walking and falling

jennifer mills

A List

1. The new Meanjin is out (#72) and it includes an essay I wrote ‘On Quitting Poetry’ which is among the least comfortable things I’ve ever written (it’s also got the best list of references I’ve ever written):

Having escaped from the Last Supper without lasting stigmata, I sat in my hotel room and examined my soul, which ought to be a poet’s favourite pastime. There was clearly something missing in my relationship with poetry. I had not simply lost hold of it, as happens from time to time; I was disgusted with it. Surely I had once felt the required reverence, surely on some level I still did feel it, otherwise, why write at all?

Not for the first time, it occurred to me that poetry was just a sophisticated form of humiliation (on second thought, scratch sophisticated). I wondered why we expect poets to purge the raw feelings of their inner lives. What was it about the confessional mode into which we were being coralled that was so terrible? I sensed there was some deep masochism being demanded of me that I had not consented to. It was weird.

2. The new Overland journal is out with the winners of the 2013 Short Story prize and they are all superb (you can read them online, although you’ve obviously subscribed to the journal by now if you’re halfway smart). I wrote a judges’ report. Here’s an extract:

It takes confidence and skill to drop the reader right into the thick of things – and to haul them out again. A failure to pin down a story’s voice can unravel the whole. In addition, a voice that needs approval can turn the reader away. Confidence in one’s craft ultimately comes only with practice.

The winning stories have nerve. They avoid these pitfalls, and do something more: they surprise and delight, and they bring us into the places writers need to go. They take us past the stereotype, past our expectations, and into the blurry vagueness of life, with all its bewildering contradictions.

3. Volume 8 of the Review of Australian Fiction continues: last week there were excellent short stories from Tara June Winch and Mary Anne Butler, and the forthcoming issues have more brilliant contributions from Caroline Reid, Marie Munkara, Bruce Pascoe and Siv Parker. I’m very happy with it, and I hope you all subscribe;

4. I am not far away from finishing the next book, which will have taken me three years come January 1st, and is making me a) very tired b) very excited and c) regularly dream about cephalopods;

5. I’m running a workshop about voice at the SA Writers Centre Fiction Bootcamp tomorrow morning (it’s sold out);

6. I am fully aware that I neglect my blog (see 1-5);

7. I’m moving to Adelaide for a bit in 2014 because Adelaide is where it’s at;

8. If you are a person who does Christmas presents, please buy some good, independently published Australian books and literary journals for your loved ones. Thank you.


The lost

I wrote about extinction grief for Overland journal:

In Hobart last week for the Emerging Writers Festival, I went to pay my respects to one of my favourite tape loops: the video of the last thylacine in captivity, which is on permanent display in the new thylacine room. You can watch it on YouTube, courtesy of the Archives Office of Tasmania.

The video is shot from the thylacine’s height. It begins with his signature yawn. Forty-three seconds of pacing follow, and a scratch of the belly with a back leg before he gnaws at a bone. The marsupial nose is pressed against its meal. I watch an animal inhaling and processing an understanding of meat that is now permanently lost.

I find myself writing a lot about dead animals lately…

Read the rest of this post at Overland, and while you’re there, do subscribe to the finest of literary journals. It’s the annual Subscriberthon, so if you sign up this week there are loads of prizes. Every subscriber wins the pleasure of a year’s worth of ideas and reading, including wonderful fiction, hand-picked by me.


working like a boss

It’s twelve months since I accepted the gig of fiction editor at Overland and I’ve just finished co-judging the second Short Story Competition – the shortlist will be announced soon and the winners with the publication of issue 213. The quality was excellent once again – I’ll be writing more in my judge’s report. I’m proud to be a part of Overland, and proud of its ongoing commitment to nurturing emerging writers.

I’ve also been hard at work putting together volume 8 of the Review of Australian Fiction, a plucky journal which is building quite a strong following for itself and will be turning two at the beginning of next year. As a guest curator, I set a 50% Indigenous quota for the volume and consulted with my friend Ali Cobby Eckermann to ensure it reached its target with some emerging writers – and I’m very pleased with the results. I won’t give the whole list of contributors away just yet, but there are some great new stories from Ali Alizadeh, Tara June Winch, Alice Melike Ülgezer, and more, and I hope you all subscribe to the journal over at the website: http://reviewofaustralianfiction.com/

It’s only $12.99 for twelve stories if you subscribe, and because it’s on a royalties model, more subscriptions = more pay for the writers. WIN/WIN!

In other news, I’m off to Tassie for the EWF roadshow at the end of October, where I’ll be delivering a keynote at the Digital Writers Conference. Very excited to be heading down to a writerly gig at MONA and catching up with some art, not to mention some lovely Hobartians. And hopefully find time to wander up Mt Wellington again.

All of this work has been wonderful, especially in terms of honing my skills as a reader and editor and critic, but it’s also swung the pendulum far far away from the book I’m trying to finish – the one that’s about time and responsibility. The one that’s taking twice as long and being three times as difficult as I thought it would be (I think they all are) and the one I think I’ve been trying to psychically escape from by working on other projects. Not writing is always harder on me emotionally than writing, so I’m looking forward to saying no to things for a while and freeing up some time. It’s a wavering balance of self-care and financial management. Before long I’ll swing back to penniless and lonesome and say-yes-to-everything mode. But hopefully not before I finish the book that will be my fourth.

As a full-time writer, it’s hard to gauge how hard you’re working. I quite often feel I’m not achieving anything at all for long stretches, especially when the writing feels sluggish, or I haven’t updated my blog in a while, or been running around at events. Then I look back at the work I’ve done and how much I’ve been learning and think ‘when did I write three-and-three-quarter books?’ and feel a bit tired. Being your own boss is great, but I have to remind myself to be a good one: to encourage mental health days and celebrate when things get done.


Queensland Literary Awards

I’m very pleased to share the news that The Rest is Weight has been shortlisted for the Queensland Literary Awards!

The Steele Rudd Award is the only prize in Australia dedicated to short story collections, so I’m stoked to be on this list, and in such great company. It’s been a very strong year for short fiction, which is something of a literary underdog.

So is the QLA, for that matter. Last year Frank Moorhouse dubbed the awards ‘The People’s Prize’ – it was saved from the brink of extinction at the hands of slash-happy Premier Campbell Newman by a very successful crowdfunding campaign. This year the awards needs more help – you can donate here.