The Writing Life

Information, inspiration and insights into the writing life

Five years ago I would never have expected to be working full-time in publishing, let alone supporting two amazing agents at Australia’s largest literary agency. Every day is different and as an assistant you get to see the nuts and bolts of publishing – from reading first drafts and giving editorial feedback to being privy to overseas rights and film deals and the nitty gritty of contract negotiation and royalty statements. I feel really lucky to do the work I do and be paid for it, which means I can genuinely look forward to going to work every day.

About a decade ago, Writers Victoria held a little competition: ‘Send us two-hundred words of non-fiction and we’ll give the winner a book.’ At the time I’d been tootling around with a non-fiction project for a couple of years. I had young children and a day job, but every now and then, in the cracks of my life, I’d do some research, do some writing, then do some more research.

‘When another writer in another house is not free, no writer is free.’ – Orhan Pamuk

Benjamin Law's work draws on the personal, whether he’s tackling subjects such as growing up Asian-Australian in Queensland, exploring the LGBTQI experience throughout Asia, or taking on the critics of the Safe Schools program. He speaks to Nic Brasch about his uncanny knack for writing life.

How does anything happen? A little over twenty years ago, a good friend of mine told me she'd always wanted to put out a book of her own writing but didn't think she could do it alone. She had heard, from a mutual friend of ours, that I had written some poetry, and suggested we could team up – weave our short poems and prose pieces together into a self-published book. I hadn't planned on making anything I wrote so public, but sure, why not? Maybe I, too, had things to say.

It was a Saturday night in Sydney, and twelve of us Asian playwrights were wandering around looking for a place to drink after the Lotus workshops, sponsored by Contemporary Asian Australian Performance and Playwriting Australia. A drunk white man teetered between us. He looked in at one Chinese girl’s face and said, ‘You’re Asian.’ He then looked at the rest of us, ranging from a dark-skinned Singhalese to a pale-skinned Vietnamese to an Indonesian Muslim wearing the veil, and exclaimed, ‘You’re all sorts of Asian!’

I hold my one-year-old daughter in my arms, waiting for her to fall asleep while she suckles at my breast. I wait for her mouth to release and her breathing to settle before I put her in the cot and go downstairs to work on my writing. I feel grateful, at ease.

Stories to escape

Before computers, when we used pens, I had a boil-like bump on my fuck-you finger from pressing the pen too hard. That was even before I wrote my first piece of fiction, a runaway story where I took shelter in a Brotherhood bin.

A photo of Dulcie Stone Writing Award winners Jessica Tomkins (left) and Jennifer Tomkins (right) with Dulcie Stone. Photo: Paul Dunn

Six writers have been named as the winners of this year’s Dulcie Stone Writing Awards at a recent ceremony at The Wheeler Centre in Melbourne. The awards for writers with intellectual disability are presented by VALiD and Writers Victoria, and in their second year attracted more than sixty written and illustrated stories on the theme ‘Community – Here I Come!’

Judges Paul Dunn from VALiD and Writers Victoria’s Write-ability Coordinator Harriet Gaffney were impressed by the ability of the entries to draw the reader into the authors’ worlds.

The transition from ‘writer’ to ‘author’ is strewn with rejection emails. Being proactive, resilient and willing to learn from your mistakes will serve you well on your path towards publication. A healthy dose of optimism doesn’t hurt either. I have just completed my first career plan at an age when some of my friends are considering retirement.