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Working with Words: Raelee Lancaster

Read Monday, 2 Sep 2019

Raelee Lancaster is a writer based in Meanjin (Brisbane). In the lead-up to her appearances at Blak & Bright First Nations Literary Festival in Melbourne, she spoke with us about day jobs, Oscar Wilde and living – and writing – around water.

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What was the first piece of writing that made you laugh or cry? 

Photograph of writer Raelee Lancaster
Raelee Lancaster

I’m not sure what the first piece of writing that brought such a visceral reaction out of me was, but the book that stands out is To Kill A Mockingbird, which I first read when I was 13. I remember feeling awful for what Tom Robinson was going through, but I also understood that even today, this is how life is for black men. 

Did you write during your childhood and during your teenage years? What did you write about?

I remember being about five years old and wanting to have my name on the front cover of a book in the local library. Since that moment I’ve been writing or telling stories in one form or another. (Having my name on the front of a book in my local library is still a dream I have.) My writing has always, and I think will always, feature water. Whether it’s Lake Macquarie where I grew up, or the Brisbane River, around which I navigate my day-to-day – I love living by, and writing about, water.

What day jobs have you held throughout your life, and how have those experiences influenced your writing?

I’ve only been thinking of my writing as a career for the last two years. Since then I’ve held a couple of ‘day jobs’, all of which have been casual, flexible, working-from-home situations. They’ve given me space to make my own hours so I have time to write and be creative.

If you weren’t writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

I think I’d be doing the same thing I’m doing right now: working on creative, collaborative projects with my incredible friends and peers in a city that I love. I can not imagine my life without imagining art and artists in it.

My writing has always, and I think will always, feature water.

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

The worst advice I’ve received was ‘write every day’. The best advice I’ve received, which was a direct counter to the worst advice, was ‘write when you can’. People have other priorities they have to navigate their writing around, so sometimes writing has to take the back burner for a little while.

Have you ever kept a diary? Do you keep one now? 

I have tried to keep a diary on several occasions, but I can’t manage it. I do have a notebook that I use as a type of diary. I use it when I need to let go of certain thoughts or emotions. I never return to the writing in my diary. My lived experiences obviously feature in my writing in some capacity, but I seldom write non-fiction poetry.

Which classic book do you consider overrated? Or which obscure, unsung gem do you think is underrated?

I don’t think any writing is overrated, so much as there is a lot of attention given to particular sets of writing (ie. the writing of old or deceased white people) and not so much given to people in the margins (disabled people, queer people, Indigenous people, people of colour…). That said, I’m a fan of classic literature. I, like my peers, just need to be mindful that we aren’t recycling the canon and that we’re reading a diverse range of literature.

Have you written or published anything in the past that you now wish you could go back and change?

No, I think I’m still too early in my career for that. I definitely have older writing that’s been published that I’m not as proud of anymore, but that’s only because I’ve grown and developed. I enjoy having that tangible proof of how far I’ve come as a writer.

Which artist, author or fictional character would you most like to have dinner with?

I’m a believer in ‘don’t meet your heroes’ but I’d love to have dinner with Oscar Wilde. I think (read: hope) it’d be the biggest, queerest, wildest party of my dreams and I think our egos would either match wonderfully or we’d repel one another.

Raelee Lancaster will appear at two sessions at RMIT Storey Hall as part of Blak & Bright on September 7. She’s also co-director of the National Writers Young Festival, taking place this year from 3 October to 6 October in Newcastle. Follow Raelee on Twitter: @raeleelancaster.

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