The Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellowships 2020: Introducing the Fellows

Our Hot Desk Fellowships are back, supported by the Readings Foundation for the ninth year – with an additional Playwright Hot Desk Fellowship offered to an emerging female or non-binary playwright, supported by the Just Pretending theatre group.

These 21 fellowships, all of which include a stipend and workspace, have been created simply to give emerging writers the space to write and create. While things might look a little different this year, it’s more important than ever to offer emerging writers both financial support and encouragement. We'll be working with the 2020 Hot Deskers to build an online writing community so we can share our networks and resources until we return to work in the Wheeler Centre building again.  

Find out who's been selected, and read what our fellows have to say about the projects they'll be working on.

Several desks and chairs float over a green background

The writers who will be participating in this year’s fellowships are: Mama Alto, Alex Creece, Monikka Eliah (playwright fellow), Lou Garcia-Dolnik, Veronica Heritage-Gorrie, Natasha Hertanto, Ruby Hillsmith, Georgia Kartas, Kim Lam, Nellie Le Beau, Leah Muddle, Rashmi Patel, Allee Richards, Ariel Ries, Lobna Rouhani, Vince Ruston, Darlene Silva Soberano, Diane VuDženana Vucic, Rae White and Panda Wong

Cher Tan was a 2019 Hot Desk Fellow and a judge for this year's fellowship: 

What a corker of a shortlist! It was an absolute delight going through this year's Hot Desk applications – there were so many promising entries, so it was no mean feat whittling it down to the final 21. It was especially exciting to see the imaginative, multi-form projects that comprised many of this year's entries: experimental poetry, fantasy comics, magical realist theatre and more, plus strong samples of literary fiction and creative non-fiction. As a previous Hot Desker, I understand what it means to have the opportunity to devote uninterrupted time and space towards a project ... It also goes without saying that being able to access funding and support made my writing project seem less like a pipe dream and more of a reality. Congratulations to all!

Here’s a short introduction to the writers and their projects

Photograph of Mama Alto

Mama Alto
Thinking About the Diva (essays/performance/poetry)

In 2019 during my Creative Victoria Creators Fund project, I began researching and writing my artist's book, Thinking about the Diva. This work in development is a multi-genre, multi-form collection of interlocking and interconnected vignettes, with poetry, essays, mythic writing, music analysis, personal storytelling, and auto-ethnographic writing on music and performance, investigating the concept of the diva. A deeply personal project, it connects to my practice as a cabaret diva and jazz singer, and ideas of queerness, gender and misogyny.


Photograph of Alex Creece

Alex Creece
S C R E E C H (poetry)

S C R E E C H is my debut poetry manuscript, which shrieks about in/sanity with whimsy and without apology. It contains a mishmash of collage, angst, masturbation, dreams and dirt. My collection aims to crash the intersection between clinical frameworks and messy lived experiences. I hope to strike a balance of heart, humour, and even a little humourism – that is, slime! This project wants to be a good, cathartic scream into a pillow. But often it feels more like ramble-yelling at a brick wall. Either way, it's screeching about something.


Photograph of Monikka Eliah

Monikka Eliah
Garage Sale (theatre)

Garage Sale is a comedy about a middle eastern family living a simple life in Western Sydney until their household appliances start to break down around them. The aunt, Ato Asyet believes the damage to be a sign from the great beyond. Her niece, Dina, thinks they just need to stop buying cheap from Bigmart. Desperate to pay for replacements, and keen to challenge the retail store that's spurned them with poor quality manufacturing, the family decide to pawn their faulty goods off to the neighbours in a garage sale. Through comedy and magic realism, the work explores culture, sustainability and family.


Photograph of Lou Garcia-Dolnik

Lou Garcia-Dolnik
No Language (poetry)

My poetry manuscript in-progress, No Language, challenges the repetitions that structure and rupture liminal identity, this living through landscapes manifested by interlocking matrices of power and colonial violence. It is a meditation on the anatomy and etymologies of language, the possibilities for existing outside words, sentences and diagnoses.

No Language insists on the possibility of futurity in the face of colonial evisceration, of kinship and sisterhood beyond ravaged histories. It is a paean to the brown, genderless, grieving body.


Photograph of Veronica Heritage-Gorrie

Veronica Heritage-Gorrie
Nullung (screenplay)

I am writing a biopic called Nullung which is in the development stage. 'Nullung' in Kurnai language means 'my father's mother'. My Nullung was stolen from Lake Tyers Mission and this biopic will be about her journey from being stolen to returning home. The project requires archival research, spending time on country at the mission my grandmother was stolen from, time at Abbotsford convent and Parkville, as well as collating oral histories. As it will feature Kurnai language, an element of the project is learning my language. 


Photograph of Natasha Hertanto

Natasha Hertanto
Seribu Benang Merah (A Thousand Red Threads) (young adult fiction)

Seribu Benang Merah (A Thousand Red Threads) is a work of Young Adult historical fiction set in 1970s Jogjakarta. Conceived as Peaky Blinders graced by Javanese superstition, it follows Winda Ariesta, daughter of notorious gang lord, who’s eager to prove her place in the crime world. When a fire claims all but seven members of an infamous robbery ring, Winda’s tasked to dangle them as bait to catch the arsonist, a powerful figure with agendas of their own. Set five years after Indonesia’s politicide, Winda unveils the cracks of a dual-government in her pursuit of sexual liberty, spiritual legacy, and familial pride.


Photograph of Ruby Hillsmith

Ruby Hillsmith
Little Islands, Dead Sea (creative non-fiction)

Little Islands, Dead Sea is a cross-genre project that combines elements of memoir, poetry and academic theory to examine the culture of Australian psychiatric institutions. The project is drawn from my experience in the psychiatric system, particularly my time attending Rivendell, a unique public hospital and school located in Sydney’s Concord West. Above all, I’m interested in exploring the future of institutions, and celebrating the ingenuity of psychiatric patients, who manage to create pockets of normality and humour within harsh clinical settings. 


Photograph of Georgia Kartas

Georgia Kartas
Mythamorphosis (poetry)

I am composing a poetry album entitled Mythamorphosis, a digital audio collection of works traversing the past two years of rapid climate devastation as experienced within Naarm/Melbourne. The narrative begins in Tasmania, steeped in prophecies of fires and floods, then progresses to moving to a big city as our climate crisis becomes ever more present. I will draw on Greek Orthodox and Ancient Greek iconography from a migrant perspective, paralleled with the swellings and failings of various relationships through a surrealist lens. After the fellowship, I will be adapting the poems to music with Wiradjuri sound artist Lucas George.


Photograph of Kim Lam

Kim Lam
Memetic Drift (comics/autofiction)

Memetic Drift is a collection of illustrative autofiction that tracks the sense-making journey of a veterinarian-turned-illustrator. What’s it like to drift further away from the safe footholds of who you used to be, whilst having to face the uncharted terrains of a life you’re yet to narrate? Prose and illustration will storytell in parallel, braiding two different yet related personas of the protagonist – the methodology-reliant and solutionistic veterinarian; and the scope-creeping, oft-lost freelance illustrator. Conflicting values, daily tedium and whimsical outbursts will be informed by my own experiences and ongoing grapplings of identity-in-flux.


Photograph of Nellie Le Beau

Nellie Le Beau
Pilgrim (poetry)

During this fellowship, I will be working on Pilgrim,  a collection of poems that connect environmental and socioeconomic issues to concepts of refuge and sanctuary. At its heart, this work explores methods of survival. These poems incorporate research and narrative to explore the many ways – seen, unseen, urban, rural, decayed, flourishing – that humans impact the world. 


Photograph of Leah Muddle

Leah Muddle
Deaf Ears (poetry/visual art)

Deaf Ears will be an artist's book, comprising collaged text and imagery. Akin to a formalised scrapbook, it will be a preparatory and parallel exercise to the formation of a poetic manuscript. It should be a process of 'letting in'; it should encourage a mode of making that is focused but unconstrained and non-neurotic, assisting with the development of a more refined and cohesive collection of poems and images. Themes will include everyday superstition, the constructed world of the artist, obscurantism, 17th-century still life painting, Vanitas painting, the Fibonacci sequence and the works of Christo and Jeanne-Claude.


Photograph of Rashmi Patel

Rashmi Patel
The Family of Rebels (fiction)

The Family of Rebels is a planned novel about a woman who breaks away from her family to form an independent adult life only to discover, at the age of 30, that her values do not make sense anymore. She is forced by circumstances to go back home to fulfil her dying mother’s last wish. As she goes on her quest, she is faced with the challenges of rediscovering her values, uncovering her legacy and learning to face the future with a sense of gratitude towards her difficult past. This story probes the many aspects of belonging, independence, and familial bonding.


Photograph of Allee Richards

Allee Richards
In Real Life (fiction)

In Real Life is a contemporary, literary fiction novel that explores grief, mental illness and friendship. It centres on the experience of Eva, a young woman who has fallen pregnant after a one night stand with Pat, a man who dies by suicide weeks after their encounter. 

Over the fellowship I will be working closely with my publisher to refine and redraft my manuscript to a publishable standard. 


Photograph of Ariel Ries

Ariel Ries
Witchy Volume 2 (graphic novel)

Witchy Volume 2 continues the story of Nyneve in the witch-kingdom of Hyalin, where the length of one’s hair determines the strength of their magic. On the run with her freshly cut hair and her magic near depleted, Nyneve meets a collection of misfits that teach her how to survive her new circumstances, and of the true breadth of suffering under the iron grip of the kingdom. Witchy is a graphic novel series that takes place in a melting-pot fantasy world influenced by cultures spanning Asia and Oceania, where everyone is brown and no-one is straight.


Photograph of Lobna Rouhani

Lobna Rouhani
The Ocean Between Us (novel)

As a Jordanian-Iranian-Australian woman I have always been curious about the stories of the women around me and how they have shaped me. Our stories are multi-faceted and are rooted in various cultural, religious, and mental realities. My aim is to expose the truest experiences of myself and the women around me in order to shatter preconceptions and challenge the reader about how they may have considered Middle Eastern women before. I have started working on a creative-fiction novel that is an exploration of identity, family and place. I have always been curious about who I would be if I had stayed in Jordan and had not migrated to Australia. This novel explores this concept through the story of sisters separated at birth. 


Photograph of Vince Ruston

Vince Ruston
Louise: Part Three (fiction)

Louise: Part Three will be the third part in a novella I have been undertaking for some time now. Louise narrates her story in a disjointed, fragmentary style that is reflective of her traumatised state of mind following years of an abusive marriage, and the sudden death of her husband. The narrative deals with the nature of non-linear trauma-memory, complex grief, intergenerational trauma, and substance use as coping mechanism; as well as how we can use language and narrative in unconventional ways to heal through our trauma. Luce Irigaray's concepts concerning maternal genealogies and 'parler femme' are also integral.


Photograph of Darlene Silva Soberano

Darlene Silva Soberano
Instead of Other Mercies (poetry)

Instead of Other Mercies is a chapbook of poems that weigh the daily costs of persecution. It interrogates the dichotomies of loss and memory, inheritance and choice, and desire and faith. Drawing on experiences as a queer writer of Filipino descent, these poems are intimate, and steeped in difficulty, control and obsession.


Photograph of Diane Vu

Diane Vu
Wretch Betch (television)

Meet the new working class, who live paycheck to paycheck on brunch, negronis and their parents' crippling gambling debt. Wretch Betch is a 8 x 30 min traumedy that follows three friends struggling with emotionally manipulative partners, high-functioning addictions and feeble mental health … as well as still living with the immigrant parents they inherited these problems from. With mounting pressure to succeed, they feel themselves slipping into irrelevance, doing anything they can just to get through today at great cost to themselves tomorrow. If they’re going down with the ship anyway, it might as well be The Titanic.


Photograph of Dženana Vucic

Dženana Vucic
Palimpsest (memoir)

I’m working on an autotheoretical book about memory, myth- and history-making, the construction of identity and un/belonging. It is part memoir, and describes my experiences of the Bosnian war, coming to Australia as a refugee and returning to Bosnia as an adult. The loose plot of my return to Bosnia is interwoven with reflections on the reliability and construction of my childhood memories, our family stories, and the ‘history’ of former Yugoslavia. I want to interrogate how people – as individuals, groups and nations – develop identity through the narratives and histories we are told and the memories we internalise. 


Photograph of Rae White

Rae White
Welcome Home (poetry)

I will be working on the redrafting of Welcome Home, a Young Adult speculative fiction verse novel. This story focuses on the lives of two non-binary transgender teenagers, who have a strong and intimate platonic friendship. Welcome Home examines concepts of safe spaces through the lens of an abandoned haunted house (in a fictional Queensland location), which provides a home for young people whose gender identities lead to their exclusion in other spaces. This novel is in a first draft stage, and requires redrafting and formatting into verse – the majority of which I will complete during my Hot Desk Fellowship.


Photograph of Panda Wong

Panda Wong
salmon cannon me into the abyss (poetry)

salmon cannon me into the abyss is a poetry manuscript about my relationship to death, the performance of grief online/IRL and inappropriate funeral conduct. QR codes, found poetry and multimedia build up a narrative of loss – one that fractures, disrupts and composes new ways of living. In this collection, grief blurs and chafes across forms: an inconveniently sized It bag too small to contain the vastness of emotions, Oprah thoughts at my dad’s funeral, overindulgences, breakdowns on PTV, obsessively listening to Lana del Rey even though she’s a COP-DATER,  an ocean of bad coping mechanisms and humour as unexpected relief.

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