Centre for Stories

Short Talks – Emily Paull

"Telling stories is how I make sense of the world. When I look back, I can almost see myself trying to work through a sense of panic, or a sense of not understanding, or an old hurt."
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September 30, 2019

So many good people interact with us online and walk through our doors at the Centre for Stories, and so we’re pretty proud of the little community we’ve grown. Collaborations often turn into comradeships and patrons become friends. Short Talks is a series of interviews highlighting the remarkable people who have connected with us at the Centre for Stories. Some are writers, poets, and storytellers, and others are arts workers, community leaders, and small business owners.

We invite you to get to know our friends a little more. Today, we feature Emily Paull, a former bookseller and future librarian who writes short stories and historical fiction. Read on to hear Emily talk about stories for making sense of the world, literary collaborations, and her forthcoming debut collection of short fiction, Well-behaved Women.

You’ve been a friend of the Centre for Stories since the beginning—can you tell us more about how you got involved with us?

I’ve been a member of a few writers centres over the years and have always found them great environments to meet like-minded writers and to generally find inspiration. When Caroline and John started the Centre for Stories I was excited to get involved because the Centre is right in the heart of Perth, but also because it’s an organisation that is committed to more than just the physical act of writing. The Centre’s inclusive message and commitment to social justice through the power of words and writing is a really important one.

I’m really happy that Write Nights gets to be a part of that. We’ve always been an event that is dedicated to the act of training your ‘writerly muscles’ to be ready to sit down and work, distraction free and away from other tasks that place demands on our time, like housework and study, and since we’ve been working out of the Centre for Stories, Belinda, my co-facilitator and I, have had the pleasure of meeting so many passionate people and hearing about so many worthy projects.

What have you taken away from your experiences here?

Two things. First: It is impossible to sit in a room full of people who are writing for forty minutes without writing anything. Second: Perth is rich with amazing storytellers. We have had poets and playwrights and comics and PhD candidates and novelists and short story writers and filmmakers and essayists and the list goes on.

You’re a prolific writer and a thoughtful storyteller. What does storytelling mean to you—and why is it important?

Telling stories is how I make sense of the world. The things that make me the most anxious often appear in the stories that I write. Even if I don’t know it at the time, when I look back, I can almost see myself trying to work through a sense of panic, or a sense of not understanding, or an old hurt. What is it that people say? Writing is cheaper than therapy?

Jokes aside, I’ve tried to stop writing stories at various points when I felt like it wasn’t working for me and I just couldn’t. I’m pretty sure I think in the form of a narrative.

Stories build empathy, they allow us to see what it might be like to step into someone else’s shoes, to think about how our actions might have repercussions we never intended. It’s why fairytales were told to children, they help us to develop some sort of internal compass. My whole life, I can pinpoint important events by what book I was reading at the time.

You’re a reader and a writer, and you’ve had several short stories published in anthologies form Margaret River Press (who’ll be publishing your debt collection of short stories later this year!). What do you enjoy about writing in this shorter form?

Enjoy may not be the best word, because I’ve come to realise short stories are really tough to get right!

The story itself has to inform the form you use. Some stories are a snapshot of life, an event that happens so quickly that if you blink, you’ll miss it. I love those short stories. I love it when they have ambiguous endings that leave the reader feeling like they’re peering over the edge of a cliff at a long drop into the ocean. Like you’ve pulled the table cloth out but all the dishes and cups are still standing. Even though nothing may really have changed in the story, the reader has changed because of what you’ve shown them— and you’ve done it all in less than 3000 words. It’s powerful stuff.

What’s on the horizon for you, writing-wise?

My debut collection of short stories, Well-Behaved Women will be released by Margaret River Press in early December and I am extremely excited about that. It’s a collection of ten years’ worth of work, some of which were written at Write Nights (in particular, a story called Nana’s House was a story that came to me in the middle of one of the 40 minute blocks and it starts with a character making their way through part of Aberdeen St in the dark.)

I’m also in the middle of trying to revise a novel set in Subiaco during the First World War about a woman writer who I am loosely basing on May Gibbs. It’s the second historical novel I have written. The first one is set in Second World War-era Fremantle, and one day I hope I will find it a home.

Emily will be appearing at our Side Walks event this Saturday, 5 October 2019, on the panel Bad Boys of Literature. This event is free, but RSVPs are required. Learn more and secure your spot now.

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