Ep 64 If you kids don’t behave, I’ll turn this podcast around

Authors Ashley Kalagian Blunt and James McKenzie Watson at the launch of Denizen at Gleebooks

Heads up, episode 64 of James and Ashley Stay at Their Respective Homes in Separate Cities is full of spoilers for Denizen – but this post isn’t.

If you haven’t read Denizen yet (where have you been?), you can still enjoy reading about our special double-guest episode, and then get even more excited to go and read Denizen so you can listen without spoiler concerns.

Double guests? That’s right, we finally got to speak to Hayley Scrivenor, plus we welcomed back our only repeat guest, author Jacinta Dietrich!

Hayley Scrivenor is the author of the number one Australian bestseller Dirt Town, also out now in the US and UK. She is a former Director of Wollongong Writers Festival. An earlier version of x was shortlisted for the Penguin Literary Prize and won the Kill Your Darlings Unpublished Manuscript Award. Hayley lives on Dharawal country, on the east coast of Australia, and has a PhD in Creative Writing.

Jacinta Dietrich is a writer and editor who holds a Master of Creative Writing from the University of Melbourne. Her first book, This Is Us Now, was published in 2021 by Grattan Street Press. We first spoke to Jacinta back in episode 45.

We jump in immediately by talking about that ending then discuss the ethics of writing violence, one-star reviews, and, of course, the great lasagna-with-a-side-of-peas debate.

Books and authors discussed in this episode
– Robert Gott; 
This Is Us Now by Jacinta Dietrich (from ep 45); 
Dirt Town by Hayley Scrivenor; 
– Petronella McGovern (from ep 12);
Abducted in Plain Sight (Netflix), directed by Skye Borgman;
Halibut on the Moon by David Vann (from ep 23); 
There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura;  
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov; 
– Karl Ove Knausgård (of course);
My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward by Mark Lukach;
The Keepers by Al Campbell;
Dark Deeds Down Under, edited by Craig Sisterson;
Reacher Said Nothing: The Making of Make Me by Andy Martin;
Dancing Barefoot by Alice Boyle;
Earthlings by Sayaka Murata;
– The Whispering by Veronica Lando

Authors Ashley Kalagian Blunt and James McKenzie Watson at the launch of Denizen, laughing

Listen to this episode of James and Ashley Stay at Home here, or on Apple podcasts, SpotifyStitcher, or your favourite podcast app, and find out about past episodes here.

Success story – Curlews on Vulture Street

‘Plenty is going on between humans and wildlife. This intersection of realms is where I have been dwelling now for several decades; the strange, exhilarating place where people and nature mix, often uneasily, trying to understand what the heck is going on.’
– from the introduction to Curlews on Vulture Street

Curlews on Vulture Street: Cities, Birds, People and Me is the newest book from urban ecologist Darryl Jones. Darryl has published a number of popular science books on his area of expertise, Australian birds, including The Birds at My Table, and most recently, A Clouded Leopard in the Middle of the Road.

But Curlews on Vulture Street is special. And not only because I played a tiny part in its creation.

Curlews blends Darryl’s highly engaging writing about birds with a splash of memoir, told with his wry humour and natural storytelling talent.

If Bill Bryson were an urban ecologist, this would be his masterpiece.

The book traces Darryl’s interest in birds from his childhood in rural New South Wales, growing up near Wagga Wagga, to his first lessons in ecology as a university student-researcher, and then through his highly successful and fascinating career.

When Darryl began his university studies, there was still a clear divide between ‘the natural world’ and urban centres. If you wanted to study anything to do with nature, you could only do so by going out into nature. Whatever animals and other creatures might be doing in the city, no one knew, and no one wanted to know.

Darryl was one of the ecologists at the forefront of a new paradigm, asking questions about how birds live in cities, and why? How can we live better with them? And, you know, maybe not get swooped so much?

The answers he discovers are fascinating – and his methods for getting there are often quite humorous, like the time he tried to build a crow trap. No surprise, the crows very nearly outsmarted him.

Through the book, he explores the behaviour of magpies, lorikeets, cockatoos blackbirds, mousebirds, peaceful doves, curlews, ibises, and more.

And if you’re wondering what a curlew is, it’s this ‘strange, lanky, awkward-looking’ creature, as Darryl describes. They all have they that unensettingly bug-eyed stare; it’s their thing.

I discovered Darryl’s books a few years ago, when what we thought were two rainbow lorikeets were visiting our apartment in Camperdown. It turned out to be a whole flock.

We know this because one day they held their annual conference on our balcony. We had 16 lorikeets squabbling at the top of their surprisingly powerful lungs. I suspect I suffered permanent hearing damage.

Because I knew Darryl was a talented writer, I was surprised when he signed up for a six-week memoir course I ran at the start of 2020. Like all good writers, he was pushing himself to further develop his skills – he wanted to learn techniques particular to memoir, and push his writing into new territory. It was a delight working with Darryl, and when the course ended, we continued on into a mentorship that lasted throughout the early draft of Curlews.

He very kindly mentioned me in his acknowledgements, in this overly generous statement:

‘No one has had a bigger influence on this book than Ashley Kalagian Blunt. At a crucial early stage I was lucky enough to participate in a memoir workshop run by Ashley for Mirrabooka Writers. She provided an extraordinary level of personal feedback as well as invaluable advice and encouragement. She is an exceptional writer and teacher as well as a generous and constructive critic. … When the workshop concluded, I plucked up the courage to ask Ashley if she would act as a style editor for a book I was trying to write. If any of this works, it is largely due to Ashley’s incisive, critical yet gentle touch (and ‘appropriate’ sense of humour). Ashley, I apologise deeply, pointedly and embarrassingly for the overabundance of adverbs that remain. You tried your best.’

(For the record, I don’t believe ‘the road to hell is paved with adverbs’ as Stephen King has famously said. See? I used one right there. But I do think they’re best used in moderation. Darryl really did try!)

Curlews on Vulture Street is in stores now. It’s a great read for anyone interested in Australian birds (and who isn’t interested in them? They’re so bizarre!) and fauna, but also for anyone who enjoys smart humour and great storytelling.

~

If you’re interested in nonfiction writing, whether that’s essays or book-length work, including memoir, check out my upcoming online course with Writing NSW.

Online: Creative Non-Fiction Workshop with author ashley kalagian blunt, information about this course on the Writing NSW courses website and a copy of her book cover, How to Be Australian, a memoir

Online: Creative Non-Fiction course
Monday 31 October to Friday 9 December 2022, online
Writing NSW

This six-week online course with author Ashley Kalagian Blunt is an opportunity for you to delve into the dynamic world of creative non-fiction. You’ll try new techniques to stretch your writing muscles, and receive feedback in a supportive and encouraging setting.

Each lesson will include writing exercises designed to help you practise a wide range of skills, and weekly deadlines for short assignments will provide motivation. You can work toward the completion of a short-form piece for submission at the end of the course, or develop your skills for a longer project. For full details and to enrol, visit Writing NSW >>

Crafting feisty females with author Felicity McLean

When researching for her second novel, Felicity McLean learned there are more books and songs about Ned Kelly and his gang than any other Australian historical figure.

Kelly is pervasive in Australian culture, but McLean wondered how representative he is of who we are as a nation in 2022.

Her new novel plays around with just that question, through the distinctive, captivating voice of Ruby Red McCoy.

Felicity McLean’s debut novel, The Van Apfel Girls are Gone, has been published in numerous countries. It was a Barnes & Noble ‘Discover Great New Writers’ pick in the US, and was shortlisted for the Indie Book Awards. Her book, Body Lengths, co-written with Olympian Leisel Jones, was Apple Books ‘Best Biography of 2015’ and won the 2016 Australian Book Industry Awards ‘Reader’s Choice’ for Small Publisher Adult Book of the Year.

As a journalist she’s interviewed authors including Irvine Welsh, James Patterson, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Gillian Mears, Charlotte Wood, Tom Keneally, Nicholas Sparks, Judy Nunn, Wayne Macauley, Chris Flynn, Kirsten Tranter, Jo Nesbo, Kathy Lette, Anne Rice, Michael Robotham and Tara Moss. (In other words, who hasn’t she interviewed?!)

Photo credit A Hollingworth

In this takeover episode of Dani Vee’s long-running Words and Nerds podcast, Felicity and I discuss what drew her to this contemporary retelling of the Ned Kelly story, how she developed the character of Red and her striking voice, and her deep love for the New South Wales Central Coast.

‘Would we sympathise with an angry, feisty female?’ Felicity asked, in developing the book’s concept. ‘Would we judge her more harshly than the larrikin Ned Kelly? And how far could I push it?’

We also discuss Kelly’s Jerilderie letter of 1879, drinking undiluted cordial, the hitchhiking ghost and other Central Coast miscellany.

Catch my interview with Felicity on ep 532 of Words and Nerds, a podcast about all things books and writing. Available on Apple all podcast apps.

Ep 63 How not to write a memoir with author Bronwyn Birdsall

After contracting glandular fever as a child (aka mono), Bronwyn Birdsall ended up with such bad chronic fatigue, she missed six months of school. This was at a time when there was still significant stigma surrounding the illness.

Bronwyn grew up in Sydney. At age 24, she moved to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and worked as an English teacher. The four years she spent there provided the inspiration for her first novel, Time and Tide in Sarajevo. Her writing centres around contemporary life and finding meaning in the everyday. She writes from her home on Bundjalung Country, in Northern New South Wales.

In episode 63 of James and Ashley Stay at Home, a podcast about writing, creativity and health, Bronwyn joins us to discuss her life after chronic fatigue syndrome and the writing of Time and Tide in Sarajevo, which started not as a novel, but as a memoir.

Bronwyn worked on the memoir for years before one day suddenly finding herself writing fiction. he describes how the story opened up from there.

We discuss living with a mindset of rest and recovery, moving overseas and reinventing yourself, and the question at the heart of the book – how do we find hope in a world that feels beyond repair?

Books and authors discussed in this episode
– Sarah Sentilles
– Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski
– Indelible City by Louisa Lim
– The Writer Laid Bare by Lee Kofman
– Songs of a Dreamer by Thomas Ligotti
– A Kind of Magic by Anna Spargo-Ryan
– The Unbelieved by Vikki Petraitis 
– The Whispering by Veronica Lando 

Listen to this episode of James and Ashley Stay at Home here, or on Apple podcasts, SpotifyStitcher, or your favourite podcast app, and find out about past episodes here.

On writing and persistence

In 2017, my manuscript was one of five shortlisted for the Kill Your Darlings Unpublished Manuscript Award. None of the writers on the list had a book published at the time. Here’s an excerpt from the announcement:

I started the creative non-fiction manuscript that became Full of Donkey in 2010. I had my first essay, an extract from that work, published in a literary journal in 2015, and was awarded a Varuna Fellowship the same year.

In short, I’d been chipping away at the project for a while by the time of the KYD shortlisting.

SJ Norman ended up winning the Unpublished Manuscript Award that year. Which was disappointing for me, of course.

After, a publisher did ask to read my full manuscript. She ended up rejecting it, but did give me some useful feedback.

My Name Is Revenge book cover cake

In 2018, Full of Donkey was also shortlisted for the Impress Prize for New Writers. Once again, it didn’t win.

I kept working. I changed the manuscript’s scope, and it eventually morphed into My Name Is Revenge, my first published book, which came out in 2019.

Author speaks to crowd at My Name Is Revenge book launch

In sum, I started that project in 2010, and the book came out – in a very different format – ten years later.

Author Ashley Kalagian Blunt signs stacks of My Name Is Revenge book

And even though SJ Norman won the award in 2017, it still took a while for the book to find a publisher. Permafrost came out in 2021, and went on to be longlisted for the Stella Award.

In 2017, I didn’t know any of the other shortlisted writers. They were just random names on a list.

I’ve since gotten to know Susan White through a writing alumni group, and so I’ve heard how hard she’s worked to revise Cut and get it to publication.

Cover of Cut a novel by Susan White

Cut is coming out from Affirm Press this month. (Sue had her first book, a YA novel, published in 2019.)

I’ve also gotten to know Amy Lovat, founder of Secret Book Stuff. We interviewed her for ep 34 of James and Ashley Stay at Home, and she was so fantastic (incisive, generous, well read, enthusiastic – I could go on), I convinced her to join my writers’ group at the end of 2021.

And not long after that, Amy signed a contract with Pan Macmillan for the release of Halfway to Nowhere. After working on the novel for ten years, it’s coming out in July 2023.

That leaves Sevana Ohandjanian. I don’t know her, and there’s no book news on her website, but who knows. She might have a publication deal for Black Grass in the works right now. (Sevana, if you’re reading this and that’s not the case, keep going!)

I think you can see my point.

If you’re working on a book that feels like it’s going nowhere, don’t give up. Take a new approach, maybe start a new manuscript, whatever you need to do. But keep going.

~

And if you’re working on creative non-fiction and keen to develop your skills, whether you’re writing essays or a full manuscript, join me this my six-week online course with Writing NSW starting 31 October.

Online: Creative Non-Fiction Workshop with author ashley kalagian blunt, information about this course on the Writing NSW courses website and a copy of her book cover, How to Be Australian, a memoir

Online: Creative Non-Fiction course
Monday 31 October to Friday 9 December 2022, online
Writing NSW

This six-week online course with author Ashley Kalagian Blunt is an opportunity for you to delve into the dynamic world of creative non-fiction. You’ll try new techniques to stretch your writing muscles, and receive feedback in a supportive and encouraging setting.

Each lesson will include writing exercises designed to help you practise a wide range of skills, and weekly deadlines for short assignments will provide motivation. You can work toward the completion of a short-form piece for submission at the end of the course, or develop your skills for a longer project. For full details and to enrol, visit Writing NSW >>

Five more great reads for your TBR pile

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

I loved this debut novel from US author Kiley Reid. Her writing explores race and class in America in an engaging, distinctive voice. The protagonist, Emira, and the young girl she babysits, are the kind of endearing, vibrant characters that have stayed with me. You can hear me discuss the novel on The Bookshelf podcast from Radio National.

Fiction | debut

The Bomber Mafia by Malcolm Gladwell

The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War came out in 2021, and like always, Gladwell narrates the audiobook splendidly. This is a book for anyone who enjoys deep dives into how history shapes the world we know today. Gladwell pulls together many tangents to explore how the US Airforce developed its strategy in WWII, culminating in the bombing of Tokyo on 10 March 1945. I’ve read all of Gladwell’s books and I’d include this among my favourites.

“I like the idea that someone could push away all the concerns and details that make up everyday life and just zero on on one thing – the thing that fits the contours of their imagination.”

“I also don’t think we get progress or innovation or joy or beauty without obsessives.”

“Transactive memory … is the observation that we don’t just store information in our minds or in specific places. We store memories and understanding in the minds of the people we love. … Little bits of ourselves reside in other people’s minds.”

Non-fiction

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-joo

South Korean author Cho Nam-joo’s short, punchy novel at times reads like non-fiction, especially because of the occasional footnotes drawn from news articles, government sources and academic papers. The story follows the life of the fictional Kim Jiyoung, opening in her 30s, when she’s started slipping into the personas of other women. The circumstances of her life, and in particular the restrictions she faces as a woman in a hierarchical and patriarchal culture, are all too real, however. Jiyoung is a woman of the modern era, but as Cho notes, ‘The world has changed a great deal, but the little rules, contracts and custom had not, which meant the world hadn’t actually changed at all.’

Fiction | debut

Denizen by James McKenzie Watson

A new Australian talent for fans of David Vann and Cormac McCarthy, James McKenzie Watson started his literary career by winning the Penguin Literary Prize in 2021. And yes I’m biased because he’s my podcast co-host and very good friend, but this bullet-train of a novel is already getting fantastic reviews. Set on a remote property in western NSW, drawn from where James himself grew up, the story unravels the disastrous consequences of the main character’s chaotic childhood.

Fiction | Australian debut

Cover of A Carnival of Snackery by David Sedaris, featuring an elephant balancing on a ball

A Carnival of Snackery by David Sedaris

The second volume of David Sedaris’s diaries covers 2003 to 2020. Achieving career success at the end of volume one hasn’t left him anywhere to go, except all around the world to meet his fans and shop for human skeletons (as a gift), and to upgrade from first class to a private jet (but only a hired one). When a fellow grocery shopper suggests how he can save money on brussels sprouts, Sedaris replies, ‘That’s okay. I’m rich.’ What drives Snackery is a melancholy truth. Despite immense wealth and success – the American Academy of Arts and Letters invited him into its exclusive fold in 2019 – Sedaris is stuck being himself. Teens whack him in the head as they pass on their bikes and he’s too cowardly to shout at them. A pool lifeguard’s scolding makes him want to cry. And despite talking to fans and strangers around the world, he lacks confidence: ‘I just can’t for the life of me figure out what to say to people.’

Non-fiction

~

I’ve compiled my ever-growing list of great reads here.

Publishing deal news!

After so long, I can finally share this news! I’ve signed a two-book deal with the incredible team at Ultimo Press for my new novel, a psychological thriller.

It’s been a long strange journey to get here but it turns out deep in my soul I’m a crime writer. I probably should have guessed when my first book started with an assassination

I absolutely loved writing Dark Mode and I can’t wait to share this novel with you! Dark Mode will hit bookshops in March 2023. If you’re a fan of JP Pomare, Tana French, Candice Fox, Gillian Flynn (and so many more thriller authors), I wrote this book for you.

You can read the press release, including a blurb about the book below, and hear James and I share the news in a special bonus podcast ep.

Ultimo Press acquires chilling psychological thriller from Ashley Kalagian Blunt

Ultimo Press has acquired ANZ rights for Dark Mode – a highly original and contemporary psychological thriller that shines a light on the sinister side of the web and will make you question every keystroke you ever make. The deal was brokered by Pippa Masson from Curtis Brown.

Compulsive and deeply frightening, Dark Mode is a terrifying exploration of the online nature of the world we live in, misogyny and the intersections between violence online and in real life.

‘I’m a huge thriller fan, and I’m fascinated by all aspects of crime – who commits it, how it’s investigated, and what it tells us about our society. And as I got into the research for this book, what came to terrify me most isn’t a possible serial killer lurking in the shadows. It’s what’s happening in the darkest corners of the internet, how little most of us know about that world, and the risks we’re taking online, every single day.’ – Ashley Kalagian Blunt

Dark Mode gripped me from the first page and did not let go. Frighteningly relevant, Ashley’s thriller delves into the way our digital lives capture our every move, and the terrifying implications when it crosses over into real life.’ – Alex Craig, Publisher

About Dark Mode
Once you’re online, there’s nowhere to hide

Is it paranoia – or is someone watching?

For years, Reagan Carsen has kept her life offline. No socials. No internet presence. No photos. Safe.

Until the day she stumbles on a shocking murder in a Sydney laneway. The victim looks just like her.

Coincidence?

As more murders shake the city and she’s increasingly drawn out from hiding, Reagan is forced to confront her greatest fear.

She’s been found.

A riveting psychological thriller drawn from true events, Dark Mode delves into the terrifying reality of the dark web, and the price we pay for surrendering our privacy one click at a time.

An onlooker at the Carnival of Snackery

‘When is the last time an actual human interaction made you laugh more than
a meme did?’
– Samantha Irby

If I hadn’t been immersed in the Sedarian worldview, I probably wouldn’t have made the offhand joke about ghosts to the ferry attendant. I definitely wouldn’t have caught that his intention, when he asked me about my beliefs regarding first ghosts, then angels, was to propound his own theories on the latter. And that would have meant not learning about how his personal angel recently saved him $18 at the car wash.

The Sedarian worldview is Jack Gilbert’s ‘A Brief for the Defense’, except the poor women laughing together at the fountain ‘between / the suffering they have known and the awfulness / in their future’ transform into a man encountering a rodent with a Cheeto in its mouth at Times Square. Somebody in the village is still very sick, and people are still dying in the Syrian civil war. We can’t weep all the time, so thank goodness for mice and ‘crumbled ham dummy’ and the pancake restaurant on Cox Road in Gastonia, North Carolina, that answers the phone with ‘IHOP on Cox!’

In the Sedarian worldview, everyone has the potential to share absurd and shocking revelations, if only we’re willing to listen and ask questions. Those questions can’t be how are you, how was your flight, how’s your day. Forget tedious small talk and jump straight in with ‘What’s your take on sausage?’

Everyone also has the potential to be an inconsiderate chatterbox holding up the queue at the airport Starbucks when you’re rushing to catch a connecting flight. And those people are never sharing their take on sausage, but droning on uselessly. Be compelling or get out of the way.

A Carnival of Snackery is the second volume of David Sedaris’s diaries, covering 2003 to 2020. Volume one begins in 1977, its 20-year-old author penniless and scrabbling for work in his North Carolina hometown, a man with artistic ambitions but only vague plans to realise them. It takes him years to get to art school in Chicago, then to scrounge enough cash to move to New York. By the end, he’s published to wide acclaim, winning major awards, and buying property in France. As a narrative arc, it doesn’t leave anywhere for him to go in volume two, except all around the world to meet his fans and shop for human skeletons (as a gift), and to upgrade from first class to a private jet (but only a hired one). When a fellow grocery shopper suggests how he can save money on brussels sprouts, Sedaris replies, ‘That’s okay. I’m rich.’

This could be off-putting to those who haven’t read the ‘David Copperfield Sedaris’ installment or his essays on growing up gay in the American South. Juxtaposed with the jet-setting, however, is his hobby of picking up roadside trash attired like a homeless man. That, and his love for his readers, his willingness to stay at book signings until midnight to ensure he engages with everyone. Billy Collins says writing is about the love of strangers, and this is at the core of Sedaris’s work.

What drives Snackery is a melancholy truth. Despite immense wealth and success – the American Academy of Arts and Letters invited him into its exclusive fold in 2019 – Sedaris is stuck being himself. Teens whack him in the head as they pass on their bikes and he’s too cowardly to shout at them. A pool lifeguard’s scolding makes him want to cry. And despite talking to fans and strangers around the world, he lacks confidence: ‘I just can’t for the life of me figure out what to say to people.’ His youngest sister grapples with mental illness and commits suicide. His cantankerous father disapproves of him and crows about Trump. There’s blood in his urine, so a doctor sticks a camera up his penis. Life comes for you, even when you’re number one on the bestseller lists.

If starved, a humpback cricket will chew off its own legs, even though they don’t regenerate. ‘So it eats its legs, and, unable to escape danger, it promptly gets eaten itself.’ Which, Sedaris comments, seems like something he would do. What propels Snackery beyond cleverly crafted introspection and observation is all those conversations with readers and strangers. We get to contemplate the world from Sedaris’s experience and theirs. He tells a friend about someone who, back in the day, chose to defecate into his hand rather than end a call on a corded phone, and she responds, ‘Haven’t you ever shit in your hand?’ This would be the end of it for most authors, but Sedaris uses his book signing to conduct a survey on the matter, leaving us in terror of ever shaking hands again.

But then. After a hearing impaired cashier charges him 10 pence for a bag he doesn’t want, he riffs, ‘When we tell the disabled they can do anything they want in this world, don’t we mean … something, well, that can be accomplished at home?’ It’s the kind of ableist comment that would get him cancelled on social media, if he used it. And I get it, I get jokes, the humour sits in the disparity between the triviality of being charged a tiny sum for an unwanted item and the sweeping generalisation that millions of individuals should stay out of abled-bodied people’s way. Being disabled myself, it jars. Maybe that’s quibbling.

Commenting on the term Latinx, Sedaris says he’s not in favour of rebranding, conceptually. If he doesn’t want be called queer, fine, noted. This comes from the volume’s closing passage, which builds to a joke about forgiving historical figures for being a product of their time and suggests, instead, replacing statues in order to give someone new the chance ‘to scowl down at some godforsaken traffic circle’, someone like Sedaris himself. This is genuinely funny, and the Latinx commentary isn’t needed to get there. That said, Sedaris isn’t railing against the term, just pointing out that he doesn’t understand the need for it, possibly because he ‘turned old’ – 64 – and is feeling the change in his lack of understanding.

In blood spatter analysis, forensic experts look for voids, places where one would expect to see blood but none is present. Likewise in edited diaries, the question is omnipresent – if you put this in, what did you leave out? Along with approximately 300 mentions of mice, Sedaris excised many of the offensive jokes he collects, lamenting our current culture of touchiness. Still, none of the jokes included in Snackery are about gay men. Most are of the misogynist ha-ha-my-wife-is-terrible variety, though occasionally husbands get bashed for a laugh as well. These aren’t Sedaris’s jokes, but ones shared with him. I’d rather read about a mouse with a Cheeto.

Gay men come up a lot of course, often when Sedaris comments on the news. They’re targeted in shootings, attacked with boiling water, conflated with paedophiles. When Sedaris and his partner discuss their experiences of sexual assault, he reveals he was raped three times, by different men. ‘Rape is not a word I use lightly, though at the time I wouldn’t have used it at all – didn’t know I had the right to.’ It’s a poignant moment, and still he manages humour, noting that at the time, going to the police would have been ‘like complaining about the blisters the axe brought on while you were chopping up the statue of Christ’.

Maybe it’s like that with humour. Share enough jokes and you’re bound to offend someone, especially these days. Like all those statues, Sedaris is a product of a time that is slipping into history. All the while, he encourages us to be more curious about the people around us, to open ourselves up to each other even though it’s awkward and we’ll probably misstep and encounter people who dislike us or are arbitrarily cruel.

Babies are still starving someplace, but elsewhere there’s a woman who will tell us about her volunteer work with monkeys, if only we’re willing to ask.

~

Online: Creative Non-Fiction Workshop with author ashley kalagian blunt, information about this course on the Writing NSW courses website and a copy of her book cover, How to Be Australian, a memoir

Interested in developing your creative non-fiction skills? Join me for a six-week online course, accessible from anywhere in the world. Full details here >>

Ep 60 How to write a prize-winning novel with James McKenzie Watson, author of Denizen

When he was 22 years old, James McKenzie Watson began to experience the first symptoms of what doctors suspected was Guillain–Barré syndrome. To test for this, they gave him a spinal tap (not the rock and roll kind). After the procedure he had to lie on his back for two hours. In that time, he typed out his initial plan for what would become his prize-winning novel, Denizen.

James McKenzie Watson writes fiction with a focus on health and rural Australia. His novel Denizen won the 2021 Penguin Literary Prize. Denizen also received a 2021 Varuna Residential Fellowship and a 2021 KSP Residential Fellowship. His writing has appeared in Meanjin and the Newtown Review of Books.

James was eventually diagnosed with chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP), the relapsing form of Guillain–Barré syndrome, and lives with the condition today. Born in Coonabarabran and a past resident of Sydney, he now works as a nurse in regional New South Wales.

I realised early on that the idea I felt very strongly about was probably not marketable or readable in the form it was in. I do believe passionately about the issues that I’m addressing … but I have to have more consideration for the reader.

In episode 60 of James and Ashley Stay at Home, James opens up about the hurt and mentally unwell 22-year-old he was when he started the novel, and the 29-year-old author he’s become.

He also tells us about the process of writing the novel, how it developed over a series of drafts and through feedback from other emerging writers, and why he decided to enter it into the 2021 Penguin Literary Prize. James shares his number one tip for aspiring writers.

I feel very lucky to have a physical, tangible thing that people who know me can read and know that I am okay in a way that I’m sure a lot of them were worried I never would be, when I was a teenager.

He also shares what his mum thinks about the book!

Plus, are James and Ashley married?! Or did they just not think through their podcast name? Find out in episode 60, along with the alternative (and even worse!) name they ultimately rejected.

Join us for the the launch of Denizen!
Thursday 28 July, 6:00pm
Gleebooks, 49 Glebe Point Road Glebe
Tickets $0-12

A gothic thriller from the winner of the 2021 Penguin Literary Prize, exploring rural Australia’s simultaneous celebration of harsh country and stoic people – a tension that forces its inhabitants to dangerous breaking points. Join me for an in-conversation to launch one of the best books of the year! Get your ticket here >>

You can find all of James’s upcoming events on his website.

Books and authors discussed in this episode
– David Vann (of course);
– Dirt Town by Hayley Scrivenor;
The Liars by Petronella McGovern (from ep 12), out in September 2022;
– The Writer Laid Bare by Lee Kofman (from ep 4);
– RWR McDonald (from ep 32);
– Lyn Yeowart (from ep 39)

Listen to this episode of James and Ashley Stay at Home here, or on Apple podcasts, SpotifyStitcher, or your favourite podcast app, and find out about past episodes here.