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Fins, masks, and podcasts

Jennifer Mills at Point Lowly In June last year, I went snorkelling with the giant Australian cuttlefish in their breeding waters at Point Lowly, near Whyalla. These astonishing animals appear in various forms throughout Dyschronia, and I did plenty of research into them, but I didn’t go to see them in person until I’d finished the novel, perhaps wary that such an encounter would overwhelm the image I held in my mind; the glittering skin of the cuttlefish came to echo the migraine visuals of the books’ protagonist, Sam.

When my partner and I finally made the trip over to Whyalla, it was at a time of crisis for the region, and I decided to write about the cuttlefish in the context of South Australia’s industrial transformation, as we rapidly shift from fossil fuel dependence to renewable energy. The Whyalla steelworks, closed when we visited, has been re-opened with huge investment in solar and storage, and I’m cautiously optimistic about the possibilities for the region.

The essay, Swimming with Aliens, was shortlisted for the Horne prize, and has now found a happy home at Overland – which means you can read it for free on the website (though if you can afford it, a subscription helps the journal keep up its good work).

The week this essay went to print, we had a state election in SA. The result meant that I had to snatch the final version back and make some minor adjustments. I made an effort to retain the note of optimism, even though I wasn’t really feeling it then. I’m less despairing now, having had time to think it over. The energy transformation in SA has largely come from a place of desperation – and in a time of industrial closures, renewable energy is providing a much-needed economic boost to regional towns. With the federal Liberal government pushing its ‘worse than nothing’ NEG and trying to keep coal in business, the political discourse is disappointing, to put it politely. The SA Liberals, who privatised the state’s electricity grid in 1999 (to help pay for the state bank bailout, don’t forget), are back in power, but the economic realities have profoundly changed, so much so that 100% renewable generation looks inevitable. So I’m clinging to my fragile optimism, but I’m also grounded in the stories that I’m telling, and always aware of the power of narrative in working for change.

I am not just underwater this week, but also on the airwaves. Radio National’s Hub on Books has just played the interview I recorded earlier in the year – I am pictured in the ABC studios in Adelaide back in February, with my preferred mode of transportation. You can listen to the podcast here. I am on last, so about 45 minutes in.

Secondly, the podcasts from Adelaide Writers Week are up, so I am catching up on some of the conversations I missed or want to revisit. I highly recommend Teju Cole and Sarah Sentilles, who incorporated the fighter-plane flyovers into their discussion about images of war. You can also catch me with Eva Hornung talking about small towns, trauma, and time (The Last Garden is phenomenal), and discussing the future alongside Cory Doctorow and Maja Lunde.

Third, I’m featured in the recently-revived Meanjin podcast, reading from a recent short story, ‘Miracles’, and chatting about Dyschronia, time, climate change, and writing the mythic.

Miracles‘ is in a new anthology out this week, Meanjin A-Z, which is edited by Jonathan Green and features fiction from the journal from 1980 to now, organised alphabetically by author (I always get a little thrill when I see my name next to David Malouf’s). It’s a fine collection and one I am sure I will read, re-read, and use in writing workshops for many years to come.

All good bookshops, etc.