Elle McNicoll & Cath Moore
As part of The Stories We Tell Ourselves, we invited six pairs of emerging and established writers, from the UK and Australia, to each pen a letter to their past or future self. Across a series of six videos, these writers respond to the theme ‘Who are we now?’ by speaking directly to versions of themselves that are still familiar, curiously anticipated or completely mysterious.
Here, bestselling and award-winning author of A Kind of Spark, Elle McNicoll and Cath Moore, whose debut novel Metal Fish Falling Snow won the Victorian Premier’s Literary award for YA fiction, take turns reading each other’s letters aloud and then discuss the points of connection and difference in their responses.
You can watch the video, and read along with their letters, below.
From Elle McNicoll
It feels odd to write a letter to the future. I’ve never been able to visualise one. The present is consumed with work that I’ve waited my whole life to be able to do, and people who trample all over it in their eagerness to press their nose against the glass.
My past self is as much of a mystery to me as you are. My masked, carefully constructed former life seems like a failed experiment. She was cold in order to be hidden. And you would be saddened to know just how many people are drawn to coldness.
Coming out publicly about long-hidden secrets, while promoting a book during a pandemic, is perhaps not something I would advise – but it is now as inevitable as the words inside of said book.
You were a stranger to yourself. For decades. There was a half-finished footprint on the sand before they washed it away. The shoes they made were ill-fitting. But you thought their only purpose was to look like everyone else, not to get you where you needed to be. So, you did not complain.
Time to complain.
Suppression with the aim of invisibility is not freedom. Tolerance is not the same as acceptance. Vulgar fascination and voyeuristic questions are not symbols of arrival. I hope you are existing in a future which values your work and respects your accomplishments, and that you are brave enough to say no when people only want your voice and presence so that they can collect you like some strange token.
You have not stolen a life. You have merely established one.
I hope the story of the imposter will be done. The story you tell yourself every night before closing your eyes. The one where you accuse yourself of being a changeling.
You have not stolen a life. You have merely established one. And the work that you were afraid of for so long is now finally able to come out. The thing you were mocked and ridiculed for has grafted into a key which now unlocks something that will pull you out of the dark.
The work is more important than anything. They cannot take it away from you.
From Cath Moore
You are still little so people refer to you as Cathy. It will be some time before the ‘y’ is dropped and you grow yourself into a one-syllable-adult. Right now, your brown skin makes the parameters of safety unclear. The world is marked by hard borders and unfriendly territories; such are the geographies mapped by anxious thoughts. Public spaces full of unspoken hostility. People carry it in their eyes that flit between you and mum:
You are a discomforting shade of confusion, what with your white single parent. Come on, stop mucking about.
You think your body looks more like a question mark than a full stop and you wonder how this will change, when you will forget about your punctuation status altogether. Wishful thinking is what one plays in solitude because there are no conversations about this wondrous transformation. In your 1980s Australia, the raucous white cultural default is wedged tight like a rock barnacle. Damn near impossible to budge, and you might be cut sharp in the process. You’re not there, on the page. Omission is a bruising sort of violence and I’m sorry for your lack of reference points. That is what literature is supposed to offer: a bridge between yourself and the world.
This curb side in our collective memory isn’t very glamorous but sitting on the pavement playing with loose bitumen pebbles feels like a good meeting place between the past and present.
I’m glad you got my message and agreed to meet me. This curb side in our collective memory isn’t very glamorous but sitting on the pavement playing with loose bitumen pebbles feels like a good meeting place between the past and present. Watching time bend around this corner you ask: ‘who are we now?’ I can see you want to be delivered of that question mark body of yours, so don’t grit your teeth when I tell you it remains.
At some point you will realise this natural form – curving and curious – is a beautiful thing to be. Not to others, because it makes you mouthy and ‘difficult’. You have sat with so many questions they are breaking out of your skin. They must because they belong to a world not yet lettered with your thoughts. Many things are lost and found in this persistence, dissent, the unrest in letting go.
You will challenge the status quo. You will ask why some children can travel through their education having never read a CALD author. When creative industries write ‘groundbreaking’ studies on the lack of opportunities and visibility you reject it as their discovery and remind them this is OUR knowledge and trauma. When will the gatekeepers look like us? When will words in a policy translate into long-lasting cultural shifts? It feels uncomfortable asking so you must persist!
Your body is also a full stop. They say: ‘Gee, we’d love to see more stories from diverse people of different places.’ You say: ‘they are only different to you – they are everywhere and every day for us and always have been.’ There’s your full stop.
And yet. You will see a more compassionate future that holds our pain and hope together. Holds its tongue and listens first in weighted conversations. That world that you lived in will slowly be dismantled and put back together again with a different set of questions and full stops. Take all this with you when you go your way and I go mine. Please use those questions to reimagine yourself; they are armour and a tonic. Do not wait. Do not ask for permission to start writing into your future because that is the only way it will look more like you; if you are brave enough to enter the world via the front door and make your Self known.
Tooroo for now. Look both ways before you cross the road Cathy and hold their gaze on the page. You have nothing to be ashamed of.