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On tour

I am just back from a very quick trip to Melbourne for the Aurealis awards – I came home without a trophy but I had a great time, met some very cool people and remain stoked that Dyschronia is on the SF novel shortlist alongside some excellent books. Congratulations to this year’s winners and to all my fellow shortlistees.

Jennifer Mills at Point Lowly This week I’m heading off on a tour to Barngarla, Wirangu, and Nauo country, also known as the Eyre Peninsula. I’ll be based in Whyalla from 8-18 May, then heading across to Streaky Bay and Elliston where I’m teaching a couple of workshops on the 19th and 20th of May. After that I’m heading to Port Lincoln for another ten days, until 1 June. This is all part of the Writers SA Writers and Readers in Residence Project, connecting regional writers and readers with each other as well as with Adelaide-based institutions.

I’m excited to revisit Whyalla, as it’s almost two years since I was last there – I went snorkelling with the giant cuttlefish and wrote an essay, ‘Swimming with Aliens’, that was shortlisted for the Horne prize and later published in Overland. Aside from hitchhiking across to Perth in my wild youth, I’ve never explored this part of the country, so I’m excited to learn about the people (and other life forms) that inhabit these places, hear some of their stories, and to find out what is happening in this beautiful part of the world.

The project allows me some time to work on my own writing, so I’ll be pursuing a few different projects while I’m over there – some fiction and some non-fiction. As always, I’m particularly interested in the challenges that climate change presents, and how regional communities are working together to face them.

I’ll also be doing a few events, including school and library visits. If you’re a writer, reader, book club member, would like to attend one of the workshops, or are just curious about the project, you can contact Writers SA for more info about the tour and/or stay connected by following me on Twitter.

Aurealis shortlist

This week the Aurealis awards shortlists were announced and I was thrilled to find Dyschronia has been shortlisted for Best Science Fiction novel! These are Australia’s only major SF/F awards, and I am so pleased that the Aurealis judges have included my work on the shortlist along with some other brilliant books.

Speaking of science fiction, I have a new short story in the next issue of Meanjin called Keeping an Eye on Sinclair. It’s one of those stories where you want to apologise for inventing the thing you invented, in case it actually comes to pass – but really it’s about a dysfunctional friendship. Looks like another brilliant issue, with some of my favourite writers in there, so if you don’t already subscribe to the journal now is an excellent time to do so. (Here’s how.)

Also coming up is Adelaide Writers Week, where I’ll be chairing a couple of sessions. One is with Carolin Emcke on her stunning book How We Desire – this will be a great conversation to start your Sunday. The other is on Tuesday with the wonderful Melissa Lucashenko, I can’t recommend her new book Too Much Lip highly enough. Hope to see some of you at Tarndanya.

That’s it for now. I’m deep in the dark, thickety bit of what I hope will be the last draft of this new novel, so this is just a quick update as I wrestle for what remains of my work-life balance. Next month I’m teaching a workshop for Writers SA about writing a novel. I will try to have it figured out by then!

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.

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.