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Interview with author Chloe Higgins

KSP's special guest author for the October 2016 Holiday Hub feature interview was KSP Emerging Writer-in-Residence Chloe Higgins, pictured above centre, seated.

Chloe is a writer, arts worker and traveller living between Western Sydney, Wollongong and backpacker hostels around the world. She has a couple of degrees in creative writing (UOW), writes fiction, poetry, book reviews, personal essays, memoir and interviews. Chloe is the founder and Director of Wollongong Writers Festival, outgoing Project Management Assistant at the South Coast Writers Centre and currently completing a PhD in creative writing at Wollongong University. She won the 2016 Ray Koppe Young Writers’ Resident at Varuna for her Honours novella, ‘Infomercials for mixing bowls and treadmills’.Chloe doesn’t understand why anyone would shower when you can have a bath instead. She grew up listening to 80s music.

What made you decide to be an author?

Well how old are you guys? When I was 17 years old, I lost my two sisters in a car accident, they were 9 and 14, so kind of around your guys age. Yeah, I guess I was kind of struggling with being a teenager so I started writing. Initially it was just for myself, and I just kept writing, though. A few years passed and I started writing less about my own experiences and more stories about the world and other people, and I think in many ways it becomes something you have to do. For me, it’s a way of processing life. You know, understanding what I’m feeling, what I’m going through, but also understanding other people and what they’re going through. Yeah, so I guess it’s kind of the way that I was making sense, so I thought I wanted to write a book and I decided to go and study it at University. So I’ve just spent the last six years studying how to be a writer at University. Yeah, I feel like I’m still in the early stages of learning, but I don’t know… I just feel like I need to write in order to process life, really.

Where do you write? What are you habits?

Well, I think habits are really important. For me they’re changing a little bit, but for the last few years I write between 6 and 8am, 1000 words an hour. I do nothing except for make a cup of coffee and go to the toilet, and I write first thing. I do this for a couple of reasons. You guys ever get nervous when you’re writing? You know what other people are going to think? If you’re doing it right? Yeah, me too, all the time. What I discovered was when I was writing later in the day, there was so much more time for those feelings to creep up. When I do it first thing in the morning, I’m not even awake properly let alone thinking all those negative thoughts. I just go straight to the table and I write. It also means that phone calls, my mother, friends, to-do lists, and all that stuff can’t get in the way when I’m writing before everyone else is awake. So yeah, that’s kind of my habit.

What are the inspirations for your stories?

Well, I feel like I’m still figuring that out, so if you guys have any suggestions I would be willing to listen. Sometimes it’s real life, sometimes it’s reading other peoples’ books. I don’t know if you guys ever read books that you love and then you get, not the same idea, but an idea from reading someone else’s work and you go and write your own story. It changes, of course. It becomes your own, it’s your own voice, so it’s never going to be the same. But I think reading other people’s work or going out and living life and having things happen is a great source of inspiration. I was with a local poet on Saturday, and she was talking about this in a similar kind of way to how we breathe air in that, you can’t just exhale, exhale, exhale. If you think about writing as exhaling then you also need to read or live life, and that’s your inhaling. So you read, or you live life as you take a breath and then your exhale breath is when you write onto the page, and it’s this continual balance of the two, you know.

How did you get your stories published?

I’m still working on that. No, I have had a few pieces published, but it’s a very slow game. I think it takes about ten years to learn how to write at even a novice or emerging writer level, I think. Obviously, becoming an established writer would take much longer. At the moment I’m just having small poems or small short stories published in a couple of literary journals. The way I started getting them published really was mixing with other people who are interested in writing, and finding out what kind of publications existed in Australia. There is a kind of hierarchy of publications and you can often (as an emerging writer) probably not get accepted into these publications, but more publications focused on emerging writers. So I met with other writers to learn about these. They have submission guidelines on their website, you can look up their rules on their website and you can submit. Then you get rejected, rejected, rejected, rejected, rejected, rejected, rejected, rejected, rejected, and then you get accepted. Then you go back to the beginning, and you get rejected and it goes on.

Why did you choose to become an author?

I don’t know. I need it like… I don’t know. How could you not? I couldn’t not write.

What is your favourite genre to write, and why?

That’s a good question. I don’t know. I feel like you guys, I’m still figuring out. It changes, and sometimes I feel pressured to write certain things. Then I realise that I want to write other things, so I’m kind of shifting. At the moment I’m working on memoir and literary fiction. They would probably be my favourites.

How did you help create the Wollongong Writers’ Festival?

I was sitting in a class, like you guys are now, and we were… I was about to go up to Newcastle in NSW to a Writers’ Festival with a friend, and where I was living at the time, it’s Wollongong, which is about an hour and a half away from Sydney. So, I guess like you guys, if you live out here and go into Perth it’s not around the corner, you have to organise transport and whatnot. I was getting really sick of having to travel up to Sydney for events. So, I was with a friend sitting in this class, and we were like, ‘if Sydney can do a Writers’ Festival and Newcastle can do one, then why can’t we? Let’s just start our own.’ So we just emailed a bunch of friends and said, ‘do you want to start a festival with us? Come and meet for coffee. Let’s talk about what we want to do at the festival.’ And so we did. Then we just kept Googling how to do things, googling how to write a press release, asking people to go out for coffee so we could pick their brain and ask them how to do event management… completely making it up, completely asking people questions, completely just having a go, like you guys are now. Then it somehow grew, and it’s kind of massive now, well not massive, but by other standards out in the world, or whatever. But for us, we’re now working with 75 writers, 35 events, and stuff like that, so it’s come a long way.

Do you have any tips for young writers?

I think perseverance is key. What I was telling you before, I’ve been writing for six years and I’m really just at the beginning of becoming an emerging writer. You know there’s gonna be a lot of rejection and that’s cool, it’s okay. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer, it doesn’t mean you’re not gonna get published, it’s really, really normal. So, I think you just have to be prepared about that. I think for me personally, I think some writers would disagree with this, but for me personally, a habit is really important, so I write 6 – 8am Monday to Friday, and that needs to happen. A lot of it is really crappy, and that’s okay, it doesn’t matter. You’ve got to write the crap before you get to the good thing, so having a regular routine helps.

What is the work that you do for the South Coast Writers’ Centre?

I actually just left that job, but I’m still involved on the board, so that’s ok. I do a bit of everything. It’s a small literary organisation with two main staff members, which means one day we’re fixing the printer, the next day we’re emailing authors we admire to come and speak at events, the next day we’re writing funding applications so we can pay the authors, the next day we’re taking the trash out, the next day we’re running a board meeting. Everything. Writing press releases, so many things.

How long have you been writing for? Do you enjoy it?

I’ve been writing for about 11 years, but I would say diligently writing for about six, with practice. Do I enjoy it? No, not really. It’s really hard. There’s this quote… I can’t remember who says it, I should find out because I use it all the time. It goes, ‘I don’t like writing, but I like having written.’ For me, like the actual process of writing, is like when you do your hockey training. It’s really annoying at the time, but afterwards you feel so amazing. There’s something in you that just needs to do it, but sometimes it can be really hard as well. I’ve been working lately to enjoy the process more. Instead of getting up and vomiting out a word count, I’ve started reading a little bit first and then I write some thoughts, then reading a little bit. That slowing down has allowed me to enjoy the process rather than focus on the word count.

Did you always want to be a writer or did you pursued other careers?

I never wanted to be a writer when I was younger. I wanted to be a psychologist. No, I really wanted to be a writer when I was 18, so it’s cool that you guys are starting really young. I worked in hospitality for a long time. I feel like as a writer you have to work in odd jobs to pay the bills cos writing probably won’t for quite a while, if ever.

Just out of interest what story are you working on now? How are you enjoying KSP Writers' Centre?

Oh my god! I love this place. I want to come and live here. I feel like I could just move into one of the cabins. Yeah, it’s really nice. At the moment I am working on two projects, a novel a memoir of the accident that I mentioned. So while I’m at KSP… have you guys heard of vomiting words? Vomiting the writing is just about not editing as you go, not thinking any negative thoughts, just writing whatever’s in your head until you reach the goal. While I’m at KSP, my goal is to vomit 2000 words a day which will give me a novel at the end of my one month’s stay at KSP. I’m also working on a collection of short travel stories as well.

How to Stay Sane at KSP: advice to myself (by Chloe Higgins)

  1. You don’t have to write a novel today, but you do have to write 500 words.

  2. Write early. First thing. Other than instant coffee and a trip to the toilet, nothing should get in first between you and that page. Especially email.

  3. If you can’t write early, read early. If you need something else to round the toilet and the tea out to the magical number three, make it reading.

  4. Ask Shannon (or someone else) to do some shared accountability writing with you. Agree to text/email each other a quick ‘done!’ when you’ve hit your agreed word count for the day. It helps.

  5. Write what you want to write, not what you think is going to make you a ‘serious writer’. It took me four years and 50,000 words to realise I’m actually just not that into politics.

  6. There’s no writing problem a walk can’t solve.

  7. Plot is priority. The weather can wait.

  8. When you ask for feedback, actually mean it. Defending what you were ‘trying to do’ is not taking feedback.

  9. Write. Read. Repeat.

  10. Write. Read. Repeat.

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