We chatted to Sinéad Stubbins—author of the ‘wicked and funny and wildly relatable’ (Readings) debut essay collection In My Defence, I Have No Defence—about beginnings, endings and her one-woman quest to end the sourdough craze.
Stubbins is appearing in two MWF21 events: Generation Miserable, where she will trade stories of the humbling and sometimes humorous search for meaning and the ensuing burnout, alongside a panel of fellow millennials; and I Will End You where she will join Brodie Lancaster, Declan Fry, Osman Faruqi and Jack Vening in sending select pop cultural phenomenons to the guillotine.
Tell me one of your first memories connected to writing.
Writing and illustrating (and binding—I was a triple threat) a dramatic story called ‘Adventures in Elf Land’ when I was 10. It was about a war between elves and wasps, so ‘adventures’ was a bit glib. I carefully left blank pages between the pages of text so it had the rhythm of a real picture book—then my two-year-old brother found the book and, assuming the blank pages were some sort of clerical error on my part, he helpfully filled in every blank space with large scribbles that I think were meant to be self portraits (one of the scribbles was smiling).
Can you speak a little about your creative process? How does your day begin and end?
I like starting work early in the day because it feels as though I have gotten away with something. Pre-pandemic, I felt very energised and motivated to come up with ideas and follow them through. (Humblebrag.) But for the last year and a half my brain has been a little foggier and coming up with ideas and holding on to them has been a bit trickier. I’m hopeful that this muddling feeling will pass.
I find I don’t work well at night, so I try to knock off around 7pm. Unless I’m on deadline, then I drink lots of Nescafé (the Vanilla Latte flavour) and sweat sugar until the task is done.
What are the most important literary and non-literary forces that shape your writing?
The literary forces that have shaped me are writers who have made me think ‘I didn’t know you could write about that everyday thing!’, like Nora Ephron, Caity Weaver, Jessi Klein, Samantha Irby, Patricia Lockwood, Shea Serrano and Jenny Slate. People who are able to make the mundane poignant make me very happy and jealous, which is motivating.
Otherwise it’s conversations with friends (Sally Rooney, don’t sue me!), overheard fights in the supermarket, strange looks in bars, the movie The Birdcage and silly things newsreaders say to each other before throwing to the weather.
Which artists or writers most intrigue you at the moment and why?
Lately I’ve been catching up on books I missed from the last couple of years (which can be nice, because reading books outside of The Immediate Discourse can leave you with your own thoughts for a bit) and The Weekend by Charlotte Wood knocked me out. It has been months since I read it and I still find myself thinking about the seamless shifting of perspectives and how the reading experience itself felt like a humid, hazy December day. I recently finished Patricia Lockwood’s No One Is Talking About This and boy howdy, I will be thinking about that one for a while.
Outside of books, I am absolutely consumed by I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson, a sketch comedy show on Netflix that is completely odd and wonderful. I’m not usually a huge fan of sketch shows, but there is something about this one that breaks my brain. Normal awkward scenarios (like having to go to a meeting on your lunch break) escalate a little (trying to sneakily eat a hot dog in the meeting) until they become delirious nightmares (you begin choking on your hot dog).
How did you know when your debut book In My Defence, I Have No Defence was finished?
Well, there was a point when I thought it was finished, but my agent did not think it was finished. Then eventually my publisher thought it was finished but I suddenly realised it wasn’t finished. Then the pandemic decided it was finished (in a bad way) and a few months later, my agent, my publisher and myself decided it was finished (in a good way).
If there is something you never want to see the end of, what would it be?
Books, movies and television shows about best friends who don’t realise they’re in love.
And conversely, what is one thing that could end today and you wouldn’t even notice?
The sourdough craze. I’m sorry, it’s not even in the top three best breads.*
*Bread Power Rankings:
1. Soda bread
2. Rye bread
3. Raisin toast
Sinéad Stubbins is the author of In My Defence, I Have No Defence. She has worked on the writing staff for ABC’s The Weekly With Charlie Pickering; has written many recaps for Junkee; and has written for the Guardian, The Saturday Paper, frankie, The Big Issue and New York Magazine.
Find Sinéad Stubbins at MWF21.