A Constant Hum: Alice Bishop

I met Alice at ‘The Next Big Thing’ event in Melbourne where I had the privilege of listening to a reading from her debut book A Constant Hum – which draws from Alice’s own experiences in the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires. I was keen to have a chat with her and hear her thoughts on the epidemic of global warming – in relation to the increasingly frequent natural disasters happening worldwide. And get her thoughts on the gender stereotypes of ‘heroism’ we see in society in the aftermath of a natural disaster – which she challenges in her book. We also spoke about writers who have inspired her and the tips and tricks aspiring authors need to know!

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A Constant Hum – cover art – By Alice Bishop

We met at The Wheeler centre for ‘The Next Big Thing’ event. How did this opportunity come about for you?

Yes! We’re lucky to have The Wheeler Centre here in Melbourne, and The Moat bar below: both have become a real heart of words and ideas in the city.

‘The Next Big Thing’ event really came about by my name luckily being added to the night’s schedule: thanks to my great publicist at Text, and also the generous staff at The Wheeler Centre.

I was also lucky to complete a Hot Desk Fellowship in 2015, so my name might still be floating around there, from that. I’d recommend any emerging writer to look into the fellowships; they’re great.

You have just released your debut book A Constant Hum – which is based on your own experience of the devastating 2009 Black Saturday bushfires. 

How did you find writing this book?

It was often a comfort, and sometimes hard—especially not knowing if I was onto something or just kind of going around in circles.

The book took me over seven years to write so there were plenty of ups and downs but, also, it’s been such a constant presence in my life. I miss working on it, to be honest. I’ll have to start thinking about the next thing.

The book also brings attention to the epidemic of global warming – what do you hope readers will take away from this?

Seeing our house- along with the bush I knew as home—disappear to Black Saturday, I wanted to write about the lingering aftermath of climate-flared natural disaster. I hope readers see that it can often take years and years to rebuild your life and relationships, your home and your finances after bushfire.

I think it’s important to show that as our world rapidly warms, natural disasters like Black Saturday are increasing, in both frequency and intensity, all over the world. We have to act quickly, and not just continue on as usual—hoping someone else will fix the problem.

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Your piece in Meanjin, 2016 ‘Heroic Men and Helpful Women’ draws attention to gender stereotypes and the lack of female acknowledgment shown in the media following the aftermath of Black Saturday and other disasters. Please can you shed more light on this?

Sure, ‘Heroic Men and Helpful Women’ explores how bushfire is seen, especially in the mainstream media, still, primarily through the perspective of men—often white men.

Sometimes there’ll be a token female fire fighter in photos, but I really hope things change so that we start genuinely acknowledging women’s strength after bushfire in a more complex way, showing men’s stories in a different light too.

Our national narrative is home to a real persisting binary—man as heroic protector and woman as the one holding things together quietly in the background—that persists. It’s a very dated and often dangerous one—I think. 

How do you find Australia’s role in tackling gender equality?

We’ve made some great progress but I think we have a long way to go. I think in broader Australia, we pat ourselves on the back for being progressive in regards to gender equality too much—sometimes at the expense of not actually looking at the statistics, or really listening.

The dream is to see more women and girls comfortable in their bodies, abilities and strength—at all stages of life. Same for all genders. 

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Can you tell us a favourite author of yours?

I have so many! My favourites right now are Deborah Levy, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Josephine Rowe, Richard Ford, Warsan Shire and Vivian Gornick.

For aspiring authors, do you have any tips for how they can get their work out there?

My main tip would be to read widely. That’s how you learn, I think. Also, write about something important to you, not about something that’s fashionable or that you think you should write about.

Subscribe to literary magazines like Meanjin, or Voiceworks: so often filled with brilliant essays, short stories and poetry. Start submitting, and remember—rejection is a normal part of the process, for everyone.

What’s next in store for you? 

A Constant Hum has just been shortlisted for the 2019 Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction, so that’s really exciting. I’ll also be at Melbourne Writers Festival and, then, after the publicity rush is over I’ll be slowly starting on my next book—hopefully!

How can we keep up with you and your journey? 

You can follow me on:

Instagram: @alicebishop

Twitter: @BishopAlice

I have a website too, but barely update it enough. It’s alicebishop.site

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To enjoy and explore more of Alice’s work! Follow the links below: 

Coppering (Meanjin Quaterly, 2018) – link to work

Shelf Reflection: Alice Bishop (Kill Your Darlings, 2019) – link to work

KYD First Book Club: A Constant Hum (with Alice Bishop) – (Kill Your Darlings podcast, 2019) – link to podcast

Alice’s writing has been published by Meanjin, Overland, Australian Book Review, Lip Magazine and the Wheeler Centre.

 

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