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Shelf Reflection is our series where we explore the bookshelves and reading habits of some of our favourite authors. In this latest instalment, award-winning author, artist and screenwriter Dylin Hardcastle talks to us about being a slow reader, Surrealism and the historical inspirations behind their new novel, A Language of Limbs.

Left: Dylin Hardcastle. RIght: Stacks of books.

Images: Supplied.

Your latest book, A Language of Limbs has just been released. Can you tell us how the story came about?

I was walking through Sydney CBD at night on my way to a gig in 2017 and was listening to music, thinking about how sometimes almost kissing is hotter than actually kissing… I started to imagine a story about two lives almost kissing over many decades. The whole novel unspooled slowly from that night.

What books did you find critical to the writing of your own book?

Pride History Group’s publications New Day Dawning and Out and About, as well as Fiona Kelly McGregor’s Buried Not Dead, were integral to my research of the LGBTQIA+ scene in Sydney during decades I didn’t live through. Art historian Jennifer L Shaw’s book Exist Otherwise was key in researching the lives of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, whose collaborations influenced and inspired my novel (especially Uranian House).

More recently, Lars Horn’s Voice of the Fish—a lyric essay in which the author reckons with their transmasculine body in relation to the corpses of aquatic creatures, bodies of water and ice deserts—has been particularly inspiring during my edits, especially with regard to wordplay in the more experimental parts of the book.

You are also a screenwriter and visual artist. Were you inspired by any other art during the writing process?

The works of artists Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, who were making radical political art in the early twentieth century, were crucial to the writing of this book. I feel the Surrealist movement in general, as well as the postmodern Surrealist revival of the early 1990s (especially the works of Kiki Smith), were also of particular interest. I was interested in these artistic movements for their engagement with the uncanny, especially in relation to the abject body.

I was interested in these artistic movements for their engagement with the uncanny.

In terms of screenwriting, Russel T Davies’ It’s a Sin was hugely inspiring for his incredible ability to balance queer joy with heartache. I was absolutely destroyed by that series because I was so invested in the characters, and I was hoping to strike a similar balance in this book. The decades I have written about were marked by such immense loss, but I wanted to show, too, that we can find joy in even the darkest of corners.

What are you currently reading?

I’m (finally) reading Stone Butch Blues, an autobiographical novel by the late activist Leslie Feinberg, detailing the intimate life of a Stone Butch during the latter half of the twentieth century in New York. A physical copy of the book tends to be a coveted and rare item. I’ve been wanting to read it for years, having heard of Feinberg as a writer who was a prolific and revolutionary figure in queer and trans liberation movements. I am borrowing this copy from a dear friend and have been told to guard it with my life!

What does your book collection look like?

To the utter dismay of some friends, I don’t organise my bookshelf at all. I love the random assortment of colours and shapes. I’m also about to move, so the photo is of my current ‘bookshelf’, which is actually just precarious towers of books stacked on top of my desk.

Stacks of books.

Image: Supplied.

What kind of reader are you?

I am a painfully slow reader. To get through my PhD reading, I’ve had to listen to audiobooks on double speed, whilst simultaneously tracking and highlighting the text in a physical copy of whatever book or article I was reading. I think because I’m so painfully slow, I find it extremely difficult to finish books and honestly need to find myself either startled, moved, challenged, inspired, or a combination of all four to bring me back enough times that I actually finish the book.

I like to read at home in a comfy chair. I find it difficult to concentrate in noisy places, so a quiet library is also great, especially when I’m there in the company of friends. People are often surprised to find out that I’m a slow reader and, therefore, that I haven’t read many books compared to a lot of other writers. I think people are also surprised when I tell them that I read a lot more non-fiction essays and critical theory than I do fiction.

What books are you constantly recommending other people read?

Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House, Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing with Feathers, Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost, and, honestly, anything Ocean Vuong writes.

What’s next for you?

I’ll be in conversation with my dear friend Zoe Terakes on 1 July at the Vanguard in Newtown. I’ll also be at Byron Writers Festival and Bendigo Writers Festival in August.

A Language of Limbs is out now via Pan Macmillan Australia.