Nod Ghosh

Novels, short fiction & poetry

INTERVIEW WITH FRANKIE MCMILLAN

 

Frankie McMillan

Frankie McMillan


  • Here is an interview with Frankie McMillan. Frankie was my class tutor at the Hagley Writers' Institute in Christchurch.
  • Frankie McMillan is a poet and short story writer who lives in Christchurch. She is the author of The Bag Lady’s Picnic and other stories and two poetry collections, Dressing for the Cannibals and There are no horses in heaven. In 2009 she won first prize in the New Zealand Poetry Society International Poetry Competition. In both 2013 and 2015 she was the winner of the New Zealand Flash Fiction Award. Frankie McMillan was awarded the Creative New Zealand Todd New Writers’ Bursary in 2005 and held the Ursula Bethell residency at the University of Canterbury in 2014.
  • Her forthcoming book My Mother and the Hungarians and other small fictions (CUP) will be published in August 2016. She currently teaches at the Hagley Writers’ Institute.


  • N: How long have you been writing, and what drew you to put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard when you began?

 

  • F: There were two main influences in my childhood. My mother was a solo parent, mildly eccentric and life was often chaotic. I felt different from other kids and writing was a way of forming an identity for myself. (Though I didn’t have much to do with my Irish father I remember him as a great storyteller).
  • The second influence was a pleasurable introduction to reading. My mother valued books and we were often given books as presents. As kids we had fun making up our own language and we all had elaborate nicknames. As an adult I was involved in many art forms but always seemed to drift back to writing.


  • N: You are a well-respected teacher in the Christchurch writing community. How does your teaching commitment fit in with your own writing? Is it a distraction, or can it enhance your output?

 

  • F: Sometimes teaching can be a distraction but I enjoy the students, the energy of the classes and then there’s the reward of seeing Hagley Writers’ Institute graduates doing so well in the literary world. Another bonus is that I have great colleagues to work with.

 

  • N: You have often stressed the importance of critique, both as an analytical tool when reading, and for honing your own writing. Who do you seek feedback from?


  • F: As my writing has progressed so has my ability to critique my own work. Having said that my partner, Nicholas often has to listen to multiple versions of the same paragraph or poem during the course of a day. There’s something about reading aloud to another that alerts you to ‘clunkiness’ in language.
  • I also belong to a small poetry group that meets monthly and a short fiction group and amongst other things, e.g. much eating, we critique each other’s work.

 

  • N: You are regarded as a member of 'Flash Fiction royalty' within New Zealand and beyond. Your work was recently featured in the Norton Flash Fiction International anthology. Tell us a little about your love of short short writing. Has this genre influenced your other written work?

 

  • F: I love the intensity of flash that comes about through compression of language, the use of imagery, the sense of urgency I often feel when trying to pin something down in such a small space. I like the blurring of boundaries between prose poetry and flash; its experimental nature – a short short is not a single thing done in a single way. Ron Carlson


  • And here’s one of my favourite quotes from short short fiction writer and novelist, Robert Olen Butler.

            A small fiction is a lone wolf of a lie, sometimes hounding the truth across a field   but sometimes sitting on a hilltop to raise its face to the moon and howl.

  • Has the genre influenced my other written work? No, I’ve always favoured shorter forms. I think it’s given me a sense of validation, that it’s okay to write these short short pieces. On that note I’m enormously grateful to Michelle Elvy for establishing flash fiction on the New Zealand literary scene and for providing publishing opportunities for so many.


  • N: What achievements in your writing career stand out as being particularly poignant?


  • F: Getting my mother to attend the launch of my first poetry collection, Dressing for the Cannibals. It’s a long story but it took my sisters many hours to get her ready to come.
  • Other poignant moments include a rejection for a novel I’d worked on for two years followed the next day by a letter announcing I’d been awarded the Creative NZ Todd New Writers’ Bursary. The money enabled me to leave a stressful job and write full time for a year.

 

  • N: You have selected some startling images to generate stories from: whalebone corsetieres and T.B. sanatorium inmates to name a few. What resources do you use to find fresh ideas to write about?

 

  • F: I don’t consciously set out to find fresh ideas, my brain just seems more alert to oddities, startling images, quirks of human nature etc. than it does to practical matters. I do find reading and travelling add to my ‘storehouse’ of ideas.

 

  • N: How do you deal with rejection?


  • F: Swear. Eat cake. Keep writing.

 

  • N: What are your writing goals for the next three years?


  • F: This coming year is a busy one; in July I’m participating in an international short story conference in Shanghai. In August I have a book coming out, My Mother and the Hungarians and other small fictions with Canterbury University Press. I will be teaching at the Hagley Writers’ Institute and may do the occasional gig with Writers in Schools programme. My long-term goals are to get better at writing. I’d also be interested in applying for an international writing residency. Amsterdam, Prague, Porto, Berlin …. Any one of those would do!

 

  • N: What's your most embarrassing writing moment?


  • F: During a festival reading and realising the person I’d loosely based the character on was actually in the audience.

 

  • N: What are you currently reading? Name some authors whose work you admire.

 

  • F: On my bedside table: The Green Road by Anne Enright, All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and Peter McCleavey, The life and times of a New Zealand art dealer by Jill Trevelyan.
  • Authors I admire include Richard Ford, Tim Winton, Flannery O’Connor, Alice Munro, Raymond Carver, Jose Saramago, Owen Marshall, Elizabeth Jane Howard, Haruki Murakami, Annie Proulx, Fiona Farrell ….


  • N: Finally, what tips would you give someone who's recently started writing? Name some pitfalls to avoid, invaluable resources etc.


  • F: Read as much and as widely as you can. Write with honesty, say the unsayable, be true to your own perceptions and experience of the world. Surround yourself with writer friends, join or start a critique group, do courses, make time to write, send off work to reputable journals, enter competitions, show up every day at your desk.
  • One other thing − go for regular walks. There is something about walking that is inducive to good writing!
  • Helpful books include: Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott, One Continuous Mistake, Four noble truths for writers by Gail Sher, Writing down the bones, by Natalie Goldberg and Gotham Writers’ Workshop writing fiction edited by Alexander Steele.

 

  • N: There will be many people in Christchurch and beyond, who were helped on their creative journey by your exemplary teaching skills. Thank you Frankie for all that you have taught us, and for taking the time to answer these questions.

 

  • F: Thank you Nod for the opportunity to appear as feature writer on your website. And congratulations on your recent placing in the Wallace Arts Trust Short Fiction Award!


  • N: Thank you again Frankie!

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