The 2019 Shortlist: Paul Dalla Rosa
Our youngest shortlistee Paul Dalla Rosa is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia whose discovery is a product of the blind reading aspect of the Award (other authors discovered by the prize include Sally Rooney, Roshi Fernando and Rebecca F John).
In ‘Comme’ a man working in a high-end clothing store reflects on his life. Darkly funny, and described by Judge Kit de Waal as ‘word perfect, with undercurrents of sorrow and angst’, this story focuses on superficiality, self-knowledge and how we live now'.
Please read on to revisit our Q&A with Paul, and for the opening paragraphs of 'Comme'. You will soon be able to listen to the story in its entirety in an exclusive audiobook anthology of the entire 2019 shortlist, to be published by Audible later this year.
Please also join us on Monday when, inspired by Paul’s status as the Award’s first Australian shortlistee, we take a look at the successes of other antipodean writers over the past ten years, and are introduced to Paul’s top five Australian and New Zealander writers.
In the meantime, here’s a look back at his author Q&A:
What inspired you to write the story? Is it drawn from personal experience?
There are aspects in the story that are personal but there are more that aren’t. I wanted to change up what I’m used to and write a story in which someone was attractive and good at their job. Then there was a sort of confluence of things. I haven’t worked in high-end retail, but my partner loves certain fashion brands—A.P.C., Comme des Garçons, Acne—so I’ve spent a lot of time in the stores, just watching. I remember at the time, too, a friend’s boyfriend—he’s a nurse—kept ordering Balenciaga shoes at like 2am, 4am, based off reviews on a late-night, luxury Filipino shopping channel. That’s a lot of surface stuff but the more personal is maybe more universal things, the feeling of being stagnant, things not going how you planned them too, the feeling of time moving, the realisation you don’t get it back. I’ve felt all that.
How does writing short stories differ from writing full-length fiction, and what do you enjoy about writing in the genre?
Short stories take place in a different space. With a short story I like to imagine a phosphorous flare. Something ignites, there’s a flash of illumination, then it’s gone. Afterwards, maybe you don’t even know what you saw, maybe you can’t remember. Longer works need to be something both less and more. I’m in the middle of a novel and I’ve had to develop a different temperament. I’m more at home with short stories. I like the stakes. The story either works or it doesn’t.
How do you write? Longhand or typed? Why does your chosen method work for you?
I do both. The idea phase is all longhand, then I move to my laptop. When I think a certain part isn’t working, I’ll rewrite it longhand. With paper I feel more open, I can tell myself I’m messing around. I’m also closer to the sentence. Then I’ll probably lose whatever it is I wrote and go back to my laptop. If it’s a system, it’s a chaotic one.
Which short story collection by another author would you recommend?
I recommend Abigail Ulman’s Hot Little Hands. Full disclosure, Ulman has been a mentor of mine for years. She’s a Stegner Fellow and her stories are surprising and complicated and funny and expansive. Set in Melbourne, Vladivostok, San Francisco, even an ICE cell in Philadelphia, they follow young women in the throes of infatuation and desire and diaspora. She never pulls punches. They’re great stories. They feel like being alive today.
What’s your favourite short story of all time? Who would you cast to read it?
All time is hard, but I’ll say a more recent story. ‘Animals’ by Amie Barrodale. It’s from her 2016 collection You Are Having a Good Time. She’s a genius. The story involves an arthouse actress, late night phone calls, and the making of a film. It seems to me the best story about the feeling of making art, the inexplicable, that you don’t really know what’s happening while you’re doing it, and how so often in creating art one transfers the emotions of one thing to another. It’s also a kind of #MeToo story that precedes the hashtag. It still surprises me. I’d cast Kristen Stewart.
Who would you cast to read the story you have entered?
Let’s say Timothée Chalamet but maybe after ageing ten or fifteen years.
What are you reading now?
Yukio Mishima’s novella Star and Gary Indiana’s Depraved Indifference.
And here is the opening of ‘Comme’:
'The Melbourne store was in an alleyway. There was nothing in the alleyway, only red bricks and the store. We had no signage though people persistently stood in front of the entrance and took photos of themselves. Sometimes they would do this inside. In these situations, my staff were often unsure how to act. I told them to do what we always did, stand and wait for customers.
We played no music. Clothes hung from metal scaffolding. In shifts, time dilated. When customers appeared, they moved or seemed to move faster within the store than they did outside of it. I trained my staff to act indifferently towards them and pour cucumber water, at their discretion, for potential high-end clientele. These were mainly rich men and women from Beijing and Shanghai, or Asian teenagers using Amex platinum cards'.