Helen Garner is as plain speaking in real life as she is on the page.
This month, her publishers, Text, have released two new collections of her shorter work — Stories and True Stories.
These titles have an obvious meaning on the surface, but those familiar with the work of this Australian writer will know it's not always a distinction so easily made.
"I've always thought there was a line between non-fiction and fiction ... but I've always worked very close to that line," she says.
Forty years since her first novel was published and 75 years after she was born, Garner is still thinking deeply about what stories are and how we decide which ones are true.
Why young writers must overcome their moral fear
Garner's work prompts strong reactions, but she has one quality all critics agree on: gutsiness.
She is clear-eyed and prepared to dive in head-first, even at the expense of her personal relationships and reputation.
It's something she's noticed is lacking in a lot of the young writers she meets and teaches.
"Occasionally I'll do a so-called masterclass, and what I find is that people who are trying to write have this terror of doing it," she says.
"Of course, everyone's terrified of writing. It's hard to do, it's hard to get started and it's hard to keep going.
"But what they [young writers] seem to have is this moral terror: that they're not supposed to be telling this story.
"They seem to feel that they have to have some piece of paper signed that says: 'Yes, it's OK for you to research this and to write this story.'"
Garner knows from her own experience writing confronting creative non-fiction that the craft isn't without its risks.
"Everybody gets into trouble," she says.
"My reply to these people is 'blaze away'. You can't tiptoe round these things.
"You try to make yourself into a good enough writer to avoid damaging people and you try to have some kind of honour in what you do."
Blasting through the BS
Garner's approach to writing is having a moment, with novelists like Karl Ove Knausgaard and Rachel Cusk dealing in the same misty space between fiction and nonfiction.
When asked she thinks that might be the case, Garner is characteristically forthright.
"Everywhere we go we just seem to be surrounded by bullshit, clouds and vapours of bullshit," she says.
"Some days you just feel you're going to choke on it; you can't breathe … in order to blast through that bullshit cloud you've got to be a bit brutal, I think."
Garner fondly recalls an American critic referring to her work as "ruthless in the way I like best".
"I thought, 'Oh cool! I'll take that as a compliment.'"
Her secret? 'The recording eye'
Garner says this dispassionate perspective, so often cast as a moral failing — especially in women — is the secret to her success.
In a particularly telling moment in her 2015 essay On Darkness, she becomes somewhat obsessed with some historical crime scene photography she sees on display in a museum in Sydney.
"I see now that for some years already I have been trying to turn myself into the sort of person who could look steadily at such things, without flinching or turning away," she wrote.
Those "things" are the scenes of brutal crimes, which have in many ways become the bread and butter of her recent work.
"If you let your emotions out at the moment when you're contemplating the thing, you lose that coolness where you can actually see what the thing is," she says.
"That's the point of it: if you can hold back your emotional response to something, just hold it in check, not destroy it or trample on it, but hold it back until you are away from the situation … then you see more."
Preserving tiny moments of beauty
In the introduction to her 1996 collection of essays, also called True Stories, Garner invoked the English poet Phillip Larkin, who said "the urge to preserve is the basis of all art".
And as she gets older, she says, she feels this urge more strongly.
"I have an obsessive desire not to let things get past me … I want to grab them as they fly," she says.
"For example, observations about children — because I actually spend a lot of time with my grandchildren. I live next door to them.
"They change so fast. It's shocking, they transform overnight.
"There are these tiny moments, things they say or do that seem, to me, so beautiful and strange and precious and fresh, that I really don't want to waste them."
Helen Garner will appear on Conversations with Richard Fidler on November 23, 2017.