Last year was pretty tiring, but thankfully much less hectic than the year before. As soon as I came home from Rome, I hit the ground running and put together an application for a Discovery Early Career Research Award through the University of Queensland, a process that just about killed me. Happily, the hard work paid off and in a few weeks I’ll begin writing and researching an ecobiography of 19th Century botanist Georgiana Molloy.
For the rest of the year, I was teaching and writing. Below is a list of my literary happenings.
In February, my short story ‘When the World Shivered’ was published in the Review of Australian Fiction, together with Nike Sulway’s ‘The Nature of Things’. I loved doing this collaboration with Nike, especially as I was moving into a new genre and was a bit uncertain of myself. You can buy both stories for less than the price of a cup of coffee!
In March my essay on Georgiana Molloy was published in the ‘Looking West’ edition of Griffith Review. This was the first time my writing had appeared in this Queensland journal and I was very proud, and even more so when I did a reading from my essay at Avid Reader for the Griffith Review Christmas party at the end of the year.
In May, my essay ‘“Can I Do My Words?” On the Poetics of Deafness’ was published in Cordite Poetry Review. This essay was about how deafness lends itself to creativity. It was a new area for me and one that I liked exploring. I was also grateful that the editor published one of my poems, as I’m slowly moving back into this field and feel a bit rusty as a poet.
I also had two more academic papers published, one on Rosa Pread in the Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature titled ‘“I actually hear you think of me”: Voices, Mediums and Deafness in the Writing of Rosa Praed’. This looks at Praed’s use of sound in her novels, and how her attitudes towards listening and deafness influenced the trajectory of her daughter Maud’s life.
An essay on Georgiana Molloy and the implications of the naming system she used for the plants she collected appeared in the Australasian Journal of Ecocriticism and Cultural Ecology. This was for an issue titled ‘Encountering Australia, Confronting Catastrophe’ which came out of the conference at Prato, Italy in 2014 (you might have to create a login if you want to read the essay).
‘Hearing Maud’, a piece on how I found Maud Praed’s’s medical records and a letter she wrote to her doctor, and the implications of writing as a deaf person, was published online at Meanjin in December.
In January, Arts Queensland used me as a case study to show how I had used their funding for this research on Maud.
I also penned an article for Writing Queensland, the magazine for the Queensland Writers’ Centre, on opening lines and chapters. I also recently had one on endings published in the same outlet. It’s cheating a bit to include it in this summary but I like how they go together!
I taught creative writing at the University of Queensland for the first six months of last year, and just when I thought I would have to take my begging bowl back to the beleaguered coordinators for more work, I received a grant from the Australia Council for the Arts. Hooray! This bought me six months of writing time to write a young adult novel based on my short story ‘When the World Shivered’.
That process was both a blessing and a curse. While it was heavenly to have time to write, I realised that the project wasn’t going to be just one book, but three, as it was too complex to be contained in just the one book. So now I have added these books to my pipeline of novels to be written.
Getting these grants has absolutely saved my bacon financially and allowed me to progress and evolve as a writer. I was absolutely horrified when George Brandis butchered the Australia Council by taking away $104.8 million to create a new program, the National Program for Excellence in the Arts. Due to an outcry and a senate inquiry, this program never got off the ground (and Brandis was removed when Turnbull became PM). A third of the money has been returned and the rest siphoned off for a new program (still similar to the NPEA) retitled Catalyst. The money taken from the Australia Council to establish the Book Council of Australia has not been returned and there has still not been any word of what's happening with this council. Needless to say, my disgust with politics is complete, but at least Tony Abbott is no longer with us. You can read my submission to the senate inquiry here.
In April, I found out that my story ‘Old Honey’, which was longlisted for the Elizabeth Jolley prize last year, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. This totally knocked my socks off as there were 22 shortlistees out of 4000 entries. Although I didn’t make it to the regional shortlisting, the story that won the Asia/Pacific region was published in Granta and I thought it was absolutely lovely (you can read it here).
My conference circuit was not quite as hectic as last year’s, thankfully. In February, shortly after I stepped off the plane from Rome, I headed to Armidale and presented a paper on writing about the Great Barrier Reef at the University of New England. The conference theme was ‘The Power and the Passion: Contemporary Australian Literature and Politics’. This was one of the best conferences I’ve ever been to – it was intimate, the weather was gorgeous, we travelled to Judith Wright’s homestead and I met Helen Garner. It was also good because I got to catch up with Parental Unit & their fur children.
In the middle of the year I was invited to present at a workshop on Amateur Knowledges at the University of Wollongong. This was prior to the annual Association for the Study of Australian Literature conference, which was combined with two other literary organisations to make a Literary Studies Convention. I presented on vernacular criticism in the context of online blogging and the Australian Women Writers Challenge.
I did my undergraduate degree in English and Creative Writing at Wollongong and it was odd to be back on campus again. I also stayed with a wonderful writer, Cat Sparks, who with her partner took me out to dinner with Richard Harland, who had been one of my lecturers for Forms of the Imagination (and whose delivery I still vividly remember!).
In September I travelled to Sydney for the National Writers Congress, which was a wonderful opportunity to meet other writers and see what's happening in the industry. I wrote up my observations of the congress in this post.
Later in the year I made a jaunt to Noosa to present on Rosa Praed and mourning at a one-day Death Studies conference organised by the University of the Sunshine Coast. I loved all of the papers that I heard and wished that I’d been able to stay to hear all of them, but I had to leave early to get home to finish some work.
My research this year revolved mostly around my young adult novel (well, now series) When the World Shivered. As I moved into a new genre – young adult – I needed to read up on young adult fiction. I realised how important plot and action are, and when I read Veronica Roth’s Divergent series I also realised that I wanted a strong female protagonist – not just mentally strong, but also physically strong. I want to show that people with disabilities are physically capable, but not necessarily in the ways we expect them to be.
Teaching and Workshops
The course that I taught at the University of Queensland was on Narrative. I really enjoyed teaching and my students were great. In classes I showed them how to take apart texts to see how the author had created particular effects with character or language, and facilitated workshopping that was (I hope!) sensitive and constructive.
I also presented a workshop for the Queensland Writers Centre at Goondiwindi on Writing Historical Fiction, which went very well. I was surprised though that there weren’t more participants, and I realised that I could have helped the QWC with their marketing, which I will do in future. The life of a writer is always a learning curve.
The Australian Women Writers Challenge
I continued with my rewarding role as contributing editor in the area of diversity for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, which was established in 2012 to redress the bias in gender reviewing and raise awareness of Australian women’s writing.
I organised a spotlight on Australian women writers of ethnic heritage in May, which featured guest posts by author and graphic novelist Queenie Chan, Marisa Wikramanayake and Maxine Beneba Clarke.
I was also pleased to feature a guest post by Gayle Kennedy, author of the wonderful and funny Me, Antman and Fleabag.
This year I’m planning to arrange a spotlight on writers with disability, as well as more posts by Indigenous writers.
The Year Ahead
My creative writing will probably slow down dramatically this year, as I’ll only be working on that for one day a week, on Sundays. However, from experience I’ll be a more efficient writer, as the less time I have, the more I do (which is why I like to keep myself under pressure!).
I’m planning to get back to my poems and to write a novella based on my experiences in Rome. I’m currently rewriting my memoir on Rosa and Maud Praed (it wasn’t working as it was too academic). That will be finished by Easter, and then I’ll return to The Sea Creatures. Frankly I can’t wait; I’ve missed that novel terribly. The draft for that should be finished by the end of 2016, and in 2017 I’ll return to When the World Shivered.
2016 is going to be busy and fabulous!