so many different situations and worlds without what I have lived through.
It’s like you [are] making the stew richer and adding spices and more herbs and more vegetables and just making that pot even more interesting and then you’ve got more to pull on, more to taste, more to offer.
When I was a younger writer, I wrote pretty good stories but they were a struggle to get out, and I was thinking, I just don’t have enough life experience. I need to get out there, I need to travel, I need to work in different jobs, I need to meet people. That was a conscious thing. You get more understanding.
Listen to live readings of Susan McCreery’s Loopholes
It’s always wonderful to have stories read to you. Enjoy these short recordings of stories from Susan McCreery’s Loopholes, as performed at Little Fictions, held monthly at Knox Street Bar, Chippendale, NSW.
“Retreat”, read by Adam Norris
“Mona Lisa”, read by Eleni Schumacher
Purchase Loopholes from 1 December
Loopholes will be available from 1 December through your local bookstore, and online booksellers such as Booktopia. Pre-release copies of Loopholes are available now at a special discount and free postage. Visit Spineless Wonders for more information.
Susan McCreery’s microfiction has been published by Spineless Wonders (Writing To The Edge, Flashing The Square, Out of Place), as well as by Seizure and Cuttlefish.
Her poetry and short fiction have appeared in Best Australian Poems 2009, Sleepers Almanac, Going Down Swinging, Hecate, Five Bells, Island, Award Winning Australian Writing, Lost Boy, Escape, The Trouble with Flying and Shibboleth, among others. Story competition shortlistings include the Overland/Victoria University, the Hal Porter, The Age, the Margaret River and the Albury City; prizes include the joanne burns/Flashing the Square, the Carmel Bird, the Bundaberg Writers, the Peter Cowan Writers, and the Julie Lewis.
Her poetry collection, Waiting for the Southerly, was commended in the Anne Elder award (2012). In 2014 she was awarded a Varuna fellowship and an Australia Society of Authors mentorship for her short story collection.
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