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UQP Writer's Room: Fiona Robertson
Posted 11.02.2022

UQP Writer's Room: Fiona Robertson

Why did you start writing?

When my kids were little and I was home a lot more, I started an anonymous blog to express myself and to connect with others. I wrote about the kids, my family, my (then) work as a GP, really anything that delighted, distressed or intrigued me. Posting on the blog for five years was great practice, and also reignited my childhood passion for writing. Just after I turned forty, I took my first ever writing workshop, called ‘Silencing Your Inner Critic’ (run by the lovely writer Edwina Shaw), and from then I was hooked on short fiction.

How did you decide which form or genre was right for you?

I didn’t really decide, I just liked writing stories. Maybe I was drawn to the idea of finishing something quickly, that gratification of completing a piece. Though the longer I write, the longer my short stories take to be ready – typically several months, sometimes more.

Where was your inspiration for your latest work?

The last story I wrote for the collection was inspired by footage of a mouse plague I’d seen on the ABC a few years ago. The image of mice pouring through a doorway stuck in my head, and I wanted to write something that would build towards a similar scene.

How do you get started with a new project?

I think it through, decide it’s a bad idea, start something anyway, like what I’ve written for a while then hate it, come back the next day and have another go.

Do you have a routine? What tools do you use?

I don’t have a specific routine but I try to get writing done any morning that I’m not at my non-writing job. Mornings are when the words flow best. I don’t use anything fancier than my laptop, or sometimes a pen and paper.

How do you handle writer’s block?

It depends what’s causing the writer’s block. If I need more thinking time, I’ll take time away from writing to work out what I want to say. If I’m at a crucial point in a story but can’t figure out what happens next, I’ll brainstorm ideas on a piece of paper. That has saved me many times.

How important is research in the writing you do?

Even though I write fiction, I find research to be crucial. It’s what helps me write a story that feels true. I mostly write about people who are not like me, often doing things I’ve never done, so research is paramount.

How much planning is required when it comes to structuring one of your books?

SinceIf You’re Happy is a short story collection, the only real planning involved in structuring came after the manuscript had been accepted, in figuring out the story order for the book.

What’s the editing process like?

Honestly, it was challenging and a lot of hard work! But I was very grateful to my editor Felicity Dunning and publisher Aviva Tuffield for reading the stories multiple times, and for offering detailed feedback and suggestions. I think the stories are much better as a result.

How did you come to be published?

I was fortunate enough to receive the Glendower Award for an Emerging Queensland Writer in the 2020 Queensland Literary Awards, and was published as a result of that award. It’s such an important award for emerging writers, and I’m so appreciative of the support of the State Library of Queensland, the QLAs and judges, Jenny Summerson (sponsor of the award) and UQP for making a long-held dream come true with the publication of If You’re Happy.

Social media – like it or loathe it?

Mostly like it, though if I spend too much time on social media I start to feel uneasy and anxious. I love the connections I’ve made with other writers, including some in other countries.

How do you handle the reviews?

I haven’t had to handle many yet! But I hope I will be appreciative of the reviewer’s time and attention, whether they enjoyed If You’re Happy or not.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?

I don’t have any lingering aspirations. But maybe I would read more, learn piano, or get more exercise!

What is your number one tip for aspiring writers?

It’s so hard to choose one but I think the most valuable advice for me was to realise that at the beginning, our writing will never match up to what we want it to be (and in fact I don’t know if it ever does match up, from listening to writers with long, successful careers). But the decision to persist regardless, to keep writing and improving, is what will move us ever closer to that vision.

Fast five

Plotter or pantser? Pantser

Tea or coffee? Coffee in the morning, tea after that

When I’m not writing I’m… Working (as a surgical assistant) or hanging out with friends, family or the dog

My favourite place to read is… Any horizontal surface

Ebook or physical book? Physical book, always.