ACT Writers Centre

Taking 5 with Short Story Extraordinaire, Theresa Layton

Taking Five

Theresa Layton is an award winning author who lives and works in Canberra as a facilitator, professional writer and consultant in law courts. Theresa is hosting a workshop series at the ACT Writers Centre, Focus on the Short Story, for short story writers at all levels, starting 30 March 2016. In this installment of Taking 5, Theresa gives us an insight into her writing journey and provides some writerly wisdom. 


Can you tell us a bit about your writing background?

I was the kid that always had a book and walked into things  because the Famous Five were about to catch the smugglers. Like most writers, I have always loved reading.

It transformed into writing when my close friend, who is an amazing writer, invited me to journal with her over a coffee. I was intimidated and awkward, but I wrote and read it aloud. It was dreadful but I was thrilled by the power of all those strokes and circles transformed into something. It was the start.

Luckily for me, the first short story I sent out won a competition. That was in 2009, but I had been writing for some years before that—honing the craft. Since then I’ve  had numerous stories published and won competitions. My story, ‘The Cartography of Foxes’, was published in The Best Australian Stories 2013.

I have a passion for learning about writing. I have studied with amazing writers in Australia and the USA—Daniel Mueller, Jesse Lee Kersheval, Pricilla Long, Sean Murphy, Cate Kennedy, Nike Sulway and Kathy Kituai.

I see the Focus on the Short Story course as a chance to share and explore what I have learned with other writers.

I am currently writing a novel but the short story form keeps pulling me back in.

At what moment did you decide you could define yourself as “a writer?”

This is what I would say to others: if you are creating work, if you are physically writing, you are a writer.

I thought I was a writer of some sort when I started to get stories out of my head and onto paper, but I would always add a modifier—I am a hobby writer, I am an unpublished writer, I am a starting-out writer.

I confess, that although I have different advice for others, I didn’t feel as though I had claim to being “a writer” until my first story had readers (outside of my husband)—in my case, when it was published in a collection.

Which short story writers inspire you?

I love Jim Shepard, Cate Kennedy, Vladimir Nabokov, Alice Monro. Often I am inspired by a particular short story in a collection or a journal. Louise D’Arcy’s short story, ‘Flat Daddy’ (won the 2009 age Short story competition), haunted me for a long time.

My love of the short story form started when I read Jhumpa Lahiri’s collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies. Her stories are wonderfully human, delicately written and explore the distance created by immigration. When I read her collection I knew I wanted to do what she did—create fleeting and mysterious moments that leap out.

What’s the best piece of writing advice that you’ve ever heard?

That is a big question. I am more of a bower bird, picking up bits of advice to help with my writing. Here are a few things from my bower:

  • if you are stuck, just go straight for the juicy bits and write those
  • write regularly and often
  • look at the first and last paragraph. Imagine the story without them. It is probably better!

Your series of workshops, called Focus on the Short Story, will be running at the Centre soon, what can people expect from this course?

During this course we will get the chance to deeply explore the short story form. We will begin to understand what can take a story from okay to great.

We will add some practical tools to our writer’s toolkit. Each week we will look at an aspect of short story writing covering topics such as building a unique language for every short story, the importance of a central image in writing, the power of the right structure,  and finding the heart of a story. Not only will we examine aspects of the craft deeply, we will have a chance to work on our own stories and also have our work constructively critiqued.

At the end of this course participants will:

  • have a deeper appreciation of the short story form
  • have specific tools to help their writing
  • have applied what they’ve learned to their own work
  • received constructive and practical feedback to make their own short story the best it can be
  • reminded themselves why they love the short story!

To secure your place in Theresa’s workshop, to be held 7:30-9:30pm every second Wednesday from 30 March-20 July book online here, or call the ACT Writers Centre on 6262 9191.

Theresa Layton_square

Theresa Layton is an award winning author whose short story, The Cartography of Foxes,  appeared in The Best Australian Stories 2013.  Her work has appeared in a range of journals and publications including Overland, and both the 2010 and 2011 editions of Award Winning Australian Writing. She has won short story competitions including The Perilous Adventures and Common Thread competitions.


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