At home with Sophie Cunningham

Sophie Cunningham is the editor behind the 2020 anthology Fire, Flood, Plague. She is also the author of six books, including City of Trees and Warning: The Story of Cyclone Tracy.

Sophie is a former publisher and editor, was a co-founder of the Stella Prize and is now an Adjunct Professor at RMIT University’s Non/fiction Lab. In 2019 Sophie Cunningham was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for her contributions to literature.

At home with Sophie Cunningham


ASTRID: Welcome to The Garret. Sophie, thank you so much for joining me today.

SOPHIE: It's a great pleasure, to see your face.

ASTRID: Yes, see your face.

SOPHIE: Even I'm not... yes, and your listeners won't see your face.


SOPHIE: But I get to see your face.

ASTRID: Oh, the Zoom, it is the way of 2020. And Sophie, I have so many questions to ask you about what you have been doing in 2020. It's been a difficult year, but you are the editor of Fire, Flood and Plague, which is an anthology, obviously reflecting on this year. And I have to say, having just finished reading it, you have given me, and the contributors have given me, some useful ways of thinking about what has happened.

SOPHIE: Yeah. I mean, I got that from working on it. I really enjoyed it. It sounds counter-intuitive, but I actually found that my way of coping with the year was to lean into it, rather than pretend. Like, I was so stressed by everything that I actually thought having permission to think about it, and try and work my way through it intellectually, and to be talking to other people about it actually was fantastic for me on a personal level.

And one of the things that was really important in the collection was diversity, and I don't just mean cultural diversity, but I mean of opinions, and approaches to writing, and writing styles, and age, and responses. And it is fabulous. I feel quite objective, because I was so impressed by the work people brought to me. I didn't feel that I... People just rose to the occasion, I think is what I'm trying to say. There's just some really good work in there, and I'm really proud to be associated with it.

ASTRID: I have so many questions about this anthology, because it is a very big deal to conceive of something, get it all done, and publish it in what? Eight, nine months. But before we go any further, for our listeners-

SOPHIE: Five months, five months.

ASTRID: My goodness, five months. We are coming back to that, Sophie. This year, you've also released the 10-year anniversary edition of Melbourne, which is your ode to the city that we both live in. And also your first illustrated kids' book, Tippy and Jellybean: The True Story of a Brave Koala Who Saved her Baby From a Bushfire. So, you have had a busy year. Well done. I should also say that you yourself are a contributor to another anthology that came out this year, Living with the Anthropocene.

SOPHIE: Yes, and I also... sorry, I'm impressed myself. Can I just say, I've never worked this hard? I also wrote an essay that I just... it's possibly one of the pieces of writing I'm most proud of, a 6,000 word essay at the... came out. It actually came out in June, but I wrote it in response to the bushfire, and I've got a piece in Griffith Review, and the reason... which is coming out next year. But all these pieces of work were in a way, responding to what was happening, which is why I mention it.

The Griffith Review piece in a way is an extension of what I started researching and thinking about from the bushfires, because I just really wanted to try and wrap my head around what was going on. Or in the case of the Melbourne book, because the introduction I wrote in January was like, ‘Melbourne has the highest rate of immigration, and it's the most economic and happy city, and it's just permanently fabulous, and we're all lucky’. And then by March, I was like, I think I need to revise it a bit, because it's going to be a rough year. And it was about to go to the press sometime in August, and the poor editor, it was just like, ‘I'm sorry, I have to rewrite the whole thing’. ‘By tomorrow?’ I'm like, ‘Otherwise, we just can't’. Because it just dated, so dramatically. So it is a work... the introduction is very much a kind of like live action streaming of the year, in a sense.

ASTRID: Immortalised forever. Now, Sophie, you have an incredible career, not just with all of the work that you have been putting out this year, and obviously preparing for early next year, but you have just been elected as a board member of the ASA, the Australian Society of Authors. And of course, in terms of your deeper bio, you are an adjunct professor at RMIT, you are the co-founder of the Stella Prize, and last year in 2019, you were made a member of the Order of Australia for services to literature. I could go anywhere in this interview. You have so much understanding for words, and what they can and can't do, and maybe what we hope they can do for us all, but also how the industry works. Like, this industry of words that people like me and those who listen to The Garret love so much, but maybe don't understand all the intricacies and nuances in how everything fits together.

SOPHIE: The way of answering that is, I've become more and more interested in words as advocacy, as opposed to words as literature. I love literature, it's been my whole life, but joining the ASA was in fact a response to this year, and just the realisation that artists, artists have been getting done-over, over several decades. In fact, they're only really supported for about two decades, you know, so it wasn't great.

But anyway, so the realisation that we were kind of on our own, and so that was the ASA, and indeed The Stella Prize. Anyway, a long time ago, and I'm no longer actively involved, even though I'd come so proud of it. It's such an amazing thing to have been a part of at the beginning of its journey. But again, that sense of advocacy, and I suppose, it's just become really, I want writing to be seen as a career, which might be kind of naive and unrealistic, but I want people to take it seriously. I want governments to take it seriously. I want organisations to take it seriously. We're not just like cute little... I'm trying to think of an image to try and express what I mean.

This has happened two years ago, and I was staying at the Varuna Writers Festival. Not Varuna Writers Festival, Varuna the house, and I have a writer's cottage. And I looked up through the cottage window, and I could see a whole lot of tourists taking pictures of the writer at work. And I just had that sense about being in a zoo, and I didn't cope with it very well. And I realised partly because I felt people thought it was cute or something, like you were kind of... I don't know, I didn't react well to that sense. And often people do, and then this came up, the whole JobKeeper thing, or like kind of trying to actually justify your existence in this particular year.

But since about... it's actually really hard work, and I want other people to take it seriously. I want to be taken seriously, and I don't want it to be something that is almost impossible for people to do, because they can't generate income. One of the agendas around this Stella Prize was a very pragmatic... books written by women have always sold okay, but don't necessarily sell less well than men. In fact, in some cases, you could argue, they sell better than... it depends on the book, basically.

But the issue was around reviewing culture and prize, and those kinds of ways in which we give status to people in our society, and the way people will get captured, the history like, you know, we will remember male writers 50 years after they've died, not necessarily female writers, for example. And that kind of wanting to actually embed women's writing into the culture, in that kind of more strategic way, and one of the points of that is because it makes it easy for people to have a career. Like if you win a prize, if you get good reviews or bad reviews, if you get taken seriously, it's easier to get a publishing contract.

I suppose I've become really interested in some of the kind of nuts and bolts behind the industry, is what I'm saying. And again, with the writing I've done this year, it's been a sense of... I think we're heading into a really difficult few decades as a planet, she says grandiosely.

But Southeast Australia is going to have very particular crises, which we experienced last year, like fire and extreme temperatures. And so, I wanted to start thinking about how do we communicate? How do I communicate these issues? How do I communicate my concerns without sounding like I'm just banging on, or like I'm being smug? Like, ‘I can see it happening, how come you can't it happening?’ Rather than assuming I know what it's like for people on the land, like farmers who are really on the cutting edge of this stuff.

So, this is basically in a way, almost all my work this year has been an attempt to kind of communicate, or find ways to communicate what we're all going through as a culture. I don't know if advocacy is the right word for that, but there's something about this year. Like, what is the meaning of life, Astrid? And certainly, well, I'm in my late 50s, and I've had some friends die, and... what I mean is I'm ageing.

I'm not like... you start to think, okay, well, what do I want to do? I might only have... well, I may only have two years, I might only have one year, but I also might only have 20 years, or whatever. What do I want to do? I think what I'm getting at here about language is that sometimes my impulse has been, I've got to do something. I need to get involved in say, political action. I'm not very good at political action, as in I'm physically quite cowardly, for example. So I had friends who were amazing during some of the Extinction Rebellion protests, when the level of violence being directed towards them was really quite disturbing

And I also started to realise that if I had any chance of making any difference, which might be naive, but if I want to imagine I have any chance of making a difference, I'd probably have to try and pick something I'm quite good at and try and do that, rather than trying to suddenly develop great skills at I don't know, algae, algae farming to do carbon sinks, or like, rather than trying to develop a whole new skillset, how do I work with what I do have, to try and kind of be a part of the change, the whole... again, planet. And we're all going, there's a lot of change going on at every level of society; economic, political, climate systems, population, you know, there's a whole lot of reasons, and wanting to actively engage with those things. I've been trying to find ways of doing.

ASTRID: Sophie, I admire how you have done it. I took up knitting this year, because I felt like I needed an end of the world skill to market myself if things go wrong. So I admire you doing this at a way higher level than I have yet to conceive of. So, tell me about Fire, Flood and Plague. You said five months. That is phenomenal.

SOPHIE: Well, it's not my idea. It was Copyright Agency, when they could see that a lot of writers were going to have trouble getting JobKeeper. A lot of the conventional grant rounds kind of crashed, because funds had to be channelled into very specific forms of support. And so the Copyright Agency was like, what can we do? And I think they felt that there were two things. One, writers are... they wanted to sort of honour writers as people who document the time, so actually have an important cultural role. And they wanted to also just be able to put some money into their bank accounts. So I got paid properly to edit Fire, Flood and Plague. I mean, editing a book is one of the... in terms of, if your objective is financial, it's one of the most thankless tasks in publishing, right?

But I was paid properly. All the contributors were paid properly. This is amazing. And I do actually think it's one of the reasons why the work is really high quality, because people felt respected and taken seriously, you know? They'd already spoken to The Guardian, The Guardian had also had already been kind of really jazzed by the idea, and Penguin Random House were already on board. Then I was approached about editing it.

So, we went with them, we had a list of, oh God, probably a hundred writers? And it was really hard getting a list down. And also, most people said yes. We ended up not... there's some people that I wish were in the collection that are not. There are also some subjects I wish we'd covered, that we couldn't. But I did approach two or three people about writing, about home schooling.

And basically, the emails were like, ‘Please leave me alone. All I can do is cry in between home schooling. I can barely speak’, you know? Some people were just so in it, in the kind of stresses of trying to meet deadlines, at the same time as home school, at the same time as managing anxieties around health. It was very hard for them to respond. We hadn't got anyone who was a health worker. In fact, I happened to see Steve Amsterdam in the street, and I know he works in the healthcare system, and I wish that I had asked him to write about that, even though Melanie Chen does. We do have one, a GP. That's an example of choosing someone, because we really wanted writers to write more broadly, not just be writerly, like can't help but be writerly, because they're writers, but to actually be writing kind of journalists, even though it's not necessarily journalism.

So some of them are actually journalists, but the idea of documentation. So that was all... I think I was sending out, was it May? Or June? Anyway, sending out those emails, and I think the timeframe was a pressure for people obviously, but it also means that they either knew they could do it, or they knew that they couldn't. They didn't get into that situation of saying, ‘Yeah, sure’, and then not being able to deliver. Only one person couldn't deliver, and they were in New York, and it was disliked too. It was just too much, the whole situation.

So it was on a really tight turnaround, but also, things kept happening. So when I first spoke to Melissa, Melissa Lucashenko was one of the first writers to say yes, but the murder of George Floyd, and the protests exploding across the United States, which drew the attention once again, as it should have, to the deaths in custody in Australia, which is just an ongoing shame and crime, that sort of was coming back in the public eye around the time she was delivering. So she ended up delivering something quite different I think, to what she might otherwise have done.

And even Nyadol Nyuon's piece, which is one of my favourite pieces in the collection, it's not done... well, I have no idea how deliberate it is, but she just puts things into perspective in about two sentences, in a way that I just found incredibly useful. Like on a personal level. And I think I'd originally assumed that she might write about the public towers lockdown, but she said, ‘I think I want to write more broadly about just the experience of the pandemic, as someone who has had different sort of life experiences’.

ASTRID: And you do use Nyadol's essay to close out Fire, Flood and Plague.

SOPHIE: It was pretty... because she didn't have long at all to deliver, and she just knocked it out of the park. I just kind of got it and was like, ‘Oh my God, this is amazing’. But this kept happening time and time again, and people didn't really do what I expected of them, in a good way. What I mean is, they kind of... the pieces were better. Christos’ is really good on the putting it into perspective front as well, thinking back to his family's expectations of life, and the things they've had to go through, and the economics of travel, and just his realisation that how privileged our generation is, you know, if you're middle-class. But even if you're not middle-class, like just the access to travel and a whole lot of things that weren't possible.

And I know one of the pieces that I found on a personal level, extremely therapeutic, was Jane Rawson's piece on safety. I hadn't assumed that's what she would write about. I had chosen her because I loved her work, and she was in Tasmania. And she I think talks about her own... I hate the word journey, but I'm going to use it because the word has its uses, of kind of being someone who was trying to be safe, and then having made certain steps to be safe, and then interrogating, what is it to be safe? And what do you lose if that's what you're... can you be safe? And lumped in, really talking about how having these conversations and reading this work gave me a huge amount of momentum and energy to get back to the idea of delivering it. And everyone kind of delivered on time. It was one of the smoother working processes. So if people couldn't do it, they just told me up front.

So people delivered, we edited, The Guardian edited. I mean, so many people were really amazing. China is one of the things that kind of the story that is China, also kind of started to unfold. And that's an example of suddenly realising we need to try and... So Richard McGregor has written a really good essay on China, and that was... At the beginning, we hadn't really realised that that would be something we should be writing about.

We don't have an essay about the tertiary sector. I really wish we did, because it's been very distressing to see the ways in which the pandemic has become a cover for various things, including the federal government's kind of ideological rearrangement of the tertiary sector, and state, and federal governments, various abuses of environmental protections and laws, and at a time because of the bushfires, when it was most necessary, really that they took stock. So logging in bushfire affected areas in Victoria, which is really bad environmentally for a range of reasons. I think that's is in the courts, but we're seeing it with the Djab Warrung Embassy, and that battle has been going on for a long time. But a lot has happened in 2020, which has kind of managed to slip under the radar a bit more than it should have, I think.

ASTRID: And that is one of the role of writers to notice these things and to share with the public and with audiences. You've mentioned The Guardian a few times now. Some of the pieces that are published in this anthology were originally published this year in collaboration with the Copyright Agency and yourself in The Guardian. Can you tell me about that partnership? And I haven't seen that done before.

SOPHIE: Yes, and I didn't broker it, so in a way, I don't know. Lucy Clark was fantastic to work with, and she and I... So my initial conversations were with Copyright Agency and Penguin, and then I was talking a lot to Penguin and the editor, but the publisher Meredith Curnow. But then, I was talking a lot to Lucy Clark. I think that they were really excited about the opportunity to publish a whole lot of writers that they really wanted to publish, and they liked the idea of... like here in the series, I actually gave a really fantastic visual look. You can actually get all the pieces.

ASTRID: All the pieces? I didn't realise that.

SOPHIE: All the pieces, yeah. And we hadn't assumed that they would. They weren't contractually obliged to publish all the pieces. I think that they really backed the series. And I think that some... there was a concern that there might be repetition, and there was some concern about pieces dating. I think authors, everyone had that concern because of the year... everything kept changing quickly. But slightly, Kirsten Trantor’s piece is a good example of this. She wrote a very sort of philosophical and beautiful piece about being in Sydney last summer with the smoke and the ash, and that kind of sense of the apocalyptic air that Sydney had. And I suppose by the time The Guardian were looking at running it in September, there could have been a concern that it was going to feel like it was something that happened nine months ago. There's been a lot of writing about the bushfire, but of course, then Kirsten was going through the California bushfires, and watching it all happen again.

So, with quite a few of the pieces, what are the big contact mirror, I'd contact them and say, ‘So, I think we need another paragraph’, and with The Guardian, we could do that.

Omar Sakr wrote about going through surgery at the beginning of the pandemic, and they experienced it, like sort of trying to deal with the health system at such a kind of weird, tremulous time. And then the kind of explosions in Beirut happened just before his piece was about to be published. And it was sort of an impossible task. He didn't have enough time to reflect and maybe write an essay that he might write sometime in the future on it, but he did have some... he could kind of add that material.

It meant that the pieces are this kind of crossover between an anthology, literary anthology, and that kind of the more journalistic impulse to try and step back and have a sense of the big picture and incorporate as material that's more up to the minute, which is kind of... I mean, I'm interested in that as a writer, as well. As an editor, that's probably something I did bring to it, like I was retained to get people to add.

ASTRID: You have experienced the anthology process from both sides this year, obviously the editor of Fire, Flood and Plague, but also you are a contributor to Living with the Anthropocene. And I have to say, I laughed aloud, Sophie, when I was reading your piece in that anthology. You talk about that terrible, terrible Hollywood movie, The Day After Tomorrow, which I thought I was the only one who still has flashes of New York being frozen, and wondering if that is our future.

SOPHIE: I was obsessed with it. I've seen it like 12 or 15 times. I've actually stopped. I think it's enough, like last time I watched it, I thought, enough, I'm done with The Day After Tomorrow. But that film spoke to me in a way that is a bit of a running joke among my friends. But that collection is such a fun... there's so much really good writing in it. Falconer's essay is amazing. I mean, there's lots of really amazing essays, in the collection we all delivered at the end of last year.

So then the editors who are up against the situation of the fires, happened... So everyone's kind of saying, ‘Shit's going to get bad soon’. And then they're trying to get the book ready to go to press when shit has got really bad. And my understanding is one of the editors actually was caught up in the bush. I mean, this is from the Southeast Coast of New South Wales, one of the editors is. So it's like, everyone was kind of right in it, so I think they addressed that in the introduction, but we didn't as individual writers have a chance to address it.

And I was fairly late to be asked to be part of that collection. And I've been a bit more worried that my piece was not good enough, like I had anxieties about my piece. But then because I do intersperse it with quotes from The Plague, I was suddenly like, oh, at least I'm timely. I haven't been in no way trying to make some kind of prediction about pandemic. I've not, to be honest, not someone who's thought a lot about pandemic. My particular obsession has been climate change. But the reason why the plague spoke to me was because a sense about the guy... the misconnects to what I was saying at the beginning about advocacy, the writer, trying to pretend none of it's happening, and just working on the opening sentence of his novel throughout the plague, that is a way that has stayed with me my whole life. And that sort of the way in which you could, as an artist too, you can either choose to engage with context in the way that the doctor character has to engage because he's a doctor, or you can just try and use art as a bubble. And it's a brilliant novel I think, in the way it captures that kind of dilemma about whether to engage or whether to disengage, you know, the plague. The author does get the plague anyway, like writing his novel in no way protects him from being ill. So yes, I've thought a lot about that novel. I've met a lot of people in rereading it this year, I think.

ASTRID: I have no doubt, Sophie. You just mentioned that climate change has been your obsession. You have been writing about the environment, about trees, about the climate for a while, including in your beautiful, beautiful book City of Trees. I have asked several writers this year and last year actually, how do we write about climate change? And I don't just mean the science. I don't mean the fact, I don't mean carbon emissions, I don't mean deforestation. I mean, people choosing not to have children, or people experiencing eco-anxiety or people not making it. Like, the existential questions that come for humans in terms of a climate-changed world. I'm going to ask you this big and unanswerable question, Sophie, but you've just described very eloquently, how writers have been grappling with the very quick pace of change in 2020. What do you think might happen as we go forward? And as a culture, as a society, as a species, how do we capture how we change?

SOPHIE: I've thought a lot about this question. I think it's the question, if you're a writer interested in this area, and I've answered it for myself different ways. So with Warning: The Story of Cyclone Tracy, what I wanted to do was try and find a historic... a piece of Australian history that is extremely interesting, and connect that to current debate, to that climate change. Because there was no particular evidence that Cyclone Tracy itself, which, for who don't know, is a cyclone that wiped out Darwinon Christmas Eve, 1974. And like, wiped out. It is a pretty extraordinary piece of Australian history. But as an example of what a bad storm can do, and I in a way wanted to illustrate the power of the weather, and not get bogged down in the whole, what caused it, kind of. And so that became in a way, narrative history, that wasn't just trying to connect it to the present.

With City of Trees, I just try to stay as a person and as a writer, very in the present, and just be observational really, and say, well, this is what it looks like. Because I did start to enter a phase, and I'm still... well, I think this phase will guide the rest of my life, really, of all our lives, are starting to notice how things were changing. I wrote a piece about seeing the giant sequoia, and that was kind of one of those life peak experiences. But I also, a lot of the Pines around the sequoia are all dying, die back. A lot of trees around the world are dying.

So now these days, I go for walks, and what I see is death. It's just kind of dramatically, but I'm just... So I go walking around Sydney Harbour, I noticed that the Morton Bay Figs are really not in great shape. And so that has, was sort of very much on my mind that I was... and because I was going through a slightly depressed phase because my father was suffering with Alzheimer's, and that's a pretty gruelling experience to go through, and to watch someone go through. I wasn't my best self, but I also just started to realise that it's not just that I'm depressed, things are kind of getting pretty bad. And I think the Iceland essay in that is just... even though there are actually very few trees in Iceland, or they take a very long time to grow, is standing by one of those glacial lakes at midnight in that kind of weird twilight, it was just so beautiful and so extraordinary. And then learning that by the end of the century, it's all going to be gone.

I kind of want... it's not a diary. It's very composed, and there's a lot of research in the book, but I tried, rather than stepping back and always doing the big picture, or obsessing at the science of climate change, it's really about being in the world at the moment, that kind of sense about just trying to stay present and observe what is happening. But I am working on... interested in writing stories that are more actively about... I mean, I want to write either in... I don't know if this is even fiction or nonfiction. I want to write about what it's like to be a scientist, having to work in this space. I find their work awe-inspiring. And so, I want to write about the experience of, how do you continue to stay present to just do your work, and not give in to kind of grief or anxiety?

In a way, I'm trying to write against the anxiety. I'm trying to ignore the anxiety as I might admit to it, but as much as you can keep an emotion at bay, because it's not useful. In a way I'm trying to use the writing to kind of keep... to describe the feeling, but not really lean into it. And I've written read a couple of books.

I've been reading books that I think are responding to the challenge. And I write in the Griffith Review article, which is not coming out till much next year, but I've just read a book called The Ministry for the Future, by Kim Stanley Robinson, and that was a kind of amazing experience, because I thought, he's doing what I'm... I could see... I've read all of Kim Stanley Robinson's work, and he's a speculative fiction writer, and he's written fairly utopian books, but this is his... it's like a great course. It's like lots of different people doing lots of different things, shit's really bad, how do you respond? How do you respond quickly? What works? What doesn't work?

It's almost not a novel, but it's kind of a bit of a thrill. It's kind of engaging and pacing, but just really hits just like throwing... it is like seeing someone just throw all the different kinds of weapons at their disposal, all the different ideas. So, there's some talk about trying to modify the atmosphere to keep climates... Some of it is high tech, techno stuff, some of it's really basic stuff, some of it's about managing economic currency differently, and carbon credits.

And I also read a novel by John M. Harrison, The Land Also Rises, which is just this really unnerving... it's won a major prize. I can't even remember. Won a major literary prize, even though it's a speculative fiction novel. It's the water table coming up, impression, that just rains and rains and rains, and then the water table's coming up, and maybe people are turning into fish? Who knows? It's really not very clear.

But that kind of watching people trying to write change, and change itself being the narrative is interesting, and making it seem just... normalising change, rather than change being something scary or terrifying. Just, things are going to be changing. We're all going to have to keep pivoting. So what's that like, you know? Just sort of again, maybe not judging what's happening so much, just describing it. And so people, the experience of having to respond rapidly, feeling stressed, not knowing how things are going to work out, is something you're not doing alone. We're all doing it together, and it is a kind of new normal that we all have to kind of work towards.

I think what I keep coming back to is engagement. You can have despair, but you need to keep engaging, and it's probably not very useful to imagine that we can be safe. And I haven't given up hope, but the question I've asked in several of these pieces of writing I've done this year is, what are we hoping for? What is hope? What do we mean by hope? There's always hope. What do we mean by hope? And then trying to find a narrative that takes me to that question. I basically ended up with a version of that question, what are we hoping for, in about three or four particular pieces of writing, and got there in slightly different ways really, with each piece of writing.

ASTRID: Sophie, there is obviously no one answer for individuals or for all of us together. I have a great deal of eco-anxiety and climate grief. And I got side-tracked this year because of COVID, and all of my eco-anxiety and climate fear is back, and I find reading your work, and reading the work of all of the contributors in the anthology you contributed to, but also Fire, Flood and Plague, they ease my anxiety. So, a very big thank you.

SOPHIE: That's good, because it eased mine. Writing it eased mine. And that actually does get picked up when I teach creative writing. I do think if you feel something when you write it, that communicates itself. I don't know, if you're writing a sexy scene, and you're reading and thinking, this is a sexy scene, the person reading it will probably get sexy. If you laugh out loud at your own jokes, that's a good sign. And indeed, if you write into ideas of hope and what's happening, and how change is happening, and you start to really believe it's going to happen, I think that hopefully communicates itself. I'm just actually scrolling an article. I just want to try and get the name of the bunker guy, because I actually said it wrong recently. Mark O'Connell, and the book is, Notes From An Apocalypse. Anyway, that interview on Fresh Air is pretty amazing.

And look just, I do get... after the bushfires, I was a mess, solely on the hinge that the loss of animal life, the just... almost unbearable. It was unbearable. I can't really even think about it. And that has been much more of a motivator this year than the pandemic. On a totally personal level, the pandemic sucks, but it didn't unravel me in the way that the bushfires did, because with the bushfires, I really had the sense of, I've been writing, millions of us people have been writing about the fact that we are going to fall off a cliff, and I was like, ‘And, we're off the cliff’. I really had that centre about, ‘Here we go. Well, let's see what happens’. And that was incredibly, and is incredibly, destabilising.

And in fact, one of my irritation with the pandemic is that I don't want that to get lost, like 3 billion animals. One of the things that makes Australia special is its echidnas, it is extraordinary wilderness. And if we're going to lose a large amount of that, for me, the question of what is it to be Australian, really becomes compromised. And that's just putting aside other cultural issues about being a settler Australian, and a whole lot of... but just on a really personal level, if we lose our landscapes and most of our significant animals, I don't really know what this place is to me anymore. There was a sense of real loss of my world as a result, and in a way, that has been what's motivated all my work, but there was a real shock of like, ‘Oh, this is what it feels like. It's happening. This is bad’.

But nonetheless, there is a sense of rapid momentum building, despite the fact that we have a government that has no interest in kind of encouraging that momentum. And actually, the combination of that and the vaccine, which means people can get back to being anxious about the climate, rather than having to worry about the pandemic, and going out and drinking with friends in the evening for the first time all year, are actually genuinely getting to the end of the year, feeling pretty cheerful, which is a miracle.

ASTRID: It is not something that was imaginable at the beginning of the year. I am glad that you are truthful at the end of this most horrendous of years, Sophie. And again, thank you for talking to me, but also thank you for writing. You make me feel better about the future of our world. Thank you, Sophie.

SOPHIE: Oh, I'm going to cry. Thank you.

ASTRID: Oh no, don't cry. I'm thanking you. It's a good thing.

SOPHIE: No, no, good tears. Happy tears.