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I’m back in Beijing after almost three months away – the first two on an adventure, and the third at a residency in the US working on stories for a new collection. I’ll respect the privacy policy of Yaddo by not describing it in detail here, but i cannot refrain from expressing wonder at the extraordinary value and privilege of such places. Working in a colony alongside other creative people, in a place where so many other people have created, does something to the mind. I had some transformative conversations, exceeded my modest goals, managed to do three months’ worth of work in less than one, and have returned to my real life with a decent-sized pile of new stories for the monster collection I have brewing. This week I’ve been sorting them into those that are finished, those that will need another draft or two, and those that are lost causes – by some miracle the third column is empty and the first two are even, so apparently the gold spun in the palace still weighs something in the town. I was half expecting it all to fall apart in my hands like salvage from a dream.

I’m giving myself the rest of the year to put a rough tracklist* together and look for gaps and links and balancing-places. I am aided in this quest by some tidy money from the Australia Council (kindly proffered just before the Minister snatched much of it away), and hopefully that will enable me to continue in the vein of miraculous efficiency resulting from extraordinary privilege.

Meanwhile, I have an essay out in Overland about Detroit, which I visited last year and found I couldn’t not write about. It’s online here, and in print in issue #220. The thinking in it is really the culmination of a lot of thinking I was doing in the writing of the novel, Dyschronia, which I still can’t tell you more about just yet – I think I succeeded with that book’s mission to break time, but not in the way that I intended. Hard to believe the universe is composed completely of accidents crashing into other accidents when it has such a sharp sense of humour. Or maybe that’s a simpler case of cause and effect than I think.

Oh, if you’re into poetry in a big way and you want to contribute to the intellectual space that Overland makes, you can apply to be the new poetry editor, which would make you my counterpart but with more blank space. Being part of a literary journal is a bloody rewarding gig, if you’re up for the effort. The clever comrades are also looking for volunteer readers at the same link, deadline this Sunday.

*if the last one felt like a mixtape, i guess this one’s an album


Free the arts!

The present Australian Arts Minister and A-G George Brandis wants to take a big chunk of $ from the peer-reviewed, democratically accountable national body the Australia Council and use it for his own personal “excellence” [read:slush] fund. This is the same guy who gave $275000 cash to Melba Records last year without any competitive peer review process and without bothering to tell the taxpayers (whose money it was).

So Overland literary journal and the MEAA and a bunch of writers and artists are putting our signatures to this letter. I’d encourage people to share it widely and sign it too:

Australians for Artistic Freedom

Democratically accountable public institutions are as vital for a healthy society as diverse arts and culture, and this move by the Liberal government is an attack on both. On the upside, we can take this move as an acknowledgement of the importance of free artistic expression to Australian culture right now – if it didn’t matter so much, the bullies in power wouldn’t bother to smash it to pieces in front of us.

Small organisations and individual arts grants will suffer most from this, as we are worst positioned to attract other funding sources such as corporate philanthropy. Without small orgs and individual artists, the sector as a whole is impoverished – and so is Australian culture in all its diversity.

It’s well and truly time to mount a broad campaign to shake these treehouse thugs out of office, and I hope this statement will contribute something to that effort. It’s an effort that is going to have to come from the grassroots, the very people they are counting on silencing here. So not shutting up about it is a good first step.



at beijing bookworm before the festival

This is me before Australian Writers Week in China. The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind (or should I say a whirly-whirly). I spoke at four different universities, two of which were in Inner Mongolia; I met translators, publishers, and writers from China and the world; I learned ten thousand things about China and the world; I hung out with ambassadors and academics and was fed splendid banquets; I stumbled my way through bilingual conversations with new friends; and finally, I read a story and spoke on a panel at the Beijing Bookworm Literary Festival.

There is no ‘after’ picture because sleeping, but here are a few highlights.

With Zohab Z Khan and Maxine Beneba Clarke at Foreign Studies U. Pic by Aus embassy

With Maxine and a poster. Pic by Aus embassy

With Maxine Beneba Clarke, Prof Wang Jinghui and students at Tsinghua U. Pic by Aus embassy


Many thanks to the Australian Embassy and the Beijing Bookworm for making all that possible, especially the part where I went to Hohhot for work because I really enjoyed that. I once set a story in Inner Mongolia (Architecture) and it was good to actually go there. I want to go back and look around the ghost cities and visit the lovely people I met and continue having interesting conversations about the parallels between Inner Mongolia and Central Australia.

In the middle of that hectic fortnight I found out that I have a residency at Yaddo in August this year, yeah that’s Sylvia Plath! James Baldwin! Laurie Anderson! Yaddo, so I will be heading back to the US for a month after the summer break to write like the wind.

I like you, 2015.



大家好 and happy new year! First, an announcement: if you’re going to be in Beijing in March, you can catch me at the Bookworm’s international literary festival – a staggeringly awesome lineup of guests from around the world, including a small cohort of Australians. I can’t wait to be a part of it. It’s particularly exciting for me to be returning to the Bookworm, since they were my hosts when I first came to China on an Asialink residency in 2010, and have made me feel right at home again this time around. Keep an eye on their website for festival details over the next few weeks, and until then, here’s a taste.

Studying has kept me busy, writing and the Ministry of Public Security have kept me away from the internet, and Beijing winter has kept me indoors quite a bit what with the short days, the icy temperatures and the smog. It’s a very clear day today – I can see all the way to the mountains again – but last week when the AQI soared almost to 600 (a personal record) I couldn’t see the end of my street. When it’s not polluted the winter days are glorious. The canals freeze, the light is very pretty, and people go skating/sledding/ice biking on Shichahai (it turns out I can still ice skate like it’s 1991, so thanks, Macquarie shopping centre, for the life skill). This morning I noticed that the Eurasian magpies (Pica pica) who have been gathering twigs over the last couple of weeks are beginning to settle into knotted nests in the bare trees over the bike lanes, so somebody knows the ice will not last forever.

It’s nice to live somewhere with a proper winter for a change, even if I did cheat by spending a couple of weeks back in the land of cricket-beach-lazy-summer-xmas-then-fires-and-floods that I call home. Here, it even snowed. At first I thought the smog had solidified and was dropping from the sky in little flakes, like toxic dandruff.

Studying is going very well. I can now hold my own in a simple conversation like any self-respecting small child with limited vocabulary, assuming my interlocutor is extremely patient and kind. I’ve been taking some notes about the process of learning as I go, because there’s a lot about it that’s interesting – it might end up in an essay or a blog post someday. We are getting into a lot of grammar at the moment, which I enjoy. It’s still difficult, but having a base level of understanding in the classroom now means it’s less exhausting and more fun. It amazes me that small children who can’t even blow their own noses are capable of picking this shit up. Lends a little credence to team Chomsky, maybe. I didn’t know I would enjoy learning the language so much, but on reflection this should have been obvious, since Mandarin is a heaven for nerds. I am, like many writers, a great judge of all characters but my own.

As to the writing itself – it goes along. There have been some positive developments regarding Dyschronia, the novel I’ve been hinting about for way too long, and this will hopefully congeal into an actual official news formation within a matter of months so I can stop dropping irritating pseudonouncements. For now, the Book About Time requires yet another draft, so I’m still hacking away at it trying to find its final shape. Whatever it turns out to be, it will be supremely resilient! At the same time, I’ve started to feel my way around the edges of a new one, partly set here in Beijing. The early stages of a new project where I’m just feeling my way into it are a wonderfully pleasant counterpoint to the hard slog of the last. I’m trying not to rush either. This week’s stupid epiphany was that my default setting tends to be driven and obsessive – so I’m trying to enjoy a brief interlude of relative aimlessness. Of course, the short stories continue to crawl out of my head like crabs from a beached castaway’s ear. I am collecting those in a jar. It’s getting nice and full.

Oh, and I’ve also been making a ton of woodcuts. Have a look.