New Australian Fiction 2021

The Kill Your Darlings Podcast
The Kill Your Darlings Podcast
New Australian Fiction 2021

We’re thrilled to bring you this special podcast episode celebrating the publication of our third print anthology, New Australian Fiction 2021. New Australian Fiction 2021 collects a number of brilliant short stories from authors from around the country, and in this episode you’ll hear excerpts from some of them. Tune in to hear Mykaela Saunders, Scott Limbrick, Emily O’Grady, Daley Rangi and Alice Bishop read from their work, and don’t forget to pick up a copy of the anthology to read these brilliant stories in their entirety. You can purchase a copy from our online shop.

Want to be a part of New Australian Fiction 2022? Story submissions for the anthology will open in January next year.

Our theme song is Broke for Free’s ‘Something Elated’.

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Alice Cottrell: Hello dear listeners, I am KYD publisher Alice Cottrell and I am very excited to bring you this special edition of the KYD podcast, on the publication day of New Australian Fiction 2021, our third print collection of short fiction. This anthology features some of Australia’s best loved writers, alongside exciting new voices, and you’re going to hear some of those voices today. This episode you will hear Mykaela Saunders, Scott Limbrick, Emily O’Grady, Daley Rangi and Alice Bishop reading from their brilliant short stories. Enjoy!

Mykaela Saunders: My name’s Mykaela Saunders and I’m reading an excerpt from my story ‘Resource Management’.

The stranger came a few weeks ago. None of us had ever seen him before.

He came onto our land, but never spoke to us. We waited all day—he never came up and introduced himself, or told us where he’s from, or who his mob were. Never asked permission to camp here. Never tried to connect with us or see if we was related in any way. He just walked in like he owned the place, and set up camp not far from ours—not so close as to make it too obvious, though not far enough away to be able to ignore. He wouldn’t even look at us! Couldn’t even give us a nod, or a wave, or a flick of the wrist. We might as well have been ghosts, the way he was acting.

We all took turns, peeking through the scrub at him. Some thought he could have been an old ancestor come back. But I didn’t think so; surely, he would have said something. And he pissed and shat and ate like a normal person. He did eat his own food, at least—at first. We watched him untie a bundle from the belt on his waist soon after he arrived, and he scoffed down what looked like a johnny cake with his hands.

Others reckoned he might have been a senior man from some far away country, owing to his weird scars all set out in different patterns and cut across his shoulders, not on his chest like ours are.

Maybe he’s from that mob up north? someone said.

 Nah, they scar their arms up there, someone else said. Everyone else nodded.

None of us had ever seen anyone like him before, and between us we’d been to a lot of places. He must have come from a very long way away.

See he was like us, but not like us. He looked more or less the same—same colour skin and hair and all that—but he was a little more exotic in some ways. He wore his hair different, for starters: long, frizzed out and curly, not twisted into little ropes like ours. He tied his hair up and around itself when he got too hot. His muscles were as hard as the wood of his shield, which was much bigger than ours. His spears were longer and thicker too; the barbs had sharper points.

He had a big bone through his nose. Maybe a sorcerer, we thought. But if that were the case, he would have known lore, surely! And that means he never would have come here and ignored us like that.

We ignored him too at first. Figured he’d make his way over sooner or later, and say g’day. But no! Come night-time, he just sat there and made his fire and went to sleep with his back to us.

He woke up early the next morning and headed down to the water to swim. Never asked permission, and as confident as you please. God bless. He really liked that water. Went swimming there every day at least, sometimes twice depending on the tides.

Well, after a few days, we called over to him: ‘Hey, you fella! Where you from?’


‘Hey, fella, who’s your mob?’

He didn’t even turn around. I know he heard us ’cos even the lorikeets in the trees took off squawking once we’d called out.

I know what you’re thinking—maybe he didn’t speak our lingo? Or maybe he couldn’t hear? We was thinking the same.

So, me being the most fluent in different tongues, I went over to him. See, I can speak as many languages as fingers that I got: the one we speak here, plus my mother’s, and my grandmother’s and grandfather’s, and also my wife’s, as well as the neighbours to the north, and the south, and the west of us, and one more lingo a bit further west too, which I learn when they come and do ceremony. And I know the hand language that everyone has in common, on account of my granny and my nephew being deaf.

So, I went over to him and yarned in each of these lingos, and even in the hand language.

Nothing! Can you believe it? He looked up at me once as I approached, but went back to staring at the water as calm as you please. Didn’t try to speak back to me in any language.

Well, there was nothing we could do. He didn’t want to talk to us? Come on to our land, even without permission? Not our business! Let him go, the Elders reckoned. We’re hospitable people. Reckoned, He’s not hurting no one and Surely he has his reasons.

I was glad of it, truth be told. I had much better things to do than try to talk to that ingrate. He gave me the willies too, just quietly, the way he went about his day acting like we weren’t here. Like we were ghosts or whatever.

Scott Limbrick: My name is Scott Limbrick, and I’m reading an excerpt from my short story ‘Flaring Out’.

You stoop to inspect the baked treats featured in the cabinet. Red velvet cake, salted caramel brownies, almond croissants. You could have it all.

The barista interrupts your thoughts: ‘Any sugar in that one?’

‘Sure, thanks.’

He grabs a spoon, grins, and reaches for a bowl, then bursts extravagantly into flame. Heat pulsates outwards, air cracks and ripples, the ceiling is scorched. Silence falls. It’s over, the barista absorbed into nothingness.

His colleague stares for a moment, then picks up another spoon.

‘Let me help you with that,’ she says.

On your way into the office, you narrowly avoid being trapped in an elevator with a man who starts combusting as the doors reopen. Sidestepping the flames, you press a button to alert the maintenance team: the lingering ash could drift into any number of mechanisms, generating chaos.

At reception, you pass Roger, your rival. He’s upbeat, gripping a takeaway cup from another cafe, scrolling through Instagram as he strolls into Meeting Room Three (the Terracotta Suite). This is infuriating: you’ve never been invited to a Terracotta meeting. You hope it’s the result of a

double-booking, or some kind of administrative error. Roger isn’t Terracotta material.

You know this because Roger wears blue suits that don’t fit well. He maintains a spreadsheet with notes on everyone he’s ever met so that he can ask appropriate questions about their personal lives. He owns an actual-size Stormtrooper helmet that he keeps on a stand in his living room. All of this is to say that you don’t think Roger has a personality, but he somehow manages to fake one. You hate this because you suspect that you don’t have one either, but there’s no real way of knowing.

You make it to your desk and log on to your computer, entering a world of Excel-based delights. Soon enough, you enter a flow state, one you were taught about during your years at university. You can almost lose yourself in pivot tables and macros, the only distractions from everything you’ve ever known. This lasts for a few glorious minutes before your manager taps you on the shoulder.

He sits across from you at his desk, red tie sharply contrasting against the crisp blue and white stripes of his shirt. He’s a parody of an eighties Wall Street villain, though you suspect this is his desired aesthetic.

‘Look,’ he says. ‘I’m going to be honest with you.’

‘Thanks,’ you say. You’ve learned it’s best to keep your responses brief.

‘I know they say all this combustion stuff is completely random, all right? And we basically have to ignore it. Build it into the cost of business, you know? Pay out the families, implement rapid hiring practices to replace anyone who disappears, make sure multiple people are trained up for each role, that kind of thing.’


‘But we’ve hit on something, possibly something very big. We’ve had some actuaries looking into this for a while now, and we think we’ve identified a few risk factors. Age, gender, health, habits, all that. Key variables we can pull out to make decisions. Really savvy stuff.’


‘And I’ve just been looking at your, uh, profile, here.’ He waves a sheet of paper. ‘This was generated for everyone on staff. Nothing personal, you get me? We didn’t single you out, or anything. But according to our research, it looks like you’re at severe risk. This is, you know, an unprecedented situation. Our best legal advice is that increased likelihood of combusting isn’t covered under any kind of state or federal discrimination legislation.’


‘So, I’m sure you’ll understand,’ he says, with a performative shake of his head, ‘I’m going to have to let you go.’

Through the window, in the kitchenette, you see a sales rep burn up and vanish.

‘It’s been great to have you,’ your manager says.

‘I’ve really enjoyed this experience,’ you say.

Emily O’Grady: My name is Emily O’Grady, and this is an extract from my short story ‘Novichok’.

The eyebrows are first to go. Liv notices them from across the table as Polly scoops a metal spoon of yoghurt into her mouth. She eats slowly, humming to herself, yoghurt moussed around her lips, a snowflake of it clotted on a strand of red hair that has fallen from her damp ponytail. Joey is under the table. Liv can feel her son’s warm, wet breath on her shins as he zooms a plastic truck over her feet and up her calf, down again. She smiles at Polly when her daughter notices her staring, stands up and finishes her own breakfast over the sink. She calls Joey over and helps him feed carrot tops and wilted silver beet to his turtle, checks on the succulents. The children shriek as they pack vegemite-and-lettuce sandwiches into their lunchboxes, race to tie their shoes and be first out the door.

After walking Polly and Joey to school, Liv decides to wind down to the river before heading home. She has a late start at work and once she reaches the park she sits on a bench and watches a bootcamp of women doing burpees and lunges on the grass, their yoga mats in a shrine-like circle, worshiping the speakers at the centre that boom out synth-heavy dance music. Their babies are sleeping in prams, toddlers wobbling in the grass, but the women have the concentration of soldiers, focused and militant. Liv feels tired just watching them: their skin glistening, their frowns. During a water break, one of the women notices her and does a double take, lifts her hand to wave. Liv knows she must look strange, just sitting there staring like a predator. If she were a man they would have already called the police. She wishes she’d bought a book or a coffee, had her phone to scroll on. Liv tries but she cannot place the woman; she is terrible with faces. Maybe she is a school mum, or a client from the dental clinic. Liv smiles and waves back. She gets up from the bench and walks home.

It’s not until she’s in the shower that she realises she is sunburnt. Her arms and chest are the blush of rare lamb and her scalp stings as she turns the water to cold and washes her hair, rinses quickly. As she pulls back the shower curtain she notices the hair coiled in the drain, wet and clumped like a decomposing marsupial. She scoops up the hair, which is greasy with soap. Not dark like her own but reddish, medusa long. She squeezes it into a gluggy ball and throws it into the toilet bowl. It’s not until she flushes that she imagines it clogging in the depth of the pipes, thinks about the cost of calling a plumber.

It’s Dr Nguyen who brings up the poisonings. Scraping plaque from the man’s teeth, she asks Liv if she’s been following it on the news. ‘It’s like something from a movie, isn’t it?’ she says, as Liv suctions saliva from the man’s mouth. His teeth are cheddar yellow and his lips wobble as he strains to keep them apart. ‘It hardly seems real.’

Liv hadn’t been following it on the news and as Angela tells her about the skeletal man in the hospital bed and the nerve agent, the snow globe of his vast skull, she feels metal against her teeth, eugenol burning her nostrils. She knows better than to go quiet. Angela has the senses of a pack animal, will be concerned if she thinks something is off. Liv tells the man to open up wider. She wipes spit from his chin.

Liv brings it up with Sean the following Wednesday after the children have been put to bed. He flew in that day from Perth, is knackered and slow, but they are happy to see each other, to touch each other. They are both on their second beer. Ambulance Australia is on the television. The volume is low as they watch an elderly woman being tended to by the paramedics after having a fall while taking out the bins. She and her husband are both in their nineties. The woman must have lain in the prickles for hours, the hot sun baking her like a rotisserie chicken.

‘I’ve booked a doctor’s appointment,’ Liv says.

‘They don’t seem any different,’ Sean replies. ‘I didn’t even notice.’

He’d been gone two weeks. Liv doesn’t like phone calls and messages through brief happy updates when he’s away. He FaceTimes only with the children.

‘You weren’t looking,’ she says. ‘There’s something wrong.’

‘They seem healthy,’ he says. ‘They’re beautiful.’

‘I know they’re beautiful.’

They watch the woman being carted away in the ambulance. Her husband stands by the hills hoist, clutches his wheelie-walker as his wife vanishes. Liv wonders if the production crew helped the man back inside once they stopped filming, if they’d positioned him towards the light to get the final, tragic shot.

Daley Rangi: My name is Daley Rangi, and I’m reading an excerpt from Takatāpui.

I see a small smile form on a familiar face in the hazy mirror. Kia ora, brotha, sista, whatever you are today! Nah, nothin’. Blank face, you ain’t even proper present. That’s rude; gimme somethin’ back black, am I beautiful, bro? It stares back at me, sighin’ a silent sigh, anxious twitch in the right eye. It always does that when I begin to panic; I try to act hard, but I always give myself away like I’m donatin’ to charity. God, I could do with a stiff drink right now, stiff anythin’, but I’m half floatin’ off the ground already, dabbin’ my third j in the ashtray. Oh, don’t worry, I’ll scull later; later all fluids will come, right? Forecast said so.

The floral dress hangs off me awkward-like. I’m wet laundry thrown haphazard onto a washin’ line; the colours I’d thought fine, now lurid in the harsh light of this backroom bathroom. Fuck it. I spent the last week drinkin’ way too hard and datin’ way too soft, but maybe tonight I’ll try it the other way ’round, ain’t nothin’ soft by the end of this hot night. Shame, I’m drippin’. It’s humid in and out, these muggy evenin’s tailgatin’ tropical summer days, now a storm brewin’ outside and inside. Head throbbin’ with the electricity in the air, I lift one damp leg to the mirror, sweat mattin’ thick hair that I try to smooth out to no avail. I nod to the hairy me mannot- quite-man in the mirror, and he nods back. I flash myself, and he scowls back big time, ‘You a big commando now?’ he says with his eyes. ‘I thought you was missionary?’ I ain’t a he, I offer, but he don’t believe me. Black heels on a white sink, low-cut, lookin’ even cheaper than they were when I pulled ’em out of a department store sale bin. Big, brown, fat, flat feet push against the faux leather skin, flaky toes desperate to escape for fresh air. How do women do this? Fuck.

The nasty nausea of a nervous shit comin’ on, I squat on the loo, try to clear away that dread slowly arrivin’ like a thief in the night. Nek minnit, feelin’ dirty down there, so I shower again, just in case the night holds beautiful treasures in its dark chest. Rain begins to beat the roof into submission. Refreshed and redressed; yeah, nah, yeah, you look choice, now time for some trinkets. Gold earrings dangle down to shoulders, cradlin’ a hairy neck above a hairy back, I’m like a hairy alpine buttercup, you big korikori you.

I slowly turn my head back and forth and the nuggets of gold slide across my shoulders in a cool massage. Chain-link, with a rock at the end, like my ears are slaves to my head; they pull my lobes down but it’s kinda comfortin’; not holdin’ me down but groundin’ me. I reapply lip paint, my war paint, tribal colour, mock moko, my L’Oréal Storm; a purple grey, perhaps it’s a grey purple, but either way it seems to complement my dark skin, olive tones, the brownness. I towel off my beard, vainly attemptin’ to force the hair to fall down my cheeks, but it bends, curlin’. I could never do straight very well, even my beard hair acts queer. Spray myself down with a fruity natural scent from that store in the city where everythin’ smells like somethin’, but maybe it’s a bit much, even if I am now a peaches and creamy snack, delicious, but maybe I just let myself smell as I do, let my odour be hor d’oeuvres, but I can’t get over bein’ told I smelt a bit funky on the last date, and I’m like no, you smell fuckin’ weird white boy, at least I’m not a musty, perfumed cunt who make noses wrinkle!

Is that it? You done? You ready, big boi, you hot brown honey you? I poke out my tongue in the mirror and bulge my eyes, and I’d scare the shit outta myself if I hadn’t already shat, and shit, I’m rearin’.

Alice Bishop: Hi, my name’s Alice Bishop, and I’ll be reading from my short story ‘Lavender Weather’.

You’re at the hotel-motel, Violet Town, the night you meet her: the tall woman with the silvering hair. The place is sleeping apart from the air-conditioner hum, a few Commodores parked out front, and an old thoroughbred, dappled, in the neighbouring paddock. You’ve always loved grey horses the most. Will end up a pale beaudie, that colt, one of your father’s mates down at the track once said, unloading a flecked yearling from his flaking truck. Years later, you still think of it when ‘Silver Stallion’ by The Highwaymen drones through the freightliner dash.

Grey horses start off dark—usually bay or chestnut or black. As a grey foal grows, it ‘greys out’—white hairs replacing the base or birth colours. You remember this, watching white hairs sprout— wiry, bright—through the few patches of ginger stubble you still have left.

It’s been hours, fourteen of them, spent driving the truck of cylinders through—No-Doz and sugar-free V buzzing through your veins. Insurance only covers the twelve hours on the road, so by Violet Town it’s time to clock off. The chip shop’s fluorescent pink lights are still on when you pull into the road stop. There’s the smell of salt and canola oil, maybe a little animal fat, in the air. Walking towards the hotel-motel, you think about the road you’ve just crossed—nine-hundred kilometres fuelled by stale blueberry muffins and petrol station sausage rolls.

Her name is Cheryl, but you don’t know it yet. She’s just a stranger you’re drawn to in the same hotel-motel, sitting at the same bar. She could be a Janine or a Crystal, a Paula or a Claire. The low drone of FM country music plays—the kind of songs about broken hearts you hate to love. A few locals even older than you are gathered at the back of the pub. They’re huddled in dress shirts and Rossi boots—chatting quality and circling cows in a newspaper over half-drunk beers.

Hey darlin’, you practise saying in your head, settling in a few seats up from her, arranging yourself in a pose to look more muscular than you are—stronger-looking, more assured. But you’re too old for the blokey country banter you never really mastered as a footy kid, always so proudly on the piss.

Onya sweetheart, your father, now eighty-odd, would’ve so easily said to her. But that’s the other end of things; it was all muscle memory for him. Gi’ us a smile then, love, he would’ve said. C’mon love and I’ll shout ya a drink. It’s been so long since you’ve seen him now, always sitting on his valley front porch in work boots and faded hi-vis. Sometimes, at 3am, you wonder if he still drinks from those warm maroon tins, his thick fingers always struggling with the ring pulls, thin.

Grey horses are considered unlucky in horseracing. Some thoroughbreds, however, have made a name: Lavender Weather, Desert Orchid, Galah Wing. ‘Bet a grey on a rainy day,’ some of the older bookies say, hope fogged by weeks of unpaid electricity bills, Wonder White meals and trackside grit.

Make it big. Make it big.

TAB reruns play in the adjoining room: colourful silks and bays stretching out across the TV track. The only person left watching is a man in a faded Mercedes cap. He’s pink-cheeked and smiling, his mouth hard like most of the men’s around here. Maybe mine looks like that too, you worry, taking another sip of beer. Maybe it is his old silver mare in the paddock outside. She’s tied to the loop of fraying bailing twine, bright Bunnings-tarp blue. You feel soft around your middle, thinking about the skipping rope you’ve kept rolled up in the truck’s sleeper cabin. Unused.

All the streets are named after flowers up here: Lily Street, Rose Street, Orchid Street and Iris Lane. There’s even a Honeysuckle Creek. You wonder what the first people called the place. Can’t think too much about that, though. It’s what your people do: forget and paper over—florals, a putty knife and Dulux creams.

We like to look away, hey, your old boss once said as you passed a broke-down bus, navy blue, on a swap-over ride one Monday. The heat was already shimmering at 8am. The mossy smell of death—the local tannery—filled the air as the two of you bobtailed down the Hume.

You wonder if you smell okay. You wonder if you look like a man who looks away. You wonder if you should say where you’re living: a Mack Truck cabin truck with a pinecone-shaped air freshener hanging from the rear-view.

Alice Cottrell: Thanks for listening in. If you’re keen to read more after hearing those excellent snippets, you can buy a copy of New Australian Fiction 2021 at our website,, or at your local independent bookshop. Or, of course, you can request a copy at your local library.