Meet the Winners — Samantha Murray

With Writers of the Future week right around the corner, say hello to second quarter winner, Australia’s Samantha Murray!

Stuart: Hi Samantha. Nice to meet you. Tell us about yourself.

sam-press3Samantha: Apart from a writer, I’m a stay-at-home parent right now, which is awesome. In the past I have been, variously, a teacher, an actor, and a mathematician.

Stuart: And what got you into writing?

Samantha: I was always into writing. I just got in my own way for a long time. I can remember writing a story at school when I was about 9 and being suddenly transported by the ideas and story arcs bubbling away in my head. It was going to be a magnificent and fascinating tale! Unfortunately, I didn’t get time to write it all down, and when we next returned to the writing task I had forgotten where I was going with it, and, despairing for an ending, followed the advice of my parent and concluded with “it was all a dream.”

Stuart: Oh no!

Samantha: Luckily I’ve learned not to do that since then. Even at the time I knew it was a cop-out!

I submitted a story for the first time when I was about 20. It was to an Australian anthology and they rejected it, which was horribly discouraging at the time, because I didn’t know back then that rejections are common and don’t necessarily mean that you are an atrocious writer.

I’ve been wanting to be a writer for more than 20 years, but I’ve only been actively doing something about it for the last 3 years.

The biggest obstacle was always myself. I wanted to be a writer, but apart from notebooks full of scratchings and dabbling with playwriting I wasn’t actually producing a product. A combination of procrastination, fear-of-failure perhaps, an inability to find the determination to push through the hard bits.

Stuart: I think we all can identify.

Samantha: One day, I found myself with two small children, horribly sleep-deprived and time-poor. And I had a story idea. I wrote notes on it (not so unusual). But then I did do something unusual – I sat down and wrote it. All of it. All the way to the end.

Stuart: Hurray!

Samantha: My theory is that having very little time to myself managed to push the urgency-button that procrastinators need to do things. I realised that in a very real way IT WAS THE LAST MINUTE. If I didn’t do it now, I would never do it. And I had wanted to do it for a long time.

Or perhaps I had just grown up.

Stuart: I can definitely identify. I did technical writing for years and dabbled, but I always thought someday I’d be a writer. Then one day, I realized the days eventually run out.

Describe your “writer’s cave.”

Samantha: I don’t really have a cave. I think I should get one. Actually, now I want a real cave, because that would be cool.

Stuart: Caves are cool. Year round (winks).

Samantha: I write on my lap-top and quite often I end up sitting on my bed. I do have a desk but it is covered in, um, stuff. When we go away to the beach house I have my lap-top on the kitchen table and get up early and write with a view of the trees out the window. And there is no internet at the beach house. No internet is really, really good for my writing.

Stuart: Yes. Although in my case, the internet give the girls something to do while I sit on the porch in blissful silence.

Do you have any unusual talents or hobbies?

Samantha: Some of my joints are hypermobile, so I can do this thing where I clasp my hands together behind my back, and then take my arms over my head round to the front with my hands still joined. I worked out I could do that after watching a circus of people doing freakish things with their bodies, one of them used such a manoeuvre to get out of a strait-jacket. Walking home I said “I can do that,” and I was right. I wish I had a more exciting talent, but yeah, it might be helpful one day if I happen to find myself in a strait-jacket.

Stuart: How long have you been entering WotF?

Samantha: Around two and a half years. I only wrote three stories specifically for the contest, other times I sent them stories I had at hand, or rewrites, or things I didn’t think were a fit but I’d run out of time to do anything else. I remember thinking that I really should put in a much more concerted effort with WotF, because (especially coming from Western Australia) it really did have a lot of bang-for-my-buck. I even wrote it down as a goal. The next morning I woke up with a story idea which I brainstormed into my notebook. “I reckon this one will win,” I thought, given the serendipitous timing with my new resolution.

Stuart: Well there you go.

Samantha: That story didn’t win. It didn’t get a chance to, because the story I had _already_ entered the previous quarter won. I got the finalist notification about five weeks after I wrote “win WotF” on my goal list.

Stuart: Ha ha! Win! Star Trek or Star Wars?

Samantha: My initial response to this was “Star Wars!” but that is mainly because I have two young boys who are obsessed with Star Wars right now. So we live in a star wars-infused environment. Some twenty-odd years ago, however, I was a big fan of Star Trek TNG. I was holidaying in the U.S at the time, and I remember staying up late to watch all of the episodes on TV.

Stuart: About three years before we met, my wife and I both stayed up all night watching a marathon of all the TOS episodes. If only we had known each other, we could have watched them together!

Are you a pantser or Plotter?

Samantha: I’m a panster, at heart. I always know where the story is going to end though. Just the idea, or maybe a single sentence. Without that I can’t write the story, once that has popped into my head I can start, and make the rest of it up as I go along. I am a first-drafter though. Most of my stories (and indeed, all of my published ones) are essentially first-drafts. I write really slowly though, so I think I am editing as I go along.

Stuart: Yeah, I’m still breaking myself of editing words that may not survive into the final draft. I think part of that is confidence, trusting that the crappy first draft is doing what it’s supposed to even though is may not be, as sweet on the ear.

What’s the nuttiest thing that ever happened to you?

Samantha: A really long time ago I did some radio work for a very small local radio station for the blind. They had a kids segment and had a comedy-star-sign bit which I got to write and deliver in this low husky voice over the radio. It was meant to be light-hearted, so I had complete freedom to make up whatever I wanted. “Aquarius… stop wearing that hat. Your friends hate it. People in the street hate it. You hate it, deep down, where you won’t admit it to yourself. The hat hates itself. And it hates you. Just stop. Please, please stop.” Silly stuff!

Stuart: That’s terrific. I had a friend would once gave away bad fish over the radio. And the winner came and got it. That experience will come in handy when you’re famous.

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Samantha: I think I should play to my strengths and be procrastination-girl! I could procrastinate dying, and thus live forever.

Stuart: Sheer genius! When you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?

Samantha: I don’t have a very good memory of my childhood, but I do remember having a pencil family. Yes, it was a group of pencils of different sizes and colours that I had anthropomorphised into characters. There was one that had been sharpened down to an inch of its life that was the baby pencil.

Stuart: Well I’ve always said, you don’t have to be crazy to write, but it helps a lot. When I was little, I got a spanking for playing spaceship with mason jar full of canned beets. The ship crashed.

Tell us about your winning story.

Samantha: “Half Past” is a story about a girl with a peculiar kind of magic. Her mother is dead, and her father is distant, but she is never lonely – she makes her own companions. Then one day a visitor arrives who might change everything.

Stuart: Cool! Well congratulations again Samantha. Enjoy your week in LA, and if you ever run into last year’s winner Shauna O’Meara, tell her I said “hi!”

Follow Samantha at