Follow-up with the Fellows

Congratulations to all the finalists of the 2020 Queensland Literary Awards! Celebrate the winners with us on Friday 4 September—register now.

Our shortlist announcement had us reflecting on just how much has changed in a year, both in terms of our awards and the writers they support and acknowledge.

We caught up with Ella Jeffery, past winner of the Queensland Premier’s Young Publishers and Writers Awards, and Emily O’Grady, past winner of a Queensland Writers Fellowship, to find out how their writing has gone (or gone awry) during 2020.

Emily O'Grady and Ella Jeffery, Queensland Poetry Festival 2018. Photographed by Anna Jacobson.

Ella Jeffery’s debut collection of poetry, Dead Bolt, won the inaugural Puncher & Wattmann Prize for a First Book of Poems and was published in June 2020—purchase it here. She was recently invited to give a reading from the book as part of Queensland Poetry Festival’s Panacea Poets series. Plans for a book launch have been disrupted by the pandemic, but Ella is in the process of organising an online launch for the coming months.

Emily O’Grady’s critically acclaimed first novel, The Yellow House, won the Australian/Vogel's Literary Award and was shortlisted for the People's Choice Prize at the Queensland Literary Awards. As part of her Queensland Writers Fellowship she’s working on a new novel, Feast. Set between Scotland and Sydney, Feast mostly takes place over the weekend of a birthday celebration. It’s a bit witchy, a bit damp, and revolves around a cluster of weird women doing weird things.

Emily O'Grady's workspace and faithful writing companion.

In November 2019, when you won your award, what did your writing plans look like for 2020?

Ella Jeffery: At that stage I was waiting to receive the edits on my first collection of poems, Dead Bolt – my big plans were to edit the book, see it released and get started on some new poems for my second collection. I was lucky enough to receive the Mick Dark Fellowship for Environmental Writing, which came with three weeks of writing time at Varuna in 2020, so I was looking forward to travelling to the Blue Mountains in January to commence work on a selection of new poems. I was also looking forward to being an artist-in residence at Bundanon, but this has been moved to 2021 due to the disruptions of the last few months, so I’ll be looking forward to it for a little longer now.

Emily O’Grady: My intention for 2020 was to work part time on Feast, and for the most part I’ve been able to stick to that schedule. I planned to spend June in Spain on a writing residency, which has been postponed indefinitely, but other than that my writing plans have been unaffected, which I’m grateful for.

What have you been able to work on during the first half of this year?

Ella: During my residency at Varuna I started work on a series of new poems that I think are quite different from the poems in my first book. I wanted most of all to pursue some changes to my tone and style, and to try to write poems that felt new and challenging to me after a long time spent on my previous book. Most of these are still in draft form and I’m working on them here and there when time allows, but a couple will be appearing in journals in the second half of 2020. I also finished the edits for my first book, which has since been published by Puncher & Wattmann.

Emily: I’ve been plodding away with the manuscript and have worked through a few drafts. It’s having a rest at the moment before I come back to it and figure out the ending which, as it stands, is terrible.

What are you most proud of writing in 2020?

Ella: I didn’t technically write it this year, but I’m most proud of my first collection of poems, Dead Bolt, which was published in June. It’s been incredible to hold it in my hands and to see others reading it over the past six weeks! It’s a strange time to release a book into the world but I’m so thrilled to see it published.  

Emily: Between work and the manuscript, I haven’t had time to write much else, so I’m mostly chuffed that I’ve managed to wrangle the novel from a blobby mess into something that is less blobby and less messy.

Ella Jeffery's debut poetry collection Dead Bolt.

The 2020 winners of the Queensland Writers Fellowships and the Queensland Premier’s Young Publishers and Writers Award will be announced at our online awards celebration on Friday 4 September.

Though this pandemic has made all aspects of living more difficult, we’re proud of the literary ecosystem we work, play, and create in. We value the creative work—be it thinking, dreaming, reading, writing, or whatever else—you’ve engaged in during this time. We hope you find value in it too.

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