Alice Bishop is the author of A Constant Hum, our First Book Club title for July. The much-anticipated short story collection grapples with the aftermath of bushfire, particularly the Black Saturday fires of 2009. Alice discussed the collection with our First Book Club Coordinator, Ellen Cregan, at Readings State Library Victoria earlier this month.
This is an edited recording. Thanks to Readings, Text Publishing, Ellen Cregan and Alice Bishop.
Our theme song is Broke for Free’s ‘Something Elated’.
Read Ellen Cregan’s review of A Constant Hum in our July Books Roundup.
Let us know what you think by rating and reviewing in your app of choice!
Join us on 22 August at Readings St Kilda for our next First Book Club event, discussing Nina Kenwood’s It Sounded Better In My Head (Text Publishing).
Meaghan Dew: Hello and welcome back to the Kill Your Darlings podcast. I’m Meaghan Dew and today I’m pleased to bring you our July First Book Club event. For our July event Alice Bishop joined Ellen Cregan at Readings State Library Victoria to discuss her debut short story collection, A Constant Hum. A Constant Hum, which addresses the aftermath of the Black Saturday bushfires, is out now from Text Publishing.
Ellen Cregan: I’d like to acknowledge that we’re meeting tonight on the lands of the people of the Kulin Nation, and pay respects to their elders past, present and emerging. My name is Ellen and I’m the Kill Your Darlings First Book Club host. So the First Book Club features a debut book each month, either fiction or nonfiction, and brings together a review, excerpts, interviews with the author, podcasts, and events like the one we’re at tonight, where we are discussing our First Book Club pick for July, A Constant Hum by Alice Bishop. And on behalf of KYD and Readings I’d like to welcome Alice.
Alice Bishop: Thanks for having me.
EC: So we’re going to talk for about 30 minutes or so, and then there’ll be some time for you all to ask some questions of Alice, and I hope you have some questions. I’ll give you all a heads up when the time comes for questions to be asked, so you can have them ready and there’s not that awkward silence. And we’re actually going to begin with a reading of a story, for those of you who haven’t yet read the book.
AB: I’m gonna read ‘Valley Haze’, which Ellen’s chosen, so it goes for a little bit, maybe five minutes or so, but I’ll start reading it – it’s kind of set in the aftermath of Black Saturday, and it – which is what most of A Constant Hum is about, the more…lingering aftermath I guess, not just the direct aftermath. And this story, I decided to write this story because of, I was thinking about how people spend their insurance money, and how that can often be…it can bring out tensions, I guess, in relationships. And this one’s called ‘Valley Haze’.
We started eating at a restaurant I mostly remembered by the bill – spending our house-insurance payout as if it was a burden that needed lifting. La Vallee served all the things I should have liked – smoked hen eggs, hay-baked carrots and tiny honey- glazed quails – but, back then, I was always focused on your mouth. ‘Cigar box tones and cranberries,’ you’d note after swilling and smiling at me with cabernet-stained teeth, your lip gloss long dabbed off onto serviettes, yours and mine. ‘This is the life,’ you’d say, winking, then mentioning tomorrow’s work before insinuating that we should order a nightcap: something sugary, perhaps just coffee – lukewarm and milky.
Harvey Green – the valley restaurant’s silk-shirted manager – knew we were from the ridge, that we’d lost the house in the fire. ‘Ladies,’ he would acknowledge, as we passed through the foyer. Often he would kiss you on the cheek, hesitate, then reach out a soft damp hand to shake mine. Sometimes I would make an effort to look him in the eye – to lean in close enough to smell the cologne and sweat of his collar, kissing him, just lightly, on a freshly shaven cheek. Harvey wasn’t sure how to take my short-clipped curls, my boyish windcheaters the colour of clay. He could be certain, however, about our regularity. We began eating at the restaurant on what you called the odd days: Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays too.
‘D’you mind driving?’ you asked over our last dinner, though you always drove. I had to look down at my unfinished plate of a La Vallee special – buttered prawns and ricotta croquettes – for a second. I remember something in me softening, as I thought of the comfort of the gravel-road dust in our head- lights, a gentler light, along with the possibility of you sleeping beside me on the way home – your powdered cheek pressed into car-seat cloth. I would take the long way round to our IKEA-curtained caravan – avoiding tape, the council kind, that marked the place where all the trunks lost their colour, where all the birds were disappeared.
Sunday mornings I’d started hosing down the wasp nests that appeared during the week – under the caravan awnings, and along the crumbled brickwork of the fence that used to be. You’d go out to Doncaster, buying new cutlery and avocado- mint moisturiser which, when I kissed you, tasted unlike the plain sorbolene soap 1 was used to you using. ‘Love you,’ you stated with a new matter-of-factness that scared me – later coming home to unload ribbon-lidded jars of marmalade, boxes of macadamia nuts, silver pouches of dried figs. But when I went to hug you, you just pointed out of the dusty window. ‘Look,’ you said, ‘the currawongs are back.’ And I spent the rest of the afternoon watching for birds for you, the new binoculars we bought (another splurge) heavy around my neck.
A foggy-eyed waiter came over for coffee orders, that last night at La Vallee. I was still thinking of driving you, so recently, down the same road we’d taken, back when we first moved to the ridge – happy to leave the crowded coffee shops and netted lemon trees of Brunswick behind. You’d worn peppermint oil on your wrists back then, no pins in your hair. ‘The serenity, Juniper,’ you’d said, way back, winking as we stood on the deck of our new home. I don’t remember what you were wearing but I do remember you’d had bits of wattle in your dark hair. When I kissed you I’d thought we’d be in that house together for so much longer; I’d thought we’d found something finally right.
Then Harvey, the always freshly shaven manager, he rang up another couple’s dinner – the clunk of the old cash register bringing me back to my croquettes, and your face: glowing in low light.
‘Mocha, times two,’ you said, before smiling up at the semi- precious chandeliers, then back to me. I noticed that your mouth seemed pulled too tight at its corners, and that you were squinting slightly through layers of frosty shadow. My shoulders curled under the alpaca knit you encouraged me not to wear – but favoured over my other woollens, beige and faded. You’d held up one of your sister’s donated shirts that morning – doing your best version of a coo. ‘Plum,’ you muttered, ‘mauve, maybe?’ Whatever it was, it was always a shade of autumn, always smelt like your sisters – of cloves, ginger and something earthy that I could never quite pick.
Before the bushfires our favourite new neighbour, Elka, said it: that your restlessness was because you were chasing something tangible – a grey-flecked hound, a family perhaps. ‘June,’ you would say to me, too much hairspray glinting from flossy hair, ‘it’s okay to want the boxes checked.’ And I would pick at some kind of pastie, at whatever valley cafe we were in, and think back to my old Brunswick bedroom, Hickford Street – its faded floral carpet and that flannel shirt you’d always put on to go to sleep.
So that night – after our last dinner at La Vallee – I drove, the high beams lighting up the shiny caravan windows as we pulled into the drive. ‘Notes of pencil shavings, yeast, cookbook ash?’ I joked, thinking of the way you had swilled your wine, hours earlier, fingers pinching the glass by the stem. But your eyes stayed closed that night, under the interior light’s orange warmth. You only shifted, slightly, as I got my wallet from the glove box, my bag from under your tiny stockinged feet. I lay alone in the skinny bed that night, thinking of the way your breath would be fogging up the car windows outside, of the slightly sweet smell of alcohol filling the cabin, the must of it settling in the new linens, the layers, of your clothes.
‘Espresso?’ you asked the next morning, before you left in the car for a valley coffee run – your phone switched off – never to return. I remember you coming through the caravan door, cheeks still plastered with foundation, with blush, from the night before. And we weren’t down at La Vallee ever again – Harvey Green waiting for me to lean in, again, before telling us the day’s coffee blend: raspberry acidity, notes of plum, maple syrup, rum. ‘Can you taste that ash, that charcoal, babe?’ you never said, sipping your espresso, then sighing – foundation, like clay, gathering in the single crease across your brow.
EC: Thank you so much, that was lovely.
So all of these stories kind of revolve around the Black Saturday fires – what is your connection to these fires?
AB: Um, so I grew up in a place called Christmas Hills, so Tess in the audience is also from Christmas Hill, um, and it was…badly affected by the bushfires in Black Saturday. So everyone here probably remembers what they were doing on that day, it was a very hot day, and it’s now, remembered as Australia’s worst recorded natural disaster, the bushfires of that day, I mean, and also they’re considered as being firestorms. And to get to the point I guess, yeah, our house burned down on the day, but also we lost a lot on the day, but also there are a lot of people in our area who lost a lot more – family, partners, mothers, fathers, kids… and yeah, I think I kind of, I started writing short stories in response to it, through, I so doing a thesis at Melbourne Uni, a Masters of creative writing, and I was lucky to have some really great teachers there, I had Amanda Johnson and Tony Birch, and I did a lot of work in the class called ‘Genealogies of Place’ and it was a lot about landscape and, I mean, as a white person I don’t have the same level of connection as Indigenous people have to to the land, of having tens of thousands of years of, of history, but I still…it’s not comparable, but I still feel like I wanted to write about seeing the landscape go, and, and that loss I felt seeing the bush be reduced to ash so suddenly. And with A Constant Hum I think I wanted to write more about that lingering aftermath, rather than the kind of more sensationalist direct aftermath.
EC: Yeah, absolutely. And so this is quite a, there are a lot of quite traumatic scenes that come into those stories and it is quite a traumatic subject matter. When you’re writing about pain and trauma and horrible events like these, do you kind of separate yourself from it? Or do you find that you fall into it a bit more to harness those kind of feelings.
AB: I don’t think it’s necessarily the fashionable thing to say at the moment, but it is kind of cathartic, and I think… I think for me there was some comfort in being able to document the extent of how much those fires…affected people, for years and years and years on. And I think, someone asked me recently about writing about animals and wildlife, and how that could be a very hard thing to do – and people obviously – but those things happened, and I was hearing those stories anyway, so writing them in some sense and giving them a place in fiction was really important to me.
EC: Absolutely. And do you think that sort of viewing it as catharsis is a…is a way to cope with writing about something that’s quite personal to you, and close?
AB: Yeah, but I think that I think I couldn’t have written A Constant Hum in the direct aftermath, and I think, I think it’s really important to be aware that you need time to – or not not everyone, but for me as a writer, I need time to process it before it can become something worth reading, you know. I wrote a lot in 2010 and 2011, and I cringe reading what I’d written, because it was too sensationalist and it was too raw. And you know there are beautiful writers like Fiona Wright, who are writing about, you know, things that are happening as they’re experiencing them, but I think it’s really healthy to realize that everyone’s different and has a different practice, and I think…I think it’s really important, I know self-care is a very big buzzword, but I think it’s really important to not jeopardize that just for the sake of having art. And I think, yeah, I think – I read this Florence Welch essay a couple of weeks ago, and as twee as that might sound, you know, she she writes about, you know, not not sacrificing your mental health – and I’m not comparing myself to Florence Welch! [Laughs]. But not, not sacrificing your mental health for…for art and being ready – yeah, ready to write about something and it’s not going to be damaging to you I think.
EC: Absolutely, and when you think about the significance of things like this, and events that are similarly traumatic, creating art from that would be so difficult, and you can’t imagine something springing fully-formed and just ready to go.
AB: No. And writing does take ages, you know! I think, you know, this book took me seven years to write and I’m hoping some of it was a bit of an, a kind of me learning as well, but I think when I’m thinking in terms of being a realist, I think books take a long time!
AB: Um, and, and that’s okay, you know. Yeah.
EC: Do you think that the process of writing this book, and it happening over such a long period of time – as good art must – that’s kind of changed your relationship or your thoughts about the memories about the fire?
AB: Oh, that’s a really good question. Um… I think so, I think in order to get some of the scenes really right I did circle back to things like the Royal Commission report, I did go back to a lot of newspapers and articles, and – just for that sensory stuff, I think, because I think going back to our house the day after Black Saturday, yeah, it was really, it was really sensory, and there were smells and sounds and things that I never thought I would experience, like the smell of chemical ash, and the smell of burning – of kind of melted glass, and you know, finding dead animals that you didn’t know were dead animals until you looked through the rubble, and, and all of those things that you kind of think you will never experience, and you kind of, I think it’s just human nature to forget those things. But to me, I wanted to write those things through A Constant Hum, because I mean…you know, with climate change, with with a warming world, with all of this stuff happening it’s only going to, those events are only going to be more frequent. And we were lucky because we had, you know, national support and a whole country in mourning, but if those events keep happening I don’t know how much empathy there will be left. 16:23
EC: Absolutely, if it’s not a freak event, it’s an event that’s happening every year it’s kind of, yeah. My thought about this collection is that it’s really centered on ideas of belonging, and also displacement in, in quite a local sense for, you know, you and I. Did you consciously weave those kinds of ideas throughout all the stories?
AB: Not consciously, no, but I think that’s the beauty of having a really good editor, [Laughs] and i chopped out a lot of stories. It used to be 90,000 words and we kind of decided that we would make sure all the stories were set in – well most of them, there’s one that kind of delves into New Caledonia, but having most of the stories set in Melbourne was, was a really important thing. And then in a sense of snipping out those stories that didn’t fit those themes of displacement and longing, and most of my stories are about that, so, so yeah, again I can’t, I can’t really, I couldn’t be more happy with with, David Winter’s my editor, and I’m with, lucky to be with Text, and I think editing is such an undervalued art and is not, yeah – so creative in itself, and that’s something that I’ve really had the real luck of learning along the way as well.
EC: It’s such an amazing form of curation.
AB: Yeah! Yeah, yeah.
EC: It makes all the difference especially when you’ve written something for something like a Masters, it’s such a different thing to writing something for a book.
AB: Yeah, no, it’s been it’s been a, you know, I think I’m just lucky too, I’m sure there are relationships that don’t, you know, work as well because you have a different vision for the book, but for A Constant Hum I was really lucky that David didn’t want to make it too sensationalist. It would be really easy to kind of make it a book about, you know, the horror, just the horror – I’m sure there’s some horror in there, but to not have those elements of hope and and regrowth and, and stuff woven through. And also I’m really lucky to have such a beautiful cover…
EC: Oh it’s lovely, isn’t it.
AB: Yeah, and so many people have commented on that, you know, I went up to the Northern Territory and everyone was just praising it so much. So Imogen Stubbs from Text created that cover and for me, yeah, she couldn’t have got it more right. So yeah, I’m very lucky in that sense.
EC: And just back on that note of it not being sensational, something that I’m really in awe of about the book is that it kind of gets into the connective tissue of a traumatic event, and of something like Black Saturday that everyone remembers where they were and what was going on, the things that kind of glue together people impacted, and you can’t explicitly describe, and I think you do that amazingly – how did you manage it though?
AB: I think ‘cause I was living it, you know, and I think, I honestly don’t think that you need to be able to, you know, you don’t have to have lived experience to write fiction but I think that’s how I could do this, was just because I was witnessing my parents have, you know, battling with bureaucracy, or my neighbors not coming home, or, or their letterbox filling up with with junk mail but their house not being there, or…you know, it was just kind of observation and it did take time, you know, and I think… I think empathy is such an important thing for fiction writers but, you know, educated empathy in particular. And I don’t, I don’t necessarily think that someone else couldn’t have written about similar, you know, levels of trauma or, you know, experience after Black Saturday, but it just takes a lot of listening I guess.
EC: And it absolutely has the observation of someone who, who kind of had to be there, and had to be there for the aftermath. Because there’s one thing about being there and there’s another thing about, like you say, living it. And yeah, there are all these kind of anecdotes throughout of people in their shoes that have been donated and, you know, like in the story we just read, going out somewhere fancy because they kind of don’t know what else to do.
AB: Yeah, um, I think that… I think there are threads of the absurd that kind of run through A Constant Hum because you…it is, it’s just, it’s, you know, as humans we have these routines and these kind of patterns, and we think that especially, you know, white Western culture is like, build up all of your possessions, and you get that, you know, very heteronormative, get the husband or the wife, and you can get the, you know, the house and the kids, and – and there’s that Paul Kelly song, it’s like ‘you can’t take it with you,’ like, it can just go in a second, and that’s kind of the thing with Black Saturday, it’s it’s…it all went in a second, you know, it took 15 minutes for our house to burn through. And there was nothing left. And I think that, I think that’s really an important thing to remember as well as, you know, not to be, you know, that person who’s like ‘oh, there’s a silver lining of bushfire,’ but there kind of is too, you know, it makes you realize how fleeting everything is, and, and how none of that stuff really matters.
EC: Mmm. And as a writer and a bookish person, how does that change your relationship to books as a physical object?
AB: Interesting! And that’s a good question. I love books as a physical object…
EC: Me too. [Both laugh].
AB: I think maybe…I get really sad when I think about, because my parents, I was very lucky, they had a big book collection when I was growing up, and and a really extensive record collection in these big old pine cupboards, and, and they had been collecting records since, you know, they were born in the mid 50s and they’d have all these Bob Dylan records and Joan Baez records and beautiful collections, and I get really sad about all that stuff that…that disappeared, and my mum’s Margaret Atwood collection…
EC: Oh no…
AB: But yeah, I still really value books, and I don’t value other stuff as much, I don’t think, especially photos – you know, I’m 33 now, and there are probably no photos of me really, you know, before the age of, you know, 20, left? And at first I was kind of sad about that, but then you kind of realize it doesn’t really matter, and, and if my books all went tomorrow, it wouldn’t really matter but I’m happy to enjoy them now.
EC: That’s a good outlook, I think. So the stories in the book range quite a bit from really just small, microfiction pieces, to more traditional longer stories, and even what you read us is quite a short snippet – what do you think microfiction and very short fiction can give us, that, sort of, standard length fiction cannot?
AB: I think, I think microfiction to me gives you a lot, if it’s done well – and that kind of, you know, microfiction that can really thump you in the chest and make you feel something. I think there’s a lot of bad microfiction out there too, and I think people look down on it a little bit, but there’s also a lot of brilliant microfiction, and I’m a really big fan of people like Josephine Rowe, who have collections like Tarcutta Wake and earlier collections where she is a real master of that. And and I think that if you can distill that emotion of a 3,000 word piece into a paragraph, then do it. And I, and it might take a lot more work – a lot of my really short pieces in A Constant Hum were 4,000 words, 3,000 words, but they just weren’t working, and I kind of realized that the main theme or character or image spoke for itself enough in a couple of sentences. So yeah.
EC: That’s sort of an amazing thought, getting something down from 4,000 to a paragraph.
AB: Yeah, it’s kind of freeing, you know, just chuck it in the bin. Yeah.
EC: So I’m gonna ask another question and then there’ll be time for your questions. I want to ask, how did these stories kind of come to you – were they based on, mostly on memories, or things that you’ve heard, or did you kind of think a lot of it up based on what you know?
AB: Most of them started with an image, most of them. So there’s one in there, it’s about horses after Black Saturday, and that was about listening to an account of a woman who had to set her horses free, but wanted some way of identifying, or other people to identify them if she didn’t make it, or if, you know, I’m sure they wouldn’t come out looking the same way as they went in. And she put, wrote her…her phone number in chalk on their sides and scared them away so they would run. And that was really, not to use the word, it was a spark for one of the shortest stories. And and I think probably most of them started in that way, whether it was, you know…I mean, the story I read earlier was, was sparked by…the Yarra Valley kind of sits at the kind of foothills of where I grew up, and I remember just feeling really odd after Black Saturday going out and, it’s a very – a lot of tourism and stuff, and just seeing people live their lives so normally after – and of course, you know, they have every right to do that – but it was absurd to see them eating, you know, quail eggs and drinking fancy wine and, and…you know, it’s a necessity and it’s, you know, people need to do what they need to do, but just that contrast of of seeing everything disappear and, and seeing people just getting on with stuff, so, yeah.
EC: Yeah, it’s strange isn’t it.
EC: Does anybody have a question for Alice? Alan’s got a question.
Audience member: Thanks. Yeah, I’m just curious as to…what the reception to your book has been in the Yarra Valley and Yarra Ranges, because I imagine for as much as you’re, you know, representing what these people went through, I imagine also there would be some kind of revisiting of trauma as well for some of these people.
AB: Yeah…that’s a really good question. I haven’t spoken to so many people in the Valley, I live in Thornbury now, but my parents have rebuilt on the block, and my dad sent me a few text messages of, actually our neighbors are kind of…just live a couple of doors up and they rebuilt, and she went over the Healesville and bought two copies, and sent my dad a message saying he’d just…they were just crying, which, you know, it’s a hard…you don’t want to bring stuff up for people, but then also when I was in the Northern Territory this lady bought my book up there, and she was like, ‘oh, I’m buying it for my mum,’ and this lady was probably 60, and she was saying, ‘my mum lived through the the fires in the 30s and she’s never spoken about it, but during Black Saturday she sat in front of the TV for two weeks and wouldn’t eat, and just watched the coverage non-stop.’ and, and I mean if this book can be some comfort that, that, you know, that you can still be struggling years on, and to open conversations, that’s great, but I also do worry I guess as well.
EC: It’s definitely hard, you know, like you say, not wanting to bring things up.
EC: Yeah. Do we have any more questions? Yep.
Audience Member: Thanks for that, that was great. I think you said it took seven years to write the book – but I was wondering if you could talk a bit about the publishing process, was that a long process for you as well?
AB: It was really long process, yeah. So I…it was a 13,000, 15,000 word thesis that I did at Melbourne Uni, so after the bushfires I worked in fashion retail for a couple of years and I hated it, and then I was like, right, I’ve got to go back to uni, I’ve got to do what I love, and I did my masters at Melbourne. I’m very much in debt now, but it was one of the best things I ever did for my writing career. And it just kind of gave me the space to focus on my craft and to read a lot, I think. So, yeah, that was probably the beginning of the book to be honest. And a lot of people can be brilliant writers without studying – I’m not one of those people. [Laughs]. So I started it as a minor thesis at Melbourne Uni and I had Emmett Stinson as my supervisor who was, he was really great, and then I did some work with Tony, Tony Birch, he marked it in the end, and then it was that kind of slow process of sending it out, and it got commended in the Permier’s Awards in 2015, and that’s when Alaina from Text reached out. And then I didn’t sign until maybe a year ago or 18 months ago, so I was really driven to, you know, I’d have lots of backwards and forwards with Text – well not lots, but maybe once every three or six months, being like ‘how are you going,’ and no one would commit either way – like, I mean, I would have committed in a blink, but um…and that really drove me to perfect it, I guess, because it was like the unknown of not knowing where it would sit. And admittedly, you know, it was shortlisted in some other stuff and didn’t get through, and I think that’s a really big part of writing as well, is that it’s, it’s, there’s a lot of rejection, and, and yeah, not to sound cliche, but it doesn’t make you stronger and it makes you, it’s just a part of it. So yeah, and then yeah, once I signed with Text it was quite a quick process. So it was about, I mean relatively, it was about nine months of editing and, and then obviously there’s all these other great stuff going on in the background, like the cover and the marketing, and all of that kind of stuff, but um… but yeah, I guess everyone’s experience is different, and I’m not saying that it it’s gonna take seven years for everyone. So yeah.
EC: This is always one of my most favorite things at these Book Club sessions, is hearing everyone’s book journey, because they’re all so different, incredibly different.
AB: Yeah, no it’s it’s really interesting, because I didn’t know much about it before.
EC: I don’t think anybody does! [Laughs].
AB: Yeah, yeah, there’s a few really great podcasts about it actually, like The First Time podcast is really, really good, and they talk a lot about the process, and…and then there’s like The Garret podcast and yeah, I would recommend those ones to anyone who’s interested as well.
EC: Do we have any more questions at all? Yeah. Audience. Hi Alice. Just wondering, so this took you seven years, so…will it take another 7 years to do the next writing, or…
AB: I bloody hope not. I don’t, I don’t think so. But I, I think the thing of having a book published and stuff is that I was always like, ‘oh, once I, once I get published I will have made it,’ and once, once this happens or this happens, and I think the really beautiful thing is that I actually really enjoy writing it, and I didn’t think I enjoyed writing it at the time, but um, yeah – I think the writing process and everything, now on my second book, I will, I think it’ll be quicker, but it will definitely be… I’ll really appreciate it a lot more, because that’s what I like to do, and I think that this whole experience has made me realize that a bit more.
Audience member: I’d love to hear a little bit more about the writing process, so for you, when you were thinking about how the stories would go, and then going through the editing process, which is the story that has changed the most from the very first time you thought of it – and how has it changed?
AB: Probably the one I was talking about before, the horses one, that’s now about a sentence long – so that was 3,000 words and it had this whole kind of host of characters, and it was about a man whose daughter was going back to find her horses, and…it was just boring in the end, you know, I was like, I’d written so many characters into it, and then I just kind of, again what I was saying, like the distilled few sentences were the ones that really hit you in the chest more than anything. So, so you kind of have to learn to let that go I guess. And there were definitely stories in A Constant Hum that I loved, that my editor didn’t – didn’t didn’t explicitly not love them, but I think they were more personal to me, and I think that’s a really important thing that you have to learn to do as a writer is to, to be a bit graceful about…about people not necessarily clicking with the story that you think is brilliant, because sometimes it can be a bit subjective I think. And that’s a real, that’s again something that I was really lucky to learn, I did a structural editing course in uni, and my teacher was telling me a lot about, you know, when you’re giving feedback to someone, you need to kind of do the shit sandwich, like have like, you know, good feedback and then some terrible feedback and then make sure they feel better at the end. And even though I knew, like, when I know an editor is doing that, I know that that’s the technique they’re using, it still makes me feel better. So I think, I think it’s kind of a bit of a dance, and I just feel really lucky that…that A Constant Hum is what it is now, and some of those stories that didn’t get in there, looking back I can now really clearly see why, and and that’s a really cool thing too.
EC: I have a couple more questions before we wrap up for you. So you mentioned before Josephine Rowe, who’s wonderful and writes amazing short fiction, do you have any other authors who write really short form fiction like yours that you would recommend to us?
AB: So I love Sandra Cisneros, she’s um, she is a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful writer, she writes some longer ones, there’s a collection called Vintage Sisneros, which I would really, really recommend. There is so many, so many writers – I love, I’m actually not sure how you pronounce her name but I think it’s Lucia Berlin…yeah, Lucia Berlin, A Manual For Cleaning Women, which, she writes really strong characters and that’s really beautifully about landscape. I also love Warsan Shire and poets, I think a lot of the time people kind of cringe at Instagram poetry and, and, and I think that’s really unfair and a bit misogynistic to be honest, in that it’s often young women who are, who are really doing beautiful, important work but it’s kind of frowned upon in some sense, maybe kind of tall poppy syndrome. I think Warsan Shire’s collection Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth is one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful pieces of work around. It’s amazing. And I love Debora Levy, like I love Black Vodka, is one of my favorite collections of short stories, and I’m just really excited as, like, we’re really lucky to live in Melbourne where there are so many up-and-coming, you know, writers and readers and the literary scene is really healthy and strong – and I encourage everyone to subscribe to literary magazines, because I don’t, I don’t think I really would have written A Constant Hum either if I didn’t use those as a bit of a benchmark to get to get here. And Kill Your Darlings, Meanjin’s really great, and if you’ve got a spare 80 bucks, you know, don’t spend it on an ASOS dress, spend it on a literary journal subscription because it’ll feed you so much more. So yeah.
EC: Very wise, and when you were talking before about the famous shit sandwich method of editing, I used to work at Voiceworks, and we did that there. And that’s the editing you’re getting when you’re, you know, 18, 19, 20, you’re still getting it when you’re having your first book come into the world, and it’s…it’s a very good thing. And my last question for you is, what other books that sort of deal with Black Saturday in the aftermath, whether fiction or nonfiction, would you recommend, or did you read in the process of writing this book?
AB: Um, so the really obvious one recently is The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper, which, to me was so…I was nervous to read it because I had not read that much about Black Sat – or there’s just not that being that much out there – but Chloe Hooper’s collection of nonfiction – sorry, not collection, it’s a kind of an account of Jack Sarawak [sic] who was the arsonist, and her descriptions obviously are so well thought out and educated, and she’s done a lot of work, and, and I think that’s a really good, good glimpse into the bureaucracy after Black Saturday and the anger as well, and the confusion. And how… how yeah, how do you, how do you kind of put someone in prison who maybe shouldn’t be in prison, but you – obviously has written The Tall Man and is a brilliant writer. I’ve also read a lot of more, kind of smaller community accounts of Black Saturday, which, which fed A Constant Hum a lot as well. There’s one about Steels Creek, which is in the valley below Christmas Hills, and that was quite confronting to read. But I learnt a lot too, so. So yeah, and I think, you know, not to be too generalist about it, but you can kind of read about so many different kinds of disasters as education as well, and though it’s a bushfire, you know, if it was, you know, something about the aftermath of Katrina or, you know – Fukushima, I read a lot about that – and it’s all kind of, it all kind of weaves in together.
EC: Definitely. Thank you all so much for coming out on this horrible cold night, and listening to us talk. And thank you so much Alice, it was wonderful to talk to you. And you can all buy a copy of Alice’s book at the counter, and I’m also willing to say that she’s happy to sign, I hope that’s okay!
AB: Thank you so much Ellen, thank you. Thanks Kill Your Darlings and Readings as well.
EC: Thank you everyone! [Applause].
MD: That was Alice Bishop, discussing her first book, A Constant Hum. A Constant Hum is available now at all good bookstores and libraries. Once you’ve finished reading A Constant Hum, there’s not long to wait for our August First Book Club title, It Sounded Better In My Head. Nina Kenwood’s debut young adult novel is out on 6 August, so pop in and order at your bookstore, place it on reserve your library, or have a listen to the books playlist – it’s on the Text website right now. We’ll see you at our next First Book Club event, but until then, remember to visit the Kill Your Darlings website for more fiction, commentary, criticism, memoir and more. I’m Meaghan Dew, and you’ve been listening to the Kill Your Darlings Podcast. See you next time!