Monday, 4 July 2011

Author Interview - Amy Espeseth

Amy Espeseth was my creative writing tutor at the University of Melbourne last year, where she is currently completing her PhD. She is a writer, tutor, academic and publisher at Vignette Press.

Amy moved to Melbourne from rural Wisconsin in the late 1990s.
I’m wondering if you were already writing in Wisconsin, and if so, did the change of place affect your writing?

As a child, I always enjoyed writing stories.  After wandering through a few degree options at university, I eventually majored in English Literature and took only a couple of creative writing courses.  I did write for the university’s newspaper, but I wasn’t brave enough to submit my fiction anywhere.  So, I didn’t really get started writing or being serious about my writing until I moved to Australia and undertook a Masters of Creative Writing at the University of Melbourne.  I don’t know where I got the gumption to pursue creative writing in such a formal way.  All I knew was that I loved reading, had a story to tell, and thought I could learn to tell it. 
When I lived in America, I was interested in writing about faraway places and fantastic people and events.  I still have the same impulse since moving to Australia, but now the faraway place I write about is Wisconsin.  Changing places allowed me to see my original home with more clarity and affection than I would have been able to achieve if I had never left.

How do you find the Australian literary scene (writing, festivals, events, publishing) compares to the American literary scene? I know a lot of Australian writers and publishers are itching to get to the states.

I’ve spent almost my entire adult life in Australia, coming here for the first time when I was twenty-one.  Because I left America very young—especially as I wasn’t really a writer then—I can’t really compare the literary scene there with the one here.  What I can say about the Australian literary scene is that I have felt welcomed and encouraged by other emerging writers, established writers, editors and publishers, and the various other arts workers that populate our City of Literature.  Although I do hope my work is published in America and elsewhere, Australia is home to me.

Your first novel, Sufficient Grace, won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award in 2009. What did it feel like to win such an award? How did you celebrate?

Winning the unpublished manuscript prize was an unbelievable experience.  Honestly, I can’t remember that much about the weeks between the announcement of the shortlist and the awards night.  It was exhilarating and scary to have both media and industry interested in me and my work so suddenly.  To attend the awards, my mother travelled from Wisconsin and my partner’s mother travelled from rural New South Wales.  We were busy at home hosting and enjoying our family.  But all during the awards evening, I had to assure people that I was happy to have had won; I think I was pretty overwhelmed.  I remember smiling and talking to many people, but I don’t remember any conversations.  Out of the VPLAs, I became friends with the other writers in my category, met my supportive and kind agent, and also was introduced to my eventual editor and publisher.  It was an incredible experience.  And, no one leaves the VPLAs without mentioning the famous dessert buffet; the dessert buffet is worth all the angst, commas, and commitment.

And Scribe is publishing the manuscript in 2012. How exciting! Did they scout you or did you approach them?

My agent, Clare Forster of Curtis Brown, introduced me to Aviva Tuffield, Scribe’s commissioning editor of fiction.  When I spoke with Aviva and heard her vision for the manuscript, I felt an immediate connection with her and knew she absolutely understood my book.  She has patiently guided me through the worry and excitement of the rewrite process.  The entire Scribe family has been welcoming, encouraging, and understanding.

A lot of my blog followers are interested in the process of getting published. What was that like for you?

Getting a novel published is—forgive the cliché—an absolute dream come true.  I originally wrote Sufficient Grace as my MA thesis, so it has taken a long time to take it from 40,000 words in 2005 to approximately 90,000 words now.  Sufficient Grace, for me, has been a process in teaching myself to write.  A good book requires more than just an original voice; structure, setting, plot, characterisation and pace are all necessary.  I’ve made many mistakes along the way, but the rewriting process is where I’ve really learned what makes a novel.  The rewrite has made me a writer.

When you first started writing, were you writing novels or shorter pieces?
How did you get to where you are now?

Writing for me is a layering process: I write very few words and tend to write episodically, returning to pieces numerous times.  Sections of several chapters of my novel were able to stand alone as short stories, so they were the first pieces I published.  My advice to newer writers is to read, study, write, and rewrite.  Correct grammar, precise punctuation, and clear expression are essential.  Becoming involved in creative writing courses and a writing group encouraged me to keep developing the manuscript, submitting stories for publication, and entering competitions.  I’ve been lucky but I’ve also been tenacious. 

I recently saw on Twitter that you were tossing up between having a baby and buying an ipad. Of course, the ipad won. Is this so you can read on it?

All of my friends are either having babies or buying iPads.  I really like robots, so I think I’m leaning toward technology rather than reproduction.  I don’t have an e-reader yet as the majority of my reading is done in the bathtub.  Once a water-proof iPad is released, I’ll reconsider my decision.

Where do you write?

I used to write in cafes and libraries.  I seemed to need the movement and life around me, even though I always wore earplugs.  Now, I tend to write at home in my office.  My partner has built up a beautiful taxidermy collection for me, and it lives in my bookshelves.  The birds, butterflies and bones reconnect me to the natural and wild world I loved as a child.  While I write, I drink hot water and listen to old-timey gospel and bluegrass music.

You can follow Amy on Twitter here

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant interview I really enjoyed it and the writing advice was great. Sufficient Grace is such a lovely title it makes me think of all kinds of things - I'll look out in 2012 :)