2020 wrap-up: Reading, Writing & Ideas

Remember January?

Yes … we think we remember January!

We came back from the beach and busied ourselves with the Queensland Literary Awards. Piles of books surrounded us in our office here at State Library of Queensland. Emerging writers sent through fellowship applications and unpublished manuscripts. In September, we celebrated 15 winners and dozens of finalists in a digital ceremony broadcast around the world.

Beyond this, the team has been thrilled to produce and deliver other terrific events for our reading and writing communities throughout 2020. The founders of  Like a Photon Creative, Nadine Bates and Kristen Souvlis, discussed their creative risks for Game Changers back in April. ALS-gold medallist Shastra Deo came on board as our inaugural reader-in-residence. Australia’s first woman prime minister, Julia Gillard, spoke to an audience of over a thousand from Adelaide to promote her new book, co-written with Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. And the black&write! team guided two new manuscripts through the editing process; fingers crossed you’ll see these books on your shelves soon.

But perhaps the biggest highlight, every year, are the writers, literary judges, readers, and editors we get to work with. We asked seven of them to reflect on what has been for many people a difficult and unsettling 12 months, and pinpoint some personal and professional highlights.

Here's to a safe and comforting holiday season spent with loved ones. The Reading, Writing & Ideas team looks forward to welcoming you to our programs and events in 2021.

Jasmin McGaughey, writer and Junior Editor, black&write! 

My highlight has been the chance to work with the black&write! fellows and their manuscripts. This year, two picture books were picked as the 2020 winning fellows. I’ve been able to learn how different editing a picture book can be compared to a novel and how creatively you need to think about not only text, but images too. It’s been an extremely fun learning process!

I have so many books at home that deserve my attention. It’s probably a good thing I’ll be staying in Brisbane so I can focus on my to-be-read (TBR) pile. I’d like to pick up a bunch of books to read for fun (as opposed to reading for work or study) and I’m particularly keen for some Aussie YA and some fantasy YA. My list includes This is How we Change the Ending by Vikki Wakefield and A Sky Beyond the Storm by Sabaa Tahir. I’ve been holding on to The Yield by Tara June Winch for a while now, waiting for the right moment to read it, and I think this summer will be it. I also think I’ll make a start on Growing Up African in Australia edited by Maxine Beneba Clark and finish off Kill Your DarlingsNew Australian Fiction 2020 anthology as well.

Jasmin McGaughey with two non-university-related books she’s excited to read

Zenobia Frost, poet and events manager

My reading highlight has been Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl — a lot of pink bath bombs were deployed while I slowly read Andrea Lawlor's queer romp. I also really enjoyed reading Lisa Gorton's Hotel Hyperion lately — which I absolutely ought to have read years ago. What a great collection. My writing highlight was definitely researching and writing Art Starts Here: 40 Years of Metro Arts — and I was very excited to recently see a show at their new West Village venue for the first time.

I plan to read for pleasure as much as possible! I'm going to reread so many Discworld novels and I won't be stopped! 

What do I wish for in 2021? A vaccine, of course! And if Santa could include sustainable funding for artists and arts workers in all our Christmas stockings, that would be great.

Cass Moriarty, author, literary judge and book reviewer

My reading highlight for 2020 was once again having the honour of judging in the Queensland Literary Awards and being exposed to some of Australia’s very best authors and writing. So many great books this year, which made it difficult to choose, but wonderful to see the talent created from both established and emerging writers, especially authors from Queensland. 

My reading plans over the summer are to catch up on the huge structural wall of books that is my TBR pile, hoping to dive into much anticipated new releases by some of my favourite authors as well as discovering the ongoing excitement of debut authors and their diverse range of styles and genres.  

Hopes for 2021? So many! No pandemics or catastrophic bushfires or devastating floods. For the publishing industry to regain some sense of normal after this horror year. My own manuscript currently out on submission to find a home. To finish my work in progress. (Is that too much to hope for?!) 

Mindy Gill, poet and editor in chief of Peril

I read and re-read Ella Jeffery’s debut collection of poems, Dead Bolt. I thought often of the line: “Well, I have married a living venom gland”. It’s from a poem written after Jan van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Portrait. If you haven’t seen the painting I urge you to google it. He really does look like a living venom gland. Ella’s poems are just like this – precise, startling, and perfectly deadpan. And Zadie Smith’s Intimations because: “I do feel comforted to discover I’m not the only person on this earth who has no idea what life is for, nor what is to be done with all this time aside from filling it”.

Last year I bought a Kindle so that I wouldn’t be beholden to the selection of airport bookstores. What I wouldn’t give now to be beholden to the selection of airport bookstores. Anyway, I will download all the Jack Reacher novels I was saving for the plane and read them instead lying on my couch in the air-conditioning.

And in 2021, I want to finally see my partner in India, and Virginia Floof, his resident cat, who has just given birth to three tiny ginger kittens: Melymbrosia, Orlando and Dalloway.

Mindy Gill ready for some summer reading with her discerning friend Lola 

Simon Cleary, novelist

My reading highlight was Eavan Boland’s Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and the Poet in Our Time, a poetic memoir recommended by a friend after the Irish poet passed away in April. It is a revelation (“I began to watch places with an interest so exact it might have been memory”). On the writing front it was a thrill to have a short reflective piece on loss, memory, beauty and the kangaroos of Kangaroo Point exhibited as a collaboration with animator-artist, Todd Fuller, at the Museum of Brisbane.

My reading plans over the summer include Andrew O'Hagan’s Mayflies and Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria, both by the beach. And I’ll do some research-reading for a writing project that is taking shape.

I hope, for 2021, that rampant individualism has had its day.

Allanah Hunt, writer and Junior Editor, black&write! 

My highlight was being part of the selected authors for The Next Chapter fellowship. Because it was for a piece of work that is so personal to me, it felt validating to have that picked and I’m really excited to work with a mentor who will guide me to make it the best possible version it can be!

My reading plan is to read at least three books for fun over the summer that have nothing to do with my PhD or textbooks! This will all take place in my canopy bed at home (my favourite reading spot), hopefully with a cat by my side for company (if they aren’t sulking about some imagined slight or another!) The three books I have my eye on are: Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, Song of the Crocodile by Nardi Simpson and Tiddas by Dr Anita Heiss.

Simon Cleary’s pick for the beach (‘Carpentaria’) and Allanah Hunt’s selection (‘Song of the Crocodile’)

Jerath Head, writer, editor and researcher

My reading highlight for this year was Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant. I’m a bit late to the game with this book, but it was one of the most singular and affecting things I’ve ever read. My personal writing highlight was an essay I had published in Sydney Review of Books as part of their Writers at Work series. I hadn’t been much at work in 2019. This opportunity really shifted me back into gear—and it is always such a pleasure to work with the SRB team.

Aside from the reading I must do for a writing project and for study, I have a little stack of books to attempt to work through over the summer: The Yield, by Tara June Winch; This Is Pleasure by Mary Gatskill; Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell; and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. As I’ve no plans for travel or extended breaks, this will mostly be done on the couch in my living room that catches the best cross-breeze, or under a fig tree somewhere in Orleigh Park.

World peace? Or failing that, to walk through mountains in New Zealand, which for brief moments can feel like the same thing.


Thanks to our friends for their illuminating answers. Stay well, everybody, and happy reading! See you in 2021. 


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Really good post