In partnership with the State Library of Victoria, The Garret hosted a series of live events with leading Australian writers in 2018 and 2019. In our first event of 2019, we discussed The Stella Shortlist with Jamie Marina Lau and Jenny Ackland (both shortlisted), as well as Chair of the Judging Panel Louise Swinn.
Jamie Marina Lau (劉劍冰) is a 22-year-old writer and musician from Melbourne. Her short works are published in Cordite, ROOKIE magazine and Voiceworks. Her debut novel Pink Mountain on Locust Island (2018) was shortlisted for The Stella Prize.
Jenny Ackland is a writer and teacher from Melbourne. Her short fiction has been published in literary magazines. Little Gods (2018) was shortlisted for The Stella Prize in 2019, and her debut novel The Secret Son was published in 2014.
Louise Swinn is a writer, editor, publisher and reviewer. Her work appears regularly in The Age, The Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald. She is one of the founders of Sleepers Publishing, Small Press Network and The Stella Prize. Louise is Chair of Judges for the 2019 Stella Prize.
BEC: Good evening. My name's Bec Anthony. I'm Program Manager at State Library Victoria. It's my pleasure to welcome you to The Garret LIVE at the Library - a live recording of The Garret podcast tonight featuring Jenny Ackland, Jaime Marina Lau and Louise Swinn in conversation with the host of the podcast Astrid Edwards.
ASTRID: Thank you Bec. Now I'd like to add my congratulations - Jenny and Marina, welcome to The Garret and thank you so much for coming here tonight. And Louise, also bringing your judges knowledge. I have so many questions about what goes on behind the scenes
So, to set the scene, Jamie I'd like to start with you. For those who haven't read it yet can you give me the elevator pitch for 'Pink Mountain on Locust Island'?
JAMIE: Yes. We discussed this before and it's like the hardest question that anyone can ever ask.
ASTRID: I promised I wouldn't have a hard question and I'm throwing you in the deep end straight away.
JAMIE: Yeah. So when I talk about 'Pink Mountain on Locust Island' I think I say that it's a bit experimental, it's a bit fragmented. I've been told it's good for public transport reading. So it's in little fragments they can just stop and start at any time. And it's about arts and drugs and religion, and just like transactions between people I guess.
ASTRID: So in addition to your short listing for The Stella Prize - and I'm going to have to read this because there are so many - you've also... you won the Melbourne Prize for Literature Reading's Residency Award, you were shortlisted for the UTS Glenda Adams Award in the New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards, and you were shortlisted for the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction. I do have to ask the obvious question: how does that feel and what has changed?
JAMIE: Yeah it feels crazy just because I think it's just a book that I didn't expect to get such a lovely reception for. And it's just something that is like really... I just... Yeah, I can't really believe it. Like you said all this and I have really summed it up myself. It's crazy to be able to write here in Melbourne because it's something that I just didn't think I'd be able to do, and like the readers are amazing, and people were just so supportive. Yeah it's crazy.
ASTRID: How long did it take you to create?
JAMIE: Okay so it took... It was just sort of like it started very naturally, I started didn't class at uni, and then from that time I think it took about two or three months before I sent it to my publisher.
ASTRID: That it phenomenal and laughter here is well-deserved.
JAMIE: To like you know sort of add a disclaimer, it is the first book that I've ever written, it is the first thing I've ever written... Usually take me like six months to write a short story. And it was just this book just happened to be very like natural coming out. Everything else I wrote took... You know I would write like a book from when I was 16 to when I was 18 and still be like 'Is this good? Is this still good?' And like I would say, 'Yeah it's fine' and keep sending it off and keep reworking it. So like 'Pink Mountain' was a bit of a blessing. It was just sort of happened very naturally and a I had lot of fun writing it. And yeah I just yeah... it was very odd occasion. I'm
ASTRID: I'm coming back with so many questions. But first Jenny, can you introduce us to 'Little Gods'?
JENNY: Hi. Yes. So 'Little Gods' I describe it as the mess... It's a book about the mess of family. And I used to think of it in terms of you know that saying familiarity breeds contempt for many years I was thinking family breeds contempt, but that makes it sound like a lot harsher and and heavier than it is. So it's a book... the child protagonist is all and she's 12, so very much it's from her point of view. But it's not just about one girl. She's the girl in the front. There's another little girl in the story and that's her, er aunt Thistle when she was a child. So that's very much the underneath story. So it's about resilience. It's about girlhood. It's about getting things wrong and thinking you know everything and then realising you don't.
ASTRID: Now, 'Little Gods' is not your first book. You published that last year with Allen and Unwin and four years ago you published what was your first your debut 'The Secret Son'. How long did 'Little Gods your second work take to write?
JENNY: Yes that's why I was laughing when Jamie said two or three months. Mine... 'Little Gods' is actually my first manuscript but my second published book. So I started it in about 2008, and it took me about eight years to write, and then another year or so to get published. So a bit different to your situation.
ASTRID: Just a little.
JENNY: it was agonising.
ASTRID: I can see some of my students in the audience, and I am fairly sure I have stood in front of them before and said, 'Writing novels takes you years, you won't come out of this class with a novel', and here we have you sitting here Jamie completely making us all rethink that.
Now Jamie and Jenny, Louise as a judge of the panel has obviously already read your work, but have you read each other's?
JENNY: I'll say no. I've only read one book on the short list and that's 'Axiomatic' and it's fantastic.
JAMIE: Yes, same.
ASTRID: I'm so sorry we couldn't have Maria here tonight.
JENNY: I feel ashamed to admit it and I will rectify it.
ASTRID: I think we all will. Now, Louise you obviously one of the founders of The Stella Prize and the Chair of the judges this year. Can you tell us how you go from a large number of submissions to a long list? And this year the longest had twelve works on it for The Stella Prize.
LOUISE: Yeah well we just put all the names in a pot and we just sort of select them out with blindfolds on. So, I think we just we discuss and argue each book out of contention really until we get from I think there's about 170 books down to twelve.
So down to twelve is the public long list. I assume that you don't go from that 170 to twelve. I mean maybe you go from 170 to half...
LOUISE: You trim away, and then I guess you have kind of about 30, 35 that that you then discussing. At length. And arguing about. And I always think it's such a pity that those authors never hear the incredible praise that is heaped upon their book in those meetings that have to be private.
ASTRID: So the discussions and the arguments I guess that you just mentioned are they in person and these by email or phone? I mean like...
LOUISE: How it done?
LOUISE: So we... we're not all in the same state the five of us. So we do a lot online and then we do in Skype or equivalent of Skype type thing where we're all looking in each other's faces to get down to the long list and then for short listing time we... Yeah, we met up. We all flew and met up and and so we could really get in the boxing ring and. Punch. Punch. Punch.
ASTRID: Now, when you released long list and the short list you wrote a short judges statement, and I would like to read you one of the sentences from your statement and get your comment. So I'm reading now: 'We wished for more representations of otherness and diversity from publishers, narratives from outside Australia, from and featuring women of colour, LGBTQIA stories, Indigenous stories, more subversion, more difference'. Unpack that for us.
LOUISE: Well, so there's a degree to which when you're reading lots and lots of books... there are things that you feel as though if you look at the history of books across time have started to fall away a little bit, because... I mean we all see this, where a publisher has success with the book, so instead of thinking, 'Well we've done that once we won't do that again', that what they're actually looking for is something very similar to that one. Because as any book publisher will tell you, publishing is not a charity, they do you actually have to make money, which means they have to sell books. So, so there sometimes you do feel like there's a homogenous quality to the books that are coming through. And it goes for all different things, and one of the things that I noticed too is that these days books are very often structurally quite similar. And dealing with sort of I guess some similarish themes. I think if you look at society it's not it's not as broad as the books that we're reading and not as broad as the society that we're actually living in. And it would be nice if that was reflected. Of course, there are many many many reasons why it's not. And publishing still remains largely a very middle class white kind of world, and that you know it has to change. And like all of these things it's kind of a grass roots thing.
ASTRID: So as a judge of The Stella, what do you see is your responsibility to help change that. I mean obviously this is a prize for women and that is different and was different when The Stella was founded. But as the judges sit around and have these discussions, have these debates, do you talk about your responsibility?
LOUISE: I think that you have to be aware of anything that you're bringing to it... Especially... I think the great thing about having five judges is you can call each other up if you think there are things that you're not addressing that you should be addressing, or that you're giving too much, you know, too much weight too. I mean without giving too much away, I think that's the beauty of how The Stella is run with five. You've got, you know, there's a real diversity across the five of us, with different backgrounds and different opinions and different likes and dislikes. So, I think that was actually quite natural that we kind of just called each other out respectfully.
ASTRID: I'm glad to hear it was respectfully. Now I know that of the five judges four are female: yourself, Michelle de Kretser, Aemelia Lush, Kate McClymont and Daniel Browning. Is that required for The Stella Prize or is that just how it turned out this year?
LOUIE: That that there's a man and four women?
ASTRID: A majority of women on the judging panel.
LOUISE: Oh yeah, it would be weird if it was a women's prize with all men judging it.
ASTRID: Just what to clarify. Now, you talk about diversity and difference. Two of the shortlisted works - including Jamie's - are from Brow books, and I'm very pleased to say through no planning Sam Cooney of Brow books is sitting right here in the front. Brow Books is the literary Publishing house that has come from The Lifted Brow. Now, having two of the six on the shortlist from a small very new publisher, is that an indication of I don't know what if I can put you on the spot what larger more traditional publishers might not be doing?
LOUISE: Well like I said, I mean, larger publishers aren't... you know, have got lots and lots of people that they're paying. And so risk taking does take on a different... it's is harder. And I think that when you've got Brow Books you've got one person at the helm who can back himself like Sam Cooney can... and then so it's just the quality of what he believes he can publish. I mean you know, I guess that with a smaller publisher you don't have huge overheads so you don't have to print huge amounts of books. And it's much harder, the bigger... I mean you can imagine if you've got a you know if you've got an office full of staff and publicists and marketing and editors then you've got way more people to pay. So, it's harder to take a risk on a book that you think could be kind of quirky and interesting but you're not entirely sure whether or not there are going to be readers for it. Whereas if you can back yourself in something and believe in it and show your support for it then I think that what you have - two out of six, which is obviously huge percentage wise - then I think that you've got people saying that this is quality, this is genuine quality, and people want to read this and people enjoy the things that are being asked of us with this kind of writing.
ASTRID: And now another quick question. The Stella Lists both fiction and non-fiction. So essentially you're judging fiction you know creative works against reality. How does that work?
LOUISE: It's actually... I don't... I don't find that difficult at all. I mean as far as I'm concerned they're all creative in one way or another and the line between fiction and non-fiction I think is incredibly blurry. And I just think that these are amazing books, and we're not we're not we're not judging them on how true they are either. I mean a memoir can be... there are novels that are as true as memoirs. Right? As in true is ' truth'. And so I... Yeah, I just think a great book... I mean I often forget whether these books or non-fiction or fiction.
ASTRID: So I'm interested Jamie and Jenny, how do you feel with your works of fiction you know being on a list with non-fiction?
JENNY: I'm fine with it. Well I have no problem.
ASTRID: Oh sorry I wasn't suggesting it's a problem. I was genuinely suggesting... I was trying to place myself...
LOUISE: You want a fight. This is what we're here for.
ASTRID: I was genuinely thinking, well how would I... oOn he long list Chloe who 'The Arsonist', for example, which is you know about a significant event in Victorian history. And I generally wonder how I would place any creative work that I had put out into the world next to...
LOUISE: But she actually did have to use creative skills to write such a fantastic work. You know, I mean they're pulling on similar kinds of skills just slightly differently used, and I would say that the differences sometimes within the non-fiction category are at least as big as comparing the non-fiction and fiction and saying within the fiction category.
JAMIE: I think previously I would have thought that it was... it would have just been really hard for the judges I guess to choose between. But I think the thing that they're judging is mainly like the creative element of like what keeps the reader reading through the book, and I guess that's all creativity because like you know we're not readers these days and the fact that the reader can sort of guide us through like a physical object is kind of what is being judged rather than... Yeah... Like almost like even the story more like yeah. The structure. I don't know.
ASTRID: That's interesting when you say we're not natural readers these days and Jenny you immediately nodded and seemed to engage with that. You're both writers and when you are creating your works I assume that you're hoping for readers. So how do you engage with this if you think we are all not natural readers these days?
JENNY: Well, I don't want to assume what you mean by that Jamie, but you know I think we are quite dislocated in our attention spans. I know that I am certainly, and I find it really hard to just seem in and to really immerse myself in reading. There's a lot of distractions in terms of other forms of narrative. So you know there's long form television, for example, and I love TV. So where are we getting our stories?. It's not just you know books anymore. And so there's that competition. So it is a battle I guess.
JAMIE: That's yeah that's exactly what I thought.
ASTRID: And your work is fragmented as you mentioned before. Is your opinion of how we engage or maybe how you yourself engage in stories and where you choose your time, did that impact your structure.
JAMIE: I think so. Subconsciously at first but then I was like well this is the way that I feel most comfortable writing. I think I was studying like prose poetry at the time, and that was really engaging like more than like television or a movie, which I usually am preoccupied with. And so I was like this is... it's just different I guess. Yeah.
ASTRID: So I have to ask what university are you doing this amazing study.
JAMIE: So I am graduating from Monash in May.
ASTRID: And you mentioned poetry. Is that the course that you wrote ' Pink Mountain on Locust Island'?
JAMIE: Yeah. I forget what I study because I just lectures all the electives possible. I was just really greedy and just did everything. And yeah I think I just started doing poetry when I started writing 'Pink Mountain'.
ASTRID: That's so ... I'm so so blown away by how quickly you wrote.
JAMIE: No, it was literally... no it was sad, because I just like would write for seven hours a day like it was...
ASTRID: That is not sad.
JAMIE: It's not very glamorous but...
ASTRID: People do that for years. Jamie and Jenny how did you find out about your long listing and then your short listing? Do you get a heads up from The Stella Prize? Do you find out on Twitter?
JAMIE: Yeah I got a heads up but I don't think I knew that I was in the running. I'm not sure. Like... Sam?
ASTRID: Can you explain that for us?
JAMIE: I wanted to be .. . Oh no I think. I knew I was in the running, I don't know. I think I just rather...
JENNY: As in, you didn't know that your book had been putt in?
JAMIE: Brow Books does a lot of work behind the scenes that even I'm not really sure about because just like a really good publisher. Yeah, I got a call, I got a call I think before that I got texts from Sam before I got a call, but yeah.
JENNY: I got a call and I was expecting another call. And so when the call came through I just could not hear what they were saying. And you know, 'I'm calling from The Stella Prize' and I'm like, 'I'm sorry, say it again'. Three times it was really embarrassing. And then I finally got it and it was just like oh my god I felt I'd been so rude and and you know I just could not could not get the message. But that was exciting. So yeah. And that was ahead of the shortlist, we had to hold it -the long list - hold it for a while to ourselves.
ASTRID: That's very exciting. Now Jenny I have a sentence from the judges report and I'd like your reaction: 'Ackland has much insight and empathy to impart about the way we live, and with 'Little Gods', her second novel, she has well and truly hit her stride'. How do you feel about hitting your stride?
JENNY: That's really nice. Maybe it's premature. I don't know. Like it's it's only my second book but I feel very pleased by that obviously. Yeah it's great to hear. I mean writers, you know you said you were greedy with your course choosing, but you know we are all so hungry for people to say nice things about our work and it's a really long hard game, so just whatever good stuff comes you just soak soak it up and want more. So that was lovely.
ASTRID: Now people are saying good good stuff about your work right now, but if we can take a moment to really talk about the practical impact of The Stella Prize on your life. So I mean you know you get long listed and now you've been shortlisted. It means, I assume more reviews, you know events like this. Does it change anything in this period before the prize is announced this yea
JENNY: No. Perhaps the effects will be known a bit later in terms of the practical effects may be it might hopefully give a boost in sales. It means that the book - like my book came out last April, last year, so almost a year ago - and anyone who works in publishing knows that books do not stay on the shelves for very long. They can just disappear. Even the really good ones, because new books are coming along and the space is needed. So for me it was just fantastic to think... Well it's extends the life a bit more, it gives it a bit more of a push along. But the other thing it's just been really... in this moment, in this time, really distracting. Like it's great... but I don't know I just feel very different, a bit strange, a bit surreal.
LOUISE: And do all of your students kind of you walk in and now and they just like clap?
ASTRID: I don't think students do that. So when you say distracting I mean is that because distracting from your life or are you referring to a current writing project that you are trying to focus on?
JENNY: Well I was I've always already been distracted from the writing, so it's distracting me from the distractions of the writing. So there are layers of distraction. Yeah. Just from my daily life I just keep floating away with it.
ASTRID: Not a bad thing to float away with. And Jamie what have you noticed? I mean, your name is in the paper these days. How does it feel?
JAMIE: Yeah, well I don't know. I think I'm really easily embarrassed, so I just get embarrassed. But at the same time like it's it's I don't know. It's really nice to be framed within the prize with like a whole bunch of other women writers as well, just like it gives you so much sort of more purpose, because naturally we're all sort of like I guess activists because you know it's important for women's voices to be heard, so I guess in a way it feels really good to be framed inside of that as well as like all of the things that Jenny said.
ASTRID: What's it like to go into class being shortlisted for The Stella Prize?
JAMIE: Well I've finished classes so I haven't had to go into class. But I will say that I did have like a women's writing class at Monash and I remember a lecturer just being like, 'You have to read every book on The Stella Prize last year'. And now this year I'm just like a little starstruck that I'm on that list.
ASTRID: Yes it's a very good list. Now like I did for Jenny I have a very impressive sentence to read from the judges report for you. 'Reading this book is the literary equivalent of riding a rollercoaster while listening to a virtuoso violin performance by a child prodigy. Simply stunning.' Now, 'child prodigy' is in that sentence. How do you feel?
JAMIE: Good. Yeah. I mean that's crazy. Thank you. So good, Stella. Yeah.
ASTRID: I guess my point is this is your debut. It's obviously gone well.
JAMIE: I'm nervous.
ASTRID: I know and I'm sorry. I'm making you more nervous. But what does that mean to you? I mean do you when you sit down to right now do you feel pressure? Do you feel relief? Do you feel like you have a platform?
JAMIE: Yeah. I think I didn't feel the sense of responsibility until I guess even just after I published the book I felt a lot more weight, whereas before that I guess I was just writing whatever I was studying. And now being out of studying as well you just feel like there's so much more to fill up and whatever I publish next is going to be like I don't know. Yeah there is a lot of pressure.
ASTRID: Do you think you're... You are at the beginning of your kind of writing career. Is fiction the heart of your creative urge or would you try something else?
JAMIE: Yeah I think I've been writing a lot more creative non-fiction recently as well. Just thanks to like another class as well. And like I write poetry. I also write music as well. So... I don't know, I think for me it's not so much about the form as much as it's about you know what I'm expressing and what I'm sharing. Yeah.
ASTRID: Are you able to tell us anything about what you're working on now?
JAMIE: Yeah writing... so I'm sort of between two new novels, like a bit more traditional novels but I'm sort of more using them as ways to research what I'm really passionate about. So I guess I don't know if I if I should say what the next ones are about?
ASTRID: Totally up to you.
JAMIE: O ne is sort of about artificial intelligence and the way that we consume technology the way that it becomes sort of like a... like a friend in a way. I don't know it's about virtual reality and sort of like it's not about that but it's with the context of that. So that's one of them. and hen I guess the other one we'll have to see.
ASTRID: We can keep that one a secret. Louise, I'm not going to ask you how you go from a long list to a short list, because we're all going to find out about that on Thursday the 9 April, and that might be awkward, but I am going to ask you how The Stella has changed over time and more importantly how it is perceived in the public and how that has changed over time? So this is the seventh year of the prize, the literary environment has moved a bit in those years and maybe in some ways it hasn't changed at all.
LOUISE: I think that when The Stella started everyone was quite hungry for it and it sort of... As soon as it was kind of announced people were very happy, generally speaking. I mean I think that we're in a culture that's quite open and receptive and even the people who sort of thought they weren't quite sure whether it was necessary started to realise that statistically speaking, the underrepresentation of women and the idea that women's fiction, domestic fiction is somehow lesser than more masculine kind of ideals of of fiction, things that we traditionally think of as male, like military writing for example, is kind of a cliché. And I think people are very open to that challenge. So I think that that people ave been really excited to celebrate The Stella shortlist and long list every year, and people I think... I think hopefully it feels quite warm and that there is generally a sense that The Stella is trying to do something good in the community so it's kind of supported. And I think honestly, for most of us, as soon as you point out a kind of a bias that we have that we didn't necessarily know that we had and if we kind of think maybe I have that maybe there's something I can do about it... If somebody says to you, 'Here's a way that we can help you do something about it', kind of it makes it easier for you
And in a sense The Stella Prize list every year is a kind of a reading list, a go to list for anyone who thinks, 'Yeah my list, the books that I read are generally more men than women, and that's just... I had no idea that that was happening or it's happening because of...' Well there are so many reasons why that happens. And I think one of the great things that's been happening is The Stella Schools Program, where people have been going to schools. So now you have kids thinking in schools, thinking about representation of boys and girls in their books, and men and women. And the idea that 'I' in a book doesn't have to be a male, the idea that these stories can be about girls and women, and I think that that's probably for me a massive thing seeing people come through questioning representation and whether or not the default is always male. So I don't know whether I've answered your question. but
I think you have and I would simply add a personal comment. I love going into a bookstore after the long list or the short list is announced and seeing the little flyers and just pointing and being like a you know a stand of the new work by Australian female writers highlighted in that way, in a way that I don't think I saw you know as a teenager or as a young adult.
Now I'd like to... obviously The Stella Prize is not the only prize on the literary landscape by any means, and of course there is the Miles Franklin Literary Award, which is named after the same woman, Stella Miles Franklin. I'd like to ask you about what it's like when there is overlap or no overlap on the short listings. So for example, in 2018 Michelle de Kretser was shortlisted for The Stella Prize and she won the Miles Franklin. But there was no other overlap. So is that a good thing or not?
LOUISE: I think it's inevitable with prizes really that there's going to be some kind of an overlap, and I think that the prizes in this culture prizes are still elevating the writers, and the more noticed that writers get the more readers they get and the more hopefully money they get. And so it all helps. I think it's probably... I mean there's quite a few prizes in Australia now, and I think there's usually some kind of overlap, but it's nice when they're quite different so you've got different lists to go to and you know sometimes you know that you can rely on just being able to go in and pick the shortlist of either.
LOUISE: Now I'd like to ask you how does one become a judge? And I ask this because readers including myself used The Stella and other lists as you know a go to reading list, and it's not always - this is not a bad thing, I'm just genuinely interested - it's not always clear you know who is helping me decide what I read next.
LOUISE: I think The Stella probably more than other prizes shows the judges quite clearly...
ASTRID: Oh definitely. LOUISE: It is always nice to know who is judging these things, and it's generally it's a pool of sort of people, academics even, and writers, editors, you know long term readers and critics, broadcasters. So I think it's just the people high up in The Stella kind of have to just pull people who could work together in. You know, and you want to try and meet... you have a range of people within a group. And so I don't think... I think it's hopefully people who you know they're looking for people who have established that you can rely on in some way what they've got to say. They're not going to just have opinions without having read books. And there's nothing that drives me mad more than people have got opinions on books they haven't. It happens all the time.
ASTRID: It does indeed. One for the one for you Louise. As a judge, do you feel an obligation to read these long lists or short from other prizes?
LOUISE: Oh no I don't feel obliged in any way, but I am always interested to know - not just the Australian prizes- I'm just always interested. I mean I'm always looking for book recommendations, always, always, so it's always good. You know they're they're not foolproof, but they're a good way to kind of look across and see you know, quickly see some quality work.
ASTRID: Now I do have one for the question I guess about the Miles Franklin. There are several living male writers who have won the Miles Franklin many times, and they're obviously not eligible to enter The Stella Prize, and I'm genuinely interested, are they supportive of the prize? Have they ever made public comment about it?
LOUISE: I've I've never seen any particular engagement. It is always funny there's quite a lot of silence. But I mean.. it you know it doesn't... It probably benefits them to not really be particularly involved in any... I mean I guess there's a degree to which they probably think it's just got nothing to do with them. It would be nice if there was a lot of support, I think in general from people who won other prizes. But I don't, I don't know. I've no idea whether there's been anyone secretly annoyed that they can't win The Stella because they are a man who's won the Miles Franklin three times.
ASTRID: Food for thought. Now Jenny and Jamie, you are in the midst of you know something of a media maelstrom, people are talking about your book, they're writing about your book. Do you read any of that? I mean I read bits of the judges report which are glowing. But do you read your reviews? Do you read criticisms?
JENNY: Every single one that I can find.
ASTRID: And what do you do with that?
JENNY: Look, I've got a thick skin. I think you know if you want to be a published writer you have to have a thick skin because rejection is part of the game. You know, you're submitting and often for years and years and getting knocked back. So I'm a big girl, I can I can handle it. I don't do anything in terms of it shaping my my work, unless it comes from a really trusted source. So you know, I had feedback from publishers and when that triangulated I thought oh maybe there's something in that. So I considered that, and then if it resonates then then I might respond. But no, I just, I just think they're wrong, or that I get it. You know I protect myself in that way. But I think yeah no it's it's part of knowing, I think, knowing reader response is important and what people's tastes are, and and how they view things. Yeah, it's intellectually interesting to me as well.
ASTRID: And Jamie what about you?
JAMIE: Yeah I do. I do read whatever comes up. Yeah. I don't know. I think rejection, like you mentioned, rejection is so important for writers. I spent... so before I wrote 'Pink Mountain' in that short amount of time I was writing other books and sending them to American publishers and American agents and British agents and British publishers.
ASTRID: So you didn't send it around...
JAMIE: I didn't know any in Australia at the time, just because I think what I was reading on Google and whatever was just like 'these are good, these are good', you know I was just very like ambitious, and getting those rejections coming in I even got like feedback sometimes being like, 'Oh your characters are too flat' or whatever. I think that really helped me get the drive. Like I don't think if I had just come out of high school not submitting them and getting rejected that I would have kept writing. I think so like you know reading the reviews and if they're negative or if someone hasn't got it I kind of... I kind of love to see why. And like you know yeah let's say I'm like I don't want to make it effect my work in the future, and I don't think it does, because I guess if you're writing and you feel good about it you'll know that it didn't come from a place which is 'I just want to impress this one person that's giving me a bad review'. It's just like, it's more just like... It's interesting to see how people read.
ASTRID: And hat have you learnt from how people read since you've been a published author?
JAMIE: I think not everyone reads like academics because I guess going through a literature degree, and you know studying English in high school, I've been always surrounded by academic writing, and like by the time I got to my third year at uni it was just like, 'Oh what's the most experimental thing I can find?' And like this is the norm. And then you know obviously 'Pink Mountain' came out of that, because I was like, 'Oh this isn't this isn't anything compared to you know Gertrude Stein or whatever'. And so I guess it's just... Yeah it's just that, like I think yeah you don't just assume that everyone wants the same thing out of a book.
ASTRID: I want to ask you both further about rejection. You mentioned Jamie sending off your previous works overseas to the UK to the US when you started sending it to Australia, how did that work?
JAMIE: I think I saw on social media. I just submitted it...
ASTRID: As you say looking at Sam.
JAMIE: I just I just saw a social media, because before that I think I tried a few agencies that were similar to the overseas, they had like an overseas branch and an Australia branch, just because like at the time you know I just was looking I was just being... You know, using my resources that I had. And then I saw The Lifted Brow was starting a publishing house, just because I like follow Express Media and Voiceworks, who are all just a very supportive community and you know I just yeah I was following them at the time because I had recently just got my first piece published. And I just submitted it and Submitable, and that was it.
ASTRID: Where was your first piece published? Are you referring to The Lifted Brow?
JAMIE: In Voiceworks. Yeah, yeah...
ASTRID: You are a unique and amazing story in publishing in Australia, you do realise that, don't you?
JAMIE: Thank you.
ASTRID: It is true. Jenny, what was your kind of process for your second novel which was your first manuscript?
JENNY: Yes, my mind was the more standard story than your unusual magic one. So this was my first manuscript. And I had an agent for it, and it went around to several publishers, and very very nice rejections came back, and then went out to a few more and then again very very nice rejections came back. And my agent said, 'I could keep sending it down the list, but I think it would maybe go somewhere small, and then maybe get... not do as well...' I don't know. She just said... And I said, 'Look I've got this other thing that I happen to have here'. So that was the second one, so then that went out and eventually got a contract, so that when I came to rework that first one and then resubmit it I already had a relationship with my publisher, and so the second one is unagented and I just sent it through to Jane and luckily she she loved it and said okay. Yeah, so a bit more traditional in terms of the back and forth and the very very drawn out, like over a year of you know, waiting and then a no, waiting and then a no. Yeah.
ASTRID: Rejection is often like that. Are there any questions? Yes. Down here at the front.
Question 1: Hi. I'm asking question because I have an eleven year old niece . She wants to be a writer in future as well. She's in England right now, and that's why I'm making a small video so that I can send it to her. She's obsessed with J.K. Rowling. aid last year when I went to England I bought her the whole Harry Potter series, and she is in book number four now, which she tells me is like six hundred and seventy seven pages. So she's only eleven years old. Any message you want to convey to her so that she wants to be a writer in future?
JENNY: Keep reading. Read and read and read, and then start playing around with writing, but keep up the reading. It's very very important. It's like food for the writing.
JAMIE: Yeah. And I think also it's important to, if you start writing like a certain way and like you know you don't feel happy with it, don't feel afraid to change the way that you write and the way that your voice is I think.
QUESTION 1: Just to ask a bit more. She's already started writing, so she's writing this story and she says that she's going to extend it because more things are coming into her mind and she's still writing it. So yeah.
JENNY: Just go with it, keep going. Just keep going.
JAMIE: Yeah yeah. And like you know adding things, and adding things and changing characters. Like sometimes you like, I'm writing a story and then I just I'd like the character's name has to change. Now just do the find and replace on Microsoft Word and change all of it because... Yeah. Don't be afraid to make huge changes like that. I think it's important for a writer to know that. Yeah.
ASTRID: That is lovely advice. There's another question here in the middle.
QUESTION 2: This questions is directed to Louise following up for the question regarding books that are considered for more than one prize and that there is an overlap or there is no overlap. Are you able to talk about the differences between prize criteria, like there are differences in the criteria for the writing? Obviously there is for whether it's a female writer or a mystery, but there are great differences?
LOUISE: Yeah yeah. I mean I think that there's some awards that have very specific requirements. There's an award for I think it's... Has to have woman portrayed in a positive light. That's one of the awards that is in...
And I think some you have to, it depends, like I think some of the state awards you have... the writer has to have been born or has to live in the state. So... but I think that aside from that, everyone's looking for kind of excellence in whatever form that comes in. So I think that that's probably why there's quite a big crossover because people are just looking kind of for the best works whatever 'best' means.
ASTRID: There is a prize, I think it's from the UK for crime fiction, that now requires all entries to not have gratuitous violence against women, which is so common in the crime fiction genre. And that's the eligibility criteria. I can see so many people nodidng. Are there any other questions?
QUESTION 3: I'm just wondering how you get that into the list? So does the authors submit, or do the literary agents put a call out or... How do you even get on...
LOUISE: The submissions? Yeah, I think largely the publishers send the books to The Stella Prize. That's sort of they have an opening, like a few months, I think it is, where you can kind of you fill out a form and send copies of their books. And I think you know it's kind of... for publishers it's just part of their annual calendar that they know that at that time they're sending out books for the Miles Franklin, and at hat time they're sending out books for The Stella, and so yeah I think that the books just sort of start arriving in the office that way like magic.
QUESTION 4: I wanted to ask about the editing process. Seems to me it's a bit like a shrink, maybe, you need to find the right match. I wonder, especially as first time authors, how that process goes? Hopefully it's easy with the second time, but you're interested in your though
JAMIE: My editing process was with Sam. And it's interesting, because we kind of left the book for like a year. And I remember sending like this huge document to Sam being like ah like I read it again, actually this is what I meant, like this is what it's like... You know when you have a bit of space from something you've created and you realise subconsciously you've inserted little sort of holes for you to fill in? And for me it was like a really therapeutic process, because I got to unpack why I'd written something the way that I did. And like justifying you know sort of bizarre things, because 'Pink Mountain' is full of just weird moments and like weird language, and I guess me justifying that gave me like that sort of confidence that it wasn't just like a... like something that I wanted to put it in for fun or it wasn't just something that I thought was cool. It's something that actually matters like within the big realm of the book. Yeah. And that's the best editing process I think you could ask for.
JENNY: Yeah, and for me, just knowing that the editor is there to work with you to make the thing better. I mean that's really what they want. So they're not... An opponent in any way. You know, you're working together to make make a stronger book, and they're there as a safety net and you know, they will say things that you just won't. Even if you've read it a thousand times you just there are things that you will miss. And there are often different levels of... from the macro, so looking at the large things, down to the micro like the grammar and the tiny tiny sorts of things and repetition. So I mean, it's a really you know, if you have a good editor it's a wonderful relationship, really really good and lucky to have.
LOUISE: That's really interesting what you said Jamie, because novelist Maria Hyland, she always says to authors, 'Just put it in a drawer, straight away just put it in a drawer for a few months, and then open the door and read it again after you finish'. She always says that's the best thing you can do. y
JAMIE: I think it is really good because it's just like when you create you just inevitably... I don't know, especially with 'Pink Mountain', because it was automatic writing, you know having that space from what really makes you think about why it's important that you pick it up again I guess. Yeah. And having someone question you about like the importance of it is also like really important as well, so it's like that combination I think is what makes it something amazing. I don't know.
QUESTION 5: Hi. I'd love to get an insight into your personal writing routine or where you write and just just be interesting since you're both here.
JENNY: For me at the moment it's nothing. My life has crowded in and I just I don't have any time at the moment. I had two residences last year, I was really lucky April and May and I went away and I did really good work for four two weeks and two weeks, and since then nothing much other than thinking about things, making notes. And that's part of the work. You know I'm still urning towards the next things. But when I am in flow it tends to be in the morning for three or four hours writing new words or fresh words, and then the rest of the day maybe reading over, doing research, editing, some sort of planning whatever that might look like.
JAMIE: We have really similar routine. Yeah. It's like always the best stuff comes in the morning and then... Yeah, like reworking other stuff. I guess for me it's like I've had... I'm really privileged, because I've had the opportunity to study and so I wrote a lot when I was in the libraries at uni, just like consuming a lot of books. And now I'm sort of like without classes and everything, so I'm a bit more like getting into... like you know calling myself a writer a bit more and not just like a consumer, and it's like, a lot is like you know you have to churn a lot out rather than you know it's like that whole process. So now I get to choose what I read. So I guess like for me it's like constantly be reading while I'm writing, or constantly be learning while I'm writing. So the next book as I said like it's very... it's very information based, and I think writing through that, writing through what I'm consuming rather than writing thinking like, 'Ah, I'm writing like a nice sentence'. It's like more just like you sort of let it flow. And I think yeah that's kind of all I ask for in the process.
QUESTION 6: I'm just thinking about how should a writer's life be? What is... How do you want your life to be as a writer? Is it it good to work and combine with writing? Was better just to write? Is there enough money to just write? How much how much time do you need to be able to write?
ASTRID: I think everybody on stage, maybe starting with Louise, can say something there.
LOUISE: Well I was just thinking how different that is for different people depending on what they write too because a lot of the books that we talk about on these kinds of things are kind of more on the literary spectrum. And so largely that's people who aren't living by their writing at all. But there are people who make lots of money from their writing. I mean, they're not usually the people that we necessarily talk about, but I think it's good to remember that there are people who just sit down and write every day and have big contracts and pop out a book every year. And they get large sales and they're real writers too. And they... but that's probably not going to be our experiences up here.
ASTRID: They are real writers too. Jenny?
JENNY: I need a lot of time, so I need to feel that I have days before and days during and sort of days after to really get into the flow. It's not something I can pick up and put down very easily, although that may be a bit of an excuse, I'm not sure. But I do work to earn money, and I think for me it's better to have both. I think there might be this ideal of just only writing full time, but I don't know how efficient I would be. So it's like, you know, when we're busier we tend to get more things done. I think that would just... you know that that's the answer for m
JAMIE: Yeah I agree with that. I think I'm finding like having that sort of thing on the side is always good just because it sort of builds up your creative energy and you just want to get everything out when you know you do. And I find that for me like I like to like write automatically, so it's like, it doesn't matter sort of how much time I get if I like I'd rather get like quality over quantity. I don't know. But at the same time, I've been like I'm pretty blessed with like my what I've been able to do with writing as well like I've... Yeah I don't know. It's a hard question, because I feel like I couldn't without like you know my two jobs on the side, and then obviously I think a lot of experiencing everything else is important in writing.
ASTRID: This is going to be released as a podcast, the ninetieth podcast episode for The Garret, and after 90 episodes I can say that every single writer that has been interviewed does it a different way. And there is no rule. You can take inspiration from any other successful writer, but it's what works for you.
LOUISE: I think I'll be taking inspiration for two to three months. I like to think that if we reconvene in three months you might have written a whole other book. That's just amazing.
ASTRID: It really is. I'm so very impressed, and so embarrassed in front of my students. Are there any other questions?
QUESTION 7: I was just interested in the physical process of how you write the books. Do you use Microsoft Word, or do you... And when you write them do you sort of go from top to bottom and write all the way through or do you jump around?
JAMIE: Yeah I think... I handwrite a lot but I'd never handwrite creatively as in fiction. I don't think I ever write fiction handwritten, I like write handwritten a lot. So I write sort of like a list of things that I did on a day. I write poetry, which is a bit more personal. But then I take sort of everything onto Microsoft Word just... I don't know, I think there's something about the scrolling is really good for me. Like I don't know, I hate to sort of see what the book's going to look like in final form, I kind of like to look at it as like a one big thing. Yeah I don't know about you.
JENNY: I use Word. I tried Scrivener and it wasn't for me. And my biggest revelation was realising that I might have the whole novel in my head or most of it, but to think that I didn't have to go chronologically I could go towards the end or I could go to the middle and writing in terms of scenes, like if you're a writer who writes scenes, that's an easy thing to do. And that can be really good, if you stay at a place where you feel a bit stuck, just go to a place where you've you know you feel that you can write so that jumping back and forwards it doesn't have to be one sort of whole... from beginning to end. For me anyway.
QUESTION 8: Hi. I'm wondering about how you imagine the reception of your books as you're creating them or as you're editing them... as anytime during the process and whether you dare to dream you might be on The Stella shortlist, or whether you're imagining a critic who might say... You know, you might think someone's not going to like this line but I care enough about it that I'm going to keep it.
JENNY: I mean I'd lie if I didn't say I had small small hopes. I mean, you know, some people say I'm a writer but I'm not interested in being published or I'm not interested in the fame. But I do want to be heard or read, and so that's the first thing, that it would get a contract, get into stores and then have people read it. But yeah, there's this little small tiny hopes, but this has been amazingly... You know, an amazing result, I suppose you could say. Yeah wonderful.
JAMIE: Yeah. I think when I was writing 'Pink Mountain' specifically I didn't think about it or just because I was at that point where I was just like... yeah still like very unaware of the literary world and very unaware that I could sort of like people would want to read something by me, just because a lot of the work that I consumed was stuff that came to academically and people were like, 'This is important because it's aged a bit'. So I don't know, I think I wasn't really think about it but now I think about it a lot just in terms of like... What? Why? Like it's important for me to write the characters, the certain characters I write. Yeah I don't know. I think I just... Yeah like I think it's good that there is a space to be able to write those characters and for there to be reception like with prizes like The Stella Prize, which recognies those kinds of voices and you know genres.
QUESTION 9: I just wanted to ask about for previous winners, how has The Stella or winning The Stella Award, being shortlisted or long listed, has it affected their career into the future? What's the best way for people who do win to actually build on that.
LOUISE: I think I think that's... I mean obviously one thing is sales. And I think with the short listing and the long listing and winning... all of those come with sales to a greater or lesser degree. And I think that... Obviously just getting known. So you're more likely maybe to get your book put in on a course somewhere down the track whether that be school or university. And just being talked about on social media, just that kind of thing.
And I guess in terms of how you then utilise that going forward probably depends a lot on the author. But you know, some authors love to do events and some authors don't. So I guess there are a lot a lot of opportunities that open up. If you want to kind of do things you get asked probably to more festivals, I would think, and that kind of thing. And certainly I think that The Stella Prize winners in the past, we've we've seen quite a lot of them and they've done lots of things and we kind of know them and look forward to their next works and kind of... Yeah, I mean I think that they've been elevated within the writing community so that they're quite visible now which is great.
ASTRID: It is a beautiful prize. I would like to thank Louise, the Chair of the 2019 Stella judges, Jenny Ackland author of 'Little Gods', thank you. And Jamie Marina Lau author of 'Pink Mountain on Locust Island', thank you very much.