Reading and writing in 2019

Another New Year, another book tally… which tells me that I read 127 books over the course of 2019 (twenty shy of last year’s personal best). That means I read a total of 753 books during the 2010s decade, averaging just over 75/year or almost 1.4/week during that time.

Two years back into my consultancy, my looser freelance lifestyle continues to pay dividends: with 2019 helping me achieve my best client-work/writing-work balance of my career so far.

Fave reads and recommendations

Damon Gameau’s 2040: A Handbook for the Regeneration (based on the film of the same name) was exactly the book that I needed at exactly the right time, as was Unladylike by Cristin Conger and Caroline Ervin: two right-on manuals for right-now living. Behrouz Boochani’s No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison also made it to the top of my list: all three books a telling treatise on the state of the world, and our search for answers within it.

On a lighter (but no less important) note, another favourite was Cheeky Dogs: To Lake Nash and back again by Dion Beasley and Johanna Bell, the extraordinary illustrated memoir that was one of the many reasons I nominated Dion for his successful National Arts and Disability Award in 2019.

Australian Women Writers Challenge

My reading list included 78 books by Australian women writers (61% of my reading total) for the #AWW2019 challenge, which also involved posting micro-reviews on Twitter and Instagram. Highlights for the year not already listed above include: An Uncertain Grace by Krissy Kneen (extraordinary, erotic and cerebral futurist cli-fi), Too Much Lip by Melissa Lukashenko (on totems, trauma, coming home and taking the fight to where it’s needed) and The Fragments by Toni Jordan (a vivid and compelling fictional literary mystery ranging from 1930s New York to 1980s Brisbane). I also had the chance to read a number of wonderful works in progress that I can’t wait to see out in the world.

We Need Diverse Books

I recorded 35 books as part of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks challenge (28% of my reading total): “books where people of colour can be first-page HEROES rather than second-class citizens. Books in which LGBTQIA characters can represent social CHANGE rather than social problems. And books where people with disability can be just… people.” Highlights not already listed above include: Black is the New White by Nakkiah Liu (the funny, startling and political play script I would later have the pleasure to see performed in person), Blak Work by Alison Whittaker (an insightful and sobering collection of intricate and evocative memoir and cleverly simple yet excoriating expose) and The Lost Arabs by Omar Sakr (an extraordinary collection of poems about place, identity and personal/family politics).

Love Oz YA

I also read 46 Loveozya books (36% of my reading total). Highlights for the year include: Invisible Boys by Holden Sheppard (a grim, gritty, sad and sexy story about coming out – or not – in a small country town) and Prisoncorp by Marlee Jane Ward (the third and final novella in her extraordinary Orphancorp series). I was also happy to support Love Oz YA’s efforts towards relaunch in 2019, and couldn’t be more thrilled to hear it’s here to stay.

#AmReadingRomance

Attempting to write my own romance novel has seen me increase my reading intake of the same. This romantic reading romp has been a sweet, sexy and fascinating process. Again and again, it has reminded me of the increased pressure on writers of romance and erotica – not only to entertain, not only to write satisfying storylines using satisfying prose, but also to guide their readers through the minefield of their own desires.

It has also been fascinating to observe my own genre policing: my initial reluctance to post floridly romantic or erotic covers in my #AmReading feeds, the shocked responses of friends at seeing them alongside more literary titles, and my hesitation (now overcome) to admit I am writing the same. Once again, I have found myself grateful for one of last year’s reading faves, No Way! Okay, Fine. by Brodie Lancaster: a pop-culture memoir that helped me drop the ‘guilty’ from my many ‘guilty pleasures’.

For me, the YA and queer romance genres consistently lead the charge in terms of progressive storylines and storytelling techniques, as epitomised in Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (a sweet, sexy rom com about the First Son of the United States falling in love with the youngest Prince of England).

However, the diversity (or lack thereof) of the broader romance genre has been a scorching hot topic over the past few weeks, thanks to the ongoing implosion of Romance Writers of America. The implications of this racism-in-romance debate on Australian romance writers and readers is wonderfully summarised in this Twitter thread from Kate Cuthbert, which also goes some way to articulating my discomfort with Australia’s publishing success story: ruro (rural romance, or ‘chook lit’, to use my favourite term). “Here is where inherent racism comes in again because the vision of what rurality is, what agriculture is, what constitutes ‘being of the land’ in these books is also thoroughly colonial, and thoroughly white – no other cultural backgrounds included, aboriginal or otherwise,” she writes.

Thinking about the place of Australian romance writing in an international context has also been fascinating in the lead-up to my Romance Writers of Australia workshop on Building Your Online Profile in March. With more money to be made in ‘love hungry United States and Europe’, Aussie romance writers seem to be much less likely to own their Australianism than writers of other genres. This can make actively seeking them out a challenge (though the Australian Women Writers Challenge publishes monthly romance round-ups and Bookthingo has republished an old list from the RWAus website).

2019 in Writing

My writing year was underscored with my work on The Relationship is the Project: working alongside Jade Lillie and team as contributor, co-editor and project manager. Advance copies of the book are now available on the Brow Books website.

I spent eight months of the year as the Art Works writer in residence with Guildhouse and the City of Adelaide, working alongside artists Brad Lay and Negative Space within Adelaide’s Minor Works Building. Plus two intense weekends in Canberra as part of the ACT Writers Centre’s unparalleled Hardcopy program (which will be ‘rested’ in 2020 while we await news of its future). And an 11-hour writing marathon on a self-imposed railway writing retreat between Adelaide and Melbourne.

Thanks to all this writing time, I managed to finished the first draft of the poetry collection I began during my Asialink residency in Hong Kong last year, the first draft of my erotic romance novel (thanks to the manuscript assessment genius of Laurie Steed – Author), and finally worked out what I’m writing towards with my travel memoir (and what I’m not willing to compromise along the way).

I also ran writing workshops for Writers SAGuildhouse and Writers Victoria, talked about writing at the Access2Arts disabled writers’ forum, waxed lyrical about reading for Blackwood Books’ social media campaign and arts advocacy for the Arts Industry Council of South Australia. I published articles on topics including best practice arts language and how to be the best chairperson or board member you can be, and wrote a whole lot of client funding applications (with a remarkably high return). I also self-published two family books for Xmas and edited another one for another family.

Finally, after 10 years of writing and posting (at least) one #tinylittlepoem a day, I quietly stopped. It was an extraordinary digital poetry adventure that took me and my poetry all over the world, and that resulted in a very large body of very small work. I am awed and grateful for the publications, commissions, residencies and opportunities that arose as a result, as well as for the online poetry community of which I’m so proud to be a part. Of course, while the daily publication pressure may be done with, my poetry practice goes on.

#AmReading and #AmWriting (a lot)

2019 raised the bar once again, and I am proud of the balance it found between reading, writing and working (assisted by a high proportion of writing-related work).

The new year will include the Melbourne launch of The Relationship is the Project, workshops for Guildhouse and Romance Writers of Australia, and new articles coming out in Meanjin and Overland.

May it also make all of your reading and writing dreams come true.

Author: katelarsenkeys

Arts, Cultural & Non-Profit Consultant. Reader. Writer (Our Hybrid Future, The Relationship is the Project). Researching the art of arts governance. larsenkeys.com.au