Gretchen Shirm was born in 1979, and currently
lives in Sydney where she works as a lawyer. In 2009, Gretchen
received the D.J. O’Hearn Memorial Fellowship for Emergent Writers.
She holds a Master of Creative Writing from the University of Sydney.
Her fiction has been published in numerous literary journals.
with Gretchen Shirm
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
I started Having
Cried Wolf in June 2007 and finished writing it in December 2009,
although I was also working on my novel intermittently over that
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
Yes, it was clear to me when I started writing
that I was writing interwoven stories, because the first stories I
wrote, Small Indulgences and Moments suggested other
stories to me. Actually, I'm in the middle of a novel now, but
in the past few months I've had a couple of stories occur to me and
I've put the novel aside to work on those. Funnily, the new
stories I'm writing also seem to be linked. It must just be the
way I'm wired; I see connections between everything.
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
I wrote many many stories that were thrown away, mainly because I think
I was in the process of learning to write when I started Having Cried Wolf.
But a lot of the stories I threw away became seeds for other stories
that ended up in the collection. As to order, the order was very much
determined by the stories being connected and the order in which
certain details had to be revealed in order for the overarching
narrative to work.
does the word "story"
mean to you?
I think it was Angela
Carter who said there is a difference between the short story and the
tale - with which I completely agree. The short story does have
its own structure and is different to a piece of writing that might
be short, but that does not necessarily follow the short story
structure. And by "structure" I don't mean that the short story
has to be formulaic - stories that try to follow a formula or work
towards an epiphany or a twist often often don't work very well.
Nonetheless, I do think there has to be some sort of
illumination that might be absent from a tale.
Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?
I try not to think
about anyone reading my work, because I find it quite suffocating to
the writing process. I suppose my writing process is about
trying to let the piece find its own shape. Shape is more
pronounced for me in short story writing than in novel writing. Even
if I spend a lot of time re-writing and working on a story, I know
when it is finished, because it feels like it's found the right
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?
I suppose what I'm
sometimes curious about is whether all of the connections work -
sometimes I feel I'm asking too much of my reader to make all of the
connections between the stories, or that they have to read too
carefully to pick the all up!
TSR: How does
it feel knowing that people are buying your book?
Are they? Apparently
no-one buys or reads short story collections. (Exit sarcasm.)
What are you working on now?
I'm writing a novel
that I was writing at the same time as I was writing Having Cried
Wolf. It's written in alternating narratives and I
sometimes wonder whether I chose that structure because I started out
with the short story. The novel is about, memory, relationships
the three most recent short story collections you've read?
I've imposed an embargo
on reading short stories at the moment until I finish my novel
because whenever I read short stories, all I want to do is write
them! Having said that, a few have crept in:
Yiyun Li - Gold Boy,
Emerald Girl - it feels like a quieter collection than A
Thousand Years of Good Prayers, but there are some magical
moments in some stories that illuminate the whole collection. For
example there is a moment in the first story Kindness when the
narrator tries to put a newly hatched chick back into its egg, but it
doesn't fit. She says, "I have learned, since then, that life
is like that, each day ending up like a chick refusing to be returned
to the eggshell." Wow!
Yoko Ogawa - The
Diving Pool. Ok, these are technically novellas but I think
they are just as aptly described as long short stories. Yoko
Ogawa is a recent discovery for me, having first read her in
Zoetrope: All Story. I admire her ability not to waste a single word.
I love how Ogawa writes without falling into the trap of
epiphany, chasing that "aha" moment, that many writers fall into.
The change that takes place when you read Ogawa is in the
reader and not the character. That is the sort of writing I
Flannery O'Connor - A
Good Man is Hard to Find and other stories. I read O'Connor
in my twenties, but came back to her because I'm a huge PJ Harvey fan
and I read recently that much of Is This Desire? was inspired
by A Good Man is Hard to Find. What impresses me in revisiting
her, is O'Connor's willingness to inhabit such dark psychological