Today I want to share some quotes about the writing life that I’ve jotted down in recent weeks. First, Tony Birch, from a long, thoughtprovoking interview in Overland magazine. Birch, who has indigenous-West Indian-Irish roots, recalls doing his HSC as an adult student and a teacher advising him, “You’ll be great, but only if you work your arse off”. She was right: Birch has won awards, including for his most recent novel, Ghost River. He’s working on a novel now and continuing his academic work at the University of Melbourne, but feels that soon he should start doing something more direct.
“I think my writing will shift more to the issue of climate change. But it may in fact be something that takes me out of academia as well. So when I think about what I want to do post-university life … it would be working with organisations at the cold face of climate change discussion. I’m a great believer of direct action and I’ve found in recent months that there’s a need to become re-engaged with political action as a climate change activist. I’ve been invigorated by the number of young people I’ve met who have at times put their body on the line and I’ll probably end up getting my arse whipped by the coppers … but I think that’s what I’ll be doing.
“I have a four-month-old granddaughter and I know it can be a cliche, but I’ve thought about what sort of climate will there be in 50 years for her and I know it’s going to be different, so I don’t want her to think her grandfather or her parents didn’t try to do something … I’d hate to think when she’s a 21-year-old woman that she thinks, ‘Well he might have worked his arse off writing fiction but he did f..k all for the planet. So I want it to be the other way round.”
Sydney writer James Bradley, who has just published The Silent Invasion, the start of a YA novel trilogy, also focuses on climate change (as does his excellent book) in an interview in the latest Newswrite journal. He’s only getting a short quote, because he gets lots of words at other times, including this week with a review on page 18. He thinks fiction that explores climate change is not a genre (cli-fi is a popular pick) but more comparable with novels such as Ulysses and Mrs Dalloway. “Thinking of these books in terms of genres or categories is to miss the wood for the trees: these books aren’t a genre, they’re expressions of the deeper and more pervasive transformation of the world and ourselves that we have taken to calling the Anthropocene.” He notes recent climatic events, such as droughts and floods, and the steep rise in the Earth’s CO2 levels. “As Virginia Woolf might have put it, on or about March 2015, human character changed.”
OK, that’s enough about the weather! Let’s talk about ethnicity instead. It’s certainly relevant in the wake of Malcolm Turnbull’s tightening of the citizenship test. In interviews with Australian Author magazine, Alice Pung, Dmetri Kakmi and Merlinda Bobis each reflect on their mixed backgrounds. Pung was born in Melbourne. Her Taiwanese parents came to Australia, via Cambodia, as asylum-seekers. Asked to name the biggest challenge she’s faced as an author, Pung says, “Not being typecast as a writer who does ‘Asian’ stories or ‘refugee’ stories, because as ennobling as this mantle is, it ossifies my work and alienates readers who might view these themes as political polemic.” Kakmi, who came to Australia at age 10 with his Greek parents, agrees: “Many don’t take you seriously when you come from a different culture and have an unusual name. They think you’re only interested in ‘ethnic issues’ and box you for life.” Philippines-born Bobis considers the complications of “serenading Australia” in a different voice. In the same article, Queanbeyan, NSW-born poet, rapper and novelist Omar Musa is asked what he’d like to see more and less of in the local literary scene. His answer is our quote of the week: “More fearlessness, less safety.”