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On fire

Dyschronia has been shortlisted for another award, this time the Fiction category of the Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature!

I am thrilled of course, and want to thank the judges and congratulate everyone who made the shortlists. I also long for a day when the book becomes less relevant, a historical document about a time when we used to fail to understand the implications of our actions…

Instead, Australia is on fire.

I generally keep my writer self and my volunteer firefighting self pretty separate. Watching the terror and intensity of Australia’s current bushfire season unfold, in particular watching the way that volunteers are being abandoned by a government that refuses to help with resources let alone discuss the climate emergency, silence is not an option I can wear. So when the Adelaide Review asked me to write something for them on the subject I couldn’t say no. Here it is, written a couple of weeks ago before the PM went to Hawaii in the middle of a national emergency and several people including two young firefighters died. My heart goes out to their families and to all the brigades out there risking life and limb.

There are no climate denialists on the end of a fire hose

Here in Italy we have had major flooding – the Po burst its banks and a weekend trip to Venice last month turned into an adventure in a labyrinth of the Anthropocene, which I’ve been writing about in a long essay that I hope will appear early next year. Standing in floodwaters checking on family in NSW felt both strange and galvanising. I’ve been to several climate strikes here and the courage of young people to take up this fight gives me courage too.

I wish you all a safe break, and may you get a bit of rest between smoke, fire and heatwaves, if you’re in Australia. May some much needed change come out of all this, and soon.

Sharing a post from seven months ago again, because it sums up many of my feelings about 2019: The other side of climate grief is climate fury

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.

Nuove parole

There’s an interview about Dyschronia in this month’s Adelaide Review.

I had a great time chatting with Walter Marsh for this article. It was a pleasure to be able to speak about the book in depth, and in a specifically South Australian context, before I left the country. Now it is reminding me of the many compelling reasons to strike this Friday:

“We need to create a just transition from a damaging economy to a sustainable economy, and we need to do that while we look after workers and give people retraining and reskilling, and create a whole economy around care – care for the environment and care for each other. And I don’t see Australia moving in that direction yet.”

This time I’ll be joining the actions in a new place.

Though claiming in the above article to be based in the Clare Valley, I have since moved to Torino, Italy with my partner, who is working here for a couple of years. We’ve been here a month and are still getting settled (househunting in a language you barely speak is a hell of a challenge!) but enjoying the city so far. It is a curious place, rich with second-hand bookshops, cinemas, piazzas, wonderful food, and excitable students returning from their summer break. There is an uncanny quality to the city that makes me feel at home, and aperitivo culture is certainly agreeable. I have no idea what living here will do to my writing – but I’m interested to find out.

Mole Antonelliana reflected in modern buildingJennifer Mills smiling with a drinkPanino with Calvino: reading Palomar in the park

A belated but no less heartfelt congratulations to this year’s Miles Franklin award winner, Melissa Lucashenko – I was so thrilled to be able to be there to hear her speech, which had me (quietly) stamping my feet in the back row! I interviewed Melissa at Adelaide Writers Week earlier in the year; here is the podcast in case you missed it. It was wonderful to discuss class, trauma, laughter, reparations, Aboriginal storytelling, socialism, and karate with such a generous, smart and fierce human being, and it makes me so happy that her work is getting the attention it deserves.

Dyschronia on the Miles Franklin shortlist

What a huge honour to see Dyschronia on this list and what a fantastic, eclectic shortlist. The winner will be announced on the 30th July – I would be happy to see any of these books win! You can read all the judges comments here.

Miles Franklin judges comments