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Working with Words: Sinéad Stubbins

Read Monday, 26 Oct 2020

We caught up with Melbourne-based writer and editor Sinéad Stubbins to talk about cry-laughing, snark and soundtracks for writing.

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What was the first piece of writing that made you laugh or cry? 

Photograph of writer Sinead Stubbins

The first book that made me laugh so hard that I actually did cry was Just Stupid! by Andy Griffiths (with illustrations by Terry Denton). I remember being ten and trying to explain to my parents why it was so funny and not even being able to talk properly because I was choking on my own laughter. I couldn’t believe you could have funny stories and funny pictures in a chapter book. Every other book I was reading at the time was about World War II, so perhaps I had just forgotten that books didn’t always have to be devastating. 

Did you write during your childhood and during your teenage years? What did you write about?

As a child I wrote stories that were mostly rip-offs of stuff I had seen on TV with just enough details changed. They usually involved a young brunette saving the day and being praised for that a lot. When I was a teenager I would occasionally write what I guess you could loosely call ‘opinion pieces’, but the opinion was always like, ‘Iraq War – seems like a bad idea, no?’, so it’s not like I was breaking any new ground there. 

What day jobs have you held throughout your life, and how have those experiences influenced your writing?

I’ve had both full-time and part-time advertising jobs for a few years now, which has been the only way I’ve had the bandwidth (mentally and financially) to write a book. For me, working in advertising has meant that I’m able to save my writing brain juice (gross) for working on my own projects on the weekend. When I have worked full-time, 9-5 writing jobs in the past, I just haven’t had the energy to work on my own stuff out of hours. (Likewise, I found writing my own stuff while freelancing to be impossible for my brain to comprehend.) Everyone’s capacity for creativity is different, I think! 

When I was a teenager, I wrote what I guess you could loosely call ‘opinion pieces’, but the opinion was always like, ‘Iraq War – seems like a bad idea, no?’

If you weren’t writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

Sometimes I wistfully say things like, ‘I would have loved to have been a historian’, knowing full well that I am not nearly clever enough to have done that. So whatever else I’d be doing, I probably would still find a way to sit back in my chair and say, ‘I would have loved to have been a historian’ to no-one in particular. 

What’s the worst advice you’ve received about writing?

‘Moderating the Facebook comments on your own stories will make you tougher.’ BOY, DO I HAVE SOME BAD NEWS FOR YOU! 

Do you have any strange writing habits, customs or superstitions?

If I’m sitting down for a day of writing, I almost always choose one movie soundtrack (like Marie-Antoinette, The Virgin Suicides or Call Me By Your Name) to write to and just keep repeating that soundtrack all day. The soundtrack almost never correlates to what I’m actually writing. I do not know why I do this. 

Have you written anything in the past that you now wish you could go back and change?

Oh god, there is so much I would change! I think when I began writing I confused being snarky with being funny and so just kicked and punched everything I could for a laugh. I was glib and often said stuff that I didn’t really mean. Sometimes your old opinions and old mistakes live on, even if you don’t want them to – I think there can also be a lot of pressure to be good straight away. I try to accept that I have permission to grow and learn and that I’m allowed to change my mind about stuff. (Apologies for the wussy answer, maybe I should go back to being snarky?)

Which artist, writer or character would you most like to have dinner with? 

I would love to have had dinner with Nora Ephron, because she was a very good cook and also very funny. She’d probably say something mean about my shoes and then we’d both laugh and say ‘everything is copy!’ and throw our cream linen napkins in the air. 

Sinéad is releasing her debut book, In My Defence, I Have No Defence, with Affirm Press in 2021. 

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The Wheeler Centre acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the traditional owners of the land on which we work. We pay our respects to the people of the Kulin Nation and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders, past and present.