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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.


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!


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.


turning and turning

Hello from deep inside the temporal spiral that is Dyschronia. Despite trying to give up on this book a few times, I’ve burrowed back in over the last couple of months to work on another draft. It feels like some epic karmic struggle that will carry on into other lifetimes … I guess we are stuck with each other. I’m being a bit more ruthless with this draft than I was last time, and I think the eventual book will be stronger for it, if it ever sees the light of day. So, apologies if these updates are becoming repetitive.

The short stories are generally a bit happier. The new collection is looking for a home now, though I haven’t really been pushing as hard as I could be – I’ve been avoiding thinking about publishing because the business side feels so antithetical to doing the work I want to get done. Hmm, self-sabotage? I don’t know. It’s been a very hectic year so far, very challenging, and I have had to work on several levels at once; I suspect it’s more about self-protection.

To tide you over, a few of my little fictions are out and about this month, doing their weird peacock-spider dances in the following fine publications:

A new story called Stigma in the RAF (my third appearance in that fine journal, this time with the super talented Jennifer Down for company – attack of the Jennifers!) ;

Another new story called Blue, red, blue, red, blue in the 10th issue of Canary Press along with the likes of Etgar Keret, Patrick Lenton, and Julie Koh;

And a third new one called Ex in an anthology of feminist work called Better than Sex coming out this month through Hardie Grant, with a few women you might have heard of… oh just Lena Dunham, Roxane Gay, nbd.

I also started a new novel in January, cause I still haven’t learned my lesson. It’s set in Beijing and Sydney, and I’m excited about getting back to work on it later this year. My relationship with this city has really shifted in the last few months. It’s been feeling a lot like “home”, with all the restlessness and exile that word evokes for me. We’ve also decided to leave at the end of this school year.

At first I was pretty sad about this decision not to stay on for a 3rd year, though it was plan A and had to be made and for various reasons is obviously the right move. But the closer we get to going, the more I’m looking forward to returning to Australia in general and South Australia in particular. It has been an amazing couple of years in this remarkable city, and I will miss being baffled and delighted by it. But I also have olives to brine, wine to make, and a proposed nuclear waste dump to stop.

And countries to visit, with two trips between here and home – one to Xinjiang and Kyrgyzstan, to explore the ancient Silk Road, and another to Borneo, where I hope to spot a Rafflesia in flower, and then on to Indonesia, before landing in the wet tail of a Clare Valley winter. Leaving Beijing will mean an end to this peripatetic lifestyle for a while, so we are milking it for all it’s worth.

Leaving will also mean drawing a line under the Beijing Block Book project. For the moment the plan is just packing and shipping everything back, but I hope to have a little exhibition sometime, and maybe put the prints together in some kind of artist’s book. It’s been such a good diary of noticing the city, and a great apprenticeship in woodcuts. Definitely entertaining fantasies of buying a press now, so I guess this printmaking thing is going to stick. The @bjblockbook insty will still be updating with new prints; I have a few left to make before I pack up the cardboard studio. But I am excited to move on to new methods, scales and tools, and the next chapter of relief print art-nerdery.

All of the above is proving good distraction from the fact of moving countries again. To offset the stress of working our way through the list of things we have to do, we’re also working our way through a list of things we want to do before we leave Beijing. It’s almost like being here for the first time again, having a list; it means noticing new things and noticing old things you thought you stopped noticing. Everything’s tinted with premature nostalgia, so has a kind of hyperreality to it. Even more than Beijing’s usual, I mean.

Honestly, I don’t think I’ll be able to stay away from the place for long.