Kat Muscat Fellowship

In 2019, I was lucky enough to be chosen as the Kat Muscat Fellow, an annual award given by Express Media to a writer under the age of 30 to support an editorial project or work that embodies Kat’s legacy of feminism, defiance and empathy.

More information about the Fellowship here

I was also invited to speak at the Blue Breakfast, an annual breakfast in partnership with Beyond Blue to raise funds for the fellowship and to tackle stigma and discrimination and promote good mental health.

Blue Breakfast Speech

[Transcript]

My name is Liana Skrzypczak. I am adopted from Korea into a Polish-Australian family, hence the incredibly long and confusing last name. I want to stress that my writing has always been influenced by this mixed cultural heritage. AndThe Lore of Jeju, the project I have been working on with the assistance and support of this amazing fellowship, is no different.

The Lore of Jeju seemed ambitious on the outset. I wanted 1) an all-Korean 2) female cast, existing in a world where 2) sexual fluidity is the norm and where the 3) magic system was not based on the well worn paths of euro-centric mythology. Some would say ambitious, other would say stupid. But I believed all the above stated aims were incredibly important. And so I pushed ahead and began to consider how I might pull off this story.

I’d recently been inspired by the way writers like Naomi Alderman who wrote The Power managed to create a world where a female dominant power system was the norm. Other novels which manage to create their own micro-cultures within them were island novels like Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater or Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan. In these books, the literal boundaries of an island allowed the author to create societal rules and beliefs that pushed the readers conception of ‘normal’ in whichever direction the author wanted.

So, I began to look for likely island cultures on which to base my East-Asian, matriarchal, all-female, kick-ass cast on. And it didn’t take too long before I was reading all about the history of Jeju-do, a rugged volcanic island off the south coast of Korea, which, while known for its abundant waters and fertile soil, has a fascinating history. It was used for political prisoners during the Joseon Dynasty (1392 – 1910). It was the place of brutal mass killings of communist sympathisers in 1948 leading up to the Korean War. It’s where the infamous Haenyeo ‘sea-women’, free-divers of Jeju are famous for risking their lives to dive the rugged coastline without oxygen tanks in search of seafood to provide for their families. Jeju-do is known for its matriarchal legacy because of this.

So, I had my potential setting. Next, I needed an inciting incident: a profound circumstance that would drive the plot. I was dwelling on this problem on a 9-hour drive from Melbourne to Adelaide where my family lives and saw a fallen tree. It was the strangest shape, hollowed, looked like a piece of windswept driftwood. I began to think, driftwood –> Island –> imagine if the driftwood arrived on the island but was not a piece of driftwood at all but a vessel for carrying something… or someone. A person –> An exile –> A prisoner exiled on a one-way current to a treacherous island of women who’ve been exiled for the same thing. But what?

Murdering men? Yes, I thought. I can do something with that. Then, I thought, what if this particular piece of driftwood contained a man? The first to set foot on the island since its inception. What would happen to him?

So, this became the basis for my premise as follows:

On an island of women exiled for the crime of killing men, one of these women, Shin, wants nothing more than to escape and reap revenge for those who wronged her. When a Prince rocks up in a magic driftwood casket, exiled for pissing off his father, King Suro, the one responsible for the women’s exile, he must make a bid for his life. Will Shin be able to forgive Jae-Sun for the wrongdoings of the men who took away her people’s freedom? Will Jae-sun be able to prove that he’s not his father? Will they be able to conjure a plan of escape? Will they fight for a revolution? Together.

So already, I had a premise which involved two characters whose desires and beliefs are in direct opposition. But it quickly became apparent to me that this skeleton outline was missing a heartbeat. Which led me to my application for this fellowship, which involved money to fund a research trip to Jeju Island to visit the locations I had in mind for key scenes within the novel.

As soon as I set foot on the rugged volcanic coastline, I realised in all my research, I hadn’t even begun to scratch the surface of what Jeju has to offer. Everything I needed to embellish this brutal and beautiful world was right there in front of me.

Yes, I was that suspect tourist running around gathering all the sensory details one can’t get from online research. Yes, I was the one hanging off the side of a cliff just to get a photo of an interesting fungi growing from a rotting tree carcass. I spent an entire day in the Natural History Museum using google translate on my phone to decipher information on traditional earthwork, stone masonry, thatching, food culture, boat building, herbal medicine, flora, fauna everything there was to know about geography, geology, cosmology, weather, folk lore, clothing, music, customs etc. Yes, I was the one telling everyone to shush while I made voice memos of bird songs. My friend really thought I’d lost it when she turned to see me saying “Anyeonghaseyo!” to a nest of ants and asking them to identify themselves because I couldn’t find them in the guidebook.

I am a writer whose themes have always been deeply connected to setting and place. Without this fellowship, how would I have knownthe sheer force of buffeting winds on Mount Hallasan’s volcanic cone. The smell of rotting clumps of miyeok on the foreshore, or the specific cadence of the Haenyeo “Leyeo Leyeo Leyeodo Sana”work song.

How would I have come up with the saying: “She is suffering from a single cloud rain” to describe a passing sadness if I hadn’t experiencedthe Jeju phenomenon of a torrential downpour that lasts only handful of seconds?

How would I have come up with the saying: ‘She is like a splintered rice paddy in drought’ to describe the condition of ‘yearning’ for freedom if I didn’t see the effects of rice farming on the soil due to a lack of fresh water or irrigation options.

This fellowship allowed me to engage all five senses authentically and to ensure Shin-young’s story wasn’t a skeleton without a soul. 

Thank you:

To Roz, Maddy and Michael—from the moment I met you at lunch just prior to embarking on my trip, your warmth, generosity and genuine passion for this project was invigorating. I can’t tell you how much it means to have that. And also, you guys give the best hugs. To the rest of the committee Tracy, Shawn, Elizabeth, Jo, Jessica, Zoe and the Express Media team Lucy, Beth, Ronnie, I know I have only met some of you, but I have heard of all of you and I feel as though I know you guys so well. Thank you for your tireless work in the arts community and for those of you at Express Media and the Wheelers Centre, thank you for running such amazing institutions.

To Beyond Blue—thank you for the work you do with changing stigmas around mental health in so many areas. From the arts, to, for example, education, which happens to be my day job. I recently attended a professional development workshop where one of your representatives left us with the timely reminder that: “Everyone has mental health needs. Mental health is a spectrum and we are all included in it.” Thank you for the work that you do.

Finally, I wanted to say thank you to Kat for founding a legacy of feminism, empathy and defiance—a mantra I am holding close while drafting this work. It’s a powerful thing to be able to ignite a community of creatives around important themes like these and I have felt that power around me from the momentthis fellowship was announced on social media by the Wheeler Centre. Immediately, I was flooded with support from writers I’ve admired, but whom I’ve never met. From agents and publishers who reached out and showed that these themes matter on a larger industry scale. And from readers who told me this is the kind of book they’ve been searching for. That the lack of books that contain narratives about powerful East-Asian women, representation of LGBT romances, and fantastic worlds of a non-eurocentric origin isn’t a niche frustration, but a shared feeling amongst many.

The Whiter the Socks

Westerly Magazine (issue 64.1) has published a creative non-fiction story of mine, ‘The Whiter the Socks’ about my grandmother (babcia) and her time at Hohenfels Stalag 383 displaced persons camp after WWII.

This story tells three stories of survival: My babcia, Two young men, A cow.

Image: Australian War Museum (AWM)

 

[excerpt]

 

Babcia has sun-splotched hands, with skin that stays peaked after it’s pinched. She says it’s because she’s old and the skin has lost its spring. I think it’s because she carries too many secrets around and they’ve made her hands heavy.

The cow stood, body long to the wind, nose twitching. Dusk fell over the valley and a white frost crept up each blade of grass until the rolling green became rolling white.

The young lad raised his eyebrows as the older man tossed cloth into his hands. ‘What are these?’

‘Socks. To keep her hooves quiet.’

‘The Cow?’

‘Yes. Haven’t you ever put socks on a cow before?’

Buy it online here

The Long and Grinding Road

The Big Issue Australia have published my personal essay, The Long and Grinding Road, as a feature article in their New Year magazine (No. 578).

This was a think-piece inspired by one of the most difficult years of my life in which I spent many hours aboard the Firefly Express night-bus from Adelaide to Melbourne and back again.

[Excerpt]

…and after the year I’d had—family drama, work stress, money problems—my emotional baggage was heavy and my bank account, a little light. Thank God for the Firefly.

There are many reasons why people choose the Firefly over plane or train.

I MET PEOPLE WITH BAGGAGE OF ALL SHAPES AND SIZES—LITERALLY AND METAPHORICALLY SPEAKING.

[Excerpt]

Steve’s gaze was a fly settling on the spot between my eyes. “So, how come you’re heading to Melbourne?”

[Excerpt]

“I’ve got a chance to, you know, start over. I’m straight outta recovery so I wanna change…”

[Excerpt]

Back in our seats, I wondered what Steve had been about to say, or had been trying to say, but couldn’t.

I am especially proud of this piece as The Big Issue is a not-for-profit, independent magazine aimed at supporting disadvantaged Australians.

Vendors receive $4.50 for every $9 issue sold.

More on The Big Issue here

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Mother

Mother is a psychological horror inspired by:

… a notorious Adelaide Hills firebug who was sentenced to 13 years prison in 2007 for the deliberate lighting of 21 fires around the town of Harrogate using customised mosquito coils.

$7000 damage was done to fencing and the largest blaze blackened 180ha of land. Residents describe the year before her arrest as a period of terror.

Links to news reports: The Australian, ABC, Adelaide Now,

My partner was witness to one of these fires at his family home in Oakbank. He remembers waking up during the night and seeing the fire at the end of the driveway to the property. During interviews with the CFS and the police, he learnt the incident was one in a long string of suspicious fires intentionally lit that summer.

It was believed, at first, that the culprit was male and from Harrogate. Many meetings were called by the local town council to discuss and condemn the terrorising actions of this individual.

The incidents became so serious that locals took to taking shifts, sitting in their cars and monitoring the entry to the town and recording suspicious vehicles passing through.

When White, loving mother of two and one of the most vocal advocates for catching the perpetrator during this time, was convicted, it sent shock waves through the community.

White told the court she had been suffering from post-traumatic stress due to an incident in her childhood, post-natal depression and anxiety.

She remembered watching the blazes but didn’t remember lighting the fires.

She was released on bail in 2016.

 

[excerpt]

 

Mother didn’t bother finding out my sex, so sure she was that I was a boy. ‘Gave a kick like a ginger hare in a ferret’s mouth,’ she told me once at Christmas, saluting with her empty scotch tumbler. ‘Near broke me ribs.’ As she laughed, the smoke from her Winnie Blues choked the tiny square space of kitchen.

Mosquitoes, a black storm cloud of them, rush the porch, blocking moonlight, wings beating a sound like static, angry humming becoming murderously loud. Once inside, I can hear the pebble bulk of their bodies battering the windows and doors, catching on the thin wire mesh of the fly screen.

‘There’s something wrong with my baby,” I say.

ISLAND 155 2018 COVER noBarcode LRG

Buy it online here

Stocklists here

Leaden Heart

My mother grew up in Hobart before moving to Adelaide as a teenager. During a very special trip to Tasmania with my partner last year, I got to visit my mother’s old neighbourhood and home as well as experience some of the most beautiful Australian landscapes, wine, food and festivities (such as the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race).

We also made a day trip to Port Arthur, infamous convict penitentiary for some of the hardest criminals of the 19th Century, and also the site of more recent tragedy (Port Arthur Massacre, 1996). I was taken aback by the sheer beauty of the natural surrounds, juxtaposed against the stories of horror and brutality that had been experienced there.

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This short story was inspired by this spirit of place, and

…the infamous escape attempt of George ‘Billy’ Hunt, travelling actor and self-proclaimed ‘mad man’, who tried to jump across Eaglehawk Neck to freedom in the the carcass of a kangaroo.

[excerpt]

The crack of the whip cut the frosty dawn, sending feverish shivers along the lines of sleeping men. Exhaustion kept them at a doze, although the sound pierced their flesh and settled in their bones. They had all endured the whip—but none had seen it ring so many times and with such ferocity as they did now…

Read it here

Buy it here

SOUTH AUSSIES AT THE NATIONAL YOUNG WRITERS FESTIVAL 2016

Now in its 19th year, the National Young Writers’ Festival, creative partner of the much celebrated TiNA (This is Not Art festival), just keeps getting better.

This year, South Australian co-director, Annie Waters and her team upheld the long-running festival tradition of diversity and inclusion. They were looking for minority voices, multi-disciplinary workshops, fresh conversations and creative interpretations on theme. No conversation was too taboo. No pitch was left unturned. This resulted in a fascinating variety of workshops, round-table discussions, panels, games, debates and stalls.

And South Australian voices were not in short supply. South Aussies and SA Writers Centre members in attendance included Sarah Gates, Royce Kurmelovs, Phoebe Paterson de Heer, Anthony Nocera (current Digital Writer-in-Residence), Shaylee Leach, Simone Corletto and Joshua Mensch to name a few – all were glad to escape the blackouts, storms and flooding for 26 degrees and blue skies.

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The 2016 festival theme, ‘Get Lost,’ attracted over 117 presenters (not to mention attendees), 23 pop-up venues, labyrinth-inspired parties and mysterious Amazing Race-esque games. So jam-packed was the program, it was hard not to get lost in the creative pandemonium. In other words, I was not the only one who was wishing for a time-turner in order to make it to all the amazing events.

“The only possible way to fit everything I want to see at this festival is to constantly rock up halfway through [each event]” – Simone Corletto

From the very first night of readings on Thursday 29th September (back by popular demand), the high standard was set. Special guest writers exchanged childhood photos and had the crowd laughing, crying and exclaiming in delight over their astounding interpretations of character, narrative and voice.

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Then came a full day of bike-decorating, learning how to produce a podcast on the museum tram with the talented crew at ‘All The Best Radio,’ writing for television with Neighbours screen writer Magda Wozniak, fortune telling through native flowers, and the heated debates of ‘Science Fiction versus Science’ over who can ‘tell us more’ about the end of the world.

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Minds warmed up as we delved into the uncertain future of arts funding and journalism, and were soothed again by poetry inspired by place and landscape. We talked about gender representation in fashion and threw away traditional ‘stand up’ comedy forms at Friday night’s open mic event.

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And then of course, there was the much loved festival ball. Labyrinth themed, showcasing some serious glitter, fairy lights and ‘out of this world’ dance moves and ending with late night dips in the Sea Baths.

There was something for everyone. Even those who were simply after some quaint sea-side reflective calm or coffee chats with other artists at the many cute cafes along the main street.

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While the future of the writing industry might be the Labyrinth of all Labyrinths, creativity isn’t going anywhere. And neither is this festival. Due to the passion and drive of its organisers and contributing artists, it’s only getting bigger and better. So, keep an eye out for the next one!

“It’s been really beautiful to be amongst what feels like … a community and where art doesn’t feel like a beauty pageant. #NYWF ” – Shaylee Leach

For more information on how and when to apply for next year’s festival:

Twitter: @NYWF

Website: www.youngwritersfestival.org

Facebook: www.facebook.com/youngwritersfestival

 

 

Article first published on the SA Writers Centre website

NYWF – Implementing Professional Advice and Feedback

Interpreting and implementing Professional Advice and Feedback­

*Fact sheet prepared for National Young Writers Festival, Sydney, September 2016

Downloadable PDF

Reading is highly subjective and so finding the right set of eyes to give feedback on a new piece of writing can be both instructive and detrimental, making the process of interpreting and implementing feedback daunting for any writer.

Listed below are sources of feedback a writer might expect to receive:

Writing mentor:

One of the most valuable and accurate sources of feedback can come from a writing mentor (see blog post ‘Professional Mentorships’ for more information on sourcing a mentorship). This process guarantees personalised and targeted feedback from a professional in the field who may be working in a similar style and genre for a target audience. Forms of feedback can include industry, structural, copy or proof as well as general personal support (as outlined in next section).

In-house editor / publisher / agent:

If you’re at the stage where you have gained the attention of an in-house editor or publisher, some agents and publishers will request a ‘revise and submit’ from an author before signing them. This is as much to identify how well an author receives feedback as it is to determine how successfully they can integrate that feedback into their manuscript.

Critique partner / critique group / beta-readers:

This is a great way to ‘cast the net wide’ and collect the opinions of a sample of readers. Sometimes the collective opinions of a group can help a writer better identify any weaknesses / trends in their work. Formal critique partners can be sourced through most writing institutions such as state writing centres, Australian Society of Authors and through writing memberships such as Romance Writers of Australia.

Freelance Editor:

Freelance feedback services are available from most writing institutions (State Writers Centres, Australian Society of Authors) and come at a cost. Rates vary depending on the editor and the type of service (structural or other). The South Australian ‘Society of Editors’ has a list of registered editors on their website and the kinds of services they offer. Registered means that each editor has undergone and passed state standards to receive qualification. http://www.editors-sa.org.au/

Manuscript assessment services:

Manuscript assessment is usually a combination of industry, structural, copy advice on a manuscript, with a focus on the big-picture—content, voice, tone, style, plot pace, characterisation, setting, dialogue, market, audience, theme. More on these categories outlined below.

Types of advice that may be contracted or received:

Industry advice:

  • Will the story idea appeal to the market in which it’s intended?
  • Does the story idea identify a target audience in tone, theme, voice, plot, character?
  • Does the story idea hold its own in the current marketplace? (Has it been overdone? Does it offer something new? Is it following a trend?)

Structural advice:

  • How does the work read as a whole?
  • Are events logical and consistent?
  • Are there any obvious plot holes?
  • Does the world/setting/characters work? Do the characters and relationships work?
  • Does the book begin/end in a satisfactory manner?
  • Does the author’s choice of tense and voice work?

Copy advice:

  • Is spelling, grammar consistent and accurate?

Personal advice:

  • Personal advice, usually given in an informal fashion (through mentorships, discussion panels). May include advice on how to handle rejection, stress, career pressures. This can be just as important as craft, industry and career advice to some writers.

Some thoughts on interpreting and implementing feedback

It is important to be open to feedback in order to learn and improve. However, being too influenced by feedback, or making uninformed changes based on mixed feedback can confuse and water down the intended effect of a particular work. It is important to develop a strong sense of intention before approaching feedback so that subjective opinion may be strategically and implemented or considered and, sometimes, disregarded.

Remember, as Neil Gaiman stated:

“…when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/477087-remember-when-people-tell-you-something-s-wrong-or-doesn-t-work