Camille Gower: Your work has been featured in The Big Issue and Best Australian Stories, you’ve won an Alan Marshall Award and your short story anthology Holiday in Cambodia will be published in July. Have you always been determined to be a writer?
Laura Jean McKay: My mum is a librarian and I can't remember not being able to read (although I still can't spell). My dad had died before I was born and he was a poet. When I was 11 or 12 I found a suitcase of his poems and started writing. A lot of my first, primary school poems were pretty confusingly inspired by a funky 27-year-old man. I didn't set out to be a writer, but I can't seem to help myself.
CG: Being a writer can seem like such a romantic notion, does the reality live up to the expectation or in what ways does it differ?
LJM: It's funny that people don't find waiting around for a tram to arrive or waiting all year for a big tax return romantic, but the notion of waiting for the muses to strike or to be discovered is. That's not my idea of romance. Writing is active, so the romance of it for me is in working hard on something I love, gutting it and working on it again and again until it's done. Someone you don't know telling you they like your words, that's romantic.
CG: Have you ever had any of your writing rejected in a really brutal fashion? What happened?
LJM: I think the worst rejections are those that come with limited feedback or encouragement. Very early on I submitted a short story to a magazine which had a no double submission policy. I waited six months without hearing anything and when I finally called, a cranky staff member told me, 'Nope, it didn't make it'. It wasn't brutal, just frustrating. Being able to submit to as many places as possible is so important when you're starting to publish, and these guys promoted themselves as advocates of new writing. Interestingly (probably because of my childish yet powerful fantasies that they would go under), the mag went under.
CG: Do you have any tips for emerging writers to get their toes in the industry door?
LJM: Hook up with an editor. Or become friends with editors – go to literary magazine launches like Voiceworks or The Lifted Brow. Or at least get to know people who are interested in workshopping and feeding back on work. Good writing can take years but I still think that the difference between a great final piece and a brilliant one is in the edit. And, of course, only show it to the editor once you've ripped it to shreds yourself.
Laura Jean McKay hosts Words Travel (part of The Writers' Conference) on Sunday May 26th, 1.45-3pm, Melbourne Town Hall ;The Balancing Act: Work, Art, Life Sat 1 June, 4-5pm, Convent Community Room, Abbotsford; and reads stories at Wild Wild Life: An Evening of Animal Stories, June 1, 6.30-8.30pm, Convent Community Room, Abbotsford.
The Emerging Writers' Festival runs from 23 May until 2 June.