Close and Personal with Caroline Flood

Caroline Flood is the award-winning author of numerous short stories that have been widely published in literary journals in Australia, the USA and Canada.

Her first collection of short stories With These We Will Never Go Hungry was published by Ginninderra Press in 2022. This collection poignantly explores themes of domestic violence, motherhood, grief, childhood and loss, deftly inviting the reader into snap-shot glimpses of a multitude of experiences that leave them imagining the lives of her characters long after reading the final sentence.

 Many of the stories depict dark themes, domestic violence in particular. Caroline hopes that these stories will give readers the courage to leave their own situations of abuse, or to begin to analyse whether or not they need help. Despite the grim realities presented in these tales, she hopes this is a collection that offers hope. Often, simply seeing one’s lived experience depicted in writing can make someone feel they aren’t alone, or crazy, becoming the necessary ember that sparks change.

Arianne recently chatted with Caroline about her writing process and the inspiration behind her pieces.

What would you say are some of the main inspirations for your writing?

 ‘Place is important. A story can arise from being in a place. Place gives up its own story. The mountain, in the great flat country of outback NSW or the sea.’

 How do you know when a story is finished?

‘I tend to write the beginning and the end to begin the process. I write the story and go back and edit it. Overthinking and overworking it can destroy the flow. My writing is intuitive as is knowing when it is finished. I have in the past sat with stories for weeks, changing a word or a sentence then changing it back the next week. I learned quite quickly when to let it go. When it feels right.’

Who are some of your favourite short story writers?

‘Raymond Carver, Cate Kennedy, Carmel Bird. I’m careful about reading other short stories when I’m writing lest I take on other’s voices. Easily done, so I tend to read more novels and poetry.’

I was just about to ask whether you read a lot of poetry, because I think your writing style is very poetic.

‘Indeed, I love poetry. Tasmania has such a fine collection of poets it’s impossible to overlook such talent and not read it. I’m a huge admirer of Pete Hay, Sarah Day, Kathryn Lomer, Adrienne Eberhard, Stephen Edgar. I read Judith Wright, W. Auden, Wendell Berry and Robert Frost.’

Do you have a favourite time of day to write?

‘Ideally first thing in the morning, but often work and family commitments see me writing in the afternoon. My mind is always ticking over and I can safely say, I write all day whether walking on the mountain, with my grandchildren or at work. I’m often seen jotting down ideas, words or sentences in my notebook or on post it notes.  Ideas come when they are ready to.’

How long does it normally take you to finish a short story?

‘I can sit with a story for years, forming it in my mind. It can start as a seed then grow and take a life of its own.  The characters and their story come alive.  The story taps me on the shoulder and it is then I write a first draft and if I have precious writing time, I refine it over the next few weeks. Careful to let it go and not overwork it. That can take weeks and I then return to it after some months to read it once more.’

Do you have a favourite story in this collection? I particularly loved ‘The Sweet Taste of Yabby.’

‘Yes, as did I.  That story came from my novella ‘Mercy’ which was published in ‘A Published Event’. I took some time out from short story writing to attempt a longer work but learned that my skill in the short, sharp story.  Several short stories came out of ‘Mercy’.

I think ‘The Atoll’ was possibly the most gripping tale for me. Absolutely chilling, and timely. How long ago did you write this story?

‘The Atoll’ is my most recently published, in the collection and also in Antipodes, USA.  I wrote it quite quickly and submitted it, then as an example of overworking, I rewrote it and submitted a new version. The Editor of Antipodes suggested I leave it as the first version as it was the strongest and my second version took the tension away. A timely reminder to let stories go.’

‘Nor West’ was a wonderful exploration of childhood grief and first understandings of death. What inspired this piece?

‘Nor West’ wrote itself. I have children and grandchildren and many years ago worked with sick children and also worked in the funeral business for a short time on the mainland. I have observed death, sorrow, relationship breakdown and disappointment. Whether through my life experience or a writer’s powers of observation, I see grief manifest on many levels.’

Caroline is currently working on her second short story collection. She says,

‘As with my first collection, I let place tell it’s story. During the pandemic I began solo walking. I listened to the landscape, to the birdsong. Often birds guided me out as I have a propensity to get lost. This never worries me as I always arrive somewhere, if not the intended destination. As with writing. One sets out to write something and it has a life of its own. Much of the second collection is our relationship with the natural world as well as my ongoing fascination with the human condition. For better or worse.’

TasWriters thanks Caroline for taking the time to speak with us. We eagerly await her next collection!