The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Stephen Romei

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.”

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