Meet the Hot Desk Fellows: Round One for 2013

Leonard Cohen at his desk in Montreal, Canada, 1963

Leonard Cohen at his desk in Montreal, Canada, 1963

Yesterday, we welcomed our first round of Hot Desk Fellows to the Wheeler Centre, where they’ll work on their writing projects for the next two months. Thanks to the Readings Foundation, they also receive a stipend of $1000 each.

They’re escaping distractions as diverse as neighbours' renovations up against the wall of their writing rooms, toddlers wailing outside their study doors, and the competing lure of dirty dishes and washing on the line.

Meet our first five writers - and their projects.

Penelope Chai

‘Virginia Woolf said a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction, but I would happily and productively settle for a desk,’ says Penelope Chai.

Last year, she was selected for Film Victoria’s Catapult Lab for new Feature Film Writers with a feature film screenplay called Pack Savage.

Penelope describes it as a teen black comedy in the spirit of Heathers, Edward Scissorhands, Mean Girls and Juno.

Teenager Frankie Arbuckle’s life is thrown into turmoil with the arrival of her new foster sister Sarah, but the charming and accomplished Sarah has a dark secret. In a former life, she was a wild child raised by dogs.

With the support of producer Jane Liscombe (Beaconsfield, Save Your Legs), Penelope has been developing an outline for her film. During her Hot Desk Fellowship, she plans to develop that outline into a Beat Sheet (a breakdown of each scene) and from there, a treatment, to be used to apply for Film Victoria funding.

Martin McKenzie-Murray

Martin McKenzie-Murray is working on a journalistic book about the 2004 murder of Rebecca Ryle, to be published by Scribe. It’s intended to be a study of grief, a search for motive and an examination of meaning in the criminal justice system.

‘Too much of our crime writing is shallow and salacious, given to macabre details of crime scenes and a paucity of psychological or procedural context,’ he says. ‘We excitedly exchange the blood-soaked details around the water cooler, breathlessly admonishing the killer, and then move on to the next atrocity. With this book, I have sought context and understanding.’

While the book ‘flirts with finding a reason’ for the murder, it is most interested in knowing what happens when we can’t.

Martin is a columnist with the Age and has been published in Griffith Review, ABC’s The Drum and Crikey.

Wahibe Moussa

Wahibe Moussa is an actor, emerging writer, community artist and Arabic language and culture consultant. She has collaborated on many theatre and television projects as a script consultant and actor.

She is working on a draft of a new play, In the Garden, about a strong, intelligent woman who retreats from the world around her and attempts to reinvigorate an overgrown and undernourished garden. As she works, she finds relief from the post-traumatic stress she has sustained after escaping political persecution in her homeland, while her husband attempts to reach her and save their failing marriage.

Wahibe sees writing as ‘a double-edged sword’ – you need dedicated time and space, free from disruptions, and the stimulation of discussion with other writers and thinkers. She believes that the Hot Desk Fellowship will offer a solution.

Kirsty Murray

Award-winning young adult author Kirsty Murray has published several books of fiction and non-fiction. She is currently working on the final draft of a novel about three sisters whose lives are irrevocably changed by war, beginning on Armistice Day, 1918.

She hopes to finish her novel in the next few months, securing a 2014 release through her publisher, Allen & Unwin. But her neighbours are about to start construction of a townhouse against the wall of her bungalow backyard office, meaning she needs a quiet place to work.

‘I desperately want to secure a 2014 release for this novel,’ says Kirsty. ‘In 2014, Australian bookshops will be awash with war books commemorating the outbreak of World War II, but very few of these books will deal with the lives of the women who stayed behind. My novel is a rites-of-passage story about the girls who came of age in the post World War I era. It’s not a novel about war, but about peace and the courage it takes to rebuild lives in the face of grief.’

The Wheeler Centre’s location next to the State Library of Victoria will be ‘fantastic’ for Kirsty, who will ‘need to make regular mercy dashes to the library to clarify historical details’.

Dominic Gordon

Dominic Gordon’s novella-in-progress is set in a ‘semi-dystopic, but current, Melbourne’ and is influenced by William Burroughs and other beat writers. His main character, Jimmy, suffers from schizophrenia; we follow his journey through a waking nightmare.

Dominic is studying novel and screenwriting at RMIT – but took ‘a roundabout route’ to becoming a writer. After leaving school aged fifteen, he became a self-described ‘juvenile delinquent’. But after a magistrate told him to learn how to fight (‘because where I was heading, I would certainly need to defend myself’) or smarten up, he decided on the latter. That was more six years ago.

Melbourne is the main character in his work. ‘I am using my voice to yell out to the streets, screaming, spitting, laughing, pissing and kissing the concrete of my birth.’

Dominic says that this fellowship will provide ‘impetus and discipline’ as he moves onto the next phase of his novella.

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