I am thrilled to interview Lizzie Harwood, author of Triumph, a beautiful collection of short stories. We met over ten years ago in Paris at a course at the British Institute, where I was lucky enough to read early drafts of four of the stories in Triumph. It has been a pleasure to exchange work as our writing evolves. As an author, Lizzie has an amazing scope – screenplays, personal essays, short stories, memoir, and a novel coming soon. At Editor Deluxe, she is in the business of helping other writers bring their work to life and to the page. Today, we talk about the inspiration behind her stories, her many projects such as book reviews and editing, and the writing life.
What inspired this collection of short stories?
This collection came about when I decided to indie publish. I’ve been writing novels and short stories for a long time, but it’s incredibly hard to get a short story collection taken on by traditional publishers these days even though people are drawn to short forms of fiction. The stories were written between 1995 – 2014 and are populated with women or girls on the edge of… something… breakdowns or breakthroughs, acceptance or flight. So I put the voices and tales together and out came Triumph. The title is from one story where a Triumph wraps itself around a lamppost, plus I used to drive my dad’s Triumph 2500 around Auckland even when it had no reverse gear and I had to park so I could always leave by going forwards only.
The cover is gorgeous! Can you tell us how it came about?
I am so over the moon about working with www.thepixelpusher.co.uk on the cover. Anna Cowie and Spencer Kebbell are visionary service-orientated art designers who live and work in London. I know Anna from New Zealand and really love her work. She spearheaded the whole design. We talked a few times and then voilà she got inside my writing style with the image of a girl reflected in a mirror. They’re also experts on brand marketing.
You write about everything from large families to gone girls, from Paris to Australia. How do you see the stories fitting together?
The stories are set in 6 different countries with narrators ranging in age from 6 to 60, but each is in a moment that holds repercussions for the rest of their lives. A personality is being formed, or assumptions are challenged, or thinking shifts seismically. They will be saved or ruined. We don’t get a sense of their exterior but we get their interiors.
Jennifer Butler wrote the Introduction and her words made me tear up: “These characters, their unconscious maintains no distance from their environment but is immersed in it” that got me because I often don’t have a sense of what I’m trying to say because I’m trying too hard to say it. I didn’t realize how important it was for me as a writer to step back and let these stories sit beside each other so they could have a conversation with a reader. They, on a whole, make more sense than me trying to say anything about them.
And then it was a jigsaw because both you and Jennifer helped me with the presentation. Originally they all had clever titles and sat in any which order, but you suggested (wonderfully) to put them into two sections, so I have Young Women and then Girls & Mothers. And Jennifer had this idea of naming the stories for their narrators so we have Skye 1, Skye 2, Lily, Anon 3, Betty or Alabama, etc… it’s kind of cubist and clear (and as Jennifer said on the phone, it got rid of the “awful 1990s titles.” Haha!) I am indebted to you both for these comments. We’re only as good as our writing buddies.
Do you have a favorite story in the collection?
The first and last stories. Krista – set in India, is ridiculous right up to the end when we go, Oh, what?!? And Faye 2 with the Christmas meal gatecrashed by the daughter’s friend makes me sad, not for Jake because he eats all the turkey, but for the daughter and mother.
Which was the most challenging to write?
Stephanie, about the would-be whale-watcher in a Kaikoura Bed&Breakfast. She was originally a guy.
We took classes together at the British Institute with the wonderful Alice Notley and Laure Millet. What did you take away from their classes?
They were terrific classes because it was an open space to go anyplace we wanted to with our writing. 4/14 stories in Triumph stemmed from that class. Sitting in a writing class on a Friday night was magic. Maybe all writing classes should be on a Friday night. Way better than Martinis and Marlboros, which was my usual Friday night back then (2002).
What advice would you give to beginning writers?
Try to find a Friday night writing class!!! Or somewhere you can experiment. Try to be in a group with face to face contact. It’s harder than online, but more human. Everyone says Read, Read, Read. I agree, but also Think, Meditate, Remember. When you get a rejection, immediately resubmit something else. Don’t be afraid to indie publish but get professional help. (And I don’t mean a shrink, well, if you want to, sure, but editor, cover designer, marketing). Write down a plan for everything in a businesslike way: the writing, the publishing, the next book…
What books are on your nightstand?
Quite a few about marketing… rereading a few David Sedaris greats… The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. Also That’s Paris an anthology that I’ve reviewed for velvetmorningpress.com, and the first books of some lovely clients: French Illusions by Linda Kovic-Skow and The Long Road to Paris by Ed and Janet Howle.
I’m launching a memoir in late May! Xamnesia: Everything I Forgot in my Search for an Unreal Life, about leaving New Zealand for Asia and eventually Paris and why moving out of Paris to a village woke me up out of a fog I was in since my early ’20s (thepixelpusher.co.uk have done another stunning cover).
And I’m involved in many amazing editing projects, including a book by my sister (www.cranioparis.com) about surviving a car accident and her fight against MS, which we’re publishing through my Editor Deluxe Press imprint.
I’d still love to script a TV reality show pitting writers against each other à la The Apprentice to win a lucrative publishing deal… wouldn’t that be fun? Thank you for this interview, Janet!!