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Shining a light: Laura Elvery on ‘Trick of the Light’

Laura Elvery’s debut short-story collection Trick of the Light (UQP, March) comprises 24 ‘meticulously crafted’ short stories ranging in style from ‘stark realism to light speculative fiction’, writes reviewer Alan Vaarwerk. He spoke to the author.

You’ve recently completed a PhD in creative writing, and have tutored creative writing students. Has teaching changed the way you approach your own writing practice?

I loved being a creative writing student during my Masters, and then a tutor while I worked on my PhD. There are plenty of good basic guidelines I tried to teach (and follow) that don’t require too much effort: read lots, connect with other writers, don’t be afraid of writing extremely average first drafts. Many other rules I think are unhelpful and no longer work for me personally. For example, I cannot write every day and I don’t think that’s important. I think most people, too, can be taught how to better accept criticism. Teaching editing taught me to be a sharper editor, just like being in a writers’ group does. Teaching literature subjects to undergrads also introduced me to some classics I’d never read before.

Trick of the Light features characters of all ages and from all walks of life, but arguably the collection’s most memorable voices belong to children and teenagers. What is it that interests you about capturing this period?

I remember being a teenager vividly; so many memories from that time in my life are strange or joyful or painful in a way that others aren’t. I remember being in my own head a lot, worried about so many things beyond my control and feeling—probably unreasonably—like I was being watched, being judged. But I also loved school. I had a sense that I was surrounded by all these great friends, and sometimes we were having these weird endless days and weeks of fun. We all just got each other, even when adults didn’t. Small things felt enormous, and as a storyteller I find that captivating.

There’s an undercurrent through the collection to do with scientific and technological advancements. What drives you to explore these elements?

I’m not entirely sure myself—one idea is that I’ve never excelled in those areas and therefore remain curious and a bit baffled! My next project is a collection of short stories linked by the lives and works of all the women who have won a Nobel Prize in the sciences. I’m fascinated by the reach their work had and the difficulties they faced.

What other books and authors have influenced your work?

Short stories can inspire me to try something new in structure. A recent example is Melissa Lucashenko’s extraordinary ‘Dreamers’, which I read with students in a workshop I taught late last year. It has a looped structure that is so pleasing and satisfying to the reader. In the workshop, we talked about how Lucashenko plays with decades of time and a few vital objects. Other influences feel less tangible—I’ll read a story by, for example, Karen Russell, Etgar Keret, Sherman Alexie or Abigail Ulman and feel myself thinking about my own subject matter that I may have been circling for ages, in a whole new tone.

What was the last book you read and loved?

The most recent was The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein (Text). I was bowled over by Sandra Pankhurst’s painful early life and the compassion she has for others in her work. I didn’t want it to end.

(Photo credit: Trenton Porter.)


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