I had the privilege of chatting with Macedonian-born and Melbourne-based writer, Maggie Jankuloska, earlier this week.
She’s also one of my dear friends and it was wonderful to catch up and talk all things writing and books!
Maggie enjoys writing for an adult audience but also a young audience, especially in a historical setting. Interested in writing characters who have a unique voice and agency, her characters are layered and relatable, often overcoming obstacles and showing resilience, tolerance and empathy. Maggie gave birth to her son Oliver in late 2018 and he’s a deep source of inspiration for her writing.
Please find our chat below!
Katelin: This pandemic has been very difficult (and is far from over!), can you tell us about how you’ve been staying positive through it? Have you been able to write much?
Maggie: It’s a period of uncertainty for us all. One of the silver linings has been spending time with my husband and son and finding more time to focus on writing. Writing-wise it has been a productive time for me. I was lucky to receive a grant through Creative Victoria which enabled me to spend time finishing a Middle Grade manuscript, when not teaching or being busy with family duties. I was also able to contribute to Nillumbik Shire’s public art display and anthology, ‘Written in the Time of COVID-19’. It has been cathartic to be able to address the pandemic along with other writers.
Katelin: You write children’s fiction, as well some work for older audiences. Do you have a preference? How do you find shifting between the two mediums?
Maggie: I like having the ability to shift mediums and put myself in a different midframe, depending on the audience. Shifting between two mediums makes writing more exciting and it also challenges me.
Writing short stories or flash-fiction for an adult audience is introspective and serious and demands more of me as a writer. Writing for children is more invigorating and allows me to recapture a sense of wonder and magic that we lose as adults. I hope to be able to continue juggling both forms of writing in the future.
Katelin: What inspires you, are you inspired by specific situations you’ve witnessed?
Maggie: I use some of the imagery from my childhood in my writing. I don’t always write about specific situations that I have witnessed or experienced, unless I am particularly compelled to do so. I like blurring the lines between fact and fiction when writing about past situations because that makes a piece of work more nuanced and perhaps it keeps the reader guessing.
My ideas often come from unlikely places and it is hard to explain that. Sometimes it comes from content that I am teaching my students and their own writing.
Other times it can be visualising a really vivid setting that I can’t shake, or a character who comes whispering uninvited. Ideas come to me, it’s less fruitful to look for them.
Katelin: Do you have a favourite part of writing?
Maggie: My favourite part of writing is the first draft when I think I know where I am going as a writer, but the story leads me on a completely different path. Sometimes characters take the steering wheel and decide where they want to go.
The not knowing is always exciting and so is being on a writer’s high when the words are just flowing and you know you are on a right track. Having a final draft is a pretty rewarding feeling also, it feels like a new baby and it’s so full of promise.
Every part of writing is enjoyable in its own way, if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be doing it. Yes, even editing can be fun.
Katelin: Do you remember when you began writing and what drew you to it in the first place?
Maggie: I have always written, even as a child. The ability to create something out of nothing has always been a drawcard, as well as the chance to experience and mould different worlds through fiction. It’s always been very comforting to me.
It’s something I have taken a bit more seriously in the last five years because I wanted to see how far I could go with it. I wasn’t ready to give up on writing and I’m glad I am still taking risks and trying new pursuits.
Katelin: Where do you write?
Maggie: I have a book-filled study and desk. I’d like to write there a lot more but at the moment I do my writing on my dining table. It means my clicking-clacking won’t wake up my son. But I miss the local library and cafes, I am productive there.
Katelin: What are you working on now?
Maggie: It feels like bad luck to share unpublished projects, I’ve always felt very protective over my work and I have been reluctant to talk about my current projects. It’s something I am trying to overcome and perhaps if I speak more about my projects the right energy will be released and lead to their publication.
I am polishing a Middle Grade manuscript which blends and re-imagines familiar fairy-tales into one adventure story. The protagonists will be very familiar to most of us: Hansel, Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood (Roux) and Jack (from Jack and the Beanstalk). It was a thrill to give these characters, whom we don’t know much about, a voice and rich inner lives.
I am also pitching a picture book, ‘The Boy with Butterfly Wings’. Monty is a boy like no other, he is a boy with butterfly wings. While Monty loves his wings, others are not so kind about his difference. This makes Monty want to hide his uniqueness until he learns to accept himself and love his difference.
The butterfly wings serve as a metaphor for any kind of difference and in writing this book, I wanted to spark a conversation about conformity, bullying and embracing and loving what makes one unique.
You can find Maggie’s work in Award Winning Australian Writing 2016, in the Age/SMH, n-SCRIBE, Writers Bloc, SBS Voices, Ellipsis Zine, and others. She was the recipient of a Creative Victoria Sustaining Creative Workers Initiative Grant in 2020, shortlisted for the Nillumbik Prize for Contemporary Writing for fiction and non-fiction (in both categories!) and a recipient of the 2018 Maurice Saxby Creative Development Program.