Laurie Steed's new release Greater City Shadows is a captivating short story collection about relationships, connection and hope. In this interview Steed takes us through the inspirations behind his work and shares his advice for fellow writers.
Laurie Steed is a novelist and short story writer from Perth, Western Australia. His fiction has been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and published in Best Australian Stories, Award Winning Australian Writing, The Age, Meanjin, Overland, Island, Westerly, and elsewhere. He completed his PhD in Creative Writing from The University of Western Australia in 2015. He is the recipient of fellowships from The University of Iowa, The Baltic Writing Residency, and The Elizabeth Kostova Foundation. His debut novel, You Belong Here, was published in 2018 and shortlisted for the 2018 Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards. His second book, Love, Dad: Confessions of an Anxious Father, was published in 2023. Greater City Shadows is his third book, and previously won the 2021 Henry Handel Richardson Flagship Fellowship for Short Story Writing and was shortlisted for the 2022 Dorothy Hewett Award for an Unpublished Manuscript.
Photography credit: David Henry Photography
What was the motivation behind writing Greater City Shadows?
More than anything, I wanted to write a book that hit the skies like a signal flare. I had spent enough nights in darkness to know how much it mattered to find light: the lamp at the end of the Como Jetty, a sky filled with stars, or my phone lit up just in time with an incoming call from a dear, lifelong friend.
I'm a secular writer. I know no gods other than the hands I've held on days when I've felt alone or vice-like hugs from a friend who's seen me at my best and most lost. The best people I know feel more like deities than friends; I wrote my book to honour them and those just like them. By doing that, I hoped that a reader or two might then gaze upon their imperfect circle of friends and go, 'Holy shit, Ames, you're an angel, aren't you? Sure as you're before me, my friend, a bloody angel.'
When do you find the time to write? And when did you begin writing Greater City Shadows?
It's tough to find time to write right now, having recently taken on a full-time job. I'll return to working four days a week later in the year, which will hopefully bring me back to the page and my next book, a novel set to stretch me again necessarily as a writer and lead me back to a space of exploration and necessary curiosity on love, loss and the human condition.
I began writing Greater City Shadows a month or two after my first book, You Belong Here, was published in February 2018. Around that time, I wrote that the stories in Greater City Shadows were whispers that somehow echoed out into the world. From those whispers, I needed to find points of collation and cohesion. Tonally speaking, I also needed to balance love and loss and hope and heartache. You Belong Here reads like a young man seeing glimmers of hope through a gap in the curtains. In Greater City Shadows, those curtains have been pulled back. Hurt and hope often coexist within a single story, making the hope all the more powerful.
What was it like to be shortlisted for the Dorothy Hewett Award?
It's funny just how much the months felt like years. Somewhere in the middle of that shortlisting period, there was a point where I sat quietly in my living room, eyes closed and meditating on the achievement. I looked in on myself, my thoughts generally saying, 'Oh, wow! You're shortlisted; you're so excited and hoping you might win the award.' My perspective in that meditation then zoomed backward until I saw all the shortlisted authors, the six of us, sitting in the cosmos and thought, 'Oh wow! You're all shortlisted; you're so excited and hoping you might win the award.'
I'm grateful I was shortlisted because that vote of confidence came at just the time when I was near collapse. Having initially aimed to submit the book in 2020 but then submitting to no responses on the back of COVID closures, time since that point had been something of a marathon, albeit one where the finish line kept being pushed further down the road.
What is one thing about your book that will entice readers?
Well, I bet you've never read a story set in Dante Falls, for starters. There's no way you could have as I made the place up, although if you dig deep, you might find some familiar streets or shops from your travels. That story is 'Wait for Me' and features Daryl Hall from Hall and Oates. To date, and from now on, given my father's recent passing, it's the only story he read and then called straight after and said, 'What a story!'
Which writers have inspired you throughout your life?
Any writers willing to be vulnerable, almost an open book, upon the page, track, or screen feel like friends I've not yet met: Miranda July, Kurt Vonnegut, Maya Angelou, Nan Whitcomb, The Duplass Brothers, Kim Scott, Mae Martin, Michael Franti, Jose Gonzalez, Jhumpa Lahiri, Tim Winton, Shane Carruth and ZZ Packer. Vulnerability, for me, is the connective tissue that takes sound, solidly executed creative work and pushes it into the sublime.
Kate Pickard, publishing manager of UWA Publishing, with Laurie Steed
What are some of your favourite short story collections by an Australian author?
Aside from reviewing duties, I read short stories exclusively between 2009 and 2012, so most but not all of my favourite Australian short story collections come from that period. Many were also published by UWA Publishing, including Inherited by Amanda Curtin and An Unknown Sky by Susan Midalia. Other than these, favourites have included The Weight of a Human Heart by Ryan O'Neill, Heat and Light by Ellen Van Neerven, How a Moth Becomes a Boat by Josephine Rowe, Trick of the Light by Laura Elvery, The Boat by Nam Le, Fine by Michelle Wright, Portable Curiosities by Julie Koh, Shirl by Wayne Marshall, Australia Day by Melanie Cheng, Look who's Morphing by Tom Cho, The Teeth of a Slow Machine by Andrew Roff, and I am The Mau and other stories by Chemutai Glasheen. Scission and Minimum of Two by Tim Winton were also pivotal collections in teaching me more about the craft and still hold a place in my heart for their emotional heft and economy with words.
What are some of your goals for 2024?
I'd like to reflect on my achievements and see a surplus rather than a deficit. Raising two boys is beyond a full-time job, so it's OK to be proud of words found while, for as much of the time as possible, being a loving, present parent. Other than that, I'd like to continue to be brave with each writing project I take on. I think there are more than enough easy-to-digest titles in this world. I'm not sure the world needs art that's so willing to be simple. I like to be challenged. I want to write stories where it feels like the floor is falling away and time is short, so I must be quick and ensure I've said all I need to say.
What is your best piece of advice for emerging writers?
To keep going and never treat a current situation or event (e.g. a rejection) as a defining statement on one's literary career. To be a writer is to strive eternally, and that's OK. I've not yet met a writer defeated by a single rejection, however harsh, unless they decided to take that rejection as a definitive moment. It's not; more often than not, it's a reminder to stop pushing so much of one's worth onto another person's acceptance or approval. It's a timer that says, 'Keep going. You have work to do.'
My other piece of advice? To honour your voice, style, and personal obsessions. You can, of course, still write to an aimed marketable genre or type of book if that's your thing. If you're writing for artistic purposes, though, it's paramount to develop your craft and trust your intuition. Artistic vision is a scalpel blade to sharpen over time. Try to push it into preconceived boxes of what's good and not, and you'll end up with a dull blade and the echoes of another's heart and mind.