Welcome back to the Kill Your Darlings Podcast for 2017. Summer is officially over, but don’t despair, there are some fantastic things to look forward to – starting with the AFLW. In our March episode we kick off (pun intended) with Angela Pippos discussing women in sport in Australia, before continuing with Kylie Maslen whose piece for Junkee finds more to appreciate in the AFLW than the gender of the players. Meanwhile, we were thrilled to speak with Peter Polites, our March Book Club author, about his debut novel ‘Down the Hume’.
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You can find our Q&A with Peter here.
Kylie was writing about football for KYD way back here.
Meaghan Dew (KYD): Hello and welcome back to the Kill Your Darlings Podcast. I’m Meaghan Dew and for the first episode of the year we will be talking about the same things that everyone else is talking about – the AFLW, and Peter Polites’ debut novel, of course. So we’ll kick it off, pun absolutely intended, with Angela Pippos.
For those who haven’t read the book, could you tell our listeners a little bit about your relationship with football?
Angela Pippos: Oh, my relationship is very close with football. It has been since about the age of eight, when I first went to a game. And interestingly it was my mother who introduced me to it. So it has come down the female line, which goes against what many people would think. It got into my blood from such a young age, and then I realised as I got older that it was about more than football, and I think that’s when my relationship has even become tighter and stronger. But I guess with that, once I discovered that there were problems with football as well, and a dark side to it, then my relationship became strained with footy. But I feel like I’m back in love with it again – I’ve dealt with those feelings, and I think, with the advent of AFLW I am back, bigger and stronger than ever, because isn’t it great to see women pursuing their dreams as well?
KYD: Definitely a lot of women who have gone to their first football games over the last couple of months, which is pretty exciting. Do you think having the AFLW around when you were younger would have changed your relationship with football?
AP: Absolutely. I would have felt included the whole way through, instead of sometimes included and other times on the outer. There were times when I felt uncomfortable walking through the turnstile because of the stories that were emerging about the way men were treating women in footy, and, so that is what made my relationship uncomfortable. But if there was that sense of equality there from the beginning, I think my relationship would have been different. And also, I would have had a chance to play it, you know? I was able to kick the footy and kick it quite well, with my brother in the backyard and in the street, but I never had the opportunity to play football competitively. And I think my relationship would have changed as well if that avenue was open to me. And so now it feels like, yeah, we are making up for lost time. I’m throwing myself into AFLW because I haven’t had that opportunity until now. So it feels good.
KYD: You began work on Breaking The Mould before the AFLW really got started – is the finished book significantly different from what you first imagined?
AP: It is so different to the book that I had my head in 2015, and the book idea that I took to a few publishers at the start of 2015 was different. I was writing it really out of frustration, that for most of that 20 years, the time that I was a sports journalist, not much had changed for women. So I was feeling angry and frustrated, and I needed to let that out. So Breaking The Mould was going to be that kind of book – cathartic, good for me. But over the course of 2015 things changed in women’s sport. And I joke about, perhaps I had something to do with that by just… (LAUGHS) signing the contract with Affirm Press, things started to change for women in sport, as if I had some magical power. Sadly it wasn’t much to do with me. But the good news is that over the course of that year we saw some true and meaningful change. The AFL brought the start date forward three years, netball was in serious discussions about a new league that would allow more of the great talent that we have in Australia to play. Michelle Payne won the Melbourne Cup, and perhaps most significantly, the Matildas took us on that wild ride all the way to the quarterfinals of the World Cup. And that was their moment when they really announced themselves on the public stage. So all these great things started happening, so the book that I had in my head changed dramatically over the course of a few months, and thankfully it is now an optimistic book. Clearly I have to talk about the problems with the Australian sporting landscape, and that is the first part of the book, but the second part is called ‘The Tipping Point’, and it’s beautiful. It’s uplifting, it is empowering, and you can put the book down at the end of it and feel like, wow, we are really living through some serious and meaningful change.
KYD: In the book you highlight the importance of visibility, that you can’t be what you can’t see. Do you think that applies to women in sports journalism as well as women in sport?
AP: Absolutely. And I have tried, with this book, to talk about women in sport, so it is not just the athletes themselves, it is all of us who hang around this thing we call sport. So it’s sporting administrators, women on boards, journalists, and women in the media more broadly. So the sports media has dropped the ball, much like sport itself, over decades. We’ve seen, you know, men with mediocre talent get jobs ahead of talented women all the time, because of conscious and unconscious bias. And, you know, for a little girl growing up who wants to be a sports journalist, if she can’t see herself, it just doesn’t feel achievable, it doesn’t feel real. A bit like me growing up watching men’s sport, a lot of men’s sport. When I was pretending to be a footballer in the backyard I had to be a male footballer, there was no sign of a woman on the elite stage playing football, or cricket, we didn’t see them, or in soccer. And, you know, now we are seeing them. And more importantly we are hearing their stories, that is the other thing. Women athletes have always been successful, but they have been hidden, and their stories have been hidden. And in the book I talk about the great Betty Wilson, who played cricket, and she was talked about in cricket as the female Don Bradman. Inside her world of cricket, she was so highly respected – but the rest of us just didn’t know anything about her. I had the privilege of meeting her, I think it was 2006 or 2007. And, you know, wow, I was on stage with her and the room was so captivated listening to her stories and how much time she devoted to cricket, and how she was engaged a couple of times, and just never got married, because she put cricket ahead of that. Which at the time, I’m sure, raised many eyebrows. So here was a woman staring convention in the face, just doing it her way. But sadly we didn’t know much about her. And there are many stories like that. So, you know, 2017 is great because we are learning about our women athletes, and we can actually see them on free-to-air TV as well, and that is great for me, but it is more important for young girls to be able to see them.
KYD: Is there anything you’d like to speak about?
AP: I think for me, the most in powerful chapter in the book is the one called ‘Complicity’, and I love this chapter, because so many women who have read it, from different fields, have said to me, wow, they have a similar story. That they have had to turn a blind eye to some appalling behaviour to succeed in their chosen profession, in their field. And this is what I love about the book. My experience is not just peculiar to sport. As a woman in a male dominated field, you are going to read this book and nod wildly as you’re reading it, because many of us have had this experience, of not wanting to rock the boat, and have been complicit in allowing bad practices to continue. So I think for me that’s something I’d like to talk about, is that it is not just about sport, it is bigger than that. And I think if you haven’t been a woman in a male dominated field, trying to carve out your career, you won’t really get it. You do have to sometimes tuck your views or your feminism in your back pocket, and just get through and power through the day, because if you were to criticise every inappropriate comment or poor bit of behaviour, you’d have a really unhappy time in your job. So I guess I’d like to say to other women out there, that your experience is certainly not unique, and this is what unites us.
KYD: That was Angela Pippos, whose new book, Breaking The Mould, takes a hammer to sexism in sport. Out now with Affirm Press.
You’re listening to the Kill Your Darlings Podcast. And this particular episode is sponsored by Hachette. They have just published Down the Hume, the debut novel from Peter Polites.
Peter Polites: Before the sun got up I had morning dreams filled with screaming babies; when woke it was just the cats fucking outside my bedroom window. I opened the window, took a deep breath of fresh air, but all I smelled was shit and cat sex.
I’d wake up all ‘up and at ’em!’ then – you know – I’d step into the kitchen and the cockatiel would sing at me. I wanted to run up to its cage and scream at the yellow and grey thing, “Die, you demon bird! You should be extinct like your brothers the dinosaurs!” but there was no point. When I went into the kitchen, I would find uncooked oats on the bench. There was also a barrel of banana-flavoured Muscle Milk Protein with no lid on it and a scoop next to it; the powder would be everywhere, on the laminate, on the steak knives, on the kettle. Nice Arms Pete was hardly there in the mornings. At the time he was my boyfriend, though sometimes I thought he was my roommate. Or maybe I was his fucktoy, his sidepiece. He spent more time at the gym than at home. At the time forgave him for this. Because of the way his traps fell out of his singlet, or how his biceps were two throbbing white mounds. How did I get there?
Θεός προσέχομαι. I got there after a string of accidents. When I was a kid I walked to school alone and got the evil eye placed on me by a creep. Now a white windowless van follows me everywhere. Even now when I meet new babies and cats, I wonder if they see what is under the scars that run across my cheek.
KYD: How did Down the Hume begin?
PP: Down The Hume started as a short story workshopped in the SWEATSHOP Collective and then published in a magazine called Seizure. It was actually SWEATSHOP and Seizure collaborating – the book was called Stories of Sydney – and I wrote a short story called ‘More Handsome Than A Monkey’ and the characters just wouldn’t leave me.
KYD: What was it about Bux that wouldn’t go away for you – that stayed as a particular voice in your head?
PP: I think Bux’s voice has this Western Sydney staccato, and it’s kind of like a machine gun. And it’s the voice of people from Western Sydney, which I’ll try to imitate for you as I speak, and it’s transferred into thought literature. I really wanted to convey how working class people speak in a form of thought. And I think that’s what I couldn’t get away. When I wrote this book there’s two ways I actually processed it, because I actually have a visual arts degree, I use sometimes inspiration and sometimes intention, and both of those things played with themselves.
KYD: Down the Hume is described as a noir novel, what was it that attracted you to the genre?
PP: I’ve always loved noir, initially I got into film noir, and you know, Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct is the archetypal femme fatale. What I love about noir is that they’re dark melodramas, and because of my cultural background I’ve always loved melodramas. Historically it’s part of my folk traditions and noir is kind of the darkness of urban society. What I love about it in terms of literary culture, noir literary culture, someone like James M Cain, who wrote The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity, what’s amazing about his work is that he writes from a specific place in a specific economic environment, which you can actually draw parallels with Australia now. So, the America that he wrote about, there was a big shift into the service economy from the manufacturing industry base. Different gender roles were changing at the time. In our Australia now, why I think noir fits is because you have the neoliberal economy and the casualisation of the labour force occurring at the moment, minorities are coming up with rights, we’re seeing that real battle for minorities’ rights…and noir is a great vehicle for minorities, because a lot of those lose-lose situations that occur in the narrative structure, it just fits perfectly for people that are from minority backgrounds. And I wish more people from minority backgrounds, from lower socio-economic backgrounds – that it wasn’t just a white man’s genre, that it was women, and queers, and all people writing noir as a genre.
KYD: Were there particular elements of it as a genre that you were keen to play with in writing this book, and subvert in some ways? I really love that the femme fatale in this book is ‘Nice Arms Pete’.
PP: I call him a ‘homme fatale’.
KYD: ‘Homme fatale’ is definitely more appropriate.
PP: There’s a lot of tropes. First of all it’s called Down the Hume, the book, and a lot of noirs have specific geographical references. A lot of film noirs do that. One of the other conventions of noir is the following scenes. I wrote a following scene in there and a disguise scene, which I really, really love. You know with a homme fatale, the character has to research someone and stalk someone and find out stuff about them. Thanks to the online gay sex apps it’s kind of easy to stalk someone now. So I wanted to play with that as well. I also love the idea of, one of the aspects of noir is the idea of someone very disempowered in the service industry, and around the edges of the service industry with drug addiction, so I played the working life and the drug addiction up as well.
KYD: When you’re writing do you have a particular audience in mind for your work?
PP: The particular audience is me, me! I try and write something that I would want to read, but also, within my own capacity, and I also want people to really enjoy the narrative. I want to create what-happens-next scenarios, and I hope I did that with Down the Hume.
KYD: Here’s another dreaded what-next question, is noir something you’re keen to continue with? Or are you going to work on something completely different now?
PP: I’m going to play with the genre of noir for a few more books. I really like the conventions, I want to explore it as much as possible. One of the really key things for me in noir is just, and this is about all my writing as well, is that as much as I write characters and individuals and people within society, they’re also, in a way, metaphors for the broader structural issues at play. You know on online sex apps right, on the gay ones – well you don’t know because you’re not a gay man. But…
KYD: This is true, you’ve figured it out – I’m not in fact…
PP: Yeah, see this is the kind of detective work you need to do in writing! (LAUGHS) But what you’ll see is people saying things like “no Asians”, “no blacks”, no whatever… they’ll say racist shit. And it sucks, right? Like hot is hot, regardless of race. There’s no, like, we can have ugly people in every race! (LAUGHS) That’s what equality is about, Meaghan!
KYD: It is disappointing not just that people have that, but that they feel like it’s an okay thing to put in a reasonably public forum, as well?
PP: Yeah, it’s like, no, go back to being privately racist, you know? Keep it your pants, hide it away from the world.
KYD: At least then it doesn’t give the impression that it’s okay to be racist…
PP: You can come out as gay, but not come out as racist. But this is what I wanted to say – our personal desires in terms of race are so arbitrary, and so socially constructed, and they also say something about our nation, Australia. Our personal desires are just as important as any national myth that’s going on about the construction of Australia. And that’s the prominence I want to give to people in the book. That’s why I chose to write about a wog boy that’s only obsessed with white boys, because those desires are just as important as the ANZAC myth, or the way we construct our identities. They’re just as arbitrary, just as socially constructed.
KYD: That was Peter Polites, whose novel Down the Hume is available in all good bookstores. Because really, aren’t all bookstores good ones?
Continuing our unexpectedly sporty focus, we have Kylie Maslen, whose first piece for Junkee, ‘How the AFLW is Bringing Aussie Rules Back to its Roots‘, went up last month. I caught up with her to ask about the piece’s construction.
As a writer who describes yourself as being interested in food, feminism and cultural identity, I went into your Junkee piece expecting it to focus specifically on the leap forward that the AFLW represented for women’s representation in sport in Australia. While it certainly references that, it focused very much on the league as a renewal of sorts for AFL. How that thread develop?
Kylie Maslen: Well, I mean, I went to my first game of the women’s league, also expecting to just feel great about seeing women play the game, wanting to support women in the league, and you know, it meant a lot to see this happening after all this time. But as soon as I was in the stand, and it was full, and there was this amazing atmosphere, and going to games for the next couple of weeks, I just kept seeing this ongoing thread of, “this is just like when I was a kid, going to the footy!” And yes it is part of a bigger cultural thing, and it’s so amazing to see women playing the game – but it just feels like a whole different experience to the highly commercialised AFL that I go to the rest of the year. And so I just kind of wanted to celebrate that, and I think for a lot of people, that inquisitiveness about the new league has got them to the first game – but what’s kept them going back is that they can bring their kids, and I think that real kind of community flavour is something that’s really special about this league.
KYD: Has that commercialisation that you mentioned in regards to the men’s league, is that something that you have noticed over your time attending the footy?
KM: It’s definitely increased… I think you could probably say since when the VFL switched over to become the AFL in I think it was the 90s, as the league sort of expanded from being a Victorian league to now kind of encompassing the whole country, mostly – sorry Tasmania – and I think there is also just, it is becoming more and more professionalised. And in order to do that, it needs more and more income. So in the last, probably the last five to 10 years, but definitely the last five years, there has been this sort of incredible growth of commercialisation within the league, and part of that comes from the battle for broadcast rights, and the income that comes from that; part of that comes from competition with other sports, so there’s definitely been a marked shift in the culture of the game that’s come from that.
KYD: How do you go about crafting a piece like this?
KM: It started with this idea of how nice it was to reconnect with community football. And so when I sat down to write it I just kind of wrote a bit about my own experiences, and that is sort of where the start of the piece comes from. Some of that was cut later, just in terms of the angle that the piece ended up going towards, talking about community football, talking about, I guess your more pure grassroots style football as opposed to where the AFL is at. And the fact that some players had just come out criticising the league’s ties to gambling organisations. And so in order to sort of keep the piece on message, or to the point that was trying to make, some of that personal experience was taken out. It definitely won’t be the last time I write about football! (LAUGHS) So I’m sure those little anecdotes will find their way into something else eventually. But yeah, it was really important for me to kind of set the scene, not everyone goes to their first game of AFL or Aussie Rules when they’re six weeks old like I did, so I really wanted to establish how much the game means to me, how much it connects me to my family, and just kind of wanted to set the scene of what it looks like, what it looks like to go to the football in the 80s, as opposed to what it now looks like when I sit in a big commercial stand flooded by advertising, when I go to the AFL here.
KYD: So did you pitch to Junkee and then the piece developed from there, or did you have it near finished when you first approached them, or did they approach you?
KM: I had been wanting to write something about the women’s league, and I didn’t want to just write another piece about the first game, and how much that meant – and it did mean a lot to me, but I think it perhaps didn’t mean as much to me as it did to some other people. I never got to play as a kid, because there was no avenue for me to play in, but I think a lot of other people have sort of come up against that a lot more, and it meant a lot more to them to write about that first game. But I still really wanted to write something about it. And then this idea kind of came to me when I was at a game, and just trying to explain to a friend who had never been to the football before, until the women’s league started, why this meant so much to me. And so I think the next day I was just kind of sitting down, and just writing out some of those early memory things, and then the piece kind of pretty much just happened. And then, this often happens, where I just kind of write something and then I think, well, what do I do with this now? I’d been wanting to write for Junkee for a little while, and a few friends of mine had recently had pieces published, and had mentioned that Meg, the editor, is always looking to pitches from freelancers. So I just kind of dropped her an email, and she was up for it, and it just kind of happened.
KYD: That was Kylie Maslen, whose writing is focused on sense of place and feminism. Check out some links on Killings. So, that’s all we have time for today – thanks to Kylie Maslen, Peter Polites and Angela Pippos. Remember, this month’s book club book was Down the Hume, next month’s will be Winter Traffic by Stephen Greenall, and if you grab a copy you can read along with us. Until then, remember to keep an eye on our website where we are posting new and interesting things all the time. You’ve been listening to the Kill Your Darlings Podcast, I’m Meaghan Dew, and we’ll see you next time.