More like this

Need some short story writing inspo? Meet the contributors of the latest New Australian Fiction! Throughout 2023 we shared the origins of their stories, their best writing advice and fave reads on our Instagram. Find all their Q&As in one place!

Daniel Alwan

Could you describe your story ‘Hammam’ in five words?

Finding light in the dark(room).

How do you find inspiration for your short stories?

I almost always begin with the quotidian—people-watching and all the baffling beauty of human behaviour that accompanies it—and zoom out from there.

I also find inspiration often arrives when I’m supposed to be focused on something else entirely; a nice long walk or a six-minute shower can sometimes be the perfect distraction.

What’s your favourite book?

Impossible to choose just one! But the book that I have found the most influential and instructive, and which I’ve endlessly read and reread, is Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin.

Daniel Alwan is a writer and English language teacher. His short stories have been shortlisted for the Furphy and the Neilma Sidney Prize.

Chris Ames

‘Charlie & Charlie & Charlie’ is about a couple who want to ‘grow closer, not older’. How did inspiration strike for this story?

Beauty matching, or couples getting plastic surgery to look more alike, is a real thing. But this story really came from the birth of my son. My wife would say, he’s got your nose, and I would say, no, he’s got your nose, and then we kind of realized, in a moment of narcissistic terror, that we look the same.

You’re originally from the US. Have you discovered any new writers here that you admire?

Since calling Australia home, I’ve discovered so many brilliant writers, especially of short fiction, like Elizabeth Tan, Julie Koh, Josephine Rowe and Paige Clark. It feels like the form is thriving.

You’re also an artist. Is there anything about your art practice that helps with writing?

I’m an awful artist; I wouldn’t even use that word. I lack the technical skills to draw anything close to real life. But there’s something freeing in this that can be applied to writing, and it’s the reminder that you don’t have to render the whole sky, you just have to make a hole big enough to view it through.

Chris Ames is a writer who also draws. His fiction, essays and illustrations have appeared in the Believer, Electric Literature and elsewhere.

Shaeden Berry

‘The Lake Monster’ features a bit of a mystery. Where did this idea come from?

Via a 3am Wikipedia deep-dive into cryptids! I was fascinated by the origins of these myths and started thinking of the stories we tell to cover up truths that we can’t face.

Do you have any odd or interesting writing habits?

I always have to have three beverages lined up when I’m on a big writing binge—a cold sweet drink, a hot caffeinated one and a 2 litre bottle of water.

What’s your favourite literary monster?

Frankenstein’s monster.

Shaeden Berry is a writer from Boorloo. Her work has appeared in Refinery29,
Aniko Press and Kill Your Darlings.

André Dao

How did inspiration strike for ‘Reading Proust on the Beach’?

I’d been thinking about the character Cảnh for a while, as something of a foil to my auto-fictional narrator (who is also at the centre of my debut novel, Anam). But I had often been at a loss about where to place him. Then, over summer, at the beach with my family, I began to imagine him there with us, in that most Australian of settings, doing something utterly un-Australian.

What’s your favourite ever short story?

It’s hard to pick one! But one that I have thought about often over the years is Nam Le’s ‘Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice’. In a very different way—and showing the range of what can be done with the short form—I have often returned to Borges’ ‘The Library of Babel’. I suppose the thread joining them both is that they are stories which work their way, profoundly but utterly differently, through an idea—and in particular, an idea of writing and an idea of reading, or reading as writing and writing as reading.

What’s your favourite bit of writing advice?

To continue the theme: to learn how to write, you have to first teach yourself how to read. And it’s an ongoing, iterative process. Returning to stories I read when I was younger—stories that helped shape me as a writer—now that I’ve written my own stories and my own book, I read them differently, and perhaps that new reading will shape me once again, but differently. And so it goes on—and on.

André Dao is a writer and researcher. His debut novel is Anam.

Chris Flynn

Your story takes inspiration from the recent Russia-Ukraine conflict. How do you approach writing about real-world events?

I like imagining the perspective of unorthodox observers. It helps in coming up with different perspectives on the familiar. In this case, the true story of a rescue cat caught up in a war zone.

You write in different forms. What do you like about short stories over a novel?

I treat short stories like mini-novels, so they take me ages to write. I appreciate when a story presents itself as being short, though. I have enough ideas for novels as it is!

Who are your favourite short story writers?

My faves are Jim Shepard, Thea Astley, John Cheever and Stephanie Vaughn. Anything that’s NQR.

Chris Flynn is the author of Here Be Leviathans, Mammoth, The Glass Kingdom and A Tiger in Eden. Chris lives in Wonthaggi, Victoria.

Natasha Hertanto

‘The Airlangga’ is set in Indonesia. Why did you set the story here?

I visited Labuan Bajo with my family in 2021. We went to Rangko Cave, which was only accessible by boat. We had three brothers, none of them older than sixteen, commandeering the vehicle. Angkasa and Bumi sprang from them.

In 2022, I turned twenty-six and the question of marriage began to enter my conversational sphere. I also happened to be researching Indonesia’s child marriage policies for a university project. Meanwhile, the club scene was based on my own memories of coming to a gay club for the first time. Angkasa’s anxieties, hopes and fears were my own at eighteen. Even now, I still struggle to answer the questions he asks. All of these thoughts suddenly ‘confluenced’ on a plane ride earlier this year, so I wrote it in one sitting!

You also write non-fiction and poetry. What do you like about fiction as a form?

Inhabiting different characters’ headspaces and lived experiences. I’m currently working on a novel, which is like building an 80,000-word puzzle for readers to solve.

What’s the last book you loved?

Orange by Ichigo Takano. It’s technically 7 volumes, but I count it as one.

Natasha Hertanto’s work can be found in Australian Poetry Journal, Voiceworks, Everything All At Once and more. She is currently working on her debut novel.

Eleanor Kirk

‘The Next Dame Joan, Probably’ features a character who loses her talent. What inspired this story?

It explores my perpetual fear/fantasy of abruptly abandoning my dreams for a more stable life. Plus, my best friend is an opera singer and she lost her voice for a bit last year, so there’s that.

What’s a book you always recommend people read?

Literally anything by Melina Marchetta. Also Yellowface, because I read it recently and couldn’t put it down.

You work in screenwriting. Any tips for writing good dialogue?

I think the fun part of writing dialogue is when nobody’s saying what they actually mean. I also heard someone say once that you should be able to cover the names of your characters and have it still be clear who’s speaking from the way they speak, which I try (and usually fail) to achieve.

Eleanor Kirk is a writer for page and screen. She currently works in TV and is writing her first novel.

Julie Koh

Your story ‘On the Road’ riffs on Kerouac. What inspired you to tackle it?

I like examining storytelling tropes and felt it was time to tackle standard Western road-trip narratives. So I decided to write a terrible road-trip story that parodies aspects of the classic On the Road.

What’s your desert island read?

Jim Pipe’s How to Survive on a Desert Island.

What do you do to get out of a writing rut?

Sometimes it’s just a matter of living life and waiting it out—possibly on a desert island, definitely not on a bro trip.

Julie Koh is the award-winning author of Capital Misfits and Portable Curiosities.

Hope Loveday

Your story ‘Souvenirs’ involves the exchange of memories. Where did this idea come about?

I came up with the idea while pondering how bizarre casual sex is, and my own experiences with it—how I’ve got a catalogue stored in my brain of random, tiny details about other people’s lives, people that I’ll never see again. Useless memories, but for some reason they’ve stuck. I wondered if those people had useless memories of me, too. I turned these thoughts into a story and crossed my fingers someone would relate.

This is your first published story. What drew you to writing a short story?

I wouldn’t describe myself as a ‘big picture’ kind of person, in life or in my writing, so I’ve always been drawn to the short story. I think my strength in writing is packing a punch in a short amount of words, and especially with an idea like this, I knew I could say what I needed to say in a handful of pages. I love how short stories have the same capability as a 400-page novel, of captivating, moving and affecting the reader.

Who is your favourite character in literature?

My favourite literary characters will always be people that I can see myself in. Esther Greenwood from The Bell Jar and Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s hold a special place in my heart. I could show you my copies of those books from when I was a teenager, and all the (slightly embarrassing) annotations I’ve made in the margins, with things like ‘Omg, that’s so me!!’

Hope Loveday graduated from a Bachelor of Creative Writing in 2022. New Australian Fiction 2023 is her first professional literary publication.

Kalem Murray

Your story ‘A Return to Form’ is a cosmic horror story. What draws you to the genre?

It is the helplessness and cruelty of chaos and the unknown. Ideas and emotions that are rarely captured in other genres. That, and I have been a huge horror nerd since I was a kid.

Are you a pantser or a plotter?

I think pantster for short stories, as I basically have a concept that I build toward without much structure. Then for longer stuff I tend to get halfway, realise how inconsistent everything is, and devote a chunk of time mapping the beats correctly.

If you could live the rest of your life in any book, which would you choose?

Easily the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett, I feel any fantastical niche could be filled there. Or the magical world of The Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book, where every day is just cake.

Kalem Murray is a writer, editor and voice-over artist. His work has appeared in the anthology This All Come Back Now. He is currently working on a novel.

Madeleine Rebbechi

Your story ‘Dip’ takes place in a factory. What was the inspiration behind this setting?

I think there is something eerie about industry on a large scale, and for most of the time I was writing ‘Dip’ I thought it was a horror story. The trough of dark liquid at Gerry’s workstation was what I came to first and the factory setting developed from there. I liked the idea of zooming in on this one little character in the middle of a huge machine.

You are currently working on a collection of short fiction, Earth Signs. What do you enjoy about the shorter form?

I like being able to build and flesh out a story relatively quickly, and then tinker endlessly with the structure and language. I also enjoy experimenting, which is harder to sustain in longer work.

Favourite ever short story?

One of my favourites is ‘Imbolc’ by the Irish writer Louise Kennedy, from her debut collection The End of the World is a Cul De Sac. There’s an otherworldly feeling to it, though the events that take place are fairly mundane: it’s stifling, surprising, full of dread. Kennedy’s prose is magical. I notice something different every time I read it.

Madeleine Rebbechi is a writer and arts worker. She has written music and arts reviews, radio scripts and media kits, but her true love is fiction.

Allee Richards

Your story ‘Red’ is about the bond between mothers and their children. What inspired you?

The question of whether or not to have a child has hung over me since I turned thirty and seeped into a lot of my writing. ‘Red’ in particular was inspired after a close friend told me he went to the sperm bank to consider making a donation.

You also work in the theatre world. Is there anything about this aspect of your life that informs your approach to writing?

Theatrical lighting can be a precise job: shining a light exactly where you want it, perfect intensity, right colour, exact fluffiness of edge. We can spend weeks focussing at work, but we never start fussing until all lights are rigged and working. I try to write the same way: not spending days perfecting a sentence until I know everything is in its place and working.

What’s the best short story you’ve ever read?

I am an unabashed Josephine Rowe fan-girl. I can’t choose a favourite between ‘Glisk’ or ‘Post-structuralism for Beginners’. Every time I re-read ‘Glisk’, I remind myself to try ‘slivers of mango doused with lime and chili’ and every time I read the latter, I lol at the simile of a Brazilian waxed vagina and a rose macaroon. She is a master who everyone must read.

Allee Richards’ short fiction has been published widely. She is the author of two novels, Small Joys of Real Life and A Light in the Dark.

New Australian Fiction 2023 is available from our online shop and good bookshops across the country. Submissions open for our next edition on 26 February 2024. Find more information here.

Keen to learn more about short stories and writing craft? Take a look at our online writing courses.