is the winner of Miami University Press’ 2020 Novella competition: Born Sleeping was published in March, 2021. Gildfind is also the author of The Worry Front (Margaret River Press, 2018): this collection of short fiction includes the award-winning novella, Quarry. Website: hcgildfind.com. Twitter: @ltercation.
1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Though many of the stories in The Worry Front had already been published, revising them for a collection forced me to confront my thematic obsessions and mindless writing habits (which my editor kindly called ‘writer’s tics’)! This experience also showed me just how much collaborative work goes into creating a book.
My current writing feels more difficult than my previous work. My growing interest in the ambiguity, contradiction, absurdity, delusion, hypocrisy and ambivalence that characterises subjective experience feels increasingly hard to explore freely in a world that seems compelled to deny or simplify such grey—but consequential—psychosocial terrain.
2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
I started with poetry, as many young writers do, perhaps because poems seem approachable. Of course I quickly realised that, whilst bad poetry is easy to write, good poems are rare and beautiful things. I now see poets as the ‘masters’ of writing and I return to them when I feel like I’ve lost touch with the magic of language.
Poetry also appealed to me, initially, for the same reason that short fiction appeals to me now:
- it values the singular moment and/or the singular image;
- it recognises the fragmentary (plotless) nature of life;
- it profoundly respects the reader as a co-creator (co-imaginer) of text and meaning;
- it disciplines writers to be concise;
- and, finally, poetry and short stories both recognise that the aural aspects of language allow us to express what singular words (i.e. concepts) cannot.
I’ve stuck with prose because it’s roomier than poetry and gives a writer more time and space to develop ideas and characters: it is a more ‘narrative’ form. I also don’t have the precision, discipline and patience that poets have.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I’ve learned to accept that I’ll never know what I’m writing until I’ve written it. I start by ‘following my nose’ when a particular theme, image or problem starts to ‘irritate’ me. I approach it via a lot of ‘faffing about’ (freewriting, journaling, experimenting etc). This part of the process is exciting (Anything seems possible!) and stressful (Nothing seems possible!). I’ve learned to look for a voice and a narrative ‘shape,’ which usually presents to me via a handful of moments or phrases. Once I’ve gotten this far I can ‘work away’ at a project quite productively. It takes months to write a decent draft of a short story, and longer to revise, polish and publish it.
4 - Where does a work of prose usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
Each project decides for itself what form it will take. Currently, short stories, novellas and the occasional essay seems to be my natural mode of exploration. Novels demand a sense of narrative causality that poses an affront to my sense of reality. (That’s my current excuse for failing to write one!) Though most of my stories are fundamentally concerned with similar themes, I seem to move between very different voices.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
No, I do not like public readings!… Saying that, I do enjoy conversations (tutorials, workshops, panels) where anyone and everyone can contribute and where people are more interested in discussing ideas and craft than performing personalities.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
The ‘ethics’ of representation increasingly interests me. I find the growing fixation upon the relationship between a writer’s identity and their subjects-of-writing both troubling and fascinating: should anyone dictate who is ‘allowed’ to write about what (and thus, by extension, what readers are ‘allowed’ to read)? Increasingly paternalistic attitudes towards readers, and ambiguous notions about ‘safe’ textual spaces, worry me. The tension between freedom of speech and responsible speaking is thus of growing concern to me, too.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer
being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of
the writer should be?
I see writing as a ‘way of being’ in the world. As Zadie Smith puts it: ‘The very reason I write is so that I might not sleepwalk through my entire life.’ Reading is also a ‘way of being’ in the world.
I think readers and writers must be free to explore whatever ideas, themes, and interests concern them. (This doesn’t, of course, oblige anyone to publish, read or like any particular text.) For me, the writer’s job is to walk into the murk of psychosocial experience and write about this as honestly as possible. I don’t think it is a writer’s job to declare how people or the world ‘should’ be: this impulse, which seems utopian/controlling to me, undermines any genuine attempt to understand, or engage with, others. Also, it’s not a writer’s job to be likeable, palatable, topical, or marketable. (Publishers might disagree with this latter point! There is an obvious—and damned annoying!—tension, here, between writers as artist-critics, and writers as workers in a capitalist, consumerist society.)
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
A respectful, competent editor is a gift from heaven. ‘Getting edited’ can be a masterclass in writing. I recall one writer saying that they began their career fearing editors and ended their career fearing anyone seeing their ‘unedited work’: so true!
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Focus on what you can control: the time and effort that you put into your work. Don’t compare yourself to others: that’s a sure road to misery. Treat writing as a long game (which it must be, if you see writing as ‘a way of being’): do your best, at your own pace, in whatever situation you’re in, and do that knowing you’ve got all your life to keep on trying.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (fiction to essays to critical reviews)? What do you see as the appeal?
I enjoy attempting different genres of writing—but nothing beats a well written essay. From the personal to the polemical, essays force people to logically analyse their ideas and support them with argumentation and evidence. Very challenging! Of course, essays are biased, but their demand for an explicit reasoning process is a powerful way to limit, expose and explore your own biases and others’. I think literature explores everything that this reasoning process cannot tackle and so, taken together, these different modes combine to give readers and writers a truly compelling way to engage with the subjective and objective world.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
The demands of non-writing life and/or the demands of a specific project will decide how I spend my time. When I’m beginning a project, short and intense sessions often work best for me. When I’ve worked out what I’m doing, I’ll put in more hours. For ‘donkey work,’ like drafting and editing, I’ll put in as many hours as I can.
I’ve found that the common advice that ‘real writers spend 8 hours at the desk everyday until they drop dead’ is unrealistic, and also anathema to cultivating a natural love for language and story. The role of play, experimentation and exploration–the freedom and joy of ‘writing for its own sake’–are essential for both getting the work done and for putting vital energy into the work. If writing is materialised energy (and I think it is!), then coerced and shame-based routines can be death for writing. So, for me the formula is simple (if easier said than done): be consistent (keep trying; keep returning to the work); do what you can, when you can; seek joy, fun, fascination and play in your writing.
12 – When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Read. Exercise. Try something new. Enjoy your life—or mope, if you must, but just for a wee while. It’s true that ‘inspiration comes from perspiration,’ but perspiration means different things at different stages of the writing process: sometimes ‘perspiration’ is an intense daily freewrite until you find the kernel of an idea; other times it’s editing day and night. Try to avoid total avoidance, though, as this leads to a loss of confidence. I think of confidence as a ‘verb’: it is not something that you ‘have’, it is something that you do. Fake it till you make it. A writer is someone who writes, so just write something: something is always better than nothing. In sum: focus on process, not product.
13 – What fragrance reminds you of home?
Alpine cigarettes. I used to go to the milkbar to buy them for my mum in the good old days when five year olds could easily buy drugs!
14 – David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Books come from a mind colliding with a body that is colliding with other minds within society... books let a writer’s mind collide with a reader’s. Amazing! Anything and anyone (via any medium or within any discipline) who is interested in this collision between the mind, the body and the world will feed my writing.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I try to read and support new fiction and poetry writers, especially my peers in Oz. I try to read classic, obscure and popular fiction. I’m also interested in psychology, animal studies and philosophy. I always return to Lorrie Moore when I want to be reminded of how spectacularly vivid, funny and touching a short story can be: she’s a genius. I also love reading books about writing: ‘how to’ craft books, books of writers’ letters and diaries, and writer interviews.
16 – What would you like to do that you haven’t yet done?
I hope to live overseas for an extended period of time.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
Working with my hands and/or working with animals and/or working outdoors appeals to me the most.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I was good at writing at school and I was encouraged to do it: these are not compelling reasons! I always loved reading, of course, and I pine for the time when reading was truly transportive and magical. I sometimes wonder if adult writers are ‘chasing the high’ of their younger reading days when total imaginative escapism was possible.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq was such a surprising movie: so funny and clever! (It’s about Michel being kidnapped by ‘dodgy characters’ who might be real or made up.) I am interested in Houellebecq’s work: he unflinchingly focuses on the ‘grotesque’ parts of psychological, social and political life and has a sharp eye for the hypocritical and absurd.
The last great book I read was Middlemarch and I read it because so many writers do consider it the ‘greatest novel of all time.’ It was a slog! Eliot’s phenomenal intelligence and linguistic skill is incredible, but I felt so removed from the embodied, psychological reality of the characters. I assume this is because of the narrator’s omniscient point of view, which showed me how (for better or worse!) I’ve really learned to value literature as a means to ‘deep dive,’ viscerally, into the intimate subjective experience of an ‘other.’
20 - What are you currently working on?
I’m currently at the ‘what the bloody Hell am I doing’ stage of writing, which means I’m faffing about with bits and pieces and being a pain in the butt who swings between optimistic joy and doomsayer misery!