Wayne Macauley photographBiography

Wayne Macauley
Blueprints for a Barbed-Wire Canoe
Caravan Story
Other Stories

Ďas writers we all carry our own imaginative landscapes around in our headsí

Photo: Ponch Hawkes
Down to Biography
Wayne Macauley
ís speaking at the Melbourne Writersí Festival 2004
Where Do I Come From?
Is There Really A Crisis Gripping Short Story Writing In Australia Today?
Macauley - opinion
Preceding biography
Next biography Home page

Wayne Macauley is a Melbourne writer whose stories have been published in Meanjin, Westerly, Overland, Arena, HQ and other magazines. He was the winner of The Age Short Story Competition in 1995 and was anthologised in Best Australian Stories 2001. He has written extensively for the theatre over many years and was a founding member of the award-winning site-specific performance company, the Institute of Complex Entertainment (winner of the 1999 Green Room Award for ĎTower of Lightí). His first novella was Blueprints for a Barbed-Wire Canoe (Black Pepper, 2004) and his second Caravan Story (Black Pepper, 2007). These two novellas have since been republished by Text Publishing. Other Stories (Black Pepper, 2010) collects his short fictions together and has received widespread critical acclaim. He has published the novel The Cook (Text, 2011) which has been republished in the UK by Quercus and in Turkey by Ithaki.


Back to top

Melbourne Writersí Festival 2004

Where Do I Come From?
22 August 2004

I think as writers we all carry our own imaginative landscapes around in our heads, into which we then let loose our characters and ideas. Itís what helps differentiate us as writers, both these imaginative landscapes themselves and the degree to which they look-or donít look-like real landscapes (existing or remembered) in the world.

My own imaginative landscape is, Iíll admit, on the surface at least, a particularly unprepossessing one: it took me some time to accept that the world in which my characters and ideas moved was not in fact, nor ever would be, the Left Bank of Paris, but the outer suburbs of Melbourne. Thatís where Iím from, the edge of the known universe, the place where the new houses and big furniture showrooms fall over into dead paddocks and scrub. It took me a long while to understand that thatís the landscape my head most often went walking in, and that from there I would come back with my most resonant ideas and imagery.

I say Ďmy head walking iní because thatís very much-for me anyway-what happens. The landscape of your first independent experiences-the first time you really start thinking for yourself-becomes the imaginative landscape into which you then, as a writer, go rambling.

Those long walks home from a friendís house through the deathly quiet streets, those long train rides back from the city looking out through the window into the dark and watching the houses thin. This outer suburban landscape formed me as a writer because it gave me too much time to think. The wide streets, the big sky, the long journey to the shops and back: out there on the fringe there is simply too much physical and metaphysical space. And just as Nature abhors a vacuum so too does the human brain not like too much Nothingness: it wants to fill up those blank spaces with thoughts, ideas, speculations, imaginings.

And so this physical, existent landscape, the landscape of low-rise brick veneer houses and concrete footpaths, of nature strips and driveways, of Saturday lawnmowers and Sunday televisions, a landscape of stretched distance and warped time, became the stage scenery on which I could play out my inventions. It became for me an allegorical place-allegorical in the sense that I was probably trying to make it mean much more than it actually did. I found myself, as a writer, walking a recognisable landscape but at the same time wandering in the realm of possibility. I was neither realist nor fabulist but something else, something weird, in between.

And it is precisely this in-between-ness, this conjunction (in my mind at least) between the spread landscape of the outer suburbs and the concept of possibility that seemed to offer so many unexpected riches for me as a writer. Because it is precisely that state of in-between-ness, that strange marginality, that neither rural nor quite yet urban landscape, a place of hope, dream, possibility, that became in my mind a metaphor for who we actually are, we fucked-up white settler Australians with our Lucky Country baggage trying to make a home faraway in the arsehole of the world: tame the landscape, fence it up: dream home, dream wife, dream kids, dream life.

So, like many before me and many Iím sure who will come after, I donít really like where I come from, I always wanted to come from somewhere else, a place perhaps of cobbled streets, ivy-covered walls, village squares, smoky cafes, old men drinking; not this place of wide bitumen, clean concrete, pale brick, shopping malls, food courts, women eating donuts-but in the end youíve got to work with what youíre given.

And who knows - who knows? - maybe Joyce for example in fact dreamt of a car-park at Southland; Beckett of a furniture showroom in Epping; Dostoevsky of a 711 in Canterbury Road; Kafka of a green tin garden shed in the backyard of a mock-Georgian in MeltonÖ? They dreamed these things, but in the end they had to settle for the less exotic, more quotidian landscapes of Dublin, Paris, St Petersburg, Prague.


Back to top

Is There Really A Crisis Gripping Short Story Writing In Australia Today?
22 August 2004

The only crisis gripping short story writing in Australia today is, the way I see it, a failure of imagination and nerve on the part of both those who write and publish. The stuff that gets published in the magazines is, for the most part, stylistically and structurally conservative social realism, written to a certain word length and to a vague hand-me-down notion of what a good stolid Australian short story should be. Rare are the times when you come across something that falls outside this paradigm. Short story competitions, the only other potential outlet for this kind of work, likewise (perhaps unwittingly) reinforce this outdated notion of what a Ďgood short storyí should be by rewarding (for the most part) conservative over radical forms. As for the big book publishers, their failure of imagination and nerve is legion. Short story collections by Australian authors (even conservative ones) are Ďout of fashioní, they wonít sell; the received wisdom apparently being that, particularly where a new untried writer is concerned, youíre better off publishing a badly-written novel than a brilliantly-written collection of stories because-well, I donít really know why.

So what is a short story? Whatís it for? Why do we bother? Why donít we write a poem or a novel instead? Why donít we write a letter to The Age? I do think there is some imperative about the art and purpose of short fiction, something about the form that by necessity concentrates the mind-both writerís and readerís-and gives us an experience, a brief glimpse into something else, that no other form of writing can. A good short story has a concentration, a compaction or concertina-ing inwards of language that is all its own. Sure it tells a story, but its ability to tell more than just a story is dependent upon this intensification of language which is of course also an intensification of feeling. Its effects are lasting not just because of Ďwhat is toldí but precisely because of this concentrated method of telling. It achieves the maximum narrative drive with the minimum amount of narrative machinery.

We simply donít allow or encourage let alone invite our short fiction writers to be adventurous with the form. To vary the length, to play with the voice, to experiment with structure, to invent new narrative engines, to get outside the straightjacket of realism, or to at least find a new realism thatís not out of the Chekhov/Carver handbook.

A better kind of short story will be written and more (and more varied forms of) short fiction will be published, only when we isolate the art of short fiction writing out as distinct and separate from all other artforms, an art demanding and unique.

In the same way that we wouldnít suggest to a poet that he or she is writing poetry really only as a prelude to becoming an opera librettist, or to a ceramicist that theyíre well on their way now to becoming a sculptor-so we shouldnít insult the writer of short fiction or their art by suggesting that itís an apprenticeship to something else, something bigger. Bigger is not always better, in fact, itís often much worse: we could all care a bit more about the words we use, use them more sparingly, more precisely, more diligently, hitch them more tightly to the things worth saying.

When we start seeing short fiction writing as a thing-unto-itself, an imperative art, with its own restrictions and demands, its own freedoms and joys, its own unique ability to nail an idea, image or a sensation in a way that longer forms of prose simply cannot, then we might be heading towards a revitalisation of the artform. And I suspect, once revitalised, those ivory-tower publishers who have looked down on it for so long might start looking up at it instead.

Back to top

Home page