- Emerging Writer's Contest Winner Fiction
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In fiction, our winner is Ruby Todd for her story "Creation."
Of her story, fiction judge Ottessa Moshfegh said, "This exquisite story about a struggling sculptor was obviously penned by a seasoned conjurer of art and prose. It rings with the truth and precision of memoir, and sings in the peculiarities of magically timed fiction in its feeling and movements. And it is funny."
Todd is a creative arts researcher, teacher and writer of prose and poetry, currently based in Melbourne, Australia. Her work has been published in Overland, TEXT journal, Qualitative Inquiry and Meniscus, among other venues, and her fiction has won the Chapter One Prize of the Australasian Association of Writing Programs. She holds a PhD from Deakin University on the subject of elegy, and continues to be interested in the connections between loss and creativity. She is currently working on a novel, and a work of narrative nonfiction.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I think when I was around six or seven. I'd always loved being read to, but that was the point when I remember discovering the delight of metaphor, the wonder of language as a tool to capture states of emotion (and then to describe these states to my parents, which was surely equal parts comical and insufferable). The idea of making something, of creating a bright little world in the form of some pages between two covers, also struck me early on as magical. I think I'd always been aware of time as a passing force and as a source of loss, that records such as books might help in some way to redeem, even if only for their author, as in the case of personal diaries. One day at around six years [End Page 227] old I decided to "write a book" about Queen Victoria, with whom I was quite taken, perhaps due to our charming Anglophile neighbor who was lovely to me and baked delicious biscuits. I went next door to speak with her for ten minutes as research, and then went home to work on the words and pictures.
What is your writing process like?
I try to write every day, in the morning preferably, as despite not being inclined to cheerfulness at that time, it's when words flow best. Besides, if I write first, I tend to be a more generous and patient person for the rest of the day. My process involves a cup of tea and usually some kind of repetitive minimalist piano music. That might sound pretentious, but I find it helps me access the rhythm and tone of the day before. Beginning a new piece tends to involve probing some element of growing obsession further until it begins to suggest a narrative shape. I've always loved Nabokov's description of feeling a work's generative spark as "the first little throb."
On a broader level, while my process has always been quite intuitive and organic—that trial and error while peering through the dark that many writers discuss—I've lately been experimenting with prolonging the initial ruminative stage before writing the first words of a new piece, and then setting down a kind of skeleton in notes first, which then becomes a kind of constraint, and I've found this to be a fruitful change.
What inspired "Creation"?
"Creation" emerged out of a kind of dialogue with myself about artistic failure, and the question of what such failure costs and, perhaps more interestingly, what artistic success really constitutes. These were questions I myself had been asking before I came to write it, after a difficult period in my writing. The narrator desires for her sculpture some measure of external validation, if only so she might be permitted an audience with whom to share her work, and without whom she senses her creations will never truly live. I think this is a sentiment many artists might relate to having felt at some stage in their creative lives. In the formal struggles and crises of confidence that beset many artists, [End Page 228] especially...