Intermissions Author Q&A: Charlotte Armstrong

Charlotte Armstrong is a graduate student at the University of Melbourne. She has been published in Farrago and was the winner of the Farrago 2020 Jack Musgraves Memorial Award for her work creating horoscopes. Charlotte’s quiet evocative stories take mundane events and inject an element of magical realism in the hope that she will encourage others to see the magic of the world. 

What is your writing process?

Most of the time I find one moment, one really nice vignette in my mind’s eye, and expand outwards. I’m currently in the process of trying to write a whole novel, and whilst I have most of the idea of how the plot will move, I don’t have all the minutia planned. I do however set myself a little goal every day of writing 200 words for a project – adopted from the late Terry Pratchett – which helps me not get overwhelmed with the enormity of the work and lets me just focus on one thought or moment at a time. I followed a similar kind of structure, in that I set myself distinct section limits and deadlines when writing my thesis. I would have made a killing as a serialised author because I work best with extrinsic motivation (i.e. other people’s deadlines).

Tell us about your story for the anthology. Where did your idea for ‘Bus Etiquette’ come from?

‘Bus Etiquette’ is the route I took to university on the 200/207 bus up Johnston St. After crossing the river, it goes through Abbotsford, Collingwood, and eventually, I would get off at Lygon St. Carlton (though I have used it to go all the way into the city). It’s a really cool area, and there are kind of distinct flavours to each section of the route. The bus itself is such a liminal space – it’s usually a group of people who have no relation but proximity thrust together in a hurtling metal chamber on the roads. Trams and trains have different emptinesses because you can’t usually communicate directly with the person in control, but you can talk to the bus driver (but you also just…don’t, mostly, unless you’re the man who trapped me against a wall talking about Jesus). That was always my favourite spot, right up the front. ‘Bus Etiquette’ is more about the way transit tends to be viewed as start-to-end, rather than a journey.

Your story talks about finding magic in the mundane. Are there any other seemingly dull spaces you find inspiring in that way?

I wrote a whole bunch of stories using the second person about these magical mundane moments in my life, actually! I’ve got a fair few more to go before there’s enough to make an Actual Book, but it’s not so bad right now. Others include reflections of walking to my grandmother’s house, a train ride in Tokyo, finding a dead possum in my front garden, walking up my corridor with tea, and so on. I think I just really enjoyed the distance second person gave me from my own memories. As for spaces of quiet magic, well, I think the beautiful part is that any space is magical if you’re willing to look. I have a Roald Dahl quote from The Minpins with words to that effect pinned up in my room: “Watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places”. What gives the space its magic is what it represents to you. The transience of the bus route makes it special because it is simultaneously the same journey every day and somehow every single journey is different. We are the culmination of all our experiences, all our memories, so it makes sense to preserve them in magic. 

Tell us about your favourite reads. Why do you like them?

Unsurprisingly, I love fantasy. I’ve spent huge chunks of my life looking for magic and dragons, and even now I struggle to read works that are just realism. My catch-cry is “not enough dragons”. I’ve read the entire Percy Jackson catalogue – adore Rick Riordan – and I had a blast reading Good Omens. It was such a fun, witty book that kind of dawdles its way through the Apocalypse. I’ve always loved work that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I also really liked American Gods, because from a mythological standpoint it’s a fantastic observation about how we create deities to suit cultures. Right now I’m loving Mrs Death Misses Death, by Salena Gooden. It’s wild and moves all over the place but is a really interesting look at the way we understand and relate to death.  

How did you find working with GSP?

I really liked working with GSP – it’s wild being on this side of the table! Everyone was quick and kind with their feedback, the editing was nice and clean, and overall I really enjoyed it. I may have gotten a little too involved in proofreading my own story – I started looking for weird hyphens and rivers in the text myself! I wholeheartedly recommend the experience to anyone who’d like to see if publishing is for them.

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