Clare Strahan speaks

Clare Strahan is an emerging Melbourne writer who has banged out a novel on a manual typewriter by candlelight and is sure that must count for something. She has published a few poems and a couple of short stories, is a freelance editor and flies about the twittersphere as 9fragments. Clare chats with Overland about her story ‘Finders Keepers’ published in Overland 202.

Tell us a little about your journey as a writer

I’ve been writing for a long time. In 1984, I went off to a professional writing course at Swinburne and dropped out in the first year. But I kept writing (fiction, short story, poetry, children’s) and identified myself as a writer, even claiming it as my occupation on my daughter’s birth certificate in 1993. I had written my first novel manuscript by the time I was 24, the second by 28, along with a few folios of poetry. Far too sensitive (egotistic?) to accept constructive criticism or rejection, my few attempts at being published put me off the idea forever.

Forever turned out to be longer than I thought. In 2008, browsing for a course to finish my teaching degree, I came across RMIT’s professional writing & editing course. My heart sang. The great lecturers and cohort of talented writers and editors I met there, my development as an editor and meeting my mentor, Cath Crowley, shifted my thinking: I became ambitious again to be published. Workshopping, editing the work of others, writing for the Overland blog and blogging my short fiction, I’ve learned to manage feedback and understand its gift.

Literary Rats discuss tenacity 480px

What led you to write ‘Finders Keepers’?

‘Finders Keepers’ was originally written as a commitment to my Short Story II class with Ania Walwicz at RMIT. I had just read Margaret Atwood’s Oryx & Crake and it rubbed off on me. I read a rambling diatribe I’d written long ago in an old notebook – with a feather dipped in ink, no less. In desperation to at least ‘begin’, I typed it up and went from there. A fraction of that ink-and-feather poetry has made it to the printed page.

As soon as I had the character names, I knew them and could see the derelict shopping complex rising from the landscape – and I knew they didn’t want to go in there. I was intrigued by the world of ‘Finders Keepers’, modestly pleased with the draft I sent in as a submission and very glad that Overland’s fiction editor, Jane Gleeson White, asked me the essential questions that solved the riddles the story had set me.

Literary Rats discuss writing class 480px

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  1. Bwahahaha – literary exercise! For the record, I think banging ‘out a novel on a manual typewriter by candlelight’ counts for heaps – people these days have the weakest fingers, with that light fingered computer tapping excuse for writing 🙂

    1. Thanks Gabrielle. I’ve still got an old manual typewriter on my kitchen bench … bang out the odd poem/random sentence or two on it. It takes even more finger-power cos the ribbon’s rather knackered.

      It makes me ridiculously happy when the Rats amuse 🙂

  2. are these your literary rats Clare? They definitely amuse.

    As for early rejection – I have a writer friend whose father told her after her first rejected story (at 17 or so) that not until she’d covered her bedroom walls with rejection letters could she call herself a writer. Pretty good advice I reckon. And yes, she’s still writing and still being published.

    Also, you have the coolest writing tools – manual typewriter, candlelight, feather, ink. So glad some feather and ink words made the printed pages of OL. Congratulations.

  3. Thanks Jane. I have begun my rejection slip collection … for when they’re ‘hilarious’ 🙂

    I love my father dearly and he really has been a rock of support in my life in general, but I’m pretty sure he said (and still occasionally laments) ‘Get a real job’.

    Yes, the Rats are my little friends. If you hover over the picture, they’ll take you to their nest.

        1. 🙂
          I am chuffed that you think so.
          On Jacinda’s suggestion, I’ve actually turned a few into greeting-cards … not sure what to do with them, maybe try book shops … ?

  4. Hi there

    I am glad that you have been published, and are on the Overland Blog for me to now read:):) Wow – it sounds quite romantic to be writing with quills and ink and typewriters…but….and there is always a but isn’t there….

    As a writer myself (although not yet published through a major publisher) I love the feeling I get when I take a new book and freshly sharpened pencil and go to make those first marks on the page. Just for one second though there are a few nerves – don’t want to ruin it. But. Then again I have to commit everything to the computer… life is good and good luck with all of your ventures:)

    Olga from

    1. Thank you, Olga. It’s been a while since I felt romantic enough to write in ink and feathers, but I was just thinking the other day I wouldn’t mind another typewriter – a black one with round keys … thanks for the good wishes and same to you.

  5. Dear Clare
    The first thing I read after the thrill of seeing my poem in print in the Overland was, of course, your story. I loved it. The beginning (in italics) was very poetic, the premise showed an intellectual creativity I marvelled at, and it was a terrific read. Your concern about the environment (and us humans) is well placed. Well done.

  6. As soon as I read you’d banged out a novel on a manual by candlelight I knew this had to be my old friend Clare Bear.(was it a ‘remington hhmmm). I recall your efforts to write using a feather dipped in ink…lol. Would love to read you novel. Haven’t seen you in many years & have no doubt you remain as always a fascinating person with much to offer as a writer who is ‘not like anybody else’. xx McB

    1. Far out! I say.

      Alas, as much as I would have loved it to have been a Remington SL3, it was an Olivetti. Olive, the Olivetti, in fact.

      Thanks for your words, they mean much.

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