Close and Personal with Michael Blake
By Stephanie Eslake
Are you a young Tasmanian who enjoys short story writing? Perhaps you’re looking to build on our last Twitch short story event with Adam Ouston, or to hear a fresh perspective from another talented writer?
Michael Blake will host the next Twitch Tuesdays workshop, coming up on October 18.
The Tasmanian writer’s stories and poetry have been published in Islet, Review of Australian Fiction and The Canary Press. His work has been shortlisted and named runner-up in several major national competitions. In 2015, he was shortlisted for the Premier’s Tasmanian Young Writer’s Fellowship.
Short stories, hey? What was your first experience of the enjoyment attained by indulging in a ripper short story?
Gosh, I don’t know. I initially thought you were asking when I’d first written a ripper short story, and came up pretty blank, but looking back reading-wise, it was probably Foster Wallace’s Forever Overhead, which I read in a college English Writing class, and which fairly blew important parts of my mind – I had not encountered such conscious and blatant control of language before. More recently I have been reminded of the insane power of the form by Tobias Wolff’s Bullet in the Brain, which I can’t recommend enough.
And when did you first start to write them yourself? Did it come as an instinct to you?
I started writing short stories when I was made to in school, both high- and primary-, but I don’t think they came to me instinctively – while I’ve written many in my time I can probably count the ones possessed of any real quality or truth on one hand (or two, at a stretch – I don’t think I’d have to bring toes into it). That said, I do think that when I do write good ones they are often produced a bit more instinctively than the ones I have to wring out.
You’ve grown up on this island – and also expressed yourself through short story writing in the Transportation Press publication Islands and Cities. What does it mean to you to be a writer in Tasmania? How has this shaped your identity as a writer or the short stories you tell?
Being a writer in Tasmania means I think myself bloody lucky, to be honest. I can’t think of many better places in the world to do the work, if you choose to. We have clean air and good silences, plus the rent is cheap.
In terms of how Tasmania has shaped my wridentity, I’m not sure – I suppose I have a small ‘Gotta prove to them mainlanders that we’re the real deal’ chip on my shoulder, but I think that’s fading, what with Ricky Flanagan and the distressing legion of my super-talented contemporaries who regularly flog the big island (and the world) in terms of quality – look at Susie Greenhill winning the Richell – getting to stand among the knees of giants is a real inspiration and driver for me.
What are some of your favourite books or literary magazines that help you get your fix of quality short stories?
George Saunders’ Tenth of December, Annie Proulx’s Close Range, Breece D’J Pancake’s Trilobites and other stories are all collections I will continue re-reading and gifting to people until the day I die, because they are astonishing. I am a poor reader of actual journals, but every so often I’ll duck into the New Yorker archives or anywhere else they have good work for free and do some digging. Found a really good Emma Cline story (Marion) this way recently.
You’re presenting a talk on the craft at our upcoming Twitch Tuesday. How easy or difficult is it really for young writers to get ahead in the short story would? What’s your advice?
I don’t know the answer to the first part of this question, but I know you have to be lucky, and ideally also good. Advice? Work harder than me. Read more than you already do. Be honest.
Book a ticket online to attend Michael Blake’s Twitch Tuesday tutorial from 6pm, October 18.