Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellowships 2012

We’re pleased to announce the awarding of this year’s Hot Desk Fellowships, supported by the Readings Foundation.

Twenty lucky writers were selected from a whopping 85 applications – and have been given a desk of their own at the Wheeler Centre for two months, plus a $1000 stipend.

Susan Sontag, writing in a bear suit. This is not an accurate depiction of a typical Wheeler Centre hot desk.

Susan Sontag, writing in a bear suit. This is not an accurate depiction of a typical Wheeler Centre hot desk.

We were hoping that stipend might help them take time out from work-that-pays-the-bills to devote to their passion projects – and looking at the applications, it seems that’s exactly what many of our fellows plan to do.

And our desks will offer shelter from such common writerly scourges as housemates who play loud music, people who talk in libraries, beloved but attention-sucking children and partners, and of course, the need to buy endless cups of coffee to stake out your cafe table.

The writers who’ll be participating in the first intake are: Luke Ryan, Mel Campbell, Julien Leyre, Lorna Hendry, Caitlin Henderson, Christie Nieman and Lorin Clarke. The writers from the later intakes will be published on our website soon. Keep an eye out.

Congratulations to all our winners. Here’s an introduction to our first seven writers and their projects.

Luke Ryan

Luke Ryan is working on a ‘comic(ish)’ memoir, I guess You’re Only As Sick As You Feel, about his experience of cancer. But it’s a cancer memoir with a twist – and a certain knowingness about its place within a genre. The book, contracted to Scribe and due for publication in 2013, grew out of an extended essay in The Lifted Brow and a solo show at the 2009 Melbourne Comedy Festival, Luke’s Got Cancer.

Here’s a taste of it:

On the night of November 24, 2007, almost to the minute that John Howard was being ousted from power by Kevin Rudd, I found myself alone in a tiny hospital room in Richmond being told that the tumour that I had in 1997 at the age of 11 had reappeared on the surface of my right lung. This was, it is fair to say, not how I saw my evening panning out.

Within 48 hours, I was back living with my family in my hometown of Perth. A week and a half later, I was starting chemotherapy. A month after that I was on stage performing in the first heat of the Raw Comedy competition. Cancer: it’s an angle. Since then, I’ve been exploring the ways that we can write about and discuss cancer which veer away from mainstream treatments of it as an often abstract and alienating force.

Mel Campbell

Mel Campbell is working on the research and first draft of her first book, Out of Shape, a volume of literary non-fiction exploring the histories and cultures of clothing fit and size. It’s contracted to Affirm Press. Mel has been researching clothes and the body since 2003, has maintained a fashion blog since 2005 and has published fashion journalism in publications like the Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Yen, Meanjin and Triple J magazine.

Here’s what you can expect from Mel’s book:

Why is it so tricky and unpleasant to find clothes that fit properly? How has pop culture taught us to size ourselves up? And how does the clothing of the past help us get dressed today? Out of Shape explores these questions and more.

Lively and accessible, Out of Shape boldly intervenes in the often confused media debates about ‘obesity crises’; body image and self-esteem; suspicions of exclusionary fashion marketing; and the passion for ‘vintage’ and ‘retro’.

Blending cultural criticism with first-person reportage and interviews with industry professionals, it’s a dialogue between past and present, showing how contemporary wardrobe malfunctions echo historical dilemmas.

Julien Leyre

Julien Leyre’s novel-in-progress, Love Migrants, is a romance set in contemporary Melbourne. It’s informed by Frenchman Julien’s own experience as a ‘love migrant’, settling in Australia after falling in love with an Australian – and by his past literary work. Julien published YA romantic fiction in Paris and more recently, his exhibition Love Journeys reflected the interplay of love and migration.

This is an introduction to his book:

Melbourne is welcoming growing numbers of ‘love migrants’, who decide to move – or stay – in the country after falling in love with an Australian. With increasing working holiday visas and international students, Melbourne is also becoming an ‘international city of love’, and the setting for cosmopolitan love-stories that bring together temporary residents for a short period, or for good. Love Migrants will reflect these experiences by presenting a polyphony of cross-cultural love stories, all set in and around Melbourne.

The novel will present an intertextual play with two websites, blurring the line between digital reality and the fictional world. Two characters will develop a relationship through the comment section of Australian Aesthetics, an expat blog about Melbourne, and use it to fix meeting places for their dates. Others will develop a long distance relationship via the Marco Polo Project, a collaborative translation platform, where they will jointly translate texts from China, and discover each other through their common use of language, and shared interest for the same type of writing.

Lorna Hendry

When Lorna Hendry returned to Melbourne after a three-year camping trip around Australia with her family, she knew she needed to tell their story. Not just about the places they had seen and what they experienced, but about how it changed all four of them.

She started with a short piece written on the road, in a tin shed in Fitzroy Crossing, which she sent to the Australian’s ‘This Life’ column. By the time they ran it, she was living in an indigenous community of the West Kimberley. Since then, she’s been published in various places, enrolled in writing courses at Writers Victoria and RMIT, and has an essay forthcoming in Meanjin. She is working on her second draft of a book, which a publisher is keen to read when it’s finished.

Lorna works from home as a freelance graphic designer, which she juggles with a family and her second year of a Professional Writing and Editing course at RMIT. She typed her application soon after chopping ten kilograms of onions for a school sausage sizzle. She needs a dedicated place to write – and says ‘after 20 years or so of freelancing, I am almost incapable of producing anything without a deadline’. The fellowship has given her those things.

Caitlin Henderson

When not working weekends at Melbourne Museum as an animal keeper, Caitlin Henderson is living ‘in my loud, poorly insulated sharehouse full of my loud, poorly insulated friends (who have less money than I do)’. When not trying to study on a wobbly desk, surrounded by housemates playing music or games, she’s working on the first draft of her novel, The Adventures of Excellent Man and his Largely Redundant Sidekick.

Here’s a taste:

Smith, the sidekick of the most flawless man in the world, is our protagonist. He’s in the biggest shadow you’ve ever seen and he’s got a hell of a thing or two to prove. It’s raw, it’s honest, it’s funny, it’s accessible. It’s got a twist bigger than the Eureka Tower.

It’s about love lost, battles won and proving your worth. Most of all, in this cold, war-filled real world, it’s about giving someone a reason to smile.

Christie Nieman

Christie Nieman is working on the final draft of a young adult novel, Disturbance. It’s about about growing up through grief and loss and into a sense of responsibility and love; for ourselves and each other, but also for the world around us. Christie is an experienced playwright, who has also published essays and short stories (one is forthcoming in a Pan Macmillan anthology next year).

Christie says her book needs one final redraft. ‘It is like a fully-formed, healthy, crawling baby that is on the cusp of walking. Through the Writers Victoria Mentorship program I have been (and am still) working with Liz Kemp to get it standing, walking on its own, and camera-ready for agents and publishers.’

Here is an early snapshot of Christie’s baby:

In north-eastern Victoria near the town of Murramunda, bush-covered hills erupt into flames, and a bird – a Bush Stone-curlew – escapes the fire. And a woman from the city, studying the endangered bird, does not.

Robin is 16. She has just moved 300kms from her country home at Murramunda, into a tiny terrace house in the city. And she’s not happy about it. Her parents split up just after the big fire, and while her dad took off to Queensland with ‘a friend’, her mother dragged her to a new life in the dirty, gritty, ugly city. And her new life stinks.

Seth is 17. He smokes. He swears. He’s given up school to prowl the city streets instead. He spends hours in the parkland near his house, smoking by the creek. He doesn’t see the point in doing anything else now, what happened to his mother two months ago, the fire up in the hills. Things will never be the same for him and his sister Delia, who meets Robin on her first day in her new school.

When the Bush Stone-curlew turns up in the city parklands next to Seth and Delia’s house, and the three teenagers become inextricably linked.

Lorin Clarke

Lorin Clarke is working on a biographical essay about human rights barrister Debbie Mortimer for Meanjin. Lorin is a writer, director and broadcaster who has twice been commissioned to write the annual CAL/Meanjin essay. Current Meanjin editor Sally Heath has commissioned this essay with the idea that Lorin should write a biographical piece on ‘someone Australians should know about’.

Lorin says:

I thought about it and realised that there was someone about whom I had had that very thought. Debbie Mortimer is a barrister I met in 2011 at a session at the Wheeler Centre. I was working as event coordinator at the Victoria Law Foundation and Debbie was one of the panellists in a discussion I helped organize, about human rights.

In legal circles, Mortimer is famous. She worked on the High Court case that ‘scuttled’ the government’s Malaysia people swap deal. She worked on a case during the Howard era that had a Federal Court Judge attempting to turn a plane around in mid-air to prevent the deportation of two Kenyan boys whose right to lodge an appeal had been ignored. When the government argued that the boys didn’t have a guardian, Mortimer too herself off the case and became one. The boys are now Australian citizens. These are just two examples of her casework.

Lorin’s long and varied writing career includes a regular spot as television columnist for the Big Issue, writing and directing shows for the Melbourne Comedy Festival, and working as script editor on ABC TV’s The Librarians.


See the full list of writers and projects, including second and third intakes, at our Hot Desk Fellowships page.

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