A chat with Pip Finkemeyer

Every year Desperate Literature runs a prize for short fiction, aiming both to celebrate the best of new short fiction and to give winners the most visibility possible for their writing. We offer two residencies, cash prizes, agency meetings, publishing and manuscript assessment.

We sat down with previous shortlister Pip Finkemeyer to about short fiction, her first novel and what it means to write the sad girl novel

Interviewer – Emily Westmoreland, prize coordinator

Pip Finkemeyer’s fiction has been listed for the Desperate Literature Short Fiction Prize, the Richell Prize for Emerging Writers, the Disquiet Literary Prize and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She co-founded the Berlin-based zine Nothing To See Here, and completed a Masters in Publishing and Editing at RMIT.

She lives in Naarm/Melbourne and Sad Girl Novel is her first novel.

Pip Finkemeyer’s debut Sad Girl Novel is satirical, sharp and a self-fulfilling prophecy. Desperate Literature’s Emily Westmoreland sat down with Pip to talk about her novel, Ottessa Moshfegh and her 2021 shortlisted story Cables. 

Your short story Cables was shortlisted for the 2021 Desperate Literature Prize. What drew you to the prize? 

I wrote the short story Cables as a break from the first draft of my first novel, which took about three years. In the middle [of the first draft] there was the pandemic. I moved home to Australia from Berlin and I was working full-time. I hadn’t had time to write in a really long time. I had to put the draft of my novel to the side and it was making me sad. I had entered the Desperate Literature Prize before and been unsuccessful, but it was sort of on my radar. Then the judges came out and I’m familiar with a few of them—particularly Ottessa Moshfegh. That really prompted me to think about writing a story. I think the competition closed in a few days and I had a quiet few days at work… so I decided to sit down and write.

What was Cables about?

Cables was basically inspired by what I was doing for work at the time, which was working with the internet. I was thinking about the hardware of the internet rather than the software, because I think a lot of times when we talk about tech at the moment we talk about software. But, I found it so interesting to learn about how the internet actually works on the technical level of cables. So, I sat down and wrote the story in about three days and sent it in. I was very happily surprised when I was longlisted.

How has your writing practice changed before the prize and after being shortlisted for the prize?

I think that my writing practice has changed a lot. It’s really interesting for me to think back to where I was when I wrote Cables. I was committed to working a full-time job; had just moved from Berlin to Melbourne and I actually didn’t have time to write. As I said, I’d put the draft of my book, which later became Sad Girl Novel, to the side. The great thing about short stories and what I love about them is that they kinda just come out in one go. You have a little germ of an idea that you’ve been carrying around within you for maybe a year, maybe a couple months, maybe you’ve written some notes about it (which I had done at the time).  

I was working on the non-fiction essay about the internet and then I saw the prize was still open, I saw the amazing judging panel, which really motivated me. I kind of had a quiet couple of days at work so I just did it at work. I sat down and wrote that short story and it all just came out. I don’t want to say without very little effort but I didn’t have to tussle with it too much. It was all there, waiting. I think that’s because I had taken such a long break from writing.

“The other good thing about short stories is that they help you synthesize something that you’re going through sort of in real-time. You get the satisfaction of purging it”

I think the other good thing about short stories is that they help you synthesize something that you’re going through sort of in real-time. You get the satisfaction of purging it, finishing it, completing it and then creating a separate thing to you that you can instant break off and leave behind. With a novel it’s obviously completely different. You have to carry it around with you for years.

So, since then I finished my novel. 


Thank you. I was constantly juggling work and writing and then, when I got the book deal I got offered the chance to write a second novel. I was actually able to experience what it’s like to write full-time for quite a while, which was something I had always fantasized about. Then I realised it sent me completely crazy! So I started working again because I like balancing writing by doing something else more in the “real world”. 

When I got the book deal… I was actually able to experience what it’s like to write full-time for quite a while, which was something I had always fantasized about. Then I realised it sent me completely crazy! So I started working again, because I like balancing writing by doing something else more in the “real world”.

But my writing practice has really changed, because now I have this clear goal of finishing a novel. Recently I took a break from writing my second novel to write another short story—the first one I’ve written since Cables. It was a very similar process, it just came out really quickly, really effortlessly. I always love returning to short stories for that reason.

So, your first novel is now out in the world. Tell us a little bit about Sad Girl Novel

I started writing it when I was in Europe. It’s a novel about a young Australian woman called Kim who’s in her late 20s living in Berlin and her best friend Belle, a German-Turkish historian who has just given birth to a baby. It follows both women on the path to delivering these twin acts of creativity: one a baby, one a book.


“writing is just a form of madness”


One of the recurring themes in Sad Girl Novel is the madness or the mania you need to have in order to bring something like a book or a baby into the world. Does this sit true to your own experience with writing? Or is this a fiction you’ve made for the purpose of the novel?

Someone said to me recently that writing is just a form of madness, and I thought that was a really interesting way to think about it, and it’s a way to purge yourself of mania. I think since I started writing a novel I’ve completely changed. I have a much calmer approach to it because in that very short period of time since publishing my first and working on my second it’s become work to me. It’s now my job. I remember very distinctly working on the first draft, it definitely felt like a compulsion, like something that I just had to do and I wasn’t going to be happy until I’d done it. But I never really thought about anything beyond finishing the first draft. I’d never thought about the publication process. I think I was probably a little bit naive about what it would be like having it out in the world.

What has lived up to your expectations, and what has completely surprised you about finishing your novel? 

Well, I really love the editorial process. That’s one thing about short stories; if they get accepted for publication in literary magazines you often don’t get a very big editorial process at all. So, I really loved the experience of being educated with a big structural edit and then a copyedit. That was amazing. I think the experience of being reviewed when your book comes out is completely normal and something you’re ready for, but then as time goes on people start to draw you into discussions. There are times when I felt a little misunderstood, particularly in my angle to the sad girl novel; or I feel like sometimes other people are being slightly parasitic of my ideas and then playing them off as their own. 

When your novel came out it was post-pandemic times, Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation was the hottest thing in the Zeitgeist. Everybody was really into being a sad girlie. It seems like things have shifted culturally, at least here in Australia, since then. What do you have to say for and about sad girls. 

Well, I think it’s been amazing to see the way that anything that is popular amongst young women we can’t just leave it alone, we have to pick and prod at it. I think it’s become very fashionable to jump on the bandwagon and try to distance yourself from sad girls, especially if you consider yourself to be more literary than that. I think that just like any fashion it will pass and people will calm down about it because I don’t think it’s supposed to be taken that seriously. I think you should just let young women enjoy what they enjoy and trust that they have agency to decide what they want to read. If you don’t want to read them [sad girl novels], there are literally billions of books. 

For those that aren’t familiar with the “genre”, what is a sad girl novel? 

A classic definition would be a book set in the post-2000, written by a young woman. The protagonist is probably white and relatively privileged, and she’s sad about things that are not necessarily insurmountable or worthy of the levels of self pity that she’s dosing them with or dosing herself with. There’s a whole map of sad girl territory. On one side you have like the Sally Rooney types, but then on the other side you have The Vegetarian by Han Kang, Either/Or by Elif Batuman, obviously My Year of Rest and Relaxation… but a load of these characters are really struggling with real mental health issues or real interpersonal issues. The most important thing about the term is that it’s young women applying it to themselves because there’s an element of tongue in cheek to it. I don’t think anyone’s taking themselves too seriously when they refer to themselves as a sad girl.

“I don’t think anyone’s taking themselves too seriously when they refer to themselves as a sad girl”


Do you think that in the Instagram era there’s an element of performativeness to the sad girl? 

I think so. I mean to be honest, I don’t really consume too much sad girl content. My Instagram is full of wholesome animal video content. I don’t actually follow a lot of people that perform sadness on social media, but I know that it’s done a lot.

What are you working on now?

The themes of my second novel are somewhat tied to Cables. I like writing about older characters and particularly the way older characters interact with the modern world, technology and such. I think I like writing old characters because fiction is all about an accumulation of experiences, and older people have twice as much material to work from. There’s something about the passing of time that can be really well documented.

I am working on a novel about technology. It’s specifically looking into the near past rather than the near future, because I feel like a lot of the stories about tech are set in this sort of utopian pop near future where anything is possible and it feeds into this idea that we have about technology, that it’s got this somewhat magical power and one day it’s going to magically do something good for humanity that we don’t understand yet. I think if we look back at what’s actually happened, we’ll see that due to a lack of regulation by… or anyone in power having any control of anything actually the opposite has happened. So I wanted to set it in the mid 2010s and talk about the ethics of the tech world through the lens of a queer work love story of two women that work in tech and love each other almost as much as they love their work.

Jumping from novels back to short stories, what do you look for in a good short story?.

I think short stories can do so many things that novels can’t and I will always love writing short stories, and I hope that I never stop. They can start with a level of emotion, then ratchet it up—and they can just stay there. Whereas with novels, you can’t maintain that level of tension—there has to be some dissipation at some point. But with a short story you can really play around with very extreme emotions, and you can use a really particular voice that might not work within the more complicated plot of a novel. You can do so much with voice and style in a short story. I think with the best short stories you really feel like there’s a sense of play there.

I think with the best short stories you really feel like there’s a sense of play there.

What would you say to anyone that is thinking about entering the Desperate Literature Prize this year? 

I think that I’ve been really amazed by the fact that the benefits of being shortlisted for the Desperate Literature Prize don’t end when the prize rolls over to the next year, and the next year’s shortlist is announced. I feel like I’m connected to an international community of writers, booksellers and people that love experimental short fiction. As a result of it I’ve been invited to come back to Madrid in 2024, and London and I’m gonna do a mini European tour to promote my first novel. That would have looked very different if I didn’t have the connections I’ve made through Desperate Literature as a result of being shortlisted for the prize. I’ve actually met so many amazing people through it. It’s a community that is completely international. I live in Melbourne and I’ve met a handful of people who have been involved with the prize, or are friends of the store, have lived in Madrid and now live in Australia or New Zealand. What I love about bookstores is the sense of community, and I think the Desperate Literature Prize does an amazing job of extending that community internationally, somehow, from one little bookshop in Madrid. 

Also, the chance to be read by the judges. I don’t think I’ve ever seen another prize with the calibre of judges that this one has. It’s really inspiring that you get to write for these people. Yeah, I don’t see why anyone shouldn’t do it.

I should also add, I got my agent from being longlisted for a literary prize. It was a different prize, but it’s important to note that agents do keep their eyes on the prize. One of the things you’re told from day one as an emerging writer is how notoriously difficult it is to find an agent, and how demoralising it can be. So if you write something that gets an agent to get in contact with you… that’s probably the best possible outcome of a prize for an aspiring novelist. 

Finally, what are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading Bryan Washington’s third novel, it’s just come out: Family Meal. It’s just come out. I discovered Bryan Washington when I read Memorial and I’m just really obsessed with his solid prose. Family Meal is almost entirely action and blocking out, it’s not a lot of inspection, I think it’s amazing. It’s so visual, it’s like watching a film. It’s written in this inimitable voice that Washington has. I really appreciate the way food is portrayed in the novel. It’s set across Houston and LA, so far. I like the love and care involved in making food or preparing food for people. It’s very touching. I really admire the style because it feels so conversational and like the most unpretentious and natural thing in the world; whilst being highly literary at the same time. I’m loving it.