Jennifer Down, Author
Disciplined, detailed and talented as hell is how we'd describe Australian writer, editor and translator Jennifer Down. Her debut novel, Our Magic Hour is published by Text, and is a beautiful and moving read. Here she talks about an upcoming collection of short stories, her dream writing project, and the Australian literary scene.
What do you do?
I’m a writer, editor and translator, and the author of a novel called OUR MAGIC HOUR.
Do you have a maxim that you live and work by?
When I was a kid I’d get up early every morning, but then I’d sit around drawing and writing and I’d still end up late for school. My dad used to say “Business before pleasure” to me. That makes him sound strict or ascetic but he’s not. Something about that phrase must have stuck. I’ve ended up with a very disciplined approach to everything.
What are the three milestones that have led you to where you stand?
Workshopping with generous students and teachers in TAFE; being shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript in 2014; having my first novel published by Text earlier this year.
What is your dream project?
I’m lucky enough to be doing it already! I love working with fiction. I guess my dream would be to do more travel for research – at the moment I want to write a story about the Petrified Forest in Arizona, but I don’t feel like I can do it properly until I see it for myself.
What projects do you have in the pipeline?
My second book will be released next year – it’s a collection of short stories called CONVALESCENCE. I have ideas for a new novel but it’s too overwhelming to think about at the moment. I can’t remember how I wrote something that long the first time around.
What is the best advice you’ve been given, or wish you had been told sooner?
It’s impossible to please everyone all the time. I can’t write with anyone in particular in mind, or I second-guess myself the whole way. I’m a very anxious person, and highly sensitive to everything – including criticism – and it’s easy to get sucked into this self-perpetuating cyclone of panic fear and punishment. It makes you stagnant.
Do you have a supportive female network in your field? Was it always this way?
Very much so. Most of my closest friends work in completely different fields, but in my experience there’s a very healthy and supportive attitude between women writers in Australia. I feel particularly lucky to have a couple of female friends who are a bit older than I am and who have been endlessly generous with their advice, encouragement and wisdom.
If you could choose to hear any female contemporary present at Make Nice, who would it be and why?
Ellen Van Neerven. I think she’s one of the best storytellers of our generation and she has an incredibly deft skill with words.
What are you listening to, reading, watching of late, that is inspiring or entertaining you?
Like the rest of the world, I’ve been listening to the new Beyoncé, as well as new PJ Harvey, Sampa the Great, Methyl Ethel and my bestie’s band Kill the Darling. I’m really bad at watching films and shows but I love Broad City. And I’m finally reading Hanya Yanagihara’s A LITTLE LIFE – I put it off for months because everyone kept talking about how harrowing and traumatic it was, but I’m not finding it gratuitous. I’m mostly astounded by the completeness of the world Yanagihara’s created with the novel.
What is one facet of your field that you want to see change?
I’d like to see much, much greater diversity in the Australian lit scene generally. Although fewer books by female authors are published, reviewed and awarded, the women whose work is published are overwhelmingly white, cisgender, able-bodied and university-educated, which means the voices and narratives being published are pretty homogenous, and not representative of contemporary Australia.