An Interview with Tiffany Hastie – Winner of the South West Prize in the 2018 Margaret River Short Story Competition
Your story ‘The Chopping Block’ won the South West Prize in the MR Short Story competition. How did you approach the story from conception through to completion? Were there certain challenges in its execution?
A majority of my writing is speculative fiction. I don’t tend to write about characters in everyday settings very often, so ‘The Chopping Block’ took me by surprise. Marnie’s story came to me naturally; we had been studying short fiction at ECU, so my mind was searching for a short story idea when I went to feed my sister’s dog one day and found myself alone (a very rare occurrence for a mother of four who works and studies). Sitting in her house with only the quiet dog, excited to see me, and the ambient noise from the neighbours going about their close-but-separate daily lives was both exciting and unsettling. It instantly reminded me of growing up on our farm and how isolating it can be. Time seems to move differently when you’re separated, alone and quiet in your landscape. Suddenly Marnie and Kenny were in my head, only she wasn’t enjoying her quiet time like me, she was a woman wanting to be apart from the world but also trapped in her loneliness.
When I started writing ‘The Chopping Block’ I was excited about writing a story with no weird supernatural happenings and no blood for a change. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but I did not see the accident coming. When I write it’s like watching a movie for me, but, slowly, so I often have an idea of the story but no idea what’s going to happen. Looking back at the story after it was finished I could see my own grieving in there. I had lost two family members and my dog recently, and I longed to be alone to grieve. Marnie’s story started out as wish fulfilment for me but quickly became a cautionary tale.
How did you find the editing process? Did you learn anything that you’ll apply in respect to your future work?
Working with an editor and copyeditor to get ‘The Chopping Block’ ready for the anthology was a first for me. Thankfully it was pain free. I found their suggestions and ideas knowledgeable and could feel that they wanted to see my story reach its full potential. The one part I get the most discussion on from early readers is the section on peas. It’s a part that people either understand or are deeply confused by. If I had a dollar for every time someone tried to explain to me that peas are vegetables and so don’t have meat in them I’d have … well, probably enough to buy a couple of kilos of peas. I just keep winking and saying it’s not about peas though, is it?
Sense of place is a strong theme that permeates through ‘The Chopping Block’. How do you think living in the South West has influenced your writing style and what you choose to write about?
Living in the South West has certainly influenced my writing style, especially in ‘The Chopping Block’. The farmhouse Marnie lives in may be a little more traditional than the one I grew up in, but the farm described is certainly the one of my childhood. When Marnie goes out to gather sticks for kindling in the cold afternoon I can smell the damp earth, feel the long, wet grass along the fence line, see the gnarled stick fingers blown from the gum trees high above. There is a deep isolation walking a rural property with only the far-off sounds of cattle, crows, galahs and four-wheelers somewhere you can’t quite place. The terrifying feeling of knowing if something happens you’re on your own, but also the deep exhilaration of being completely unobserved.
Living rurally, you become sensitive to the sights and sounds of the property, always alert for rabbit holes, fallen trees, broken wire, missing animals and wriggly-sticks sunning themselves on the path. You get to know your patch so well you can see it in your mind long after your connection to the place has been geographically severed. For me I notice that my best writing doesn’t happen to me in my office or the library, but when I head out into the bush, immersed in the cacophony of natural sounds and deep silence of the human world.
How do you approach short stories as a writer? Have you noticed certain threads reoccurring in your work or do you explore particular types of characters?
Stories approach me in a couple of ways. One is when I think of a good scene or ending, I become so excited about that one event that I write to get there. This was how I wrote ‘Good Boy’, my recent prose story that won the ECU Talus. The twist ending came to me first and the characters bloomed out of that. The other way stories happen to me is when a character comes into my head and just starts doing things or talking me through their thoughts, I never know where they’re taking me or who they are until I get to the end. With those stories I’m often not even sure if they’re a short story or a novel until I get to end. Marnie and Kenny from the ‘Chopping Block’ came to me like that.
Often my short story characters are alone, either physically or mentally, and, without wanting to sound to deep, I think that is substantially true of all humans in real life. Many of my characters live in isolation and conflicts that drive their stories happen either when they try to break out of this loneliness or someone else tries to get in. Maybe it’s because, as much as I love the people around me, I enjoy being alone. I always say if I didn’t have a family, I’d never leave the house.
You’re currently studying a Bachelor of Arts, with a major in Writing and Literature and a minor in Children’s Literature, at Edith Cowan University. How does formal study feed into your own creative exploration?
As a mature age student, I was worried about returning to formal study after such a long hiatus. I did it for one reason only: to improve my writing. But I have found it has done so much more for me. It has widened my reading, given me the language to describe my writing and others, and given me the confidence to pursue the tendrils of inspiration that I was dismissing before thinking they weren’t ‘solid’ enough. This confidence to pursue unusual ideas has led to the creation of some of my favourite stories to date. Plus, I get to write essays. I love essays. I know, it’s weird.
Tell us, who are your favourite writers? And who influences your writing style the most?
I was not a natural reader in my childhood. I was always busy climbing a tree or acting out some fantasy story in my head in the bush around our farm; sitting still to read a book seemed boring to me, a hilariously weird prospect now that I’m trying to be an author. The first book to influence me was Isobelle Carmody’s Green Monkey Dreams, a collection of short stories, a little bit sci-fi, a little bit fantasy, a little bit dream-like. Those stories really opened up my mind to what writing could be, to the kind of subjects you can project. My second influence was Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden, this was the first novel I ever read end to end – the fast-pace, the realistic characters, the distinctly rural Australian setting – I was hooked instantly. I met both of these authors a few years ago at the Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival and it was a very surreal experience, still one of the best of my life. My influences have been broadened in the last few years while completing my degree: Charlotte Wood, Meg McKinlay, Cormac McCarthy, Leonora Carrington, Ursula Le Guin, and Kim Scott have all become favourites. I like my reading raw, breath-taking and bizarre, sparse prose with characters pushed to the limits in gothic settings, and I think my writing naturally follows this style.
Tiffany Hastie won the South West Prize in the 2018 Margaret River Short Story Competition with her short story ‘The Chopping Block’, which will appear in Pigface and Other Stories, to be released in June 2018. She is currently studying a Bachelor of Arts, with a major in Writing and Literature and a minor in Children’s Literature, at Edith Cowan University in Bunbury. She recently won the Talus Prize for her prose piece ‘Good Boy’ and was commended for her poem ‘The Stick Game’.
Tiffany Hastie will be talking at the Margaret River Readers & Writers Festival. For more information please visit the Festival’s website.
Join celebrated international writers Geraldine Brooks and Assaf Gavron, together with Avner Gvaryahu, Executive Director of Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence – as they provide a deeper understanding of the conflict in a special Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival event.
Arts Margaret River is gearing up for the 10th anniversary of its annual Readers & Writers Festival to be held on the long weekend from 01-03 June 2018. Following on from this year’s line-up which featured British headliner Michael Palin, the festival plans to showcase another entertaining, thought-provoking and inspiring array of literary talent with the new theme ‘Stories that shape us’.
In a festival first, the hub of the three-day storytelling spectacular will be held at Voyager Estate winery, due to the scheduled upgrade of the Margaret River Cultural Centre which is envisaged to commence in March. The grounds of Voyager Estate will become a hive of activity with up to 50 writers and presenters expected to draw crowds locally, from other parts of WA and interstate.
Festival Director Tanya Perdue said the 2018 event would be a standout. “With the 10th anniversary of the festival and the 40th anniversary of the vines at Voyager Estate, there’s even more reason to make this a truly unique festival like no other. We have some fabulous authors in the pipeline from overseas, interstate and locally and will be finalising the program in the coming months,” she said.
“Voyager Estate were an invaluable sponsor for us in 2017 and we look forward to further cementing that partnership with the opportunity to hold the festival on their beautiful grounds,” she said. “This festival is certainly going to be one not to be missed.”
Voyager Estate Managing Director, Alex Burt says she’s delighted to be supporting the festival.
“We have really enjoyed our association with the Readers and Writers Festival, so it is a tremendous pleasure to be able to host the 2018 event”, she said.
“The Festival has such a great energy and the team puts together an amazing collection of writers every year. We are thrilled that this one-off opportunity to host the 10th anniversary coincides with our own celebrations.”
The festival program and tickets are expected to be released in March 2018. Stay tuned to www.mrrwfestival.com for details. The State Government is proud to support the Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival through Tourism WA’s Regional Events Program.
Arts Margret River is pleased to announce the appointment of Kerrie Yabsley for the 2018 Margaret River Readers & Writers Festival. Kerrie will be taking over from Tanya Perdue as Festival Director in the new year.
Kerrie has lived in the Margaret River region since 2006 and has always been active in the community and art scene. Kerrie has a background in Youth Work and is currently studying Visual Arts at ECU.
Kerrie has run multiple interactive Art workshop and live performances at festivals and schools throughout WA and worked as a Youth and Events officer at the Shire of Nannup for close to five years.
“I believe that connecting people through Art, literature and live performance provides a great stage for individuals to be inspired and educated in creative ways”, she said.
“I’m really excited about working for Arts Margaret River on such a high profile event for the Region. Tanya has really gotten the ball rolling in elevating the profile of Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival, which is now being seen as a calendar event in many Literature Circles throughout Australia. ” Ms Yabsley said.
The program for 2018 is shaping up to offer exciting headline international and Australian authors. This year’s festival format will differ from previous years as the Cultural Centre will be under renovations during the Festival period, however the support of volunteers, community and sponsors should offer great continuity to the event that we have all come to mark in our diaries.
The Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival will be held from 1-3 June 2018, with the Young Readers and Writers Festival to be held in the two weeks preceding at schools in the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River and the City of Busselton.
Be sure to stay tuned into the Margaret River Readers and Writers website www.mrrwfestival.com, Facebook page and Instagram to follow any upcoming out of season events, fundraisers or festival updates.
Arts Margaret River is preparing for its 10th annual Readers & Writers Festival to be held next year and is seeking a talented Festival Director to take the reins from outgoing Director Tanya Perdue.
General Manager Andrew Frith said Arts Margaret River were looking for a proactive individual with an interest in literature and proven experience in event management. “With the upgrade of the Cultural Centre next year, this will be the first Readers & Writers Festival to be held at another location”, he said. “We are really excited about how the plans for next year are shaping up and encourage people with event management experience to apply.”
Current Festival Director Tanya Perdue said her move from the role was bittersweet. “This has been more of a lifestyle than a job for me”, she said. “I am really looking forward to settling back into family life with a new addition on the way and I hope to stay involved with Arts Margaret River and the Readers & Writers Festival in the years to come”.
The 2017 festival had an overwhelmingly popular response to its inspiring program aimed at bringing stories to life with 6,410 seats sold across the 3-day event which featured Michael Palin, Kerry O’Brien, Clementine Ford, Robert Drewe, Stephanie Alexander and many more.
Ms Perdue hinted that the program for 2018 would again feature an array of international, Australian and local talents with the new Director being responsible for the delivery of the event from booking author flights and accommodation, through to sponsorship management, marketing and managing the event itself. “The variety in this role is one of the best things about it,” Ms Perdue said. “I will be working with the new Director and the Arts Margaret River team to make sure this is one of the best festivals yet – stay tuned over the next few weeks as we will soon be announcing the 2018 dates, theme and venue. An announcement will also be made once a new Festival Director has been secured.