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Wombats, Health and Safety

In my three weeks away at Bundanon, I worked my way through a whole draft of the new book, achieved my aim of resolving some structural questions, and also injured myself in some way – so now I am paying the price for that work-binge. Look after your WHS, writers! I was thinking a lot about the body, gender, and various dysphorias, so it was almost in keeping to find myself afflicted. Fortunately I have no deadlines for the rest of this year and an enormous pile of reading to catch up on, so the forced period of inactivity is useful, if frustrating.

Apart from the aches, it was great to be back in Wodi Wodi/Yuin country, on the shores of the Shoalhaven river. A lot of landcare has been done since I was last there five years ago, and it’s wonderful to see the bush so well looked after. The country is very dry after a winter with so little rain and locals were justifiably worried about the bushfire season ahead. I encountered a lot of wildlife on my daily walks and didn’t have to go far to find it – there’s a wombat living under the writer’s cottage. Part of the charm of Bundanon is the way the wild encroaches on you, overlapping with your work, so that you can’t help but adjust to the routines of birds and animals – the emergence of the wombat became an evening clock. I was dazzled by the beauty and gravitas of lace monitors and amazed to be investigated by a curious young echidna.

Aside from the animal slideshow (with token desk shots) I have a few updates, publications, news items this post so I will keep it brief:

Overland 228 coverThe new issue of Overland is out – it contains my interview with Peter Carey and lots of other interesting stuff, get your hands on a copy now or visit the website next week when the Subscriberthon madness is on and you could win a ridiculous amount of goodies with your subscription.

I have a new essay in the Sydney Review of Books about Shaun Prescott’s The Town, the 2nd fiction offering from Brow Books. I would read the book before you read the essay if you can as it is worth going into such a unique reading experience cold. I had fun writing the essay – lots of thoughts in there about being a regional writer, landscape, the problems of genre, and Gerald Murnane.


RAF coverA new short story of mine is up at the Review of Australian Fiction – it’s my fourth appearance in the RAF, which indicates my support for the project – I have long enthused about its reserving space for short fiction, pairing established writers with emerging, and embracing the digital format. This story, called ‘Salt-wolf,’ is a bit different for me – I described it to the RAF eds as ‘revisionist Beowulf fanfic’ and it’s very much in the tradition of feminist retellings of classics. You don’t have to have read Beowulf to enjoy it, but if you’re curious, there’s a slightly abridged reading of the Heaney version on youtube that makes a great introduction. This time I’ve been paired with Veronica Sullivan, whose story ‘Second Growth’ is both imaginatively daring and intimately human – it steers the reader gently from the shore of suffering to that of grace. I highly recommend it to you.



Another release – they all seem to have come at once – is the annual Best Australian Stories anthology, and I’m pleased to have one of mine included again: ‘Miracles,’ which first appeared in Meanjin. There are lots of other great writers in there including some of my favourites like Julie Koh, Ellen van Neerven, Josephine Rowe… so do grab yourself a copy while you can.



Finally, I was very pleased to get some galley proofs for Dyschronia in the mail last week – and to send off my last few alterations to the eds at Picador. Nothing I can do about it now! There’s always so much grief in this part of it for me; it is tough to let go of what you’ve made, and of necessity to acknowledge your own limitations in the process. It’s good to be a way along on the next one by the time a book comes out – I am actually overlapping about three of them at the moment. I am proud of Dyschronia, and I’m very keen to see whether and how people respond to it. As I think I mentioned last post, the release date is February 1, 2018 – so it’s not long to wait…


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Read, write, eat, sleep

Hello, dear readers. Just a quick post to let you know of a couple of recent publications you might want to get your eyes/hands/paws/tentacles on:

I have just reviewed Wayne Macauley’s new book Some Tests for The Lifted Brow Review of Books.

A short story of mine called ‘Corrango’ is in the new Island, the bumper 150th issue. A subscription to Island is less than $50 these days and it’s a beautiful magazine – I mean look at this cover art by Tricky Walsh and the incredible list of contributors:

Island 150 cover image

This is not a publication but I was on a panel at the Melbourne International Film Festival a couple of weeks ago – Overland collaborated with MIFF to hold a discussion about dystopias in Australian books and film, inspired by a story we published back in 1972 called Crabs by a young fellow named Peter Carey. MIFF screened the film adaptation of the story, Dead End Drive-In – a cult classic. In our next issue, Overland will republish the story with a special extra treat attached for our readers. I thoroughly enjoyed being involved in a discussion that crossed from film to literature and back again. I’m told the panel footage will be available online, so I will post a link to it here when that happens. Meanwhile here is a photo taken by MIFF photographer Damian Sullivan:

photo of MIFF 2017 panel
That’s (L-R) ghostly hand of a hardworking Auslan interpreter; facilitator and editor of Metro Adolfo Aranjuez; me; filmmaker Ben Lucas; writer Claire Corbett; and film guru Alex Heller-Nicholas.

I managed to catch a couple of films while I was there, including fellow panelist Ben Lucas’ excellent sci-fi thriller OtherLife (set in Perth!) – I highly recommend that one. My other favourite was Liu Jian’s brilliant Have A Nice Day, an animated story of ordinary people and small-time gangsters in contemporary China. It is very bleak and very funny. It made me a little homesick for Beijing.

Aside from these exciting engagements my life has been mostly read/write/eat/sleep/repeat. Winter feels much too long here even though I spent two weeks of it having a delightful holiday in Far North Queensland and even though it is about 20 degrees warmer here than it is during a Beijing winter (it probably feels colder because my house is not warmed by government-mandated central heating). I’ve been judging a major book award, which involves a massive amount of reading, some of which has been illuminating… my office is crowded with a babble of novels. I’ve also been managing to work away at a draft of a new one of my own. It is a very incremental process. I’m a bit superstitious, so I don’t want to say much about it yet except that I think it is starting to develop some muscle… I’m looking forward to taking it away to Bundanon with me in the spring.

I’ve also been proofreading Dyschronia – the book that has taken twice as long and so must be twice as good as the others! Dyschronia now has a publication date of (drum roll) February 2018. So that means I’m getting to the fun part of book-writing, ie. not the part where you have to write the actual book. Choosing covers and watching it take physical form in this universe and waiting to find out what other people think of it are all quite joyful parts of the process. I’ll definitely be sharing more details here as they come.


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Journey to the West and back

I have a feature essay up at the Sydney Review of Books about reading Journey to the West while traveling in Xinjiang and Kyrgyzstan last year. I have always felt uncomfortable about travel writing – surely we have heard enough from white fools stumbling through the Orient – so I disguised it as a book review (or recommendation, really). It’s a long read but I hope entertaining and at the very least it will give you an excuse to look at clips like these:



Journey to the West really did teach me a lot about Buddhism and China and the power of storytelling, especially fantasy fiction, and I encourage you to read the whole saga if and when you get a chance. Mostly I wrote the essay as a means of coping with the reality-adjustment of leaving Beijing and moving back to regional Australia, the two places being more or less polar opposites (Monkey would not be fazed).

I also have some short fiction of my own in the new issue of Meanjin, a story called Miracles (now free to read) – it has a place in a new collection I’ve put together and will probably take apart and put together again after the novel is out*. There’s a lot of great reading in this issue of Meanjin, from Ben Walter’s beautiful essay on the burning of the Tarkine to Frank Moorhouse’s cover essay on the politics and economics of the writing life, so do buy/subscribe. Frank has inspired me to keep a list of all the work I do for a year as a kind of self-audit. It’s already quite long, so I shouldn’t be doing it at all.

The last few weeks I’ve been away at a residency at BigCi in Bilpin, NSW, on the edge of Wollemi National Park. It was a beautiful place and a very interesting setting in which to think through some ideas about landscape and art and climate change that have been worming their way through my mind of late. I did this residency with my mother, who is a painter – she hadn’t done anything like it before and it was wonderful to share the experience with her. I’m putting some of those thoughts together in another long essay now… essays take a very long time to write but I am enjoying them, perhaps as an antidote to the modes of brevity and instant gratification that seem to dominate daily media.

*I should have a publication date for Dyschronia very soon – watch this space!


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the landing party

It’s been nearly three months since we landed back in Australia. People still regularly ask me if I’m settled. Having never been quite settled anywhere, I have to keep answering ‘almost’. Four chickens and a halfway planted vegetable garden will have to do for now. The best things are planting and planning, going camping, breathing this pure good air and the sunshine, but since our town has been subject to extreme rains and winds, a cyclone, and the worst flooding in decades, I am also finding being ‘home’ an anxious return to responsibility for place, as we come face to face with the challenges of climate change. I am thinking a lot about what resilience means – for me and my various communities, and for this landscape.

I have signed a contract with Picador for my next novel, Dyschronia, a fact that readers of this blog may note with some fraction of the relief that I feel. That relief has quickly been replaced by excitement – I am itching for this book to be out in the world. It’s been a long time at sea, and it’s exciting to think that soon I’ll be steering my way through the edits to shore. I hope to have a publication date for you before too long.

My essay ‘Detroit, I do Mind’ which appeared in Overland #220 has been included in this year’s Best Australian Essays – a first for me, though I’ve been in the Stories a few times. The essay form has hold of me lately, perhaps because of that same unsettled feeling, or an urgency that comes with mortal time. I trust that my usual longing for fiction will slink back to me like a half-domesticated animal, a bit rougher around the ears and yowling with hunger.


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