Author Bri Lee Shares How 2020 Has Changed Her Approach to Writing
Bri Lee is an Australian author best known for her 2018 memoir, Eggshell Skull, the powerful and deeply personal story of her time as a judge's associate and the years following. The memoir is a compassionate, confronting window into the injustices experienced by assault victims as not only by perpetrators but also the Australian legal system.
Following the book's release, Bri dove into a busy schedule of book events and speaking engagements, travelling far and wide to continue shining a light on the things that matter to her and so many others. Then came 2020. With pandemic-era restrictions putting a stop to her very active, very social work life, she says she's slowed down and, as a result, learned to be a better thinker and a better listener.
Originally from Brisbane, Bri now lives with her partner in Sydney, far from her family who are still at home across the closed Queensland border. We spoke to Bri about what she's learned this year, how her life has changed, and the impetus for pivoting to fiction and working on her first novel.
Generally speaking, what has life looked like for you during lockdown/times of restricted living?
Compared to 2018 and 2019 the main difference is that I've travelled a lot less. Last year I was taking an average of an interstate flight once a fortnight, for speeches and events and festivals. It was a blast, but when March 2020 rolled around my travel schedule just evaporated, and I started trying to figure out how to lean into that.
Have you been writing this year? More or less than pre-pandemic times?
I don't know how to say this without sounding wanky, so here goes: I've been doing about the same amount of writing, but I've been doing a lot more and a lot better thinking. The main reason for that has been slowing down. Reading and listening more, not just speaking and writing all the time. And I believe it's making my writing better. I got my first short story published a couple of months ago, which is a huge milestone for me because I'm in the process of pivoting to fiction and working on a novel. I don't think I could've done that if I was speech writing and travelling so much like I was in 2019.
What has been the hardest part about life in lockdown?
I miss my family in Brisbane. Normally I see them three or four times a year at least. Now we're trying to plan for Christmas and wondering if it will even be possible to cross the NSW-QLD border.
Is there anything in particular that you've missed this year?
Writers festivals are so, so, so great. They can be huge milestones for early-career authors, and I have always cherished the opportunity to hear from my favourite international writers too. I really hope we can do them all again next year. Also I miss rambling house parties and dinner parties that go to the wee hours. I miss going to the theatre then dissecting the play with a mate over wine afterwards. I run a monthly author talk series called the B List Bookclub with the State Library of New South Wales, and we've made it all digital now, which is a great silver lining in terms of accessibility, but I do miss the wine-and-cheese part of its IRL beginnings.
Have you experienced or noticed any positives of life during lockdown?
Definitely. The more-time-for-thinking thing is something I want to try to keep, even if and when things return to "normal". When gyms closed I started going on really long walks most mornings, and now I hope to be able to do it forever. I listen to podcasts about writing or philosophy or history or politics, and collect grass for my guinea pigs. It's a really relaxing yet mentally stimulating way to start the day. Connected to this is how much more online lots of thinkers and writers are going. Book launches, lectures, podcasts—the accessibility of the international brains trust is through the roof.
What/who have you been most grateful for this year?
My partner. We've come through lockdown and both working-from-home in quite a small apartment together stronger than ever. He makes me laugh all the time and I just feel so lucky to have my forever person also be a chill person who I'm actually low-key stoked to be stuck inside with. Also I feel gratitude every single day for this beautiful country, and that's something that's developed with going on these long walks. It's a privilege to live in an area with safe and pleasant public spaces. It's a privilege to live on what always was and always will be Aboriginal land. Gadigal land is spectacular.
As a writer, you might have better insight into how to stay healthy and look after yourself without the routine of a 9-5. What helps you to stay connected and keep perspective when you're spending a lot of time inside and/or alone?
Actually, I found that when I worked a "regular" 9-5 job a few years ago it was way harder to keep healthy and have perspective. Possibly that's because early-career law jobs are more like 5-9 than 9-5, but I also think that there's something about me that truly loathes following orders. I hate being told what to do, or think, or when and where to go; all of it. Living my career and life on my own terms means perpetually reassessing what does and doesn't work. It requires a rigorousness and honesty with myself.
What I'd also say is that health and wellbeing aren't individual issues, they're structural and community issues. It's easy for me to have good "wellbeing" because I can afford nutritious food and go on safe walks for free. Economic stability means I can take time off work if I need. These aren't "tips" I can give people—they're benefits of the middle class. I'm grateful for them and I hope people who are struggling without them don't swallow the neoliberal bullshit and think it's their fault because they're not working hard enough.
You can also follow Bri on Instagram at @bri.e.lee.
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