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Image Source: Ian McHugh

Ian McHugh is a local Canberran and author of short stories in science fiction and fantasy. He has published a collection of short works called Angel Dust, for which he was shortlisted for the Aurealis Award for Best Collection. On 16 March 2018, he hosted a guest speaker slot for UCWriters at the University of Canberra. After the speech, I had the chance to ask him a few questions.


Q: What made you want to become a writer? What started you writing?

A: That’s a hard one, I don’t know. I kind of always fiddled about with story-telling, as a kid, and then never kind of did anything with it. I did try my hand at art and went to art school, but flunked out of that in my twenties. I don’t know, I think cause art wasn’t doing it for me and I kind of needed some sort of outlet, so I started writing the year I turned 30.

Q: So, what draws you to science-fiction and fantasy in particular?

A: It’s just always what I’ve read. One of the first novels I read, that wasn’t just chosen off my parents’ bookshelf, was Terry Brooks, The Sword of Shannara, which is such a knock-off of J.R.R Tolkien’s, The Lord of the Rings. But it happens to be the novel that turned The Lord of the Rings into a whole genre of fiction. And then I read a lot of fantasies after that, and started on science-fiction a little bit later.

Q: Why do you write short stories, rather than full-length novels?

A: I started writing short stories ‘cause I was fiddling around so much with world-building, inventing characters, and planning stories but never actually got very far with writing. I kind of wanted to do something productive, so I started writing stories as a way of exploring the worlds that I was inventing while also practicing my writing and then it took on a life of its own.

I really enjoy writing short stories. Writing novels can be a slog, whereas short stories tend not to be. Even if it’s hard, there’s a difficult problem-solving process with a foreseeable reward, whereas the reward for a novel seems a very long way off.

Q: You facilitate workshops, but not tutoring?

A: Yes, I do workshops and I’ve got a couple coming up. I’m doing one at the ACT Libraries later in the year, in August, and then one is part of the Purple Ink Program for returned military veterans through The Writer’s Centre, and the Department of Veteran’s Affairs is sponsoring that.

Q: When you’re writing, during your writing process, what are the things that you struggle with the most?

A: Sustaining my concentration. The internet ruins your concentration. So you have to turn the web off. I go somewhere where there isn’t the temptation; I’m finding ANU libraries are good for that, no internet. Or, go to a café that you like, Tilly’s for me, where there’s no wi-fi. In terms of the actual stories themselves; structure. In my workshops, I teach a lot of structure stuff because that’s the thing that I always struggled with most. The pacing, the dramatic arc and balance of the story.


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