It’s the 21st episode of the Kill Your Darlings Podcast – and while we’ve been fully formed for a while now, any excuse to speak to artists examining the highs and lows of coming of age is just fine in our books. So listen in to hear Megan Tan on recording her life for Radiotopia’s Millennial Podcast, Brodie Lancaster on writing No Way! Okay, Fine (Hachette Australia), and Emily Brewin on Hello, Goodbye (Allen & Unwin), our First Book Club pick for July.
Read Emily Brewin on the inspiration behind Hello, Goodbye here.
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Meaghan Dew (KYD): Hello, and welcome back to the Kill Your Darlings podcast. 21 doesn’t come with anything practical in Australia – you can’t do anything then that you couldn’t do at 18. And while you might graduate from university, you might just as easily still be studying, or have been working for years. But we still have a big party; still see it as one step among many in our coming of age. So it seems fitting that we celebrate our 21st podcast by speaking to people whose work grapples with growing up, moments of change, and navigating your twenties. I’m done with my twenties – and you might feel they’re behind you as well. But coming of age is about making choices, and about living with the repercussions. We’ll be doing that our whole lives, and we’ll always be interested in how others choose to do the same.
First off we speak to Megan Tan, creator and host of Millennial – a podcast about coming of age.
All right, so I have to admit I’m a little embarrassed coming in here today, I’m just getting over a cold so my radio voice is radio-y than usual, and my headphones broke, so I was using my boyfriend’s gaming headphones, which look less profesh than I’d like. And then I thought someone who started off doing the podcast mainly in her closet would probably understand those issues. Is it weird to meet people who have listened to so much of your life up until this point?
Megan Tan: To be honest I totally forget that people have listened to my life up until this point. So I think maybe it’s more strange for other people than it is for me.
KYD: So Millennial, while it’s carefully crafted it does chronicle some of the messier elements of your twenties – so the indecision, the doubts, and these aren’t the sort of things that you tend to put in a resume, for example. When we’re increasingly expected to treat Facebook like LinkedIn, and Twitter as a professional platform, did you ever worry that what you’re putting out there might come back to bite you?
MT: No – I never thought about it like that. Millennial was supposed to be something that I used in order to practice making audio stories, and so it was just, it’s like a portfolio piece. There was this one time, though, where I was interviewing for a job and the people who I was going to be interviewing with had listened to the podcast, and they told me, and I was just like, ‘what episode are you on?!’, because I felt like, man, they they know more about my life than what I would have said in an interview.
KYD: In the first few episodes of Millennial, you’re pretty clear about your end goal, which is to get paid to do something you love, or to become a radio producer. During the podcast opportunities came up you turned down, or that didn’t work out the way that you hoped. How do you find the courage to turn down things that sound good on paper, because they don’t match where you see yourself, or where you might see yourself in the future – to make decisions that will only make sense to other people perhaps when or if you succeed.
MT: I think I survey the world a lot, where I ask for advice, a lot of times from people who are older than me, and it’s definitely, like, during those decision-making moments I definitely meditate on those decisions a lot. And I think what I’m learning now is that there isn’t necessarily a best decision, it’s just a decision, and you have to live with the consequences of that decision. So I think it’s just taking that leap of faith.
KYD: Eventually doing the podcast you did get a radio gig, which the podcast had originally been conceived to help you to do – you kept going with the podcast during that time. Was the decision to do that an easy one? It’s a different challenge to have a creative side project while working in a creative field, than it is to having a creative side project while working in hospitality.
MT: It was really hard, yeah, because I think my, I felt like my brain was being used twice, right? Like the same part of my brain was being used twice. But I think at that time I saw Millennial as like this really great space for me to play, and explore, and try things that I couldn’t try at my 9-to-5 job, so I was still really excited to work with it.
KYD: When did you realise that that something you love, that you were working towards, had shifted from an in-house radio job, to the podcast that was originally your side gig?
MT: I actually went to… it was a workshop, and I don’t know if you listen to The Truth by Jonathan Mitchell, it’s another Radiotopia podcast, and there was something that he said, where he explained that he knew he wouldn’t be happy unless he created his own project, and he was pursuing that full-time. And the moment he said that, was the moment I knew, it just, like, completely resonated with me. And I was like, oh, that’s me. And so I think at the moment I knew that in my body and my heart was when I kind of had to take that leap. I do also want to say, when I started doing Millennial full time, I was getting sponsorships, and so we actually just like crunched numbers and I could be making as much as I was making at my full time job, making the podcast, if there was frequency. Like, there was a practicality to making that leap as well.
KYD: So much of Millennial is about getting there, about working towards something. Did you worry that it would lose its way once your podcast found the support that a network provides? Or once you had, to a certain extent, made it?
MT: Um, I mean, I think trying to balance, like, creating something for yourself and creating something for… because it’s a job, is constantly a balance, and it’s definitely something that I’m in the midst of right now – like, how do you continue to refresh yourself and refresh your life, especially as you are evolving as a person and as a creator? So I think that those are conversations that I’m constantly having, within myself and then… and, yeah, with the show. I wouldn’t say that it’s a fear, I think it’s just an evolution, you know?
KYD: So since the first season, the podcast has branched out a lot. How do you find the stories you focus on now, and how do you decide whether or not a story is Millennial? Or whether Millennial was the best place for that story to be told?
MT: Hmm, that’s a good question. A lot of times we, I have a checklist in terms of the things that I think a Millennial story needs – like, we need a really great character at the centre of it, a conflict, a series of events that happens, and ideally there would be some sort of teachable moment, or something that I learn in the process of talking to this person. So that’s an ideal Millennial story – do we get that every single time? No! And so I think I think that that’s also, like, a constant process of looking at, is this a Millennial episode, is it not a Millennial episode? I work with other people, you know, at times, and so I’m constantly asking them, when we’re making an episode, does this feel and sound like a Millennial episode. So it’s not that there’s… There’s a formula to an extent, like it does have to relate to my life in some sort of way, but there isn’t necessarily a formula in terms of, there are rules that we keep, that we follow every single time. Yeah. Sometimes you have to put something out there.
KYD: That was Megan Tan, creator and host of Millennial podcast. She was in town for a Wheeler Centre live recording of Can U Not?, so make sure you check it and Millennial out on iTunes. You’re listening to the Kill Your Darlings Podcast. Up next we have writer and editor Brodie Lancaster. Her book, No Way! OK, Fine might be her first, but her work has already appeared in Rookie, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, Jezebel, Vulture and Kill Your Darlings among many others.
You’ve written personal pieces in the past, but this is your first book-length project. What was it like writing about yourself for that period of time? Did you find yourself thinking of Brodie in the book as a character, somewhat removed from yourself, or did it have the opposite effect?
Brodie Lancaster: I think it maybe would have been easier if I had treated myself as a character, but I… I kind of obsessed over myself for like 9 months while was writing it, and I… you know, obviously writing memoir-type stuff forces you to kind of like look into yourself a little bit more, and kind of like analyse things you did or said or thought, and that was just like so heightened when the only thing I was working on was this project. Because yeah, like in the past when I’ve written personal stuff it’s been, like, I’ve written one thing and then 3 months later I might write another thing, and in between I might write about like, music or films, or, you know, stuff that isn’t myself. So yeah, just kind of returning each day to this big document that was like, ‘Okay, what did I feel this year of my life?’ you know? What did I feel when I was 15? Yeah, I did a project, kind of like I did when I write short articles for the internet, in that I just had no concept of what, how to tackle something that required writing 80,000 words – like that just seemed outrageous to me. And so each chapter I approached totally individually, which I think really helped, because I could kind of focus on one topic, for like, you know, however long it took me to write a chapter. I was often writing just on my one day off work a week, and then I would go away and then the next week I’d come back and I’d focus on a different topic, or I’d fine tune something that I’d written in the past, or I might have read a book or watched a movie or something in the time since, and found a way to work that into a chapter. So I did focus on it on a really kind of granular level, and then during the edit was when I restructured the chapters, I was finding ways to link them and make them feel a little bit chronological. But still the aim was for, you know – it’s a memoir, but I still would like the idea of someone flipping it opening and just starting a chapter, and having that chapter stand alone, on its own, and I think it worked in that kind of goal, yeah.
KYD: It is one of the things I like about the form, because as much as it’s about your life it’s also naturally about the things that you love, and the things that you’ve written about. Are there any books, films or culture products that you wish that you’d grown up with, or discovered earlier?
BL: Totally – there’s like, I wrote about the film Girlfriends in a chapter about breaking up with a friend, and it was only a passing mention because I only watched that film last, like July or August, it played at MIFF, Melbourne International Film Festival, and I just like, I remember leaving the cinema and being furious that I had never seen this movie before, because I was just like, what would my life have been like if I had grown up with this film, you know? It’s incredible. And I would have loved to have weaved that throughout. You know, I started reading Shrill by Lindy West while I was in the middle of writing it, and I read the first chapter which was all about the kind of, like, fat film and TV characters she saw on-screen growing up with, and I knew I had that chapter in my own book, and I was like, okay, I can’t read this while I’m writing, it’s too close to me. So I saved it and finished reading it after I’d written mine, and I was like ‘oh man, like, if I had read this earlier, how would I have thought differently?’ I kind of made up for it when I was writing the acknowledgement in the final edit, I thanked a bunch of, like, pop culture products at influenced my life – and so there’s like, Hamilton and like, Lizzo’s EP Coconut Oil, which had a huge impact on me, and like, it’s still my favourite album of the year, even though it’s an EP and it came out last year – and Shrill, yeah. Because I have a very kind of like… short-term obsession with certain things, and so I feel like the book kind of tracks that, in the things that I’m focusing on or obsessing over at different stages in my life. But I also grab hold of those things – like now I’ve been watching RuPaul’s Drag Race for the last month, and nothing else, and then I am like ‘oh man, what could I have done differently if I had watched RuPaul’s Drag Race before I started writing my book?’ But yeah, the kind of like, the constant movement of pop culture stuff was really something to grapple with when I was writing it. Because like, for example, Kim Kardashian’s robbery in Paris happened in October and I wrote about Kim Kardashian in the way that we view her as kind of public property in the book – but I submitted my book at the end of August, and so that robbery happened in October and so I was just so grateful that I was going to get an extra chance to, like, edit the book and be able to work that in. Because it was so essential to that chapter – like the response that robbery was people saying, like, ‘well she lives in public, she got what was coming to her.’ And I was like, oh my god, this is so sad and so horrible, and totally needs to be in the book, because it fits with what I was saying – which is like a selfish way to think of this horrible thing that happened to someone I love. So it was, it was really tricky to kind of literally keep up with the Kardashians! And I’m constantly, like, when I discover a new book or movie or TV show or something, I always think, like, oh god, if I’d watched this when I was younger, or if I’d had this at a different time in my life, it was something that I really needed. And I kind of approached the book in that way as well, which was kind of nice symmetry – because a lot of the stuff I write about is stuff that I kind of have in the back of my head, like ‘what did 14-year-old Brodie need to read? What did 19-year-old Brodie need to read?’ And so I really tried to infuse the book with that kind of stuff as well, for younger readers.
KYD: Did you find that your relationship to the events you’re writing about changed in the act of writing them? Like, did you see them in a different light, or your actions in a different light?
BL: Yeah, definitely. I think with the benefit of hindsight you like kind of look at things with a bit more wisdom, or, like, foresight, and so there were some bits where I was writing, like, ‘and then I felt this, and I knew this, and I thought this, and this was right…’ But I’m writing that when I’m 26, and writing about something that happened when I wasn’t probably very conscious of the things that I was doing and why. Yeah, it was tricky to deal with because like, obviously… you know, when you are living your life every day you’re not having epiphanies or, you know, living your life with a whole lot of wisdom, and I think that comes with hindsight. But to write a memoir you kind of have to be projecting that onto your past self a little bit. But it’s very much like written from me now, writing about the past. But yeah, my perception of things that happened or things that I did when I was younger really changed as I was writing it. But in the epilogue I kind of talked about the film Arrival, which is another one that I wish I had watched earlier in my life, but it only came out last year – but it has this really amazing theory about the way that time passes, and the way that we see time is like beginning and ending and like, you know, ‘this part of my life began, and this part of my life ended.’ But it doesn’t really happen like that, it’s like all this kind of… in the film it’s like, the language of the aliens in the film is circular, and so everything all happens at once, there’s not like the start of a sentence and the end of a sentence, that like happens as time passes – it’s like everything is all happening at the same time. And so it plays with… that kind of perception of time, which I really loved, because you know, I write about like having these bad influence friends when I was like, 15, 16, getting catfished when I was 16, but also, like, trying to find some kind of faith and going to church and trying to become this version of myself that I thought I needed to be. But all those things were kind of happening at the same time. But to write it clearly in a memoir, they have to be separated, because otherwise it’s like, ‘wait, you were doing this and then you were doing…?’ You can’t reconcile all these different parts of a person occurring at once. And so, like, I knew that all those things are happening at once, but for the sake of the book I had to pretend like they were distinct, discrete occurrences.
KYD: Different narrative threads.
KYD: There’s some pretty great blurbs on the cover, some of which are from people that you mention in the book. How does that feel to have people you admire say such lovely things about something that is so personal to you?
BL: It’s so nice – like, the blurbs on the cover are from Abbi Jacobson from Broad City, Courtney Barnett who, you know, got nominated for Grammy, and Emma Straub, who is one of my favourite novelists – and they’re all people that I know through either work or just… actually I’ve met them all through different work that I’ve done, I interviewed Abbi and Ilana back when they were still making a web series for a website I use to edit. I interviewed Courtney in 2014, and Emma and I were both on the staff of Rookie mag for a while. And so they were all people I met through work, but also have formed friendships with since then, and… But also yes, separate to that, even if I didn’t know them, even if I had never met them or emailed them or whatever, their work would still be really important to me. And so having them kind of respond in the way that they have has meant so much, and I had to keep it brief in the acknowledgments of the book, because I think if I… ’cause those acknowledgements are long, I really treated it like my Oscars speech with no time limit! But yeah, I said, you know, they’ve made work that’s so important to me, and for them to say such nice things about my work has like… It’s so flattering and humbling, yeah. Not to be like #blessed, but like, it’s humbling, yeah.
BL: Yeah, #Blessed! (LAUGHS).
KYD: In the book you write about how you were interviewing impressive women, what you really often wanted to know is, how do you tell yourself you’re allowed to do this? So that means that I have to ask you this now – how do you tell yourself you’re allowed to do this?
BL: Yeah… it’s kinda fucked up that my answer to that myself is like, talking to impressive women who also have to, like, counsel themselves into something, to beat the self-doubt. Like, it’s fucked up that we all kind of have that self-doubt to begin with, but it’s a fact of life I guess. But I don’t know if I have an answer to it yet. I… the self doubt comes in waves, and like, I was really feeling it this morning, when I was thinking, like, how dare I write about myself and the people who have been a part of my life? Because it’s becoming a reality that they’re going to read it now. And that’s really terrifying. And am like, who do I think I am? But then I go to like Lindy West or Emma Straub or Alison Bechdel or, you know, women whose work means so much to me, and they’ve all dealt with the same thing, and they’ve all made work in spite of it. I think it’s just reassuring to know that even the people who you think of as being invincible all feel this kind of, like, panic. It just kind of validates your own fears and doesn’t make you feel like you’re just a dum-dum. Yeah.
KYD: Melbourne is also clearly really important to you in the book, and has been since you first visited at 16. What is it about this city that you feel has helped you to become the writer and the person that you are?
BL: I dunno, I kind of mention it briefly in the book that, like, I heard once that like, it’s just a place that give people chances, which I think is really true. I think it’s also it’s a big enough city that there is so much potential and opportunity, but it’s also can be small enough that you don’t have to do shit if you don’t want to do, if that makes sense. So, like, where I grew up in Bundaberg, it’s a beautiful place and I was glad to grow up there, but that chapter of the book really, I wanted to take it out of the book, because I felt like I was doing a disservice to it, or insulting it or something, and I needed to be counselled by my publisher that that wasn’t the case. But it’s a really small and empty place as far as, like, culture goes. You know, like the arts – and I think it’s the same for like any rural or regional town in Australia, or the world – like, when people with any kind of creative impulses move away to the cities where the opportunities are, that means that those people are not in the small towns, and so when stuff does pop up it feels like you have to be into it, even if maybe you’re not. Whereas when you’re in a city like this, or any kind of big city where there are thriving arts communities, there is the opportunity to find the thing that’s right for you. And so, like, when I first moved in Melbourne for example, I like… went to hardcore punk nights at like nightclubs, and I also went to the pop, you know, drink-a-pink-fluffy-drink-on-the-dancefloor kind of nights. And like, I was trying to figure out which one was right, instead of just going to the one place where you can do the one thing. And so I think it’s… It sounds really cliched, like something that you’d put on like a tourism brochure, but I think it’s just like, lots of potential and lots of opportunity – and I feel really grateful that I didn’t grow up here, so I can really appreciate that. Because I think, I don’t know, like, it’s totally hypothetical – but I think maybe if I had grown up here I would have just seen limits or I would have felt like I had to get away or something, you know. And so obviously in the book I talk about moving to New York when I was 21, and how that was totally not the right decision – but I’m still glad I did it, because it gave me the perspective that I needed. And I think if I hadn’t done that, what would I think now? Would I think I have to leave Melbourne for New York, or for another big city? Or would I think that it was, like, the place to go to be successful? And now I know that that’s not the case, and also I know that if I had gone there on holiday first I would have been like, ‘I could live here, this is so fun!’ but that’s also not the case. Yeah, so, I just love Melbourne – and I think of all the places that I’ve lived, New York, Bundaberg, here – not a huge list, but still, you know, a decent one – yeah, it just feels really right. It’s like good size, good vibe, I feel like I can live here as well as do great work, and I don’t think that’s the case everywhere. Yeah.
KYD: That was Brodie Lancaster, whose book No Way! Okay, Fine is out now from Hachette.
Brodie and Megan have both come of age in a world we recognise, but growing up and finding your place as always been exhilarating, dramatic, and incredibly uncomfortable. In Hello, Goodbye, the July Kill Your Darlings First Book Club book, Emily Brewin charts May Callaghan’s journey from 1960s country schoolgirl to someone in charge of her own life. I asked her, what prompted her interest in Australia in the late 60s?
Emily Brewin: I was interested in the issues around forced adoption, and also the anti-Vietnam War movement, and how they, in a way, work together, because really it was, you know, it was a strange time the 1960s, where you had this sort of great social upheaval, where people were pushing for, you know, there was the Women’s Liberation movement, and there was the sexual revolution, and you know, these anti-war movements, but at the same time there was still, especially in Australia, a very traditional set of values, I think, that really in some ways stifled a lot of people. And these young women that found themselves umarried and pregnant found themselves face to face with these values, and really being punished despite these huge social changes that were going ahead. So I was interested in the kind of stories, I suppose, that grew out of the conflicts between old and new.
KYD: So Hello, Goodbye takes place in 1960s Carlton, and in a small rural town – how did you go about researching these settings?
EB: Carlton actually was, you know, it was somewhere that I spent a lot of my twenties, and you know, I had a lot of friends that I went to university with, we spent a lot of time in Carlton, so I think it has a special place in my heart. I had, you know, an aunt that lived there in the late 60s, early 70s, so I sort of knew a little bit about the history, and it’s always been one of those places in Melbourne that was quite progressive, you know, lots of immigrants in the 1960s and university students, and, you know, compared to the rest of Australia at that time. So researching it was really about, it was mainly sort of internet and talking to people was my main research. In terms of the real stuff too, you know, again, it was another personal experience – I had, my mum grew up on a dairy farm in a sort of rural community, and in fact Nurrigul was a kind of, which is the name of the town that May’s from, is a mixture of two of the towns that my mum grew up in. So I grew up hearing stories about the people that lived in those places.
KYD: How about voice, did you do anything specific to ensure that the language used was authentic to Victoria at the time?
EB: I think, you know, some of those words were vetted out during the editing process, I had such a great team of editors, of people, you know, various people that looked at it. In terms of voice, I felt like it took me a long time to get May’s voice, possibly because she was sort of my central character, and it just felt like it took me a few good drafts to get to know her, but then her… I suppose she didn’t use a lot of slang, you know, but I think some of the characters around her, like her father and her mother, those sort of older characters in the book do use those kind of words. And I think again, a lot of that was just from people that I knew that had grown up during that era. My dad, especially, still uses a lot of those slang, Aussie slang words!
KYD: May has quite a conservative upbringing, which is very far in mood and opinions from the Carlton sharehouse she moves into. In both places she’s very much her own person, and she’s not easily swept up by the ideas of people around her. Did that trait shape her narrative?
EB: Look, it’s funny, because the story just sort of evolved very organically, and it took so many different forms. And, you know, initially I was going to write from a teenage boy’s perspective, and then I realised I actually have no idea what goes on in a teenage boy’s head! (LAUGHS). But I was always interested in the forced adoptions, so I think it was really about her character and about the themes that I was interested in, so the forced adoptions, the anti-Vietnam War movement, and the Vietnam War were really the things that drove the story for me. And it wasn’t, you know, I had to go through a few drafts before I actually thought about then trying to maybe think more about the structure, which, you know, obviously isn’t the best way to go about it – but because it was my first novel I felt like it was a real learning curve.
KYD: I know writers probably tire of the process question, but I believe you’re a secondary teacher? As someone with teachers in her family, I have to ask – how did you make the time to write the book, how did you organise a time to make that possible?
EB: Yeah, I have teachers in my family too! (LAUGHS). Look, I have I also have two children, and I think in a way, you know, there’s that that old saying, what is it? ‘Give a busy person something to do…’ I can’t remember what it is, but… (LAUGHS).
KYD: I think it’s ‘if you want something, don’t give it to someone with too much to do’?
EB: Yeah, yeah, that’s true. And I think that having all those sort of different elements to my life really made me more disciplined. Look I only work, I teach 3 days a week, and I got up really early and I stayed up really late and I still, I still do – like I, my process is that when I’m writing a first draft of the manuscript, I force myself to write 1000 words a day, and I just write whatever comes out, and sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s completely crap, but I just go with it until I’ve got the the words down. I’m really disciplined when it comes to writing, you know, that’s what I want to do, and I sort of do what I have to do to make it happen.
KYD: What are you working on at the moment?
EB: Okay, so I am working on my third novel, and so it’s contemporary, it’s set in Melbourne again. I’m really interested – I suppose with my writing, with my fiction writing, I’m really interested in social justice issues, you know, all my novels have sort of dealt with those kinds of things. This one is looking at the link between homelessness and mental illness, so it’s told from the perspective of a young woman who finds herself homeless in the Melbourne CBD. And she’s grown up with a mother who has mental illness, and it just, it really looks at the way that that has shaped both their lives, and what has happened for her to end up on the street, and how does she try and navigate her way out of that situation?
KYD: That was Emily Brewin, whose book Hello, Goodbye is out now. The July Kill Your Darlings book club was brought to you by Allen & Unwin. That’s all we have time for, so thank you to Emily Brewin, Brodie Lancaster and Megan Tan for their time. We’ll be back in a month, so until then subscribe to Kill Your Darlings at killyourdarlings.com.au, and if you enjoy the podcast, be sure to rate and review us on iTunes. See you next time!