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Sylvia Petter

Website: SylviaPetter.com

Blog: Merc's World

Sylvia Petter was born in Vienna and grew up in Australia – she now lives back in Vienna with her Austrian husband. After working in Geneva for over 25 years, she started writing fiction in 1993. Her first collection of stories, The Past Present, was published in 2001.


Short story collections

Back Burning (Interactive Press, 2007

Winner: IP Picks 2007, Best Fiction

Reviewed by Elizabeth Rutherford-Johnson




Interview with Sylvia Petter

The Short Review: How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?

Sylvia Petter: I started writing fiction in 1992 and shortly thereafter I participated in an intense online writing experience called Boot Camp which was run by the Welsh writer, Alex Keegan. In the period 1995 to 1998, I think it was, I had written about fifty stories. A number of these stories were published online and in print in the US, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. In 2001, twenty-eight stories were published in my first collection, The Past Present. Unfortunately, the publisher went out of business a couple of years later. I kept writing stories, but at a much slower pace as I was also working on a novel. When I heard about a fiction competition in Australia, I put a collection together which included new and old stories that I had revised. To my surprise I won the IP Picks 2007 Best Fiction Prize. Then followed an intense collaborative period with my publisher, IP, editing and revising, and several stories were removed from the final version of the collection. So we could say that a number of the stories as they appear in Back Burning took about twenty years to be in their present form. Others, of course, were written more recently.


TSR: Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?

SP: No. I write stories in response to whatever moves or ignites me. I’m a bit all over the place in that respect.


TSR: How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?

SP: For Back Burning, I chose stories that had been well received and ones I liked. In my submission, I put “strong” stories at the beginning and at the end, and also in the middle. By “strong” I mean ones that had been well received, either by short-story markets or by people giving me feedback. I also saw the collection as a voyage through countries and time, so I tried to reflect that. Sometimes it’s good working backwards.


TSR: Do you have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?

SP: I don’t have anyone in mind when I write. I follow what ignites me, what the story wants.


TSR: Is there anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your
collection, anything at all?

SP: I think I’d like to know what resonates for them in my stories. Different people see different things. And I’d like to thank them for reading. Writers need readers.


TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your books ?

SP: I’m always happy when people buy my books. But I’m happier when I hear that they have found something in them that has touched them in some way. Once the book is out there, it’s a part of yourself that you’re sharing – what you believe in, in a way.


TSR: What are you working on now?

SP: At the time of writing, I’m finalising my thesis in creative writing which includes a novel. Then there’s a sort of mosaic of a memoir on my mother and her life shown through a metaphor of the craft work she does. Then there’s a revision of a novel I put aside years ago. But I want to write more stories. I haven’t written stories for a while because of my thesis work. I miss them.


TSR: What are the three most recent short story collections you've read?

SP: Dislocations, Isobars and North of Nowhere, South of Loss, all three by Janette Turner Hospital This has been for my thesis work, but she is a writer I always go back to. I feel she understands me. She resonates for me as an expat.