Working with Words: Anna Krien

Anna Krien is one of Australia’s most exciting young writers. Her first book, Into the Woods, was shortlisted for numerous literary prizes; she is now working on her second. Anna will talk about her new Quarterly Essay, Us and Them, at the Wheeler Centre on Wednesday night.

What was the first piece of writing you had published?

I think the first piece was a teen angst poem which I entered in a ‘world poetry competition’ when I was 14, which turned out to be a total scam where everyone who entered the comp was either a winner or ‘highly recommended’ – meaning you had to pay 80 bucks to receive your published work (pay another three grand, and you get to go to USA to read your poem aloud!) So… that doesn’t count.

My first proper paid publication was for Voiceworks, a magazine for under-25s, who accepted a poem (it was called ‘Chasing Buttercups with Wings of Corrugated Tin’, or something like that) when I was 19. That was a pretty poignant moment, as I went on to be part of the magazine’s editorial committee, where I met some of my closest writerly friends.

What’s the best part of your job?

My job? Do I have a job?

What’s the worst part of your job?

There was this one time, years ago, when a magazine stalled paying me for two features – that sucked. But I got my own back. I offered to write another feature, then on deadline, withheld it and asked for my money. They eventually paid but I refused to file anyway. I gave it to the Big Issue instead. Ha!

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

Murder Your Darlings. Best and worst advice by far.

If you weren’t making your living by writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

Sometimes I daydream about being a gardener, or a vet’s assistant. Something hands on and practical.

There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what do you think?

That’s a tough one. I did a professional writing degree at Deakin University and loved it. I had brilliant lecturers and tutors, met great people and learnt a lot. At the same time, I think I would’ve been a writer regardless – and maybe that’s the key, a writing course can be incredibly helpful and perhaps even crucial to developing one’s craft if you’re already on your way to becoming a writer.

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

Both.

If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why? (And what would you talk about?)

Maybe Mersault from The Outsider – then we can just laze around, have sex, eat some nice cheese, go for a swim, catch a film maybe. Keep it simple. Talking is overrated.

What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

Catch 22, by Joseph Heller. I saw the world anew after I read Catch 22. The ridiculousness of bureaucracy can be applied everywhere – not just in the army as Heller portrayed.

Plus there’s the beautiful absurdity of the main character Yossarian’s conundrum.

He can’t complete the required number of army air combat missions because the army keeps upping the limit on required missions, and the army doctor will not ground him for insanity, unless he asks. The problem being that if Yossarian asks to be grounded, it’s obvious that he must be perfectly sane.

Enough said.

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