Recently in print - Irma Gold

13 August 2012 / Leave a Comment


Irma Gold is an award-winning writer and editor. Her debut collection of short fiction Two Steps Forward won a Canberra Critics Circle Award for Literature. She is currently completing her debut novel for which she received an artsACT grant and a LongLines Award from the Eleanor Dark Foundation. Irma has edited a wide range of fiction, nonfiction and children’s books, and is the commissioning editor of a number of anthologies, including The Invisible Thread, a century of literature by Canberra writers which will be released in October by Halstead Press.


You have said that ‘luck and publishing go hand in hand’. Please tell us your ‘lucky’ story of how your debut collection of short stories Two Steps Forward came to be published by Affirm Press.
Affirm called for submissions to their Long Story Shorts series and my manuscript was one of 450 to land on their desk. They had committed to publishing just six books, so the odds weren’t good. Two Steps Forward was shortlisted, but ultimately rejected. In response to the rejection letter I received from the publisher, Martin Hughes, we exchanged a few emails and Martin offered to give me feedback on the collection. I accepted, unaware that he hadn’t read it himself. When he went to the assessment reports to put together a constructive response for me they contradicted each other so much that he was unable to glean anything useful from them. As a result he generously spent his Christmas break reading the manuscript. As it turned out he liked the book and handed it to his associate who also liked it. So if I hadn’t been interested in feedback (and Martin apparently offered it to other writers who weren’t) he would never have read the manuscript and it wouldn’t now be in bookshops. So many authors have publication stories that involve a fortuitous set of circumstances and I’m delighted that I now have my own.


You also work as an editor, how does this influence the way that you work as a writer? And what advice would you have for other writers on how to rework and edit their manuscript?
I find it difficult to separate how being an editor influences my work as a writer and vice versa because I’ve always done both. I do spend a great deal of time crafting every sentence, which I suppose comes from the editor in me. I’ve heard some writer–editors say that this tendency hinders their writing, bogs them down, but I don’t see it that way. I tend to write very quickly, in bursts, but then I go back and revise. And while I’m revising I’m actually mulling over – in a subconscious kind of way – what is going to come next. I’m simultaneously thinking and drifting. This kind of process does mean that it takes me a long time to finish a work though.


In terms of advice, the first thing I would emphasise is that even the most experienced writers need an editor, a fresh and critical eye to assess the work. Too often new writers send their first draft to a publisher. As an editor I’ve received so many manuscripts where the writer has requested a copyedit to tidy it up before submission when what the work actually needs is a major structural edit.


Any work needs to be drafted and redrafted and redrafted. Then put it aside, for as long as you can (not a matter of days, we’re talking weeks, at least four). This will help you get some perspective on the work, see it more clearly and identify its weaknesses. You may need to do this several times. Get someone whose opinion you respect to critique your manuscript, but choose your critics wisely. Family and close friends are not often the best readers. Finally, don’t ever send your manuscript to an agent or publisher until you think the book is the very best version of itself. But understand that if it is accepted your ‘perfect’ draft will still undergo further work.




With Two Steps Forward how did you find the experience of being the author and having your work edited? Has it changed the way that you work as an editor at all?
Actually I learnt something about myself that I wasn’t anticipating. Before Two Steps Forward I had never been on the other side of the book editing process. I’ve had plenty of other work edited, including short stories, but it just isn’t the same as the lengthy process that happens with a book (if the publisher invests in it properly, but that’s another story). The thing about editing is that you’re always looking at how you can improve the work, everything from the big picture things like structure and character development, down to the nit picking of whether a semi-colon is preferable to a comma in that sentence on page 84. When you’re focusing on all the things that need to change, you can begin to lose sight of why the publisher accepted it in the first place. Towards the end of editing Two Steps Forward I hated my book, didn’t want to read another sentence of it. And yet at the same time I wanted my editor to assure me that she didn’t hate it. That, in fact, she still loved it. (She was great, by the way.) After almost fifteen years working as an editor, I didn’t expect that I would need that kind of reassurance myself.


The experience hasn’t changed the way I work as an editor but it has reaffirmed for me the importance of reminding the author during the editing process what you love about their work. That’s something I’ve always tried to do.


How have you been able to juggle your work as a writer with your other commitments?
My life is one big juggling act. I have three young children and I work from home during my baby’s sleep times, in the evenings and on weekends. Some days are a challenge but mostly it all works. I am incredibly grateful that I get to enjoy my kids and pursue work that I’m passionate about.


You are currently working on your first novel. How have you found writing a novel different to writing short stories?
The two forms are completely different. I studied creative writing at uni in the nineties and we were led to understand that short stories were a training ground for the novel. This is true only in the sense that they are a good way of breaking into the industry and learning about the editing and publication process. But short stories don’t prepare you for the craft of writing a novel.


When I started writing my novel I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to pull it off. I am very grateful to Peter Bishop, then creative director of Varuna Writers Centre, who read an early draft and was so encouraging. Sustaining a narrative over 80,000 words is not the same as writing a 3000-word story. For one thing you can easily hold a short story in your head, but with a novel it’s just so big, you’re grappling with so many complexities. And because I have worked on it in a very part-time way amid editing work and child wrangling, I found it difficult to hold the whole thing in my head. During the writing process I would forget little details, sometimes even whole scenes. As a result, time spent at Varuna, where I was able to completely immerse myself in the novel, was invaluable. Six years and many drafts later I now have a final draft ready to send to my publisher.


One of the obvious differences between the two forms is that a short story is like a hundred-metre dash, whereas the novel is a marathon. You have to be prepared to stick at it and persevere. You have to want to spend years with those characters and their story. It’s a big commitment.

When I was about two years into working on my novel I realised that I needed to cut half of it and completely change the structure. Peter Bishop tried to reassure me by telling me that a novel takes ten years to write, from conception to completion. I was not reassured! But he was right. Although I’ve spent six years working on this book, the genesis of the characters and their story was in a short story that I wrote several years earlier. A marathon indeed.


You can visit Irma at irmagold.com and ‘like’ her on Facebook at facebook.com/IrmaGoldAuthor
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