In this week’s Working with Words, debut author Kristy Chambers speaks to us about writing her memoir, finding the humour in nursing (via Sedaris) and why being offered a contract was like winning the lottery.
What was the first piece of writing you had published?
The first piece of writing I had published was a story about a one-night stand. I was paid $60, I think, and it was published in a university magazine. It was cool to buy groceries with money made from writing, even though I cringe at the thought of that particular piece. It was shocking.
What’s the worst part of your job?
Writing isn’t my job yet; I have a ‘real’ job that takes up most of my time, but the worst part of writing is trying to find the power to stop procrastinating and just get started. Self-discipline has never been my forte. Chores I am usually forced to carry out under duress suddenly seem appealing; my house is never cleaner than when I’m supposed to be writing. Once I do get started, I don’t want to stop, and I can easily lose an entire afternoon without noticing the time. I love writing, but I hate the internal battle to begin it.
What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?
The most significant moment in my writing career was being offered a contract to write Get Well Soon! I was stunned, and still am, really, because it had always been a dream of mine to be a published author, and then it actually happened. I felt like I had won the lottery.
What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?
My friend Ben told me to disconnect my internet while I was writing my book. I never did, but it does seem like sensible advice. And then there was the instruction ‘Quit stalling!’ sent via Facebook from my publisher, Alex, when I posted an update about my procrastination.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself or your work?
The most surprising thing so far is the positive response I’ve had for the book, which is about people’s bodies and lives going horribly awry for the most part, and that people find it funny rather than confronting. It is quite dark and sad in parts, but I’m happily surprised that people find it amusing overall.
If you weren’t making your living by writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
I wish I made a living from writing! If I weren’t a nurse trying to make a living from writing but actually making a living from nursing, I would get a dog, open a cafe and make every day ‘Take Your Pet To Work Day!’ Dogs and coffee are two of my other favourite things in life.
There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what’s your view?
I think that studying creative writing is a good thing, in that it forces you to write, but I think it’s probably necessary to build on inherent natural ability. I could take a lot of tennis lessons and improve my game, but I’m just not blessed at tennis. I think continuing to write is the most important thing. I dropped out of a creative arts degree after six months, but I was writing before that, and continued to write after. Maybe I’d be a better writer now if I had persevered with my arts degree, but I’ll never know.
What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?
I’d recommend that you always have a pen and paper to scribble ideas down as they come. I write memos on my phone if I’m out without stationery. I also think that persistence is key. I worked on a novel, on and off, for 15 years, and while the book will never see the light of day, I think working on it helped me write a lot of rubbish out of my system and enabled me to discover the style of writing that comes more naturally to me. I’m not a fiction writer – it just took a decade and a half for me to realise it.
Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?
I love actual books and real bookshops. I only buy books online if I can’t get them in Australia, otherwise it’s bookshops all the way. I like holding a book in my hand, and I spend so much time on my computer that I really don’t want to look at another screen, although e-books are brilliant for travel. I’ve left a lot of books behind all over the world because I was sick of carrying them, but I don’t want to lie in bed at night and read from a screen.
If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why? And what would you talk about?
I’d go out to dinner with Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye, although I don’t think he’d be too thrilled to be having dinner with me. He’s probably my favourite book character of all time. I like his attitude, his honesty and his guts.
I don’t imagine there would be a lot of talking at dinner. He would order drinks, get drunk and sloppy and tell me to go to hell if I said, ‘Holden, I think you’ve had enough. And besides, you’re underage.’ But I’d still enjoy it.
What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?
David Sedaris’s book, Holidays On Ice – and in particular, his story ‘SantaLand Diaries’ – has probably had the most significant impact on my own writing. The recollection of his wretched day job as a Christmas elf at Macy’s encouraged me to write about my own work life, and to find the humour in nursing, a job which can often be fairly unfunny.
You can read an extract from Chambers' novel Get Well Soon!: My (Un)brilliant Career as a Nurse in yesterday’s Dailies*.
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