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Spring Story Retreat: An Interview with Laurie Steed

Laurie Steed

Laurie Steed, author of You Belong Here, will be hosting KSP's Spring Story Retreat in November 2016. I had the opportunity to interview Laurie about his plans for the retreat, his current writing projects, and life away from the computer screen.

What inspired you to create the Spring Story Retreat for fiction writers?

“I attended the 2012 Graduate Fiction Workshop at the University of Iowa; an immersive workshop experience that helped both me and writing a great deal. It wasn’t just the coursework but the experience of working intensively with other writers. There’s some strange kind of alchemy that comes from putting a story through the workshop process. It’s both complimentary and critical; it often leads the writer to a new realisation or way of looking at their work. In this respect, the Spring Story Retreat seemed a needed initiative. It’s a supportive, immersive space for serious writers to take their work to the next level.”

What would you like to achieve from hosting the KSP Spring Story Retreat? How will you know you have achieved this?

“I've already had moments that reflect my goals in running a workshop space such as the KSP Spring Story Retreat. Nadine Browne, a writer I met with during my residency in 2015, will soon have her debut collection published by Fremantle Press. While she's done all the hard work, I hope that I helped hone her approach in some small way before submission.

Ideally, I'd want to see at least two of the three in the Spring Story Retreat to achieve a publication significant to them within twelve months of the workshop's completion. I eventually published the story I worked on in Iowa, so I would hope to have the same occur for those willing to take a similar approach.”

What do you enjoy most about working with aspiring writers and novelists?

“Many aspiring writers have excellent ideas when it comes to their short stories and novels. Many also already have great voices for their characters too. To me, their greatest strength is that they’re still learning the ‘rules’ and so are more willing to take risks in their work.

Risk often makes for great stories. The protagonist in [J. D. Salinger’s] The Catcher in the Rye is a risky character; not easy to like but compelling nonetheless. Similarly, a story like Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery seems risky on paper. Only that’s the thing about risk. It’s much riskier to write safe fiction, with safe and predictable characters. You may as well be writing a bus schedule for all the creativity that it allows you.”

How will your writing retreat differ from others?

“While I am a man of many flaws, I’m also one that works in specifics rather than generalisation. This approach goes double for my methods of teaching. In reading a writer’s work, I want to see, hear, taste, smell, and touch the worlds and characters they’ve created.

While not everyone likes my stories, I hope they'd admit they're always creative, and vividly drawn. When teaching, I encourage a similar level of detail in my writers. Each writer has a story that only they can tell in their particular way. My role, then is more of a teaching benchmark; enforcing the things that make for great fiction while always honouring the purity of each writers’ voice, and the uniqueness of their experience.”

Can you tell us about the progress of your current project, The Bear?

The Bear is still in the drafting process at present. That's partly due to the birth and development of my own little cub, Oscar, who's nearly three years old. Living with him is very much like writing a book page-by-page. I still plan to complete The Bear, of course. It’s just that I wrote that book to explore self-love and joy, and sadness, and patience. It turns out Oscar gives all that and more from the moment he wakes until I read him his bedtime story.”

Are you working on any other writing projects at the moment?

“I’ve just finished editing Shibboleth and Other Stories, published this month by Margaret River Press ($27). It's a collection of the best stories from the 2016 Margaret River Short Story Competition and is excellent throughout. Perhaps not surprisingly, there are a lot of great emerging and aspiring short story writers in Australia.

I’m also working on short videos for a couple of my previously published short stories. I’m not sure how these will turn out. My mind is aesthetically sharp. It’s when said ideas go into practice that the gap between conception and creation can occasionally be more chasm than crack.”

Do you have a preference between writing fiction and non-fiction works?

“I trained in journalism so I still enjoy writing features and reviews. I also think there's scope for more memoir writing in time. It's hard for me though. Fiction has always seemed less conditional than non-fiction. Provided I can make the story work then it doesn't matter whether I've broken a rule or taken too big of a risk.”

You were awarded an Emerging Writer in Residence position at KSP in 2015. How did this experience help you as a writer? Would you consider applying for another writing residency? (at KSP or elsewhere)

“Being an Emerging Writer in Residence at KSP in 2015 helped me immensely. I was able to finish my current draft of You Belong Here, which is now near submission quality. It's a running joke that I'm something of a perfectionist. To that end, it's been five years since I started writing You Belong Here. In that time, I've been told more than once that it's not a commercial book. I say ‘I'm writing fiction here, not advertising copy.’ The residency also gave me the chance to meet Shannon Coyle and Tabetha Rogers-Beggs, both of whom are supportive in the purest sense and just plain lovely too.

It's difficult to stay at KSP and not fall in love with the history, the place, and the people I think. Simply put, it's an immersive, secluded, and encouraging atmosphere.”

When you’re not reading or writing, how else do you like to spend your time?

“I spend a lot of time with my wife and son in parks, playgrounds, and at cafés. Oscar says hello to pretty much everyone, so you'd be amazed at the conversations that start up.

I wish I could say I have hobbies or interests other than writing. But that's maybe the best lesson I can pass on; that writing can be a hobby of course. But if you love it and need it, like I do, then it's not an interest; it's something that when it’s done, makes life worth living. Taking those non-writing steps out into the world soften the insight, patience, and compassion that comes with a regular writing practice."

The deadline to submit applications for KSP's Spring Story Retreat with Laurie Steed is 23 September 2016. Find out more here.

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