AN INCREASED appetite for short stories during last year’s lockdowns came as a pleasant surprise for Geelong writer Charlotte Guest.
Charlotte, an award-winning writer and PhD candidate at Deakin, experienced their popularity first-hand from behind the counter of The Book Bird bookshop in Geelong West where she is assistant manager.
“From a bookselling point-of-view for 2020 we were run off our feet,” said Charlotte, who even delivered customer orders on her pushbike to meet demand.
“We had a number of new customers find us because of how 2020 was affecting them and their home life and what they wanted to read to try to escape.
“Some were drawn to short stories because of attention span and the immediacy of a short story that you can experience a micro-world within the period of one sitting or an hour’s worth of reading, which is as rich as anything you would encounter in a novel.”
This month Charlotte will host an online panel discussion exploring the short story genre facilitated by Geelong Regional Library Corporation in partnership with publisher Kill Your Darlings and The Book Bird.
Titled Short and Sweet – New Australian Fiction 2020, the event will feature readings and contributions from Elizabeth Flux, Laura McPhee-Browne and Jack Vening, whose work features in New Australian Fiction 2020.
The annual collection of short fiction features some of the country’s best-loved writers alongside exciting new voices, touching upon issues such as genetic experimentation and nuclear fallout, as well as stories of human connection.
Charlotte said short fiction forced writers to be economical with language, making every word count, as was the case with New Australian Fiction 2020.
“Each piece is almost like a thought experiment – it has something very specific that it either wants to portray or explore within the confines of 4000 words,” she said.
“The constraint around shorter pieces is where a lot of the interesting creativity and innovation comes from.”
Charlotte nominates Lydia Davis, Lorrie Moore, Elizabeth Tann and Wayne Marshall as her favourite short fiction writers.
As for her own writing journey, Charlotte explains she was an outdoors type who took to writing later than most.
“My favourite book when I was a child was the Faraway Tree,” she recalled.
“My dad had this huge garden with a massive tree and he created a Faraway Tree which had all the different levels with Topsy Turvy Land at the top and all the characters in the tree.
“I spent all my time in the garden and I didn’t write or read much until late primary school or early secondary school.”
Charlotte has made up for lost time, publishing a book of poetry titled Soap in 2017 and writing for The Guardian, Griffith Review, Kill Your Darlings, Overland, Crikey and others.
Last year she received the Tina Kane Emergent Writer Award, the Deakin University Community Bank Literary Award, and was shortlisted for the Peter Carey Award.
A major focus this year is a debut novel – an absurdist inspired piece she is writing as part of her PhD.
“I am interested in taking something that seems preposterous and then trying to imagine it as a real scenario or something quite serious in nature, I find that really interesting,” she said.
“My novel is a rewriting of a story from the late Roman Republic about the influential poet Catullus who is thought of as Rome’s first erotic poet.
“The poetry he wrote was all dedicated to this woman called Clodia and the idea of the novel is to resurrect these characters but rewrite them in an Australian 1980s setting.”
Charlotte is looking forward to the Short and Sweet event which she said should appeal to readers of short fiction and writers alike.
“I know there is a fantastic writing community on the Surf Coast and in Geelong central and I think it will be a really appealing event for emerging as well as established writers too,” she said.
Discover more about Charlotte Guest at charlottelucyguest.com.
Short and Sweet – New Australian Fiction 2020 will be held online on Wednesday, January 27 at 7.30pm. To register go to: https://events.grlc.vic.gov.au/event/4716186.