Working with Words: Emily Clements
We spoke with memoirist Emily Clements about side gigs, playlists and re-typing manuscripts from scratch.
What was the first piece of writing that made you laugh or cry?
The Starthorn Tree by Kate Forsyth. When I try to remember the scene that made me cry, all I can summon is a fleeting impression of curls, a turned cheek, the colour white, and blood.
Did you write during your childhood and during your teenage years? What did you write about?
The first story I remember writing was in orange Derwent pencil, in Year One or Two. There were a very self-congratulatory couple of pages at the end where all the characters lined up and gave gifts to the protagonist, which I detailed with great relish. As a teenager, I raced home to work on a novella that was just thinly veiled autobiography.
What day jobs have you held throughout your life, and how have those experiences influenced your writing?
Re-typing my manuscript seemed like the worst advice at the time but really it was the best thing I could have done.
I’m currently fed and watered by my job as a captioner, editing and sending scripts to broadcast television. It’s a good way to keep abreast of the news and the way people outside of my little bubble think and feel. I have a little list I keep of my favourite vox pops and quotes from interviews – there’s stuff in there you wouldn’t believe if you read it as fiction.
If you weren’t writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
There was a brief period in kindegarten (before I actually learned to write) when I wanted to be a zookeeper. Other than that, writing is all I have ever wanted to do and all I can imagine myself doing. The quest for a side gig that supports my writing is more in flux. I’m lucky to have one at the moment that still involves working with words.
What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?
Re-typing my manuscript seemed like the worst advice at the time but really it was the best thing I could have done. From now on, as soul-crushing as it was to start again on a blank document, I think it has to be part of my process. There’s no other way that’s as brutally efficient at stripping back all the sentimental purple you’ve been holding on to, hoping no-one would notice.
Have you ever kept a diary? Do you keep one now?
I was a desparate diarist in high school and compulsively recorded everything. I have less of a need to do that now, partly due to the ‘note-taking’ I do through social media that performs that recording function, but I’d like to get back into it. Nothing I write on my phone comes close to that physical feeling of pen on page.
Which classic book do you consider overrated? Or which obscure, unsung gem do you think is underrated?
I think most classics are by definition overrated. In 2019, the book that lit up my life was blur by the by Cham Zhi Yi. I can’t say it’s underrated because everyone who reads it loves it, but more readers should definitely snap it up.
Do you have any strange writing habits, customs or superstitions?
The thing I do that I think would drive a lot of people crazy is I choose one song and loop it endlessly for my whole writing session, sometimes sessions. It’s so that the music fades into a rhythm that pushes me along in an unobtrusive way, without the spikes that changing up my playlist might provoke. But it does mean my partner can come home from work and I’m still playing the same song I was when he left, for perhaps the 187th time.
Have you written or published anything in the past that you now wish you could go back and change?
Sometimes I’ll pull up an old story and absent-mindedly start tinkering with it but for the most part I try to appreciate each piece as it stands. It’s always nice to see how far you’ve come, and there’s no point editing history. You can only go backward by spending too much time elbow-deep in the corpse of a story that has been laid to rest.
Which artist, author or fictional character would you most like to have dinner with?
I would love Mirka Mora, Maggie Nelson and Margaret Atwood to sit me down and tell me everything they know over a chickpea bake. Daine from The Immortals would pop in with an animal entourage to satisfy my inner child.
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