An Interview with Charlotte Guest

Charlotte Guest is a Western Australian writer. She is the Publishing Officer at UWA Publishing, and her debut poetry collection, Soap, was published in 2017 by Recent Work Press.

Charlotte was kind enough to have a chat with us about writing across genres, her poetry collection, Soap, and how she handles rejections.

As a writer of short fiction, non-fiction and poetry, what draws you to writing in each form? Which form did you experiment with first?

I started with fiction. There’s 40,000 words of a novel sitting in a drawer somewhere, the first piece of creative writing I worked on. The first work I published, however, was poetry.

It’s hard to know why an idea becomes a poem or an essay or a story. Sometimes I think my essays start with questions and the piece itself traces my search for an answer, whether I find one or not. My poems are usually interested in capturing something that exists beyond words: the ineffable, the unspoken; the texture of something that’s hard to articulate. So you could say that my poems start, and end, with a feeling. And then my fiction often begins with a line that I overhear or read or pick up somewhere, and a story unspools from it. Often that line has something to do with character.


 Your debut collection of poetry, Soap (Recent Work Press), was published in 2017. Can you walk us through the process of getting Soap into publication?

 I was very lucky to have a poetry mentor, Canberra-based poet Paul Hetherington. I met and became familiar with Paul’s work through my role at UWA Publishing. We have published some of Paul’s books. Paul came to Perth to conduct a poetry workshop and he asked me what I was working on and to send him some samples. I sent him some older poems with a note admitting I had all but stopped writing. He showed the poems to Shane Strange, the publisher at Recent Work Press, and between the two of them encouraged me to write enough poems for a manuscript to be published by the press. Paul then edited the final manuscript. I was very lucky to have such support and votes of confidence in my writing.


“My poems are usually interested in capturing something that exists beyond words: the ineffable, the unspoken; the texture of something that’s hard to articulate.”


How has the internet functioned in the creation and distribution of your work?

Not hugely, beyond all the normal ways most writers utilise the internet: to research, to submit. Hardly anyone accepts hardcopy submissions these days, which is a good thing. But I don’t write about the internet or how it figures in our lives. Perhaps I should. I know there’s some really interesting things going on in this field, particularly in writing about how the internet has changed the way we communicate. My fiction always leans towards the tactile and the tangible, a moment in time between people and all the histories they bring to that moment. I often forget about the internet. To be honest I’m not a very computer savvy person for my age. Digital literature is something I look upon with great awe and envy – I just don’t have those skills!


Your work has been published across a plethora of publications including Overland, Griffith Review and Westerly. How do you handle rejections?

You get used to rejection very quickly. For every piece I’ve had published I’ve had ten or twenty rejected. And sometimes it’s the same piece trying to find the right home. Submittable, that online portal that tracks your submissions, is a great tool, but very depressing to scroll through sometimes. All those grey squares saying ‘rejected, rejected, rejected’. It can be a bit bruising. But it’s just the way it works. Ideally you revisit rejected pieces and improve them. Rejection should really be a pathway to better writing.


What moves you to work on your writing?

I go through bursts of creativity and then long dry spells. Sometimes, in the dry spells, it can be difficult to remember what inspired the bursts. At the moment I’m in the middle of a drought.

Often, I’m driven to work because I approach the piece of writing – a poem, an essay, a story – like a problem or a puzzle that needs solving. It bugs me if it remains unresolved.

“Rejection should really be a pathway to better writing.”

Charlotte Guest is a PhD candidate at Deakin University. She will be in conversation with Roanna Gonsalves at this year’s Australian Short Story Festival session “Welcome to Australia”. 

Read more info about Charlotte’s Festival session here!

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