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List and anti-list

A last post for the year, and a last essay: ‘Against Realism’ is out in the new Overland, my final issue as fiction editor. It’s a reflection on the role of dystopias and utopias, and something of a defence of the dystopian turn (in the service of making this world better, of course). This essay was written to accompany my last four commissions: wonderful short stories by Claire G Coleman, Elizabeth Tan, Wayne Macauley and Robin M Eames. It is sad to be closing this chapter as fiction ed after six years, as I’ve loved being an integral part of the journal, but I’m also excited to see what new directions Overland will take, and to make room for other voices.

Print copies are out now, and non-subscribers will be able to read the essay online in a few weeks’ time.

collage of publication photosIt’s been a big year.

For me, the most important publication of the year happened eleven months ago with the release of Dyschronia, my fourth book/third novel. I’m really thrilled with the responses this book has generated, particularly critically but also in more personal encounters with readers. It was a hard gestation and it’s been utterly rewarding to see people react to this unconventional novel with enthusiasm. And it’s nice to see the book appearing on a few end-of-year lists.

I published some essays I’m proud of this year, in addition to the one mentioned above: ‘Seeing Landscape,’ a long and personal essay about art, climate change and family, was published in the Autumn edition of Meanjin; an essay about encountering cuttlefish in their breeding waters off Point Lowly, ‘Swimming with Aliens,’ was my other favourite.



Now for the anti-list:

It is customary at this time of year to note what one has achieved over twelve months of writing, and there is value in looking at outcomes, but I’m also wary of all this focus on productivity. There are many less visible parts of my working life that I also see when I look back. I am writing from the midst of a draft of a new book, a queer ghost story which has taken up most of my energy this year. I’m planning to finish it in the first half of 2019. I received a Copyright Agency grant to support the writing, and I spent some of those funds going back to China and reconnecting with Beijing, where parts of the book are set.

Another cool thing I worked on was The Things We Did Next, a project by maker/producer Alex Kelly. I thoroughly enjoyed collaborating with Alex on this exciting theatre project in development and participating in the Adhocracy residency at Vitalstatistix.

In the spirit of collective action, I have also joined a national committee at the MEAA to campaign for freelancers rights and fair pay in 2019, which feels like a very exciting extension of my old #paythewriters work, and a good direction for the union – look out for more news on this in 2019.

I learned a lot this year, and walked a lot, and did my share of caring work. That kind of work always seems to go unmeasured on end of year lists, or get thought of as an ‘interruption’ to writing. But the things we make are only ever the surface of the work we do, and it’s important to acknowledge that ‘other’ work underpins it all: the work of survival, the work of community, the work of social change.

For a lot of this year, I’ve felt pushed for time in ways that I think run counter to the creative process. Part of that is my own focus on the urgency of addressing climate change, part of it is financial pressure, and part of it is circumstantial. I hope to take some time this summer to slow down and observe the world around me: to pay attention to nature, to what sustains me in my work, and to how I might sustain the work of others.


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Overland out… and in with the new

After six years and 25 issues as fiction editor at Overland literary journal, it’s finally time for me to move on. I’m a little sad to let go of the role, but I’m also excited to hand the opportunity on to someone else – I well remember how little I knew about being an editor when I started, and now feel I can claim some expertise, so I’m pleased to be passing that opportunity for professional growth on to another writer/reader.

Overland has opened the position to an application process, so if this interests you, please apply! It’s a paid gig and incredibly rewarding in non-$$ ways too. There’s also a shoutout for more volunteer readers.

Don’t worry, I have a very exciting last issue coming up: I’ve commissioned four brilliant writers – Clare G Coleman, Robin Eames, Elizabeth Tan and Wayne Macauley – to respond to the idea of utopia in fiction, and I’m really pleased with what they’ve each come up with. To accompany this special set of stories, I’ve written an essay of my own about why utopias and dystopias matter so much right now, in which I share some of my thoughts about the radical potential of imaginative work – something I’ve learned from, as much as brought to, my time at the magazine. My last issue will be out in December.

I am so glad to have been part of an organisation that has this collaborative, radical energy, and remains focused on the power of literature to make change in the world. I’m grateful to all the writers I’ve worked with over the years (amazingly, there are more than 70!) for what you’ve taught me. I’ve experienced the joy of being a part of someone’s first publication experience, seen writers go from publishing short fiction in the journal to publishing their own collections, watched work I’ve edited or commissioned being celebrated elsewhere, including in Best Australian Stories anthologies, and had the opportunity to work with some of Australia’s more established writers too. I’m proud to have participated in some shifts at the magazine: fairer payment for writers and editors, the increasing plurality of voices represented in our pages, and the constant process of reflecting on our own power structures. I’m proud of all the prizes and the judging processes I’ve been a part of, including the first ever OL/VU prize, and all the money we’ve given away to brilliant emerging writers – I’m looking forward to watching more of them build their careers. I’m grateful to have worked with two brilliant editors, Jeff Sparrow and Jacinda Woodhead, and a crack team of hardworking readers, whose labour has underpinned my own; due credit to all of you.

The good folks at Overland have written a little statement on their website, so I’ll stop here. But do get involved with the journal if you have time, skills, energy, curiosity, and/or a willingness to learn. As the statement at OL says, “Writing and editing is absolutely a collective endeavour.”

So yes, I am at the end of an era, but also the beginning of another. I’ve just come back from China, where I’ve been working on a new book, which is slowly coming together and will probably occupy most of the next year. I loved being in Beijing again, renewing my connection with the place and the language; I did something I wanted to do for a long time and climbed Emeishan, one of the sacred Buddhist mountains, an experience I hope never to forget; I visited Garze, in western Sichuan, where I looked at some much bigger mountains, and learned a bit about Tibetan culture; I thought a lot about borders, again.

A few days after flying home from Hong Kong, I took part in a pretty special event: the first Jaipur Literary Festival held in Adelaide as part of OzAsia. Below are a few pics from that event, which took place over three beautiful days at the Festival Centre. It was so great to be a part of an Australian festival that felt truly international, with lots of translation and cross-cultural conversations (and a proper-sized queer contingent!) You know you’ve been part of a good literary event when you leave not just with a big reading list and a head full of ideas, but with new friendships too.

This collaboration is an exciting thing for Adelaide, but also for Australia more broadly, which has the potential to participate in truly pan-Asian conversations. Despite the trend towards close-minded conservatism in many of our institutions, and the pressures on funding that affect us all, there is a great willingness among cultural practitioners to work together and share ideas and be a part of something bigger. It was a very heartening festival to be a part of, and a wonderful welcome home.


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Science/fiction

I had a great day at the University of Melbourne at Extinction in/and Australia – it was fascinating to hear from so many scientists, biologists, conservationists, philosophers, cultural theorists and other writers, discussing how we think and what we do about extinction in the Anthropocene. I was particularly impressed to see so many different conservation techniques in action, and hear how communities can get behind local efforts to aid particular species or places (citizen science ftw!). I was also excited to hear about de-extinction efforts in regard to the thylacine, which reminded me of The Lost, a reflective piece I wrote back in 2013.

talking fiction to science

Talking fiction to science. L-R me, Ary Hoffman, Richard Hill, Katherine Selwood. Photo by Rachel Fetherston


It was great to discuss Dyschronia in this wider context. Some scientists really responded to my ability/tendency to talk about feelings… several people spoke of the importance of story and narrative in their work, which was wonderful to hear. I am still deeply interested in the emotional terrain of extinction grief and whether that work can be useful. I’m sure I’ll follow these ideas up in my non-fiction at some later time.


For now, fiction demands my attention. Next week I’m heading back to China for a month to do some more research/detail-gathering for the novel I’m working on. It is exciting to be returning, though given how much Beijing can change in two years maybe that’s the wrong word to use. Alas, my Mandarin has not improved by being mostly ignored all that time! But perhaps some of what I learned will come flooding back when I hear the marble-mouthed music of beijinghua all around me.

The trip is made possible by the generosity of the Copyright Agency Ltd – I was recently awarded one of six CREATE grants to work on this novel and I’m thrilled to be able to give it the time and attention it needs. CAL do excellent work for writers in terms of advocacy and distribution of fees – if you’ve published anything, you should be a member (it’s free).
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One foot in front of the other

I’ve been a bit quiet here as I wade deep into another draft of the new novel. It has felt good to be able to give it the time after a chaotic first half of the year (releasing a book while demolishing and rebuilding parts of your house is slightly disruptive). But most of the things that were shaken up are falling to earth again, and I’m more or less back in my routine, and able to tend to the work at hand – give or take a day here and there glued to the unexpected plot twists of Australian politics.

Unlike Canberra, most of the disruptions have been good… Dyschronia has been so wonderfully well received. Another interesting review popped up recently in Southerly. I particularly liked the writer’s list of novelists working in a similar vein, as it happens to include some of my favourite recent Australian fiction.

I’ve also been spending way too much time obsessing over old maps. A wonderful three weeks on Bruny Island had me revisiting a lot of my thinking about landscape, walking, and changing relationships with ‘nature’ in the Anthropocene. I’m putting some of this together in an essay, which I hope to share in due course, but as with the novel it’s a slow process, patient and iterative; a long walk rather than a sprint, and that suits me.

I have a few events coming up over the next month or so:

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Next week I’m taking part in Adhocracy, the art/performance development lab run by Adelaide’s brilliant Vitalstatistix. I’ll be collaborating with film-maker/activist Alex Kelly on her project The Things We Did Next, the talk show of the future. There will be two artist talks and a showing but we’re one of nine extraordinary projects working over the weekend, so come down to Port Adelaide and check out the full program.
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On the 15th September I’m teaching a writing workshop for Writers SA at Hutt St Library in Adelaide – there are still some places so do book if you are interested in developing your skills in the short story form. All levels are welcome, from beginners to published writers.

After that, I’m in Melbourne on the 25th September to speak at Extinction in/and Australia, a one-day symposium at the University of Melbourne that “brings together researchers and practitioners from around Australia and across a range of disciplines: biosciences, earth sciences, environmental science, urban studies, aquatic studies, Indigenous studies, the humanities and the creative arts. It aims to open up different approaches to extinction, with the hope of producing new dialogues between researchers and practitioners – bringing extinction, for better or worse, into the forefront of our consciousness.” It’s going to be a great day of discussion about the current crisis, and what the future holds. It’s free! Places are limited though, so please register via the website.

A couple of things went online since my last post: I recorded a long podcast interview with The Garrett, which was fun;

My essay ‘Seeing Landscape’ poked its head out from behind the paywall at Meanjin;

And the shortlist for the Overland/VU short story prize went live – congratulations to everyone on it! it was great to be a judge again. The winner and two runners-up will be revealed soon.


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