The Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellowships 2022: Introducing the Fellows
In 2022, our famous Hot Desk Fellowships are back. After a COVID-induced hiatus in 2021, we’re thrilled to once again be able to introduce a new cohort of writers to the hottest desks in town.
For the tenth year, 20 of these fellowships are generously supported by the Readings Foundation. And once again, there is 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. We look forward to sharing some of their work with you, both online and in our Next Big Thing reading series, throughout the year.
Natasha Hertanto was a 2020 Hot Desk Fellow and a judge for this year’s fellowship:
The words faith, trust (and queer pixie dust) come to mind when reflecting on the entries and my experience as a judge. From a magical-realist, bilingual screenplay to a Pynchonian romp, some writers have redefined ‘form’, while others continue to excel and lead in their mediums. Weaving the personal and political, I was impressed by the entries’ sharp understanding of language and vulnerable content, be it about Baby Born, sliced magpies, or kofteh.
My agent found me through Hot Desk, so I have no doubt this opportunity will propel the Fellows closer to their goals, whatever they may be. Congratulations. Consider me a fan of your works.
The writers who will be participating in this year’s fellowships are: Julia Bak, Aurelia St Clair, Kasumi Borczyk, J.R. Burgmann, Julie Dickson, Sophie Tegan Gardiner, Ahona Guha, Savannah Indigo, Ren Jiang, Tiia Kelly, Wen-Juenn Lee, Leila Lois, Kylie Mirmohamadi, Maki Morita, Olivia Muscat, Amarachi Okorom, Arty Owens, Christy Tan, Theresa Tully, Miriam Webster and Mason Wood.
Meet the writers below, and read a short introduction from each of them about their projects.
Bone Broth (memoir)
Bone Broth is an anthology memoir on trauma, embodiment and healing. Drawing upon my lived experience of pain and illness, it will explore the sensitivity and reactivity of a human body to the hold of settler-colonialism, intergenerational trauma, and late-stage capitalism, as well as questioning what it really means to heal and be healed.
Aurelia St Clair
Planet Melbourne (essays)
Planet Melbourne is a collection of humour essays, lists, short stories and poems. I’m excited to explore my own experiences of coming out, navigating friendships, careers, love and heartbreak, as well as somewhat universal themes when living in a major city that also feels like a village.
You know, but not how much (fiction)
I am currently working on my first manuscript about failure as political praxis, intergenerational relationships, the demolition industry and a national conspiracy surrounding Australia’s housing bubble.
Abominable (historical fiction)
My second novel Abominable is a work of historical fiction. It depicts the secretive 1938–1939 German expedition to Tibet led by zoologist Ernst Schäfer, who, under the patronage of Heinrich Himmler, was entrusted to discover if Tibet was the cradle of the Aryan race, and more absurdly, the mythical Yeti – the ‘Abominable Snowman’ – its origin.
While Abominable details the dark inner workings of the expedition, the novel centres on a cast of fictional protagonists, all of whom are in pursuit of Schäfer’s preposterous Yeti hunt. Though set entirely during the 1930s and 40s, the novel will draw subtextual commentary on the dangerous resurgence of the far right today.
Sink or Swim (young adult contemporary fiction)
Sink or Swim is a contemporary young adult own-voices novel. Seventeen-year-old Beth has hypochondroplasia, the second most common form of dwarfism, and she aspires to be a children’s picture book author. She’s training to compete as part of the Australian swimming team for the World Dwarf Games, meanwhile battling exercise addiction and grieving her younger brother’s death. She and her best friend Lakyn have romantic feelings for each other, but Beth doesn’t want to pursue a long-distance relationship.
I’m writing this novel because I want to see people of short stature represented positively in fiction to help dispel negative misconceptions.
Sophie Tegan Gardiner
I’ve never personally been on a cruise, but my housemate’s incessant Instagram-ing of a family holiday birthed my current project, Cruising, a novel of latent queer discovery set in the absurd hyperreality of a cruise ship. I’ve always loved writing weird & personal specificities – revelling in the gross and embarrassing – but in Cruising I also wanted to explore something more earnest, gentler, joyful. The simultaneous expansiveness and claustrophobia of a week-long trip with our protagonist, her best friend El and El’s wealthy family, becomes the vehicle for a story of platonic love, horny romantic hope and accidental voyeurism.
How We Relate (narrative non-fiction)
As a psychologist, some of the primary difficulties I see people presenting with in therapy are difficulties with how they relate to other people. While the reach of social media and instant communication has enabled us to form quick links with other people, we still struggle with understanding and establishing good structures of relating. How We Relate is my second full-length work of psychology non-fiction and is directed at helping the reader to understand and navigate relationships. This book is contracted to Scribe Publications.
Entanglement of Dreams (personal essay/creative non-fiction)
Entanglement of Dreams is equal parts love story, literary critique and personal travel writing, interspersed with references to Murakami’s 1Q84. It draws on science writing and personal experience to critically analyse the limited character development in 1Q84, the role of music and Chekhov’s gun in the novel, and the value of a story with characters that exist only for plot development. Having initially read the book while traveling through Japan with a music composer, this piece considers how what we read and listen to is connected to the place it is experienced.
Love Letters from Mushroom Kingdom (screenplay)
Love Letters from Mushroom Kingdom is a bilingual screenplay that explores the relationship between two queer Chinese femmes who fall in love through their conflicted longing for homes they cannot return to. Unfolding between real-time Melbourne and an alternate world invented by the characters, the script plays with time and setting, drawing from magical realism and adapting practices from devised physical theatre. I am interested in interrogating the emotional journeys of codependent relationships through silence and movement, creating a relatively sparse narrative to focus on the care and tension between lovers through the lifespan of a romantic relationship.
Proximities (creative non-fiction)
Proximities is a nonfiction manuscript that questions how the language of pop culture forms the contours of our lives – how do we construct and perform our ‘selves’ in relation to various media and online platforms, and how might we find meaning and space for disruption within and among these new relationalities? Masturbation anthems are self-care, fandom and love become one, memes combat surveillant technology, and voice messages are the truest form of intimacy. This project blends memoir, theory and cultural criticism to explore automediality, wellness, attention and relationships as structured by, or filtered through, the cultural objects we consume.
something coiled, then flickering (poetry)
something coiled, then flickering is a collection of poems that explores my relationship with worms, snakes and God. Drawing on the form of the medieval bestiary, writings by Iris Murdoch and Simone Weil, creation myths, Chinese legends, and cultural memory, this chapbook explores divinity and desire as a synthesis of the snake, whose power fascinates and unsettles, and the meek and lowly worm. In interrogating the symbolic and archival nature of the snake and worm, and my compulsive responses towards them, I seek to understand my own experiences of having a religious and faithful body.
Poetry in Motion (Interdisciplinary-dance/writing)
I have been developing interdisciplinary practice using poetry and dance for a few years now and hope to explore this further via the fellowship. I hope to use the time to create performative works that explore the narratives of my poems through dance and provide community involvement opportunities through workshops. I am fascinated with dancers/writers that are inspired to explore their ancestral narratives through their art and I plan to write a chapbook with poetry, images and a performance element. I am gathering research in particular about a dancer in the Ballet Russes, Leyla Bedir Khan, known then as ‘The Kurdish Princess’. I have facilitated workshops on dance and poetry for at least five years (I am a qualified educator) and so I would like to use this opportunity to inspire audiences to engage in interdisciplinary practice to explore their own ancestral echoes and sense of belonging.
The Guest House (fiction)
I will be working on my manuscript The Guest House. This novel’s protagonist has made a late bid for autonomy, and her quest for a new independence reverberates through her mid-life, shifting the parameters of family relationships, friendships and sexual partnerships. The novel explores the complexities of cross-cultural parenting and identities, the cost of life decisions, the violence that threatens online and globally, and above all, the nature of possession: of people, stories, houses and homelands.
I will also be working on the manuscript of One Diving, The Other Falling, a novel about art, death, and families.
Aoi in retrograde (theatre/comedy)
Aoi in retrograde is an experimental comedy inspired by the Japanese noh drama Aoi no ue. The play follows Aoi – a millennial who turns to astrology in a desperate attempt to gain a sense of control over her life. But with her unapproving family, failing romance, ghosts and inaccurate horoscopes getting in the way, she is having little luck. Maybe Co-Star isn’t always right after all.
Fascinated by noh’s mystical elements and the motif of the onna monogurui (mad female character), I am adapting a traditional noh drama in relation to my perspective as a young Japanese-Australian woman in 2022.
I Don’t Want To Be Your Friend (middle grade contemporary fiction)
I Don’t Want To Be Your Friend is a contemporary middle-grade novel told from the alternating points of view of Annie and Maeve, two very different 11-year-old girls, who find themselves rebelling against a friendship they’re being pressured into because of their shared disability.
This story draws on my own lived experience and connections with disabled students I teach. It showcases the complexities, challenges and humour of finding an identity and navigating the world as a disabled person but is ultimately about the joys of friendship, independence, and the unexpected happiness of finding somebody that really gets who you are.
Hope to Die (stage play)
Hope to Die follows three women living in a small town where everyone knows everyone. They are the prime suspects of a murder and we see the lengths they go to to protect each other. As suspicion grows we see the cracks in their lives and what motive they might have to kill. A troubled housewife, a no-nonsense woman who is dealing privately with the loss of her sister, and a young woman who has been estranged from her family. Together their friendship doesn’t make sense but one thing that’s certain is how much they’d do to stay connected.
Nothing is wrong, we just need to have a little chat (non-fiction)
Nothing is wrong, we just need to have a chat is a collection of short stories and essays featuring titles such as “Emotional breakthroughs and other activities to do on the toilet”. Their stories explore the joys and absurdities of living with anxiety, multiple illnesses and being a chaotic non-binary babe.
The Unseen River (prose poetry/creative non-fiction)
I am interested in combining auto-fiction with critical theory and philosophy, and thinking about text alongside sound, image, place, dreams and objects. During the fellowship, I will be writing ekphrastic poems, performance art and experimental essays reflecting on what is lost and gained between and across different mediums in translation.
The Unseen River is about the hidden geometries of mimesis, metaphor and repetition, the materiality and opacity of language, the gathering and assembling of distance and silence as a mode of meaning-making, dissolving subject-object relations, and the overlapping fragments of past and present through multi-directional memory and non-linear time.
Hilda Saves the Multiverse (middle grade fantasy/sci-fi)
A budding pugilist and physicist, Hilda isn’t like other ten-year-olds. She has a knack with older people, an impressive left hook and wants nothing more than to fill her mind with physics conundrums rather than grieve the father she’s lost. When a bus stop emerges across the street, along with a little old lady offering an invitation to remedy a physics problem on the other side of the multiverse, Hilda can’t resist.
Hilda Saves the Multiverse is a middle-grade fantasy/sci-fi for readers 9+ about a young physicist who sets out across the multiverse to save a city drowning in mushroom soup.
They Don’t Call Us Mad Anymore (short stories)
In my short story collection They Don’t Call Us Mad Anymore, hysterics, depressives and borderline personality girls tell their vexed and tangled stories. Led by a cast of modern day madwomen, this collection interrogates stereotypically feminine tropes in ways that are funny, surprising and sad. I want to think about madness as a fund of potential creativity as opposed to one of shame – we’ve been told our madness is a problem; but I have become interested in where your problems will lead you.
“Beautiful World, Where Are You” where are you (creative non-fiction)
This long form essay blends memoir and cultural critique. Using the image of having my copy of Sally Rooney’s latest novel taken from me by a date/hook-up, I interrogate my experience of dating in queer Melbourne. The piece is interested in how we curate and disrupt ourselves through the approval of others online and offline. It engages with the themes of Rooney’s texts to investigate romance, obsession, heartbreak and loss. But most importantly, it asks where is my copy of that damned book?
Writing in the ‘cracks between the facts’
Hot Desk Extract: Hilda Saves the Multiverse
Hot Desk Extract: Panda Wong
Using fiction to imagine the future
Drawing attention to another Afghanistan