Pub Talk: Leah Jing McIntosh from Liminal

The Kill Your Darlings Podcast
The Kill Your Darlings Podcast
Pub Talk: Leah Jing McIntosh from Liminal

Welcome to the second episode of our new interview series, Pub Talk, where we chat to some of Australia’s most experienced and influential publishers, editors and agents. During these conversations you’ll receive insiders’ information about the industry, as well as advice from experts on the many pathways to publication for new writers.

We’re thrilled to have Leah Jing McIntosh as our guest this month. She is a critic, researcher, and the founding editor of Liminal magazine, an anti-racist literary platform that interrogates and celebrates the Asian-Australian experience. Alongside editing Liminal and establishing literary prizes for writers of colour, she produces literary events, often working in collaboration with major arts organisations.

Tune in to hear KYD publishing director Rebecca Starford and Leah discuss the role of literary magazines, the politics of visibility and the power of community.

Further reading:

• Liminal’interview with Radhiah Chowdhury.

• Collisions is available now from your local independent booksellerread KYD’s review!

Our theme song is Johnny Ripper’s ‘Typing’. Sound production by Lloyd Pratt.

Stream or subscribe: Apple Podcasts / Soundcloud / Google Podcasts / Spotify / Other (RSS)

Let us know what you think by rating and reviewing in your app of choice!



Alice Cottrell: Hello and welcome to the second episode of Kill Your Darlings’ brand new podcast series called Pub Talk. Every couple of months we’ll be chatting to some of the most experienced and influential publishers, editors and agents about the Australian publishing industry, and revealing the many pathways to publication for new writers. We hope you enjoy this episode.

Rebecca Starford: Welcome to Pub Talk, a Kill Your Darlings podcast. My name is Rebecca Starford, and I’m the publishing director at KYD. I’m also a published author of two books, a memoir called Bad Behaviour and a novel called The Imitator. For many years, I’ve also worked as an editor, both in-house as well as freelance. So I’m hosting this series about the inner workings of the Australian publishing industry with these different hats on. And we’ve got a really special conversation coming up now with Leah Jing McIntosh. Leah is a critic, researcher and the founding editor of Liminal, which she began in 2016. Liminal is an antiracist literary platform that supports and elevates talented writers and artists in so-called Australia. Liminal showcases creatives from a wide range of creative disciplines—literature, art, music, journalism and more. Working towards a more equitable art sector, Liminal is made by a dedicated team based around the continent and Leah is joining us today from Melbourne. Welcome, Leah, it is so great to have you on the podcast today.

Leah Jing McIntosh: Ah, hello, thank you for having me!

Rebecca Starford: (Laughs) Now, I hope you’re doing okay, we are speaking in around the middle of October, so you there in Melbourne, you’ve got some light at the end of the tunnel in terms of the lockdowns as well. And I think, we’ll talk a little bit more about that, but I hope things have been going okay for you during this difficult time, and also for the whole Liminal team. I guess it’s all being quite remote kind of contact at the moment for you guys.

Leah Jing McIntosh: Yeah, I was actually just thinking how nice it is that Pub Talk can now almost be at the pub. (Laughs)

Rebecca Starford: Oh, good idea—next episode already planned. (Laughs)

Leah Jing McIntosh: Slow paced, just having a few beers. Yeah, no, it’s been strange, but like, I was thinking how Liminal has always just kind of been run from my house, so (Laughs) our processes didn’t really change when we went into lockdown.

Rebecca Starford: Yeah, I think that’s probably pretty common for a lot of arts organisations as well. So let’s talk about Liminal. As I mentioned in the intro, it started in 2016—many listeners will be familiar with what you’re doing, and everything that’s happening at the organisation. But can you give us a little bit of the origin story about how it came into being?

Leah Jing McIntosh: Yeah, of course. So Liminal came out of my master’s research at University College London. I had come to London at 23 with this idea that I would extend my research on white male postmodernist writers—I had recently written an honours thesis on David Foster Wallace… (Both laugh)

Rebecca Starford: Interesting…

Leah Jing McIntosh: It was an interesting choice, but during this year I was in London and studying my Masters. I had this real reckoning with race—both mine and becoming quite dissatisfied with the writers and the work we as masters students were engaged to study. So it just became glaringly clear that I, that my body was not really welcome within this institution. This was never, like, overtly stated, but more like insidious. I never came across anyone who bore my resemblance, either in literature we studied or in the faculty. So I started getting really fed up, and I ended up choosing to write a dissertation on Asian-American poetics. So considering the relation of the othered body to spatiality, or to the American landscape. And I found in this poetry that the body had this really uncomfortable relationship to space, and was often mutilated or made smaller or gargantuan. And it became this site of really unmistakable otherness. So I wrote this thesis and I returned home to Melbourne, and I just started feeling this discomfort, this really strong discomfort of being othered, being this minority settler on colonised lands. And I needed to have conversations with people who were feeling the same way. And I, you know, I emailed a few pals who I had known, like, prior to the program, and kind of was just like, ‘hey, do you want to have some conversations, do you mind if I record? Maybe we could take some portraits, I kind of am thinking about starting this series…’ And thank God they all said yes, they were all so kind. And I just got so much from these conversations that I thought maybe others would too. And Liminal kind of came into being through that. And it started out as this capsule collection of 20 interviews, and five years later we’re approaching 200 interviews. We’ve published art, essays, fiction, poetry, comics, games, we’ve run nights for our community, we’ve presented exhibitions, and just formed a community with other like-minded people who I think feel that we can all do something together.

Rebecca Starford: Thank you so much for that overview of the organisation. It’s really, it’s always so interesting to hear how literary magazines and publications begin. And it usually always starts with that chat with mates, that kind of informal beginning, and ‘hey, let’s do a thing’. And often it’s already taken off before…(Laughs) before you really know how big this project is going to get, which is always a really nice thing. But maybe you would have thought, sometimes I think I’d think twice if I thought how big something was going to grow before actually starting it. (Both laugh) Look, you mentioned the interviews being that kind of foundational content of Liminal, but as you also mentioned, there’s a lot of other material in there—beautiful photography, the illustrations, the fiction, the comics. Can you talk a little bit about the design and the aesthetic of Liminal, because it is quite distinctive—and I should say, for those who aren’t familiar listening, it’s a very beautiful website, full of beautiful artwork and material. So check it out immediately—but it does bring that quality, and that contributes to that mood and that feel that you’re presenting there with the publication.

Leah Jing McIntosh: Thank you so much, that’s so nice. Hmm, in terms of aesthetic, I’ve actually been thinking a lot lately about Dr Chelsea Watego’s concept of how one can be ontologically white. And I was wondering about how we’re positioned to become ontologically white, and which structures are in place to, I guess, just colonise the mind. And I’m thinking about this through the framework of literature and like, as a young reader, because I’ve been reading for such a long time, I came to just expect the characters to be white, or that the writer would be a white writer. So my imaginary, or my imaginative landscape was very specific—and thinking through this, I don’t think this was by accident, but rather by design. And it’s this, like, mindset or imaginary landscape that’s clearly established and confirmed by both the Western literary canon, but also more through, like, generalised representation, both on and off screen and in the media and in general structures of power in Australia. I think someone on Twitter the other day pointed out that, like, how the racial or even gender make-up of the Australian government just hasn’t changed well after, like, decades after the White Australia Act was repealed. And what does that say for how we see ourselves as a country, or how we perceive Australian cultural production? So when I’m thinking through representation, I will include like, yeah, of course, on-screen representation. But I’m more interested in places like government or in organisational structures. And in this obviously there’s publishing houses and litmags. And where do people of colour sit, and do we collectively imagine or conceptualise people of colour as writers or editors or arts workers? So to link back after all that to your question about photography and aesthetic, I think in some ways I would argue racism is an issue of power, obviously, but which is so easily linked and embodied and regulated through aesthetic. And I am really interested in playing with this dynamic. So when I started Liminal, I was really concerned with visual representation, and I just wanted to use the power of the image to break up the reader’s starting assumption that the, like, the interview subject could even possibly be white. And I just used these portraits throughout each interview because I just wanted to make it clear who the interview subject was, and who was speaking. And it was just this gesture towards visibility. And I mean, I’m a photographer, so it was, like, fairly easy—it just felt really organic.

Rebecca Starford: Absolutely. It’s so fascinating to hear you speak about those visual elements and how they are positioned alongside that process of reading and the imaginative landscape as well, because I think often—I mean I, you know, as myself as an editor, I have no experience or expertise really in photography, except you know, enjoying looking at Liminal and appreciating how the site is designed. But yeah, I think that confrontation with the visual is very, very important, and it’s really, really interesting to get that backgrounding as well in terms of how you imagine the creation of the website and the publication as well. So thanks for sharing that. We will kind of keep—we are going to be kind of skirting around many of the things that we’re talking about as well, so I’m going to pivot one way, but we’ll pivot back as well.

Leah Jing McIntosh: I love to pivot.

Rebecca Starford: Pivoting is good. My netball days were…

Leah Jing McIntosh: Oh my god… (Both laugh) Wait, wait—sorry, I need to know. Were you a Centre?

Rebecca Starford: So I did a bit of Centre, but then I moved to Goal Attack.

Leah Jing McIntosh: Oh, the most important one!

Rebecca Starford: Well…not necessarily, I guess it depends. (Laughs) I’m just having images now of like, watching Kath & Kim when, you know, Kath gets onto the—anyway, we’ve been watching, my three-year-old loves Kath & Kim, believe it or not, so we have that on loop at home. Anyway!

Leah Jing McIntosh: I got really into it last year. It’s so ahead of its time! I really feel.

Rebecca Starford: It has aged actually surprisingly well, because I was a bit nervous about watching it. I didn’t actually like it at all when it came out, and then I just think I was desperate to watch things. (Leah laughs) Anyway, we’ll save that for another episode, the Kath & Kim episode. But yeah, I mean, I love hearing about how other lit organisations work day to day, because it’s always interesting to see what’s similar and what’s different. Can you tell me a bit about how you personally work there for Liminal, and how—I know, obviously it’s within the constraints of everything with a pandemic as well, but what a kind of typical day would look like for you?

Leah Jing McIntosh: Um, well, Liminal is way smaller than KYD, so I guess it’s usually just… (Laughs) I’m trying to think through, like, what the differences would be, but I just know what we do. So it’s mostly just a bunch of emails. People, one of my favourite moments when I first started learning how to edit was with Cat McInnis, who was the deputy editor of Meanjin at the time. And she interviewed me, and she’s like, my interview kind of was just like, ‘you know that editing is mostly emails?’ And I was like, ‘oh, surely not!’ And then, turns out editing is mostly emails. But…(Laughs)

Rebecca Starford: Yeah, they don’t put that in the job description.

Leah Jing McIntosh: They really don’t! If you can answer an email, you’re hired. Um, no, yeah so sometimes a lot—yeah, a bunch of emails. Sometimes some writing or editing work, lately I have been meeting with some other orgs who are keen to do some projects with us, and then every few weeks, also a meeting with the team if there’s a project on the go. It’s like, we’re quite a small outfit, we’re a very small project. We are technically funded for, like, a day a week of work. But I do a… lot more than that because I want to, but so often that means it has to be done around my other work. So PhD research, or writing, or photography, or little chats like this, it’s just like finding a few hours between things to catch up, and to also make sure to take some time to do stuff with intention, I think is really important at this point?

Rebecca Starford: Yeah, absolutely. What was your editorial background leading up to that stage? Had you worked on editing projects before, or was it something that you threw yourself into when you started Liminal?

Leah Jing McIntosh: I have to admit, I have fairly unconventional training. So I have a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in literary studies, and a Master’s in English. So I have training essentially in just like, literary criticism.

Rebecca Starford: In reading, yeah.

Rebecca Starford: In reading, which is, like, an enormous, it’s an enormous privilege. And it’s a real joy, I’ve loved studying literature. I did get a place in the Masters of Editing and Publishing at Melbourne, but I left after a few weeks because I had been accepted into University College London, and I just, I really wanted to live in London for a bit!

Rebecca Starford: Yeah, of course!

Leah Jing McIntosh: (Both laugh) And to live in Bloomsbury…

Rebecca Starford: Oh, my god, wow.

Leah Jing McIntosh: It was yeah, just, oh, the bookshops, oh, my gosh.

Rebecca Starford: Oh, wow.

Leah Jing McIntosh: So I’ve never had conventional training, but I do, I have had two very wonderful editorial mentors, and the first being Cat McInnis, who I mentioned just before. When I did my first and only unpaid internship when I was starting up Liminal and finding my feet and thinking through editorial process. And she was just so generous in her guidance, and open and kind and thoughtful. And I learned so much just on the job. And then the second is Adolfo Aranjuez, who’s just—he’s one of the best editors in Australia, I would say. He’s edited for Voiceworks, Melbourne Books, Archer, had a seven year student at Metro. He’s just this font of knowledge, and we met because he was dating my then housemate years and years ago, and we just became friends, well, well before we became colleagues. So when I started like, yeah, it was, ugh. Pals!

Rebecca Starford: It’s all about pals.

Leah Jing McIntosh: Yeah. I wouldn’t have—yeah, I think, I was thinking through Liminal and we had a coffee and he just kind of, you know, was like, ‘this is how you should do it’, (Laughs) like, ‘have you thought about this, have you thought about this?’ And he came on at the very start as the consulting editor because I didn’t want to do it alone. And he gave me, yeah, just so much advice. So he’s now the publications editor, and he’s co-editing with me our forthcoming book of essays from the recent non-fiction prize with Pantera Press.

Rebecca Starford: Yeah, fantastic, yep.

Leah Jing McIntosh: But yeah, like, most of my training is just on the job and very chaotic. But I think in doing it kind of on the job, it really demystifies the process, and just like, kind of allows you to learn through doing. But I don’t know, I love, I love study, so I’m like, should I, should I go back?

Rebecca Starford: Oh my god, you sound a bit like me—(Leah laughs) what other new project can I suck up my nonexistent time with? (Crosstalk) It’s so interesting to hear that background because I don’t have any formal editing training myself. So, like you, my undergraduate and honours degree was in—actually it was in creative writing.

Leah Jing McIntosh: Oh, amazing.

Rebecca Starford: So then I, I was interested in editing, but I didn’t—when I finished my degree, I didn’t really even know really properly what editing was, I was primarily a reader interested in books, and I began also as an unpaid intern working at ABR originally, which was the best place to go, because again, it’s all about the relationships that you form with mentor figures and that on the job training. So I was really lucky to work with Peter Rose, the editor there at ABR, who taught me what an editor was and how to edit. And I got to, sort of, see that in practice.

Rebecca Starford: Yeah.

Leah Jing McIntosh: Yeah, and so much of editing is about being a reader and understanding that reading experience, too. So, you know—I mean, I think it’s changed a lot in that time, too. I don’t know what it’s like now, like level entry jobs now into editorial positions seem to require postgraduate qualifications. I mean, personally, I don’t think that’s necessary, but I know that perhaps there are some in the industry that do, but you know, that’s a whole other area. But I think that hands-on, sort of on-the-job training is so useful. And also editing, it’s remarkably collaborative, for something that seems quite solitary. And so that’s yeah, it’s great to hear that experience and hear how much other editors do support emerging editors, who then flourish into running their, like you are, you know, running your own organisation as well. (Crosstalk) But yeah, so you’ve talked about that collaboration—how important is that to you personally and to Liminal itself as an organisation, in terms of collaborating with others and also other arts orgs, too?

Leah Jing McIntosh: Oh, so much, gosh. So much—I mean, one of our guiding goals, I suppose, would be just like, kind of creating stuff with and for one another. So, it just really means so much to me that others are excited about Liminal. I didn’t expect it. And I think that’s part of why I needed to do it, because this—I mean, structuralised racism and internalised racism makes you feel like you’re not worthy, you shouldn’t be listened to… you shouldn’t really be there. So I’m always kind of slightly surprised when people know what Liminal is, let alone want to work with me. Which is like, I mean I’m…yeah, I’m not trying to be humble. I’m just like, what? (Laughs) Every time someone’s like, ‘hey, let’s do a thing’, I’m like, ‘what? How do you know who I am?’ You know, it’s like when someone recognises you with a mask on, (Rebecca laughs) you’re like, ‘what? I thought I was completely disguised’. But, yeah, I’m just really honoured to work with the people that I do work with. And, I mean, so that’s Cher Tan, who’s the books editor at Meanjin now, Adalya Nash Hussein is also a Liminal editor, and she edits Voiceworks. There’s Adolfo, who I mentioned, there’s Danny Silva Soberano, who’s a poet, and then, like, an incredible kind of almost collective of photographers and writers and artists kind of come together. A very—yeah, a very, very informal collective, I think, of people who are interested in this mood or feeling of making stuff together with and for one another.

Rebecca Starford: Yeah. Fantastic. So when it comes to then finding new writers, what’s the approach that you guys have there? Because, like we’ve been talking about, you know, there’s the more curated sort of content around the interviews, but then you’ve been creating some new initiatives as well. Would you tell us a little bit about how you seek out new voices?

Leah Jing McIntosh: Yeah. So it’s actually… (Laughs) I would say it’s quite haphazard. Often we get pitches, often people, like, we find people through other literary magazines. So sometimes if there’s a really promising very young or emerging writer, Adalya will sometimes be like, hey, Voiceworks has been approached by this person, but they’re incredible, let’s also see if we can work with them for another thing. Often we’ll be recommended to interview or commission someone. In a way, I mean, it’s incredibly organic but also responsive. Like, I would say, like, we set out often to—there’s like, half of the interviews are kind of planned throughout the year, and then the other half often are just like someone slips in and is like, ‘hey, I really love this person’s work, and I notice they’re not in there’. I’m like, ‘cool, are you interested in writing an interview?’ And they’ll be like, ‘what?’ Some really sweet writer, a young writer emailed and I was like, ‘oh, yeah, cool, the artist fee is this much’, and they were like, ‘what? I have to pay that to get published?’ And I was like, no! (Laughs)

Rebecca Starford: Oh wow! (Laughs)

Leah Jing McIntosh: Please let me pay you! So just like, yeah, I would say it’s a bit more chaotic than, like, a publishing house or even a bigger literary publication because we often rely on specific grant rounds or grant funding that are…like capsules, essentially, so we’re like, ‘okay, we have enough money to commission eight people, who is doing interesting work?’ And we bring together the whole team and we brainstorm and see who will fit with whom, and who’s busy right now, or if we’ve heard about anyone new. But I think we used to have a form on the website, but, um, due to some stuff like hate mail… (Laughs)

Rebecca Starford: Oh, god, no, really?

Leah Jing McIntosh: Yeah. I have disabled it, because there are some privacy concerns when you deal with antiracist action. So it’s a bit more tricky, but we try as hard as we can to be as open as possible and to not gatekeep, I think, is the main guiding goal with how we commission, is thinking through who we have worked with, and who we would like to, and who we don’t know exists, kind of, and being—acknowledging that there are real gaps and trying to actively fill them.

Rebecca Starford: Yeah. And I think too, I can imagine for you guys, because I know this is, you know, an issue for us at KYD. I mean, it’s a sheer quantity of material that comes through as well. And you want to make sure that you’re reading everything closely and responding in a timely way, but the logistics is really hard. So yeah, I think those are the decisions, you know, I imagine that also are kind of important to consider. And it’s interesting as well, because I think on the outside sometimes there’s the perception that an organisation is much larger than it really is, (Both laugh) and you know, we’ve got our office space, you know, in the CBD or whatever, and we’re not all working out of, currently from home, and all that sort of thing. So it’s nice in some ways to be mistaken for that scope, but you know, sometimes it needs to be sort of reminded as well. So what other publications do you really enjoy reading, that perhaps align with some of the stuff that you’re doing there at Liminal, but maybe also kind of are operating in different directions. It would be great to hear what’s on your reading list.

Leah Jing McIntosh: Just my number one favourite journal, Kill Your Darlings.

Rebecca Starford: Oh, good answer! Yes, I’m enjoying this chat very much. (Both laugh)

Leah Jing McIntosh: Done, the podcast is done! I genuinely think KYD is a really important publication. I saw that you guys did a callout recently for happy or positive non-fiction during the pandemic, and it was just so cute and so gentle, and it was just really on the pulse of what everyone needed. And I was like, yes, this is everything.

Rebecca Starford: Oh, I know, and we’ve got some good happy things coming out as well, which is great. So yeah, hopefully some smiles.

Leah Jing McIntosh: Oh, I love—yeah. No more trauma ever again, I just want to feel soft and gentle. Lately I personally have been trying really hard and failing most of the time to read the New York Review of Books and the London Review of Books cover to cover. Just because I love literary criticism and the voices in those, between those pages, and the ledes are often really funny. Just thinking through what could mean to extend kind of Australian literary criticism into more of that space, I’m interested, and there’s a project coming up that I won’t talk about here, but it’s coming.

Rebecca Starford: Oh, intriguing!

Leah Jing McIntosh: I adore the Sydney Review of Books. I think what Catri is doing there is just phenomenal. And I’m excited for The Circular, which is being headed by Tiff Tsao. Just, it’s so cool. It just really gives me heart for what the lit scene can look like. And then a book that I have been really adoring lately has been Homework by Snack Syndicate, which is Astrid Lorange and Andrew Brooks, which I think—and this is a big, oof, I think it might be one of my favourite, like my favourite Australian book in the last few years.

Rebecca Starford: Fantastic.

Leah Jing McIntosh: Yeah, it’s so good. But yeah, just thinking through like, literary criticism and what it means to kind of take the pulse of the community. Yeah. I love reading. I could go on all day about what I’m currently reading.

Rebecca Starford: No, I know. It’s always good to get some tips and hints, and again, yeah, really interested to see what it is that you enjoy reading so much, because it’s always wonderful to hear. Okay. So you’ve alluded to some very exciting things going on behind the scenes, which maybe we’ll talk about in future. But um, let’s talk about some of the stuff that you’ve done recently at Liminal and is coming up soon that are offering what are absolutely fantastic, all the writing opportunities, but also editing and mentoring and commissioning opportunities as well, which I think is so important in terms of developing new and emerging editors into this space. The Collisions anthology was a huge success. Can you talk a little bit—well, it’s absolutely fantastic. And you’ve obviously developed a really great relationship with Pantera Press there up in Sydney, too, which you know, you’re partnering with those guys now with the essay connection. Can you tell us a little bit about both of those books, and how, the work that was involved in that and how the partnerships works?

Leah Jing McIntosh: Of course. So Collisions actually came from… (Laughs) I was procrastinating back in 2018, and I was like, I wonder what Australian literary prizes there are, and who they have been won by? And it’s funny because you were on the steering committee for the Stella, so I think you have experienced that similar thing where you’re looking at these lists and you’re like, what is this? (Laughs) Like, who are the people on these lists, and like, why do they kind of all sound the same?

Rebecca Starford: Yeah.

Leah Jing McIntosh: And yeah, so I feel like the Stella is kind of born out of that similar, very similar thing of being like, ‘huh! Yes, this could be done better!’ (Laughs) So I was looking at these lists and I drew up—like, my dad has a PhD in maths, so I of course dropped some graphs…

Rebecca Starford: Oh, wow. That is incredible. That’s amazing.

Leah Jing McIntosh: So silly. (Rebecca laughs) But there’s some—the stats, so in 2018—oh, it was wild. It was like, 43 years after the prize was founded, they finally awarded the Miles Franklin to an Indigenous writer, Kim Scott. And then 20 years after that—it took 20, that’s like 63 years it took for, like two Indigenous authors to be—so like, Tara June Winch and Tony Birch to be chosen for the same shortlist. And I was just kind of like, what is happening? So I was like, you know what? I am not going to complain, I’m going to do something. I was like, all right, let’s apply for some money. And so I applied to the Australia Council, and I was like, ‘hi, I’d like to run a fiction prize just for people of colour’, and they gave me some money, and I was like, all right, I’m going to run this prize. And then I was like, you know what? What if instead of just one person winning, we could have everyone on the longlist published? And initially I was working with Brow Books before they folded last year. And then once they folded, and we were left without a publisher, I was like, oh, God, (Laughs) I have this book!

Rebecca Starford: Oh, stressful, yeah.

Leah Jing McIntosh: What do we do? But luckily, the Australian literary industry kind of really looked out for all of the authors who had been signed to the Brow, and so many books have been picked up by incredible publishing houses. And one of them was Pantera picking us up, which—we’re so lucky, they really guided us through the entire editorial process with such a kind and generous hand. And I kind of was like, ‘I really want this cover, I really want to bring my designer’, and they were like, ‘yeah, of course, like, this is your vision, and we’re here to support it’. And I was just absolutely stoked to work with Lex Hirst and Ali Green, and just kind of push this out into the world. I’ve been so overwhelmed by the response to Collisions—like Kill Your Darlings did a little review, which was so nice. (Rebecca laughs) But, yeah, it was just like, for someone, or for people who, kind of like—the whole team didn’t really grow up with seeing ourselves represented in books, really. And so to create this book has been just really special. So we worked with Pantera on that, and then afterwards I was kind of like, ‘hey, guys! (Laughs) What do you think about another book?’

Rebecca Starford: Let’s do it again, yeah, great!

Leah Jing McIntosh: Yeah, they were just like, ‘hell yeah, let’s do it’. And they’ve supported the prize through their foundation, because they’re really interested in like, kind of advocating for underrepresented voices, which is so exciting for a publishing house. So we’ve been partnering with Pantera and Writers Vic to create that prize, and we’ve just announced the shortlist, and we will announce the winners in a couple of weeks. So, yeah, I’m very, ahh!

Rebecca Starford: Yeah, watch this space. Fantastic, and I mean, incredible shortlist. And I’m not sure exactly on your dates for announcement, but this podcast will be coming out in about mid November, so maybe we’ll know by then…

Leah Jing McIntosh: Ah, maybe you will! (Laughs)

Rebecca Starford: (Crosstalk) Grand announcement. That’s fantastic. And tell me about the writing commissions and editorial mentorships you’ve got going, partnering with SA Writers. I mean, this is really, really exciting, I think. How did this idea come about and then come to fruition?

Leah Jing McIntosh: So Writers SA, which is headed by Jessica Alice, who’s just an absolute powerhouse and is just, yeah, incredible, approached me. And Jess was like, ‘yeah, let’s have a meeting, I’d love to see what we could do,’ because we had been publishing and commissioning art, and kind of collaborating with other writers’ centres like the Centre for Stories, to do some little projects. And we met with Jess and kind of thought through what it would mean to not only do writing commissions, but bring on emerging writers—sorry, editors of colour to work with the Liminal editors on the actual writing projects. So there would be two tiers of writing and editing, and kind of bringing together South Australian writers with Liminal, because we’ve never really…we’ve always had such a Melbourne and Sydney focus just by virtue of who would reach out to us, that I fear Adelaide has been unfairly maligned.

Rebecca Starford: (Laughs) What, the city of churches and murders? Never! (Crosstalk) It’s a beautiful place.

Leah Jing McIntosh: Beautiful, those big, shiny balls in the city. (Rebecca laughs) I honestly cannot wait, because we’re going to go over if we can next year to launch it. And just to be there will be so special. So yeah, so we just kind of talked it through, we brought Liz Flux on, because we’ve been working with her for years, so it made a lot of sense to get such a seasoned editor on as a mentor. And Cher Tan is the other mentor. And we were just like, look, let’s see how this goes, let’s see if—like, in one sense, I’m always worried when you kind of approach a new city or a new environment that we don’t, like, I don’t want to do the wrong thing? Like what if there are already things in place? What if they should have gotten money? But hopefully in this process we will at least be able to upskill some people, at least be able to publish some really amazing fiction and non-fiction and in doing so, hopefully those writers who are in SA can then have and create a more lasting relationship with their writers’ centre and with Liminal in Melbourne.

Rebecca Starford: Yeah, that’s fantastic. And I mean, the thing is too, like you say, there tends to be a concentration of activity in Melbourne and Sydney, I think just because this is where we happen to be based, the organisations and the populations, but you know, someone like Adelaide, such a rich and diverse mix of writers and editors out there. And you know, I think this is, it’s just a really great initiative, not only for people based over there, but for other readers around Australia, because that’s the thing about these sorts of initiatives and organisations like Liminal, is the reach is national, and I daresay international as well, so. (Leah laughs) But you know, that’s the thing that I’ve found really interesting about KYD since we’ve transitioned online, is that that reach does extend now so far and so wide, and often in really unexpected places. So I think it’s such a fantastic, fantastic program. What an opportunity. So we’ve been talking a little bit about publishing and the initiatives that you’re talking about and how this then feeds into a lot of the conversations that you have Liminal, but also that are happening in other elements of our industry, about the structural inequalities that exist within publishing, within the arts industry and obviously within, you know, Australian society more generally. So how important do you think literary magazines are with their increasing reach? You know, I mean, obviously it’s all within a certain sort of perspective within the literary community, but social media does a lot of work in sort of pushing and generating ideas to a wide audience. But how important do you think litmags are in shaping these discussions about Australian publishing, and also at times demanding some accountability about particular decision making around the issues of racial inequality, and representation and everything like that.

Leah Jing McIntosh: Yeah. I’m not sure if I have a super interesting answer for this. I think you have to believe that what you’re doing, whether it is writing or editing or publishing, is staking at least a small claim or shifting the conversation even just a little bit, even just for one person towards a better, more equitable future. So if that’s in demanding accountability, yes. I think if you have any kind of platform, whether you’re a literary magazine or not, that helps. But again, this is really a question of power—who holds it and how do they wield it? So yeah, I think literary magazines are both really important, and not important at all.

Rebecca Starford: Oh, crushing! (Both laugh)

Leah Jing McIntosh: But you have to hold those two truths and just do the work that feels right. And yeah, you know this. Like, Kill Your Darlings has been around for over a decade, and it is really important. But it’s always, I always think about, there are no life or death emergencies in the arts. I love that line—it’s just, there aren’t! And I wonder if I’ve been thinking a lot about what it would mean to have a kind of life or death emergency in the arts and what that would look like.

Rebecca Starford: Yeah, it seems that there are a lot of resuscitations that seems like…but anyway, that applies to many sort of elements of our industry as well. Yeah, I think it’s right—I mean, I was thinking about this. And I mean, it’s so great to have this conversation, it’s so great to have this conversation with you, to be talking about Liminal and the work that Liminal does, because it is so important, and it’s important for—you know, and I say this from my perspective, it’s important we talked about this nature of this collective and the community that’s been drawn in, and that is—I mean that is so fantastic and so important, that that space has been created. But what Liminal has done, certainly for me personally, and also at Kill Your Darlings, we have a lot of conversations about the ideas that are generated in Liminal and how they reflect on what we do as an organisation, and also a lot of the structural problems that exist within our own organisation as well. And that confrontation is challenging, it’s uncomfortable, it’s awkward, but it’s crucial. And that’s why I think, you know, oftentimes it can be really difficult to talk openly and honestly about how an organisation like KYD, which has different origin stories, has different intentions, while at the same time, like you just said, so wonderfully, trying to change the experience for one person at a time—how it is that we can do better, keep listening, be agile and adjust structurally. Sometimes I feel like literary magazines or small arts organisations more generally, my experience is only in the literary world, I feel like there’s a lot of heavy lifting that happens sort of at the ground level, whereas I would like more I would like it to be spread more evenly, right?

Leah Jing McIntosh: That would be nice.

Rebecca Starford: Do you think, you know, those that have power or wield power—this isn’t specifically targeting any organisations or any individuals, but do you think there is some of that sense of urgency, or even emergency? Is this something that you think is being listened to from those who are kind of operating in bigger organisations who can actually really, really have fundamental influence?

Leah Jing McIntosh: Um, I think yes or no. Like…Liminal, I have and Liminal has benefited enormously from arts workers who are seeing what we’re doing and then ask me to be on a panel or then like, ‘hey, here’s some money, like, let’s see what you can do with this.’ Or I’ve been told that some people, like, comb our archives for panel guests, or for commissions, or just to find new talent. So that’s exciting. So just even the fact that there are people out there in different organisations who are willing to support Liminal and the people who make part of it and part of this kind of yeah, informal, very loose collective. That’s thrilling to me, that’s so exciting. And I think it speaks to change, but also just to learning, just to people being open and people being willing to think through what structures have helped them, and how they can then turn back—like, walk through that door, turn back and pull someone else up. I think, and obviously this is very general, and there are many issues with people who don’t do that, or issues with diversity as kind of simply an aesthetic or a box to tick. But I think generally it’s been so heartening to see the support and the shifts that have been happening in the last five years. I feel so lucky to have started doing this work kind of at a point where people were ready for it.

Rebecca Starford: Yeah. Fantastic. And I mean, that’s the thing, there’s that question we’ve been talking a lot about kind of about commissioning and content, and then there’s the framework of an organisation as well. And I was really interested, so I was reading back over some of the interviews that you published there in Liminal, and I’m going to read back work that you’ll be familiar with, but I mean, you know, I could have quoted from many an interview. But this particular—actually, I read this interview about three times because I just thought, it was very, it’s just fantastic. So I’m going to read a quote from it, but it’s from Radhiah Chowdhury, who’s an author and commissioning editor and the senior audiobook producer at Penguin Random House. So she was interviewed in Liminal back May, and she said of the idea of an equitable and sustainable publishing industry. She was asked about, you know, the nature of this, whether this would happen in her lifetime, and this was her response. ‘I’m not at all optimistic that it’s going to happen, because it requires people with power and privilege to sacrifice them for the sake of an abstract cause, without any promise of a measurable return or reward. Every time anything relating to the inequity of this or any industry comes up, we never seem to be able to get past relitigating whether racism even exists. We can’t even get the powerful majority in this industry to really agree—I’m not counting PR lip service—that representative publishing has any value, let alone convince them to give up some of their power to make space for us. I acknowledge it’s a massive ask, but that’s kind of the point. There can be no equity without the powerful ceding some power. It’s killed me to see how many times, how many—sorry—indie presses and new imprints have been launched over the past 18 months, helmed by white people, of course, with the opportunity to actually do something better and change the game. Each one has actively chosen to keep doing the same old shit.’ I just think that that’s such a powerful distillation, I think, of sort of what we’re talking about as well, and it does highlight that there is so much work still to be done, you know, that the building blocks of an organisation, in a sense, for some organisations do need to be taken apart and put back together again, really addressing some of these, some of these issues as well. And I think it’s so important, and this is the value of Liminal and the work that you do there, in keeping on reminding the industry of this necessity as well. So, I encourage listeners to read all of the interviews in Liminal, but this one in particular, it’s really affecting, it’s very powerful and completely unflinching in the analysis of what’s going on.

Leah Jing McIntosh: Radhiah’s, that interview is—I feel so lucky that she gave us that interview, really. There’s this part where she explains that publishing houses just have not been built for us. And I think she says, like, at some point in the life of a book, a writer of colour will come up against a wall of whiteness that will leave a mark. And yeah, I think, obviously, there’s no answer, there’s no, (Laughs), there’s no, like, ‘you should do this’, but I’m like, I’m always thinking about what that mark is and what we could do to shift or change or delete or erase that mark, or make sure that mark doesn’t happen. And I think in a way, I have been fairly unscathed because I don’t work in a major publishing house like Penguin Random House. I, you know, whether it’s silly or not, started this alone and have brought people along and they’ve all been kind of, they’ve all collected kind of through the same feeling. And that is so lucky, and it allows us to publish pieces like this. And yeah, it’s just why I really love doing this project, in that we can publish these incisive and generous and thoughtful conversations. And yeah, Radhi’s note is like, it is very stressful. (Both laugh) She’s like—that whole paragraph, I just, please imprint it on the back of everyone’s eyelids, you know? I feel very lucky she gave us that interview, and I really would encourage everyone to go, to go have a look at it because it’s, it’s…yeah, it’s very good.

Rebecca Starford: Yeah, absolutely. We’ll put a link, we’ll put a link to that on the episode page for listeners. But yeah, I mean—it’s a very honest portrait. I think the thing, too, is we’ve been talking a little bit about this—small organisations, independent organisations, culture is different, not always good culture, but it tends, there is also a nimbleness, I think, or a capacity—it’s certainly been my experience—to make changes and be responsive. Both quickly, but also quite, you know, quite, kind of fundamentally as well, because just by your sheer size. Whereas if we talk, you know, if we’re talking about publishing, Australian publishing as a big sort of entity, it’s a big spectrum there. So yeah, we’ve got big corporations and their whole corporate culture, which, you know, is a whole other kind of minefield as well. You know, not necessarily bad, but it’s just different operations and structures of power within power that exists there, too, versus independent publishing. But yeah, these are big and complex issues. Do you think that—yeah, do you share Radhiah’s concerns that this change won’t happen? Do you think the industry as a whole, whatever that means, can and will continue listening, you know, in, say, ten years or so? Because we do, there are programs like the one that we’ve just spoken about, Liminal, you know, training editors of colour to begin careers and to start and continue moving through the industry as well. But there is that question of time, isn’t there, to really correct those inequalities.

Leah Jing McIntosh: Lately I have been sitting with Cornell West’s writing on hope and Back radicalism, and he writes back in the 1980s, ‘Black Radicalism hopes against hope, if only to hold out the dream of freedom in a never-never land, in order to survive in the deplorable present.’ So I’m just interested in this texture of hope and like, acknowledging that maybe the powerful will never cede their power. But in order for, I mean, even just me personally to live with myself, just doing the work that I can do in order to try to carve out the future that I wish did exist is really important. And I think that’s where this hope against hope kind of comes in. In that, like, maybe it won’t be a future that exists, but if you don’t work for it, then it really can’t be one.

Rebecca Starford: Yeah, absolutely. And thank you for sharing that quote as well, that’s fantastic. So we’ve spoken about these structural issues as well, and you talked a little bit about the day-to-day workings of Liminal and sort of funding revenues as well. How difficult is it, you know, in its sort of general sense, running a small literary organisation in Australia right now? What are the…(Laughs) I know we can’t speak forever. We’ll have to, you know, 3 hours. (Leah laughs) But what are some of the challenges that you find—but also on the flip side, you know, some of the unexpected joys of working and running your own publication in the way that you do?

Leah Jing McIntosh: I mean, obviously a problem is always capitalism and capital, literal capital. Funding is very difficult for arts orgs, it’s only getting more difficult. We are applying for funding for next year, so, yeah, it’s always just a bit of an odd waiting game where you pour out so much of your emotional and intellectual labour into a grant application and send it off, and hope for the best. I remember seeing a panel with the editor Mary Beard, who was editor at the London Review of Books for quite some time, and she kind of, she was asked about how possible it was to run the LRB and if they made any money, and she just laughed, she was just like, ‘no, absolutely not’. (Rebecca laughs) Like, ‘we barely break even.’ And that’s why they opened the London Review of Books Bookshop and adjoining cake shop. And it was like…

Rebecca Starford: Oh, right!

Leah Jing McIntosh: This acknowledgement that they couldn’t really make that much money from this, like, internationally renowned leading literary magazine. And I think at that moment, it was before I started Liminal, and I was like, ah, fuck! (Both laugh) But I think from the very start I’ve always known it’s fairly, like, commercially unviable, unless I have you know, a few major donors like, I think the Australian Book Review have some really big donors, and then a bunch of other magazines have found four-year or two-year funding. It’s that kind of thing where you kind of just have to be in the right place at the right time with the right people.

Rebecca Starford: Yeah.

Leah Jing McIntosh: So that’s always difficult. I’m sad that these ideas must always be anchored in finding money, finding funding. But that’s just the truth of it. And are there any unexpected joys? Oh, Lord, there’s so many joys! (Both laugh) Yeah. I’m overwhelmed with the joy—I think most of the time, my real joy is finding people who have found other people through Liminal, like, people who have found good friends or best friends, or even their partner through Liminal. And that’s, like, that’s so cool. I love that we’ve created that kind of community.

Rebecca Starford: That’s amazing! So I guess another revenue stream, potentially for Liminal, since you’ve already set people up with their future partners, could be an online dating… (Leah laughs) In the past, pre-pandemic, they used to have, like, literary speed dating.

Leah Jing McIntosh: And you’re not the first person to ask me about this!

Rebecca Starford: There you go, we’re on a winner!

Leah Jing McIntosh: We already run our little events, just come along and find the love of your life, and read them some, you know, cute little poems.

Rebecca Starford: Literary launch slash dating, like, online dating. Yeah, I mean, they are kind of the same thing, aren’t they.

Leah Jing McIntosh: (Laughs) You got it! You got it in one.

Rebecca Starford: It’s going to be good when everything reopens in 2022, people are going to be happy again. So tell me, are there any dream authors that you would like to work with at Liminal that haven’t already appeared in the magazine?

Leah Jing McIntosh: I have been saying this whole time that I would love to interview Lee Lin Chin. I just think she would have so many stories. She’s my white whale. (Rebecca laughs) No, she’s not—she’s a beautiful, wonderful woman. She’s not a whale.

Rebecca Starford: Surely this can happen, surely this can happen, I mean…

Leah Jing McIntosh: I have been saying it all over the place, I’m waiting for her to contact me.

Rebecca Starford: Oh, I see, okay, that’s the way these things happen.

Leah Jing McIntosh: You put it out into the world, and it will come back to you.

Rebecca Starford: Okay, all right. I can’t wait to see that.

Leah Jing McIntosh: A cease and desist from Lee Lin Chin.

Rebecca Starford: (Laughs) Yeah, it’s like, yeah, how is that being communicated? That’s so funny. She’s on Twitter, isn’t she? Do some outreach…

Leah Jing McIntosh: I feel like I would be so worried I would be rejected. I could never, you know? It’s just one of those things that will never happen. But I’ll always dream about it.

Rebecca Starford: All right, stay tuned, readers, for that coup coming up. And look, we are fast running out of time, sadly, I would love to keep talking forever, but I wanted to know before we wrap up, what you’re working on now, because it’s bound to be really interesting and exciting.

Leah Jing McIntosh: Well, we’re currently in the process of putting our second volume to print. So I, oh, it contains essays, interviews with people like Jenny Kee, Tony Ayres, Fuzzy, there’s new fiction by Julie Koh, there’s some poems by Bella Li and Omar Sakr, it’s just… Wow, wow! It’s gonna be, it’s been in the works for like three years, and COVID shifted around some stuff, but it should be out by December, and I am ready to hold it in my hands.

Rebecca Starford: That’s amazing, congrats!

Leah Jing McIntosh: I want it! (Laughs)

Rebecca Starford: Yeah, fantastic. Okay, so we’ll keep an eye out from December. That’s going to be brilliant. Well, look, Leah, I’m sorry we’ve run out of time, but thank you so much for talking with the podcast today.

Leah Jing McIntosh: Oh thank you!

Rebecca Starford: It’s been so lovely. Good luck with the rest of the year there in Melbourne to you and the Liminal team. And yeah, hopefully we can catch up at some point in person.

Leah Jing McIntosh: Have some real pub talk. (Laughs)

Rebecca Starford: Yes, that would be, oh my god. Pubs, beers, literary chats, pals, (Laughs) it’s the whole shebang.

Alice Cottrell: Thanks for listening to this episode of Pub Talk. If you’re keen to learn more about Australian publishing and writing opportunities, check out the KYD website at And if you haven’t already, please consider subscribing to the podcast and leaving a review. We’d be very grateful. Catch you next time.