Tegan Bennett Daylight is the author of 2016 Stella Prize shortlisted book, Six Bedrooms. We caught up with Tegan to talk about her inspirations, writing process, and the significant mentors who have supported her along the way.
Stella: Which writers have shaped your work?
Tegan: Every single writer I’ve read has been part of shaping my work, but there are a few significant female writers from whom I’ve learned a great deal: Frances Hodgson Burnett and Joan Aiken in my childhood, then Helen Garner, Virginia Woolf, Toni Morrison and Alice Munro in my later years. This is to sell short about fifty other writers, male and female!
Stella: Have you had any significant professional or personal mentors in your writing career?
Tegan: The most important mentorship I’ve undergone is a long association with writers such as Vicki Hastrich, Lucinda Holdforth, Eileen Naseby and Charlotte Wood. The exchanges we’ve had about writing and the writing life have been essential to me.
Stella: Why did you become a writer?
Tegan: I couldn’t stop writing.
Stella: Do you have a good writing place?
Tegan: I’ve got two kids, and my husband and I work from home; I’ve had to learn not to be precious about where I write. At home I sit on the bed with my laptop. Otherwise I try to go away with my writing friends and hide in a quiet room all day. When I’m away I also sit on the bed with my laptop!
Stella: Have you ever received a grant, residency or fellowship to write?
Tegan: Yes, I’ve been the recipient of several Australia Council grants (the lifeblood of so many individual artists); residencies at Arthur Boyd’s property, Bundanon; and Varuna, Mick Dark’s bequest to the writers of Australia. Both places make you feel like the real thing.
Stella: How do you know when a story is finished?
Tegan: You feel a kind of clicking into place; it’s almost audible. You realise that what you’ve written as your ending is calling out to something you were exploring at the centre of your story. The ending calls; the centre answers; the click happens. I love how easy I make it sound!
Stella: Do you have a favourite book written by an Australian woman?
Tegan: My current favourite book of short stories is Stories from the Warm Zone and Sydney Stories by Jessica Anderson. Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for her stories – and these stories are their Australian cousins. They are rich and allusive and like an animal – absolutely alive on the page.
Stella: What inspired you to write Six Bedrooms?
Tegan: I began writing a short story for my friend Charlotte Wood, for her collection Brothers and Sisters. Something about the young woman’s voice worked – it made me want to write more. It was just a matter of finding a voice. Once the voice worked I just wanted to keep writing. And thank god for that – you can hang around for years trying to get the voice right.
Stella: Which aspects of the writing process do you find to be the most challenging and the most rewarding?
Tegan: The most challenging part of the writing process is the writing, and having to tackle despair and disbelief every single day. The rewarding bit is twofold: the click of the ending; and the response from good readers. It’s an amazing privilege to have your book reflected back at you by someone who knows literature, not just other writers and critics, but people who just love books. They’re the best.