Auckland Writers Festival: Writing Tips and Orgies with Amy Bloom

Amy Bloom. Image copyright Caroline Barron 2015

Amy Bloom. Image copyright Caroline Barron 2015

To look at Amy Bloom you might not guess she once went on ‘A Cruise to Nowhere’ with 40 cross dressers and their wives. You also might not guess she has been a barmaid, a psychotherapist and the server of canapés and drinks (carafes of vodka) to the Yiddish Opera cast.

“I don’t think psychotherapy and being a barmaid are so different: it’s people with some degree of distress talking to you, and they’re paying you” – Amy Bloom

The attraction of Bloom’s writing is, like one of the prisms she describes when talking about her linked short stories, if you held her writing up to the light, you would see many sides and angles and hidden depths; and this what makes her writing so beautiful. Oh, and writing about orgies. More on that later.

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Carole Beu from the Women’s Bookshop interviews Amy Bloom. Image copyright Caroline Barron 2015

When asked by an editor at the New Yorker what non-fiction topic she’d like to write about, Bloom suggested her children or gardening or tennis. Or female to male transsexuals. Guess which one got made into a book? But seriously, her non-fiction book Normal began with a conversation and became an important voice for those in the margins: transsexuals, cross-dressers and hermaphrodites. Bloom often finds herself asking “What’s it to you? Why are people so disarmed about the enormous range of human society?”

“There are pink flowers and blue flowers but if you look around there is such a huge variegated bouquet” – Amy Bloom.

Bloom taught creative writing at Yale and is currently writer in residence at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Bloom believes you can’t teach talent or experience, but you can teach the difference between a good sentence and a bad one.

“I know better now that a 21-year-old hot mess might just surprise me by coming out with something great at 31 or 41” – Amy Bloom

For the writers in the audience she had sage advice, all of which I scribbled down. She talked of people and language being the most compelling things. To shut up and listen. To write of the stuff that matters to you, in great detail, and to move things along. To write the gap between what people say and what they feel; “the gap between the street and the sidewalk”.

It is fascinating to hear of how a story goes from an idea, an image, to becoming something. Bloom spoke of her “doting Jewish—yet remarkably indifferent—father” lowering his newspaper to tell his 11-year-old daughter about a woman who walked to Russia. Forty years later, the story ended up as Away (2007).

I first discovered Bloom through short story, Silver Water. The image of Violet crouched beside her sister Rose, “huge and white in the moonlight” will stay with me forever (read it!). Silver Water showed me the immense power of the short story. Lucky us, her collected stories comes out later this year. Click through to read my review on her amazing latest book Lucky Us.

“In a short story a bad sentence stands out like a missing tooth. You don’t have time to recover from that” – Amy Bloom

Okay, so back to those orgies. Carole Beu (The Women’s Bookshop) had a gorgeous rapport with Bloom, and managed to get her to read the entire lesbian orgie scene from Lucky Us. It was hilarious and beautiful and, magnified by Blooms husky drawl, made us all want to be slurping oysters and sipping champagne with Iris and Rose.

Amy reads the orgie scene from Lucky Us. Image copyright Caroline Barron 2015.

Amy reads the orgie scene from Lucky Us. Image copyright Caroline Barron 2015.

Amy Bloom appeared at the Auckland Writers Festival, Friday 16th May, 2015.

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