Julienne van Loon, 37, won the 2004 Vogel Literary Award for Road Story. She is at present a Vice Chancellor’s Senior Research Fellow at RMIT University in Melbourne. Road Story was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize First Book Award (Asia and Pacific Region) and the West Australian Premier’s Book Award for Fiction. Her books since are Beneath the Bloodwood Tree (2008, Allen & Unwin) and Harmless (2013, Fremantle Press). Her short fiction and essays have been published in Best Australian Stories, Griffith Review and The Monthly.
Her reply to my questionnaire was:
‘I don’t think I ever seriously aspired to a romanticised idea of being a writer when I was young. When I left school, I had a drive to do something creative, but wasn’t sure what.
‘In a way my focus was on the doing, rather than the being, if that makes sense. I get absorbed in doing. I loved art, literature, cinema, theatre, and had an interest in fashion and textiles design as well.
‘I enrolled in a creative arts degree at the University of Wollongong and tried a few different things. It was a wonderful environment.
‘I suppose I stumbled into writing. I just became increasingly interested in it and I loved the work of a whole bunch of contemporary authors that the Creative Writing and English department teaching staff and visiting writers-in-residence began to introduce me to. The Sydney poet, Joanne Burns, was a memorable teacher and I loved her work and her recommendations as to what to read.
‘I began to gain really positive feedback on my writing and so immersed myself more and more in the practice of it. I remember thinking that one of its main advantages back then—as an art form—was that it didn’t cost anything for materials. I was living on the poverty line in those days. I had plenty of time but no money at all.
‘After I graduated with a Master’s degree, I began to teach creative writing. I hadn’t yet published a book of my own, although I’d had shorter works published. I suppose by the time my first novel was published—I was 35—I was already fairly well-tuned to the challenges of trying to make a living from writing. I think you learn an awful lot about the theory and practice of writing from teaching… it’s a community of thinkers, readers and practitioners with like interests and specialist knowledge and the conversations are ongoing and interesting and lively. There’s a fairly constant questioning of the art form, too, its purpose, its audience, the industry, the rise and fall of particular genres or techniques, and that questioning and constant conversation keeps you on your toes.
‘I see myself as both a writer and an academic. I’m mindful that as a writer of literary fiction in a nation with a small population of readers, and a global marketplace still dominated by the US and the UK, the kind of work I do is fairly unlikely to be a commercial proposition. So, I don’t really expect to make a living from book sales, but I suppose as a Creative Writing academic, I am making a living from my knowledge of the practice of writing, and my writing and my teaching are closely related.
‘I should add that I’m not entirely happy about that situation, both for myself, and for other novelists like me.
‘I’m a Director at the Australian Society of Authors and a life-long unionist, and I think that there is a fight to be had and a set of arguments to be constantly attended to, both here in Australia and overseas, regarding the value of the kind of work literary creators do.
‘We need to be vigilant as a community of writers and readers about things like copyright, contracts that stick to reasonable principles for authors, and regulations about the importation of books from overseas that ensure Australian authors and illustrators have a fair shot at getting their books on the shelves of our local libraries and bookshops and getting paid for that appropriately.
‘As for being a writer full time, I’m as close to that now as I’ve ever been. I have a four-year research fellowship at RMIT University.
‘It’s a university that values creative practice and getting on with my writing is a large part of what I’m here to do. In practice, I find I can’t do nothing but write. I never have been able to do that. I like people! I like to spend at least some part of my working week immersed in work that’s not solely inside my own head. I think that’s healthy, and I feel a responsibility to my discipline, and to my community of practitioners, if you like, to engage in other meaningful ways—mentoring through PhD supervision, working in an advocacy role for authors through the ASA, co-editing TEXT, which is the key Creative Writing scholarly journal in Australia, that kind of thing. I enjoy the exchange of ideas and the tackling of problems common to many of us.’