Perth-based writer Martin Livings has had over eighty short stories in a variety of magazines and anthologies. His first novel, Carnies, was published by Hachette Livre in 2006, and was nominated for both the Aurealis and Ditmar awards, and has since been republished by Cohesion Press.
Your most recent project is a re-release of your novel, Carnies, first published by Lothian Books and now published by Cohesion Press. How has the experience been having a novel re-released? How have the two publication experiences differed? Is it something you would recommend to other authors, if they’re given the chance?This is a hard question to answer. I think in my particular case, the main difference in how the experiences have differed has been in the medium; when Carnies was first (reluctantly) published by Hachette Livre, it was entirely physical, and I could find copies of it in bookstores, which was a huge buzz for a fledgling novellist. This time around, with a much smaller but more enthusiastic publisher in Cohesion Press, the run is primarily electronic, with only a few Print on Demand copies floating around. I don’t even have one myself, I gave my copies away! But it was never really about the books on shelves; for me the biggest attraction in having Carnies re-released was the opportunity to do some re-writing, correct a few of the issues I had with the original manuscript. I’m so much happier with this version of the story, and look at the boxes of copies of the first release I still have with something approaching regret. Maybe I can build a bookcase out of them…
You have had a lot of short stories published, garnering many awards nominations and wins, as well as having several of them collected in Living With the Dead. How does the process of writing a short story work for you? Do you have any advice for new writers seeking to break into publishing short stories?
I’m one of those writers that does everything wrong when it comes to writing short stories, so I’m really not much use to new writers except as a cautionary tale. I don’t write every day, I don’t finish everything I start, I don’t submit everything I finish. So any success I might have somehow found has happened despite my practices, not because of them. It’s really not rocket science; I get an idea, sometimes I scribble some basic notes, then I think about it for anywhere from a day to five years or so. I haphazardly write dozens of drafts of it in my head, getting a feel for its shape and structure, very hard things to express or verbalise. Then, when it feels ready, I write it, usually in one or two intense sessions. Most of the time, the work produced in these sessions is very much the work I submit, with not much in the way of serious rewriting. I’m both deeply lazy and easily bored, so once I’ve written something, I don’t like to write it again. I’ve done that. I want to do something else. Like I said, new writers, don’t follow this process, it leads to ruin and madness!
One thing I’ve definitely found useful lately is a writing group I started up called Perth Write Club. This is the antithesis of most writing groups, which seem to be mainly folks sitting online talking about writing or, more often, trying to sell their latest works to each other. We take the Elvis Presley approach; a little less conversation, a little more action. We’re devoted to meeting every Saturday in two locations in the Perth metro area, to simply sit down for a few hours and write. I think I’ve gotten more writing done in these sessions than I have in the years before it combined. If anyone in Perth wants to come along, they can search for “Perth Write Club” on Facebook and request to join!
What work can we expect from you in the future?I just checked my own bibliography (sorry, a bit jet lagged!), and noticed that, for the first time in years, I have absolutely nothing in the pipeline. Everything is currently published. That’s a scary thing! I’m especially proud of my story “Boxing Day” in At The Edge from Paper Road Press, which has just come out, I think it’s one of my best stories. And apart from that, I’m toiling away on my current books, a series of zombie spy thriller novels.
What Australian work have you loved recently?I’ve just finished reading Last Year When We Were Young by Andrew McKiernan, and although I’d read most of the stories in it before, it was an absolute joy to read them again, as well as a bunch of stuff I hadn’t previously read. I can’t recommend it highly enough, especially to new writers who want to see how short stories are constructed, as Andrew is a master of that.
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?Having just come back from Scandinavia, and enduring eight flights in all, I would have to say… Sophocles. Because the level of decomposition would be virtually complete, allowing me to simply brush the last few remaining specks of organic matter off the chair and have it for myself to stretch my legs out. Ooh, and I could eat his meal as well!
This interview is cross-posted to the 2016 Snapshot blog, along with all the other Snapshot interviews.