Nadia Bailey is a writer and editor. She is the 2020 National Library of Australia Creative Arts Fellow for Australian Writing, and was the recipient of the 2019 Kraków City of Literature Creative Fellowship. She is currently working on her first novel.
How are you looking after yourself during this time?
The priority for me is making sure I’m looking after others – and that means staying home, wearing a mask if I go out, and maintaining social distancing. It’s been a weird, lonely time (and I miss so many people and so many things!), but I truly feel the best way I can look after myself is by putting the needs of the community ahead of whatever I, in my small, selfish way, want.
Can you speak a little about your creative process while writing?
Right now, I’m working on a historical fiction novel set during and in the aftermath of the First World War. My creative process has so far involved a lot of reading and research in archives; if you were to snoop through my files, you’d find a copy of Australia’s 1916 census, a Polish travelogue published in 1891, and an academic study on the role of women during the telegraphic era – all of which will eventually find their way, in some form, into my book. Other than that, my process is to write in the morning, while my mind is fresh. I’m definitely a morning person. If I try to write at night, I mostly produce rubbish.
Has the pandemic changed the way you approach your art/writing? Are you creating or absorbing, or both?
The pandemic has meant that so much of my brain is taken up by worry. Oftentimes, this has meant that creating is difficult – getting into the state of openness and possibility required for writing seems impossible. That being said, right at the start of the pandemic, I created a project called Dining in Place, where I’ve invited writers and artists I admire to contribute essays on cooking, eating, and nourishment during lockdown. Even when working on my own writing has been difficult, working with other writers – in particular the collaborative process of editing – has been an absolute joy. It’s really given me a sense of purpose and helped me feel less alone during these strange weeks of seeing no one and going nowhere.
What are the most important literary and non-literary forces that shape your writing?
A big question. I’m very much interested in queer history, and restoring queer history where it has been erased and elided. I’m interested in the idea of archival silences and what has been omitted from historical records – those stories that have remained untold because they run counter to the narrative of the powerful (we see these silences around the history of marginalised people of all kinds). I’ve been thinking a lot about something Jia Tolentino said in an interview recently about the genuine pleasure of decentring oneself. She talks about how this can ‘make you feel like the world is opening up, like you’re dissolving into the immensity of history and the present rather than being more uncomfortably visible to yourself’. I’ve been carrying this idea with me and taking great comfort in it.
Which artists are you most intrigued by at this current point in time?
I’m currently reading Saidiya Hartman’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, an historical account of young Black women in America in the early 20th century. Hartman’s approach, which combines exacting historical research with lyrical prose and a willingness to lean into those archival silences and imagine what lived within those absences, has been incredibly instructive. During the pandemic, I’ve found myself returning to the work of M.F.K. Fisher, and revelling as much in her descriptions of delicious meals and far off places as I have in her weirder, darker side, which has received far less critical attention. There are a couple of her essays that have really gotten under my skin – there’s something quite subversive about them. I feel like I’d like to write about that side of her soon.
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?
I’m patiently waiting for a lushly-costumed six-part BBC adaptation of Mary S. Lovell’s The Mitford Girls.