An Interview with Laura Elvery
Laura Elvery is an award-winning author based in Brisbane. She has won the Josephine Ulrick Prize for Literature, the Margaret River Short Story Competition, and the Neilma Sidney Short Story Prize. Trick of the Light (UQP) is Laura’s debut collection of short stories.
We spoke to Laura about her debut collection, the publishing process and her inspiration for setting.
What is your relationship to the short form? Was it the first form of writing you experienced with?
Not as a kid or a teenager, but, yes, the first form I experimented with properly once I started postgrad study in Creative Writing. I enjoy latching onto an idea, working it out through a short story, learning what I want to say, then moving on to something new. I never used to read a lot of single-authored short story collections, but now I seek them out and will read them till my dying days.
Trick of the Light is your debut collection; what was the publishing process like?
Smooth and enjoyable; I’ve had a lot of say in the collection and promotional opportunities. For starters, I loved being edited, which happened during the second half of 2017. Even though some of my stories had been published before, the whole book was edited again, and some stories appear in Trick of the Light in different iterations. That’s endlessly fascinating to me: that I could tinker forever and ever on a short story, and still find something to change.
“That’s endlessly fascinating to me: that I could tinker forever and ever on a short story, and still find something to change.”
The cover for Trick of the Light is beautiful; the contrast between the pink background and dead bird is captivating. What’s the story behind it?
For one, there are quite a few dead animals in my book. One story, ‘Foundling’, is about a dead bird and the two boys who find it. UQP gave me a couple of rounds of covers conceived by one of their designers. I was tossing up between two or three that I liked but every time I thought about my book, it was this one that kept coming to mind. The designer came up with the coral/pink but I also happen to love the colour.
Your stories span time and place, reaching across countries and centuries, yet there is always a sense of familiarity. Where do you draw your inspiration for setting from?
It’s really hard to say! I’ll give one example: my story ‘Skin-to-Skin’ is set in a small town in Tasmania. I was a tourist there a few years ago and caught sight of a kid working in a cafe. Can’t have been more than a minute, but the encounter dropped into my mind and stayed there for a long time till I could answer questions about the type of person this character might be, why he’s working at this cafe, his home life, and so on. All stories are different. Sometimes setting is primary; other times plot or character absolutely come first.
“Can’t have been more than a minute, but the encounter dropped into my mind and stayed there for a long time till I could answer questions about the type of person this character might be…”
You have a knack for writing rich and well-rounded characters, and your stories tend to focus on the lives of children and teenagers. What made you decide to focus on this particular period of growth, or did it happen more organically?
I’ve written elsewhere about having vivid memories from my own teenage years – I remember that time so well. Life was tense and beautiful, and I was in my own head a lot. It can be so fraught, although I reckon I had it relatively easy. I liked school and have mostly good memories of high school friends. The other answer is that I have an Education degree and I was a high school teacher for the better part of my twenties.
Will you stay with the short form, or do you plan to venture into other forms of fiction for any future works?
I love short fiction – reading it and writing it. The book I’m working on right now is another collection – 18 stories this time, and the stories are linked in a very specific way, more than in Trick of the Light. But I have written novels in the past. I think I will return to novel writing, yes, let’s put that in writing.
Laura Elvery has a PhD in creative writing and literary studies. Her work is published in Meanjin, The Big Issue, Review of Australian Fiction, Overland and Griffith Review. Laura’s session times are out now – you can view them here.