Elizabeth Harrower’s collection of short stories, A Few Days in the Country: And Other Stories is shortlisted for the 2016 Stella Prize. We spoke to Elizabeth about literary villains, reasons for writing and her trusty Olympia typewriter.
Stella: Who is your favourite woman?
Elizabeth: I don’t really have a favourite woman, but looking around the world I do admire Angela Merkel, German Chancellor since 2005. A force for good; calm and stable; and she likes opera!
Stella: Which writers have shaped your work?
Elizabeth: If you’ve read constantly from a very young age, you gradually learn what very good writing looks like. No one writer influenced me, but they all did.
Stella: Have you had any significant professional or personal mentors in your writing career?
Elizabeth: No professional or personal mentors, but conversation with a brilliant friend is always a help.
Stella: Is there a writer you aspire to be like?
Elizabeth: You just have to aspire to be your best self. No easy task!
Stella: Why did you become a writer?
Elizabeth: Writing was just instinctive. Some young people make images and draw; I put writing on paper.
Stella: Do you have a good writing place?
Elizabeth: A good writing place always involves a table or desk where my manual typewriter is content. I’ve had three and still use my Olympia, and love it.
Stella: Have you ever received a grant, residency or fellowship to write?
Elizabeth: I did once receive a grant.
Stella: What book would you take with you to a desert island?
Elizabeth: A desert island would need more than one book: Epicurus, Alice in Wonderland and Shakespeare.
Stella: Favourite heroine in literature?
Elizabeth: Having trouble thinking of a favourite heroine in literature; there are so many. But my favourite villain is definitely Macbeth.
Stella: What’s the most beautiful word in the English (or any other) language?
Elizabeth: Mellifluous flows along.
Stella: How do you know when a story is finished?
Elizabeth: It tells you.
Stella: Do you have a favourite book by an Australian woman?
Elizabeth: I very much admired For Love Alone by Christina Stead, and The Golden Age by Joan London.
Stella: What inspired you to write A Few Days in the Country: And Other Stories?
Elizabeth: The stories suggested themselves, fortunately.
Stella: Which aspects of the writing process do you find to be the most challenging and the most rewarding?
Elizabeth: Settling down to writing has to be a habit, and the most rewarding thing is that you’ve finally done what you set yourself to do. No choice.