Meet Matilda Grogan: a creative writing student from the University of Wollongong, who is currently on exchange in Norfolk, United Kingdom, at the University of East Anglia. I spoke with her about her inspirations, the difficulties of breaking into the literary scene and the influence of travelling on her writing.
Describe the last thing you wrote?
The last thing I wrote was a set of six poems for a uni assignment – it was a challenge because I hadn’t written poetry since my first year of uni, but I took a poetry class this semester and I really enjoyed getting back into it.
What was the inspiration?
Well, because it was a set without a unifying theme, there wasn’t one single inspiration that kind of inspired the whole thing – I wrote them over a period of a couple of weeks and when you work like that it’s easy to be inspired by one thing and then have the final product end up in a completely different place that has nothing to do with the original.
What were the major themes/message?
In terms of themes or messages, one thing that really emerged within several of the poems that I wrote was the death of my grandfather. He passed away, quite unexpectedly actually, two months before I left home last year to come to Europe – so being away from my family has been complicated by this huge event that kind of surprised us all. One of the poems specifically is about a time when I called my grandmother at home, it was very early in the morning, and I just had this image of her alone in her house in my head. So I guess one of the major themes within the poems is loss. I’m not sure that I would have written that if I had been away from home, though – travelling has definitely had an effect on what I want to write about. This was also the first time that I had written about real-life experience, something I usually never do. In the past I have much preferred to write from imagination, although I’m sure there have always been elements of character or experience from my real life. But this time I actually wrote about things that really happened to me, and since then I have found it difficult to return to writing from imagination – I think something about it feels more superficial now.
What would be your favourite genre/style to write in?
I like to write in a pretty lyrical style – I like figurative language and unusual details. I get inspiration from music and poetry and also just from situations that I come across or if I look at an object and think it kind of looks like something else. I used to have this problem where I’d get really excited about describing things in a really unusual way and just end up with this whole story full of metaphors and stuff, and a plot that didn’t fully make sense or wasn’t very interesting. Hopefully now I’m learning how to balance them out in a better way. The story I had published in Voiceworks last year was about a woman who’s recently been left by her husband, and returns home to see her father, who has been living alone since her mother, who was not a very nice person, died several months earlier. The father is hoarding all of his dead wife’s belongings, like the house is just full of stuff, whereas she wants to just clear this ex-husband out of her life and chuck it all out. So it’s kind of about the different ways that people deal with losing others.
Why do you write?
I’m still working out why I write but I always seem to come back to situations where people have to deal with something tough – one other story I wrote was about a woman whose husband cheats on her with her sister and she pretends not to know about it for like twenty years. Just examining how people function and relate to one another. That kind of thing is probably at the heart of it.
Any future ideas for stories?
I just spent a couple of weeks in London, Paris and Amsterdam and I have a few story ideas from that – I’m glad I’ve kind of opened myself up to writing from real life, because you just have so many experiences when you’re travelling. I also have a very underdeveloped idea for a longer work that I’d eventually like to turn into a novel that’s kind of lurking at the back of my head.
Have you ever tried to get anything published? If so, where?
I had a story published in the Australian youth literary journal Voiceworks last year. Other than that, just stories and poems in university publications, like Tide, which we produce here at UOW, and Windmills, which is a publication from Deakin University in Melbourne.
Do you find it difficult to break into the Australian writing industry?
It is difficult to break into the Australian writing industry because it’s such a small industry and there are so many people who are trying to break into it. But I think the hardest thing about it for me at the moment is the fact that I’m living in Wollongong and it seems like the centre of literary culture – all of the panels and workshops and that kind of thing – are all in Melbourne. So it’s hard in that way because we’re disadvantaged here by not being able to go along to that kind of thing and make connections and meet people who are trying to do the same thing. I’m not saying there’s a complete absence of that stuff in New South Wales, there are some really good things going on in Sydney for example, but Melbourne definitely seems to be the hub.
What kind of a career path would you like to break into?
Honestly, I still don’t know what kind of career path I’d like to take. I’m torn between wanting to teach creative writing, for which there’s not a lot of opportunity; get into the publishing industry, or try to pursue writing full-time, which basically nobody accomplishes.
What strikes you as a similarity/theme amongst Australian novels?
I think it’s hard to generalise that ‘place’ features predominantly in novels – certainly there needs to be a sense of it within almost every novel, Australian or not. I think the sense of ‘place’ within Australian novels, however, tends to be that kind of suburban sense of everyday life and family and experience, rather than the outback or anything like that.
Do you find that any Australian themes filter into your work? Why/why not?
I do find that Australian themes filter in to my work – probably because I often write about people in close familial relationships and because I grew up in Australia that’s all I really know. It’s not something I’ve ever tried to make a point of – hopefully it’s at least a little bit subtle. But I have noticed the differences between Australians reading that kind of thing and other people, for example the British people in my classes in the UK – there are definitely things that they pick up on in a different way to the Australians in my classes at home who have read the same stories.
What is your favourite book and why?
In terms of favourite books, I can’t separate Cloudstreet by Tim Winton, and The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy – they are both incredible and are probably the books I wish the most that I had written myself. Those two authors have probably influenced me the most, as well. Tim Winton for the very genuine and familiar way he writes about Australian family life, and Arundhati Roy for the incredible way she uses language and the kind of magical quality in her book.