In reading over the summary of my writing and associated work in 2013, I’ve realised I completed abandoned any pretense of taking a more balanced approach to my life. Writing prevailed - this is what I love and I can’t stop filling every spare second of my time with it.
2013 wasn’t such a great year, for my self-esteem was bound up with Entitlement and when it wasn’t as successful as A Curious Intimacy, I was heartbroken. Since then, I’ve learnt that it’s impossible to account for the vagaries of the market, and that what is most important is that I enjoy the process of creating, and that I do the very best I can with marketing my book. After that, it’s time to move onto the next work.
However, if 2013 was dismal, 2014 was completely and utterly brilliant! Here is a list of the writerly things that happened throughout the year
In January, my story ‘A Mercurial Man’ was selected by Geordie Williamson, the fiction editor for Island, and published in Issue 136. In March, my essay ‘Ghostliness and Un/Belonging as a Hard-of-Hearing Writer’ on the advantages of deafness was published in New Scholar. My essay on Patrick White, ‘Inscribing Landscapes in Patrick White’s Novels’ was published in Patrick White Centenary: The Legacy of a Prodigal Son in August, while my essay on climate change fiction in Australia, ‘Fluid Worlds: Reflecting Climate Change in The Swan Book and The Sunlit Zone’, was published in Southerly 74.1 in November.
For the first half of the year I did research for my book on Rosa Praed and her deaf daughter Maud, with the help of funding from Arts Queensland which I received in December 2013. This involved reading Praed’s novels in the John Oxley library to note down any references she made to sound. I turned this research into an essay which will be published in the Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature sometime this year.
In June I travelled to Canberra to look at the Praed archives in the National Library of Australia. While re-reading Patricia Clarke’s excellent biography of Praed, I found in the footnotes that she had written to the sanatorium into which Maud had been placed after she had a breakdown following her father’s death. The note said that all medical records were destroyed after 25 years. Out of interest, I looked up the archives for the sanatorium on the UK’s National Archives database, and found they were still extant. I made some enquiries, obtained Maud’s death certificate, and in October I travelled to the Surrey History Centre at the Surrey County Council in Woking to have a look. Sure enough, they had Maud’s medical records, a lengthy letter which she wrote to her doctor asking to be let out (which she never was) and a photo. It was like hitting the jackpot! I’m now writing up this research for an essay for Meanjin, which will be published mid this year.
A grant from Arts Queensland was pretty damn good, but then in June I found out I had won funding from the Australia Council through their pilot Artists with Disability programme! Cue gigantic excitement, particularly as it was hugely competitive. This gave me four months to research and write my novel, The Sea Creatures. I thought writing it would be a breeze but it’s taken a while to get a handle on the voices. So it looks like the book will take longer than I thought and will be finished later this year.
Then, as if things couldn’t get any better, at the end of November I was unexpectedly offered two months to write at the B.R. Whiting Studio in Rome. I packed my bags and went off overseas again. I have two week left here - it’s been fantastic and I’ve been writing like a maniac.
Meanwhile my short story ‘Old Honey’ was longlisted for the Elizabeth Jolley short story prize (50 stories out of 1200 made the longlist). I was also shortlisted for the 2015 Peter Blazey Fellowship for my non-fiction proposal Blue Shadows and Morning Light: Tracing the Art Collection of F.G. White, which examines the dispersal of my great-grandfather’s art collection and the breakdown of the pastoral industry.
I love conferences. As an independent scholar (ie I write academic work but am not affiliated with an institution), they’re a great opportunity to learn a whole bunch of stuff at once, talk to and meet other academics and travel to different parts of Oz or overseas. In June I presented at the ‘Affective Habitus’ conference at the Australian National University. This was the fifth biennial conference of the Association for the Study of Literature, Environment & Culture, Australia and New Zealand (ASLEC-ANZ) and was organised in conjunction with The ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions. This was my first ever environmental humanities conference and it totally knocked my socks off. I presented a paper on the impact of masculinity in rural environments. I never know how my papers things are received so I couldn’t really tell if I did a good job or not. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to everyone else’s papers though.
In July I presented a paper on dispossession, landscape and the Australian pastoral at a conference on ‘The Afterlives of Pastoral’ organised by the School of English, Media Studies and Arts at the University of Queensland. I’ve just finished turning my paper into an essay, which also forms part of my research on my non-fiction book about F.G. White’s art collection and the pastoral industry.
The week after that I travelled to Sydney for the annual Association for the Study of Australian Literature conference, where I presented on Rosa Praed’s appropriation and elaboration of memory. The theme of this conference was ‘Worlds Within’ and it introduced me to the fantastic concept of deep time, which I’m incorporating into my research on 19th Century botanist Georgiana Molloy.
In September I travelled to Prato, near Florence in Italy, to present a paper on this research on Molloy at the European Association for Studies on Australia. I had a few days in Florence beforehand (first proper holiday all year!) and then caught up with academics who I hadn’t seen for years, including my former supervisor Ian Henderson, Director of the Menzies Centre in London, and academics who I met at the 2012 Patrick White conference at Hyderabad.
In October I presented in the ‘Creative Connections’ panel at the Arts Activated conference for artists with disability. I spoke about how deafness had impacted on my practice as a writer (and, indeed, made me a writer) and how I use social media to make connections. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet other artists with disability, including Gaele Sobott, Amanda Yeo and Gayle Kennedy. I also met the Deaf Arts Officer for Accessible Arts, Joanna Agius, who was absolutely lovely. At this conference, it was also announced that, on account of the success of the Australia Council’s Artists with Disability pilot project, another $1 million in dedicated funding would be given to artists with disability over the next 5 years. This was absolutely fantastic, and I was so proud to have been a recipient of funding in the pilot project.
In 2015 there will be less conferences, except for the annual ASAL conference at Wollongong, because I intend to be teaching this year and I’m too broke to go anywhere.
In August and September I presented master classes on Research for Writers for the Queensland Writers Centre, one at Helensvale Library on the Gold Coast and another at Townsville Library. I meet a bunch of wonderful and enthusiastic writers, and explained how to brainstorm research questions, search for key terms using particular search engines or catalogues, and how to incorporate that research seamlessly into one’s writing. The staff at the libraries were also exceptionally friendly and helpful, so it was a really positive experience all round.
This year I’m presenting another master class for the the QWC, ‘From Neanderthals to the Noughties: How to Write Historical Fiction’, at Goondiwindi sometime between June and August. Having grown up in the country, I really appreciate the opportunity to connect with regional people, so it goes without saying that I’m looking forward to this master class too.
On that note, in July I gave a talk at Orange City Library about Entitlement, having struck up a conversation with Jan Richards, Manager of Central West Libraries, at the Australian Society of Authors Congress in 2013. Jan was absolutely lovely, as were her staff and all the other people who came to my talk. I love engaging with readers, and I’m always grateful to them because I couldn’t be a writer without them. I also loved Orange – it was quiet and graceful, but pretty cosmopolitan for a country town. Which is just as well as one of my closest friends works there so there’ll be many more visits in the future.
Australian Women Writers Challenge
I continued in my role as contributing editor for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, which seeks to promote books by Australia’s women writers and redress the gender bias in reviewing. In January 2014 I wrote one annual round up of books that were reviewed throughout the year, and then another 9 monthly round-ups.
In March I co-ordinated a focus on queer/lesbian women writers, invited four writers to contribute guest posts and arranged a book giveaway. I also collated a list of Australian queer/lesbian women writers so that readers could broaden their reading selection if they wanted to. In July I interviewed Indigenous author Ambelin Kwaymullina in conjunction with NAIDOC week, and she followed this up with a guest post with reading suggestions of books by Indigenous women writers in October.
In September I co-ordinated a focus on women writers with disability, and arranged another four guest posts throughout the month (including one by myself). I also created a list of Australian women writers with disability and arranged a book giveaway.
I really enjoy the work I do for the Challenge, as it introduces me to new books and writers, helps me keep my finger on the pulse of Australian literature, and helps increase awareness of diversity. I’m looking forward to contributing more in 2015.
This year I was also approached by freelance writer Naomi Fryers of Ted’s Mum’s Business for mentoring after she’d heard about my Artists with Disability grant. Naomi is great to work with – she has loads of initiative and energy and isn’t afraid to try new things. You can follow her on Facebook at Ted’s Mum’s Blog.
My god, when did I sleep? I have no idea. In 2015 I’m going to try and stay in one place, pick up some tutoring work and spend more time with my beau. I might have said a similar thing last year but at least the tutoring, and general destitution, means I can’t travel as much (said beau is also something of a diversion). If anyone wants to buy a copy of my novels or otherwise support my writing, please do!! In the meantime I’ll be working on finding a publisher for my book on Rosa and Maud Praed, and finishing The Sea Creatures by the end of the year.