Marlee Silva is a 24-year-old Gamilaroi and Dunghutti storyteller. She is the co-founder of Indigenous female empowerment movement Tiddas 4 Tiddas and the host of the Always Was, Always Will Be Our Stories podcast. Marlee’s debut book My Tidda, My Sister will be released in September 2020.
How are you looking after yourself during this time?
I feel like, in many ways, there have been a few stages of this COVID experience and therefore a few different phases of self-care I’ve gone through. At the start of the pandemic, I was very much in the baking/reading/bingeing phase, but now I’ve progressed into the ‘throw yourself into your work and hope it makes it go by faster’ phase. Committing to regular Zoom catch-ups with friends and really maintaining my physical health with lots of exercise and fresh air whenever possible has also been a huge focus.
Can you speak a little about your creative process while writing?
As My Tidda, My Sister is my debut book, I had the mindset of treating it like other stuff I’d done before so as to not feel too intimidated by the process. I didn’t change my writing process just because it was a whole book I was writing. I spent the first few weeks really interrogating my ‘why’ – why a collection of stories like this mattered, why I wanted to be the one to do it, and what individual stories would cover what I wanted to cover. This was followed by lots of wonderful phone calls and meetings with the amazing women I got to spotlight in the book; this is where pure inspiration and passion drove me to get a lot done really quickly. It was such a privilege to hear these stories and hear them told with such bravery and vulnerability. Every step of the journey was incredible and I couldn’t be prouder of the end result.
Has the pandemic changed the way you approach your art/writing? Are you creating or absorbing, or both?
For the first portion of the pandemic, I had fallen into the ‘well Shakespeare wrote King Lear in lockdown’ camp. I found myself putting a lot of pressure on after losing a good chunk of work and subsequently having a lot of spare time on my hands. But of course, that kind of pressure isn’t healthy or helpful and it meant I had no creative juices to work with. I’m slowly getting back into things and doing more absorbing, but it’s definitely been a struggle.
What are the most important literary and non-literary forces that shape your writing?
My writing is almost exclusively shaped by my experience, my culture and the people I interact with. I think I’ve been pretty good at training myself to be okay with experimentation and not getting too bogged down with particular goals or striving for particular projects. I’m very much someone who waits for the opportunities or signs or moments to kick me into gear to write with purpose.
Which artists are you most intrigued by at this current point in time?
Since her recently announced Miles Franklin Award win, I’m diving back into the beauty of Tara June Winch’s work. Her first novel Swallow the Air was fundamental in me finding the confidence to accept I wanted to be a writer ‘when I grew up’ – and I’m tempted to pick it back up or re-read The Yield now.
And, lastly, on a lighter note, what’s your favourite book-to-TV / book-to-film adaptation? Or is there a book you’d like to see adapted into a TV show / film?
Normal People! Getting the series in isolation made it so easy to watch, and it captured the feelings the novel gave me perfectly.