When I first began sending work to publications and competitions, I realised that something strange happens once a story is submitted. Despite all the time spent honing, refining, getting it just right, almost immediately after hitting ‘submit’, issues and ideas previously hidden become apparent, opening up new and exciting ways to think about the story. This may be to do with distance from the submission process, stepping outside the piece and experiencing it objectively. With a few years under my belt, I’ve acquired a toolbox of resources for tricking my mind into believing a story’s been sent before it actually has, so that that moment of clarity can be brought forward and acted on.
It turns out a similar phenomenon can occur with festival appearances. I took part in two panel sessions at the Australian Short Story Festival earlier this month. I’d had weeks to prepare, and was more than ready to step on to the stage when the time came. I enjoyed taking part, and things went well during the events themselves. But once proceedings had wrapped up, I suddenly saw what I would have done differently were the sessions to take place all over again, and was enlightened by alternative ways to address some of the discussion points raised. The shapes of these revised responses arrived entirely formed and in absolute clarity.
For example, invited to talk about the mother-son relationship in ‘Their Cruel Routines’, the opener in my collection Broken Rules and Other Stories, my approach for the event was straightforward, and I described elements of that fictional relationship. I was happy with this approach. I still am, to some extent. But on reflection it doesn’t feel entirely satisfactory for me, though I couldn’t at the time have put my finger on what a more satisfactory response might have looked like. When that enlightenment arrived, it was too late. Or was it? Maybe this is the way things have to be.
There are essentially two mother-son relationships within ‘Their Cruel Routines’: the relationship between myself and my own mother, which inspired the story, and that between the fictional mother and son. How one informs the other feels like a fuller and more interesting way to talk about the story, providing information that might not otherwise be gleaned by a reader.
From there I began thinking about the other stories in Broken Rules and Other Stories. One by one I saw the clear and entire story behind them all. Of course I already knew these, but they hadn’t taken on such a distinct form until now, maybe because I’d not had the necessary distance, or hadn’t allowed or wanted them to. But now that the ink’s well and truly dry on the collection, I’m in a better position to think and write about its stories in these ways. And to talk about them, if and when I get the chance again.