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Arts & Culture

KEEPING FAMILY CLOSE: A NOVEL IDEA

“I’m still shocked,” Lisa Fuller says, when asked how she feels about winning a black&write Fellowship through the State Library of Queensland.

Each year black&write offers two fellowships for unpublished manuscripts by Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander writers, who then work with a black&write editor in training to prepare their work for publication. This year, one of the prize winners is Lisa, a PhD student at the University of Canberra.

Lisa is a Wuilli Wuilli woman, also descended from Wakka Wakka and Gooreng Gooreng peoples, and it was her family connection and commitment to staying close to her nieces in Eidsvold, Queensland that inspired her fellowship-winning story, Washpool.

“The book started about three years ago. I was missing my nieces a lot, so I would write a chapter and a letter to them (the book is about them) and if they wanted the next chapter, they had to write me back with a letter and some drawings,” Lisa says.

“Sadly, the girls lost interest, but I got their permission to finish the book. My first goal of the year was to finish Washpool and send it off.”

Writing a novel is not an easy task, but Lisa’s commitment to keeping a family connection, and using that as a driving force, encouraged the process.

“I had a lot of fun writing this with my nieces. I’ve still got all their letters and drawings in a little binder, and it’s so inspiring to go back to.”

Growing up in Eidsvold, it was the town’s limited book collection that sparked Lisa’s interest in speculative fiction.

“Our council library was literally one bookshelf in the council offices and the school library was mostly young kids’ books, they didn’t really have much of a teenager section. And while they did have Australian fiction, there was basically no one of colour in any of the books.

“It’s kind of why my interest in speculative fiction took off, because it deals with issues like otherness and discrimination and issues between different types of people, which I could relate to. Writing this stuff, it’s just writing for my cousins and nieces and nephews and wanting to give them something to relate to – but also wanting to give them something to be proud of.”

Lisa Fuller profile

The value of the black&write fellowship is profound for Lisa, who admits that winning took the pressure off and allowed her time to write.

“As we know, writers make so little. Without fellowships like this, it would turn into a really elitist thing, where you could only have people who could afford it, writing. Whereas winning something like this meant I could give up on some of the nine part time jobs I was doing and have more time to write.”

The fellowship is also recognised as an important opportunity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the publishing sector.

“The importance of this fellowship is immeasurable. It not only provides a platform for training more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander editors, which is sorely needed, but it also means you get a culturally safe environment for editors and writers to begin their careers together,” Lisa says.

“I’m really excited to see what it will be like to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander editors. I think I’m in very safe hands with Grace, Jasmin and Allanah.”

Lisa is currently undertaking her PhD in Creative Writing, with her project ‘Stepping lightly (An informed rejection): One Murri researcher/creator, her community and the academy’. This project is an iterative process exploring her creative, cultural and research practices through readings and engagement in academia.

Lisa is exploring the spaces between these issues, and her place within them as an Aboriginal woman, researcher and creator from community but no longer living there.

While conducting her PhD research, having Washpool edited, and preparing for the publication of her other novel, Ghost Bird, Lisa is still shocked that her draft submission to black&write went so well.  

“I never thought I would win. And bloody hell I did.”

Lisa’s first book, Ghost Bird, is available for pre-order here.

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