The Equation for Why blog series is about the idea of ikigai, or “the happiness of always being busy”. In it, I talk to inspiring women writers who honour their joy, one word and one story at a time.
Who is Rose Hartley?
Rose Hartley is an award-winning poet, writer of short fiction, and alumnus of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop. She has been awarded a Varuna fellowship, residencies at Writers SA and Manning Clark House, and an Arts South Australia IMPP grant. In 2015 she was the joint recipient of the South Australian Hachette Mentorship Program.
Her story “No Other Men in Mitchell” was nominated for an Australian Shadows Award and her poem “Metal Fume Fever” won the 2014 Axel Clark Memorial Prize for Poetry. She has been longlisted for the Ron Pretty Poetry Prize and the Richell Prize for Unpublished Manuscripts, and her short story “Hard Rubbish” was runner up in the 2014 Right Now fiction prize, judged by Anna Funder and Tony Birch.
Her work has appeared in Nightmare, Poetic Justice: Contemporary Australian Voices on Equality and Human Rights, f(r)iction, and Spectacle Magazine (forthcoming).
Rose holds a Bachelor of Creative Arts (Creative Writing) from the University of Melbourne. She is represented by Catherine Drayton at InkWell Management Literary Agency and lives in Adelaide, Australia.
Rose's novel, Maggie's Going Nowhere, is out now with Penguin Random House. Check out my review here.
Why "Maggie's Going Nowhere"? Why was this the story you needed or wanted to tell?
I’ve always loved anti-heroes. The bad guys of fiction are funnier and more interesting than the good guys, but there hasn’t been enough anti-heroines. It’s often male characters who get to be complicated and nuanced and angry and selfish, and that’s celebrated as representing part of the complexity of being human. And women? I feel as though we’re always supposed to be likeable! If these characters aren’t totally nice and selfless and sweet and patient, morally upright and hardworking, they’re painted as evil. There’s just not as much room for nuance.
Maggie is written with a slew of "unlikeable" character quirks, and yet I still wanted her to get her happy ever after. How did you find that balance between painting Maggie as the flawed anti-heroine, but also someone that readers would want to back?
Maggie came out with all this attitude and I just assumed that everyone would just love her, the way I did, but in the first few drafts she was much rougher. When I gave those drafts to people to read, a lot of them said she’s really disgusting, selfish and a dickhead. Some of my male readers told me they wanted her to get her comeuppance, they wanted her to be punished--but she was a bit more extreme at this point! So I did tone her down a little bit but eventually I thought, there’ll be a certain percentage of readers who’ll never like her no matter how much I tone her down and that’s okay, but I personally am kind of over likeable female narrators. I like it when they’re morally ambiguous.
Can you tell me about your path to publication?
It’s been a long road. I’ve always written and that’s always been natural to me, and as a kid I wrote a lot of poetry, but I don't know if I decided to be a writer. At university, I studied creative writing and then I started trying to write novels, and there a couple of abandoned attempts. I started writing Maggie in 2010, when I’d just started a new job for a big international charity. The work was great but it was depressing to read about so many traumatic things, so I’d come home at night and want to write something funny. I didn’t plan on writing a novel like this one, but after the first draft I had to acknowledge that yes, this is actually a novel! This was nine years ago, and since then I’ve done so many things: a mentorship with Hachette, a short fiction course in America called Clarion, which was life changing. I would finish a Maggie draft and not know what to do with it, so I’d set it aside, sometimes for up to two years, because I knew it wasn’t ready to submit but I didn’t know how to fix it, so I was developing my writing at the same time by writing short fiction and poetry, submitting to competitions and things like that. Eventually one of my short stories got the attention of an agent and she sold it to Penguin Random House.
What are your writing routines or rituals?
I work as a freelancer now, so I do get to pick my own hours and work from home. I tend to write in the mornings, 7.30am to 9.30am, and then do my work after that. I don’t do full days of writing.
Can you speak to your writing as your purpose in life? Why is writing and storytelling so important to you?
Some people start writing for fun as children, as I did, and it just felt natural to me. It was a natural consequence of existing in the world, wanting to make meaning out of it, wanting to make a mark on the world, or just make up stories because it’s more fun to live inside your head! It’s always been the best and the hardest, and therefore the most rewarding, thing I do, and I can’t imagine not doing it. It’s taken me so long to get published and writing is never something I’ve done in order to get published--there were several years there when I thought, this won’t happen. I was writing because I had to write.
What advice do you have for emerging women writers?
I take inspiration from Maggie on this because we see celebrated selfishness in men, we accept it as normal and it’s considered fine for them to be selfish while they are creating something. It’s often not the same for women, and we’re not entitled to take time out to be creative--we’re still running a household and working and raising kids and being the moral crusaders of the world. I think female writers need to embrace moral ambiguity a little more in themselves, and also--and this is even more controversial!--if it’s possible, when you’re in your early twenties, take six months out of your life to just work on writing and nothing else. Don’t worry about judgement from society, which might tell you you’re doing something selfish. I would like to see more women doing that, even though we need to raise the Newstart allowance to make it possible. And on top of all that, have the grit to keep going when your work sucks because it’s okay to be bad at the start. Everyone gets rejected and you just have to keep going.