Next up for Miles Franklin winner Melissa Lucashenko...
What does a PhD in Creative Arts give an already multi award-winning author?
Goorie author Melissa Lucashenko’s novel Too Much Lip attracted lots of love in 2019, including two major literary awards. In June, Melissa won the Miles Franklin Literary Award, and more recently she took home the Premier’s Award at the Queensland Literary Awards. Melissa has brought her talents to UTS to undertake a PhD in Creative Arts, and we’re curious to know more about her writing experience thus far, and what she hopes to gain from her PhD.
How did you feel when you found out you won the Miles Franklin?
Happy! And a lot richer! (laughs) Actually I was really astounded.
What was your inspiration for Too Much Lip?
Mainly the women I’ve worked with at Sisters Inside in Brisbane, which is for women who have been in and out of the criminal justice system in Queensland for reasons of poverty, and racism, and often just sheer bad luck.
How does your heritage influence your writing?
My heritage is the bedrock of everything I do. It comes back to being a blackfella, which might sound funny with a last name like mine. I’ve been brought up by elders of the Brisbane and northern New South Wales communities for the last 30 years. My culture informs everything I do and everything that I am.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Geez, hard one! There’s been a few.
But really, it’s reader responses. I mean yes, winning the Miles Franklin Award and the Walkley Award have been major highlights, but it’s when Aboriginal girls tell me that my work makes them cry with joy and that they feel they’re being recognised, that’s definitely an incredible feeling.
And recently during the Koori Knockout football festival, one of the Aboriginal presenters on NITV gave me a shout out which was a highlight.
I thought, if I can win a Miles Franklin and get a shout out on the Aboriginal footy program, I must be covering all of the bases!
You’ve got to be accountable to your community. Otherwise you’re just having a big wank really! (laughing) You can quote me on that.
Why are you doing a Creative Arts PhD with UTS?
It started off that I wanted the 3-4 years of time that the scholarship allows to write intensively. But what I’ve discovered is an actual joy of researching things I wouldn’t have otherwise had the chance to research. About colonial Queensland and colonial Australia. It’s been a revelation.
Sandra Phillips (UTS Jumbunna Assoc Professor) is a good mate of mine – she was the editor of my first book - and she suggested I apply to UTS. And so I left my comfort zone of south-east Queensland and enrolled at UTS.
Working with Debra Adelaide is great. Couldn’t ask for a better supervisor. She leaves me alone unless I’ve got an issue and then she’s always there when I need her. And she has expert knowledge of the literature that I don’t, which can extend what I can do in my novel.
What are you working on now?
As a part of the PhD, I’m writing a novel called Edenglassie. It looks at colonial Brisbane and how it could’ve gone very differently, through the eyes of a 100-year-old Aboriginal woman. Granny Eddie is her name - and she will be reminiscing about the good and bad old days. And she’s going to be haunted by the ghost of the Convicts' Shepherd, who was a historical figure.
I want the book to be out in time for 2023 which is the Brisbane bicentennial. So I can say to people that John Oxley did sail up the river in 1823 and that’s when the penal colony was founded but there could have been a treaty in 1824 and things could have been incredibly different. There was a colonial figure named Tom Petrie, who actually grew up with the blackfellas then, and had good, respectful relationships with Aboriginal people all his life. And so the book asks, what if Tom Petrie was in charge, rather than Governor Logan?
What does doing a PhD give you, as an already published, award-winning author?
I’m the first in my family to go to uni, so being the first one to achieve a milestone like this is quite big for me.
My mother made it to grade three in Queensland, and a combination of racism and poverty meant that she – even though she was a brilliant woman – never got to finish primary school, let alone high school. And university was just beyond imagination. So doing this it’s like I’m achieving a milestone in memory of my Mum. And her mother. And her mum’s mother. They were never even allowed to think about going to university.
I’m the only one of my siblings to go to uni. I’ve got 6 brothers, and 2 of them have been to jail but none of them have been to uni.
Do you get writer’s block and how do you deal with it?
I do get writer’s block and I deal with it by doing something different for a day, or a couple of days if I have to. I’ll either turn to another piece of writing or I’ll go for a long walk in the bush – and just nut out what is behind the block.
Writer’s block is about confidence and clarity. Once you work out what you’re lacking – whether it’s confidence or clarity – you can tackle it.
Writing isn’t meant to be an easy process. It’s about learning to think. To write well you’ve got to think well, and that’s not a simple undertaking because there’s a lot at stake.
What other challenges have you faced in this process of writing your next novel?
(laughs) This year it’s been too many bloody publishers wanting interviews!
No, it’s a matter of putting my head down and bum up and getting on with it.
Like I’m going to do right now.
Melissa Lucashenko is a multi-award winning Goorie writer. Her 2013 novel Mullumbimby was awarded the Deloitte Queensland Literary Award for Fiction, won the Victorian Premiers Prize for Indigenous Writing, and was longlisted for both the Stella Prize and Miles Franklin awards as well as the Dublin IMPAC Literary Prize. Melissa was awarded the 2016 CAL Fellowship to work on Too Much Lip.
Melissa is a Walkley Award winner for her non-fiction, as well as a founding member of the prisoners' human rights group, Sisters Inside. She writes passionately about ordinary people and the extraordinary lives they lead.
Too Much Lip is available now
"Too much lip, her old problem from way back. And the older she got, the harder it seemed to get to swallow her opinions. The avalanche of bullshit in the world would drown her if she let it; the least she could do was raise her voice in anger.
Wise-cracking Kerry Salter has spent a lifetime avoiding two things – her hometown and prison. But now her Pop is dying and she’s an inch away from the lockup, so she heads south on a stolen Harley.
Kerry plans to spend twenty-four hours, tops, over the border. She quickly discovers, though, that Bundjalung country has a funny way of grabbing on to people. Old family wounds open as the Salters fight to stop the development of their beloved river. And the unexpected arrival on the scene of a good-looking dugai fella intent on loving her up only adds more trouble – but then trouble is Kerry’s middle name.”
Explore our Bachelor of Communication (Creative Writing) or Master of Arts in Creative Writing or learn more about research degrees within the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.