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Tracks, contracts

Exciting news! I’ve signed a contract with Picador for another novel, the queer ghost story I’ve been working on since 2015. It will be out in Australia sometime in 2021. I started the book in Beijing, wrote a good chunk of the first draft longhand at Yaddo in upstate NY, lost the notebook along with my luggage on the way back to China from Montreal (it turned up a few days later), brought a well-backed-up electronic draft home to South Australia with me and worked on it in a few different places, mostly Ngadjuri country (the mid north) but also bits of SA, NSW and Tasmania, then back to Beijing. And now I’m in Torino, sitting in autumn sun on the terrace of our apartment here, looking forward with more excitement than trepidation to the editing process.

Okay, so I move around a bit with every book, but this is a particularly well-traveled manuscript, a fact that suits the material (and immaterial) within: ghosts, borders, transitions, invasions, infections… I won’t give too much away until we’re closer to publication, but I’m really interested and more than a little spooked to find out what people make of it.

The first 11 weeks here have been full of learning and adventure. The challenges of changing countries are no less daunting for having been faced before: new systems, new bureaucracies (Italian notoriety in this regard is well deserved), a new language and culture, finding housing, figuring out how things work. After three different short-term rentals, we finally found a beautiful place, a top floor flat in the neighbourhood of San Salvario, which is very diverse, has a great local food market, and is close to a big park. The shipping arrived last week, and happy reunions with bicycles and a few precious artworks have made the house feel more like home. I’ve embarked on a language course at the Intercultural Centre, and my classmates are certainly an intercultural bunch, hailing from Morocco, Iran, Peru, Mexico, Palestine, France, and elsewhere (I taught everyone about quokkas last week so I feel I am holding up my end of the intercultural exchange bargain as the lone Australian present). Learning Italian is great fun, and most people we encounter here are very patient with our efforts, which makes it pleasant to practice. I’m also finding the saturation of excellent bookshops in this city extremely motivating.

Torino is a city that celebrates its writers. I walk by a little square named after Primo Levi every day, and cycle past the library named after him on my way to school; Calvino, whose Invisible Cities I am attempting to read in Italian, lends his name to a park and another library. My own local is Biblioteca Natalia Ginzburg, which has sent me after her work. There’s a street named after Antonio Gramsci – a very boutique address, one wryly notes – and nearby, a plaque to commemorate Nietzsche’s residence here. I’ve been heading out to a few literary events, including visits from Valeria Luiselli, Samanta Schweblin, and Omid Tofighian (Behrouz Boochani’s extraordinary No Friend But The Mountains has just been published in an Italian translation).

At the same time, it has been good to withdraw a little from the business of ‘being a writer’ and focus on the work itself. I’m starting a new project at the moment, and it’s both blissful and terrifying to be at first draft stage again – each time I approach, I’m a little older and wiser, but no less intimidated. It still feels like stepping into the air and hoping something solid will materialise underfoot. There are euphoric days and despondent ones, and I am working very slowly and gently, thinking about sustainability and care. Being here is allowing me to be receptive, present to learning and curiosity, in a way that balances the productive side of things. Winter will be along soon enough, and with it the impulse to bunker down at the desk… but for now, I am tracking the sun.

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