Interview by Helen Stubbs.
I started off doing visual art, mostly etchings featuring texts of non-existent languages, then changed to writing fiction in the late 90s. I’ve worked in museums and galleries and before that, assorted table-waiting, hostessing, agricultural labouring, highschool teaching etc etc, but no prawn trawler. I’ve been working at Sydney Uni as a lecturer in academic writing and critical thinking since 2010 and am currently working on a book on those two subjects for Palgrave. Also working on more fiction – short at the moment, but have ideas for a novel for after I finish the textbook. My publications include The Orchid Nursery, The Absent Men, Weavers of the Twilight (a short story) and The Other Face of Janus, and articles including ‘Doubt, Ambivalence and Creativity in the Academy’ and ‘Square pegs: creativity on campus needs an urgent re-think’ in The Conversation.
Can you tell me about The Orchid Nursery, your award-winning novel?
Late last year my novel, The Orchid Nursery was published by Lacuna. As it says on the citation it received along with the Norma K Hemming Award, the story responds to particular cultural tendencies I find dismaying. It asks, What if Christian and Muslim fundamentalists resolved their differences to join forces in a war against secularism – with the religious victorious? But it’s also funny at times, using a lot of sardonic wordplay to bring out the absurdity of some of the propaganda tools used by the forces of ‘liberation’. So I’m not sure if it’s a dystopia or just a very dark comedy.
I’ve published short stories and four novels, and received two Aurealis awards, and the Norma K Hemming this year. Lately my academic publications are crossing over with my fiction with work I’ve been doing on Corpspeak and Zombilingo – the names I’ve given to the languages of the living dead that have invaded all areas of human endeavour with their stupefyingly dull turns of phrase that work as highly effective as tools of control and coercion (same sort of thing going on in The Orchid Nursery). I started developing this idea last year in a journal article on the corrosive effects of Corpspeak (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07294360.2014.973377)
What does the future hold for you?
I’ll be presenting a short talk from the pov of a zombie-collaborator working on the ZED – the Zombilingo/English Dictionary – in Radio National’s Pocket Docs series soon – to be aired on 5th August. A bit exciting! It’ll be a rant about how Zombilingo buttresses the ideology of a deadly but dominant form of market fundamentalism – which will become clear when my dark alter-ego, a zombie collaborator, explains the ‘virtues’ of this lingo from the perspective of her zombie employers.
And at the moment I’m expanding my horrid language catalogue to include two more, MeMyBlah’ (for narcissists) and ‘Technosputter’ (for when employers want to imagine we’re machines). It’s due for publication on 4th August, the day before the RN talk. And yet more crossing over academic and fictive interests with an article scheduled for publication soon with Borderlands journal. I had some fun with the provisional title: ‘Feeding Greedy Corpses: the rhetorical power of Corpspeak and Zombilingo in higher education, and suggested countermagics to foil the intentions of the dead and the ghastly’.
And that new novel I mentioned. It could be a psycho-mystery-thriller with a few unreliable narrators who may not all be entirely alive. Encounters with mythical people or beasts are very likely to occur.
What Australian work have you loved recently?
Recently loved Jane Rawson’s A Wrong Turn at the office of Unmade Lists. I love the way she handles the grimness of her world with humour and whimsy, and I really think it’s a great title.
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
An author I’d like to sit next to on a long plane is Jim Harrison. He writes like an angel. But I’d be pretty intimidated because he’s a genius. Favourite title: The Beast God Forgot to Invent. Hmmm… there’s a theme emerging here. Uninvented beasts and unmade lists…and I’ve got my non-existent languages and Absent Men. Like that – things that are and aren’t, at the same time.