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MS Confidential: Alice Bishop and Leon Bishop

Alice Bishop and Leon Bishop. 2019.

Welcome to MS Confidential: by Friday would be amazing, our brand-new blog series that explores the unique relationship between a writer and their most trusted confidant. Working on a manuscript (ms) can be a tough gig – it’s often isolating and slow, and there’s no guarantee of success. So, every writer needs a cheerleader, a first reader, someone who can give constructive feedback…by Friday would be amazing.

We’re delighted to kick off this series with Alice Bishop, author of A Constant Hum, and her dad, Leon Bishop.

Leon, when did you first realise Alice was a writer? 

I’m not sure. She first started showing me her stories around eight years ago, probably when she was around 25. I think ‘Clearing’ was one of the first. I knew when I read that story that she was a writer.

Before that I would sometimes find stuff around the house where she had annotated pictures and books, scraps of poetry she had written. She has always been a collector of stories and pictures. I feel like her love of images is apparent in her writing.

Alice, was there anything specific you had to consider when writing stories about the Black Saturday bushfires because of your family’s close connection to the day?

We’re a pretty close family. Especially since the house burned down on Black Saturday. But also before the fires too. We talk about it a lot.

I do sometimes worry I never really asked my younger brother how he felt about me writing about it all – I can imagine that’d be a bit annoying – especially as he lost a lot more than me on the day.

Leon, what was it like reading A Constant Hum for the first time? How were you able to give constructive feedback to someone you’re so close to?

Leon Bishop. Christmas Hills. February 2009.

My first reading of A Constant Hum had to be done in shortish bursts. Some of the stories I found so moving, so resonant, that I wanted to let my emotional response fade a bit first. I needed to give the next story the attention it deserved. Some of them I read through my tears.

Being out on the bike a lot, and outside a fair bit, a lot of my feedback was about the area. Sometimes I could provide little extra details about the landscape – about the birds and the animals – that I thought Alice might like. Also, I was an English teacher for a long time and sometimes had pedantic corrections that I wanted made. Alice did not always agree with these.

With Alice, I never feel like I want to make a suggestion about plot or character or theme. It is her work. She is the writer. I am the reader. That is the relationship that matters. Even though we are very close, our conversations about the work are always about that: the work.

Alice, what’s the best piece of advice your dad has given you?

‘Get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, go for a walk.’ Dad’s life advice to me – especially when I was fairly unwell in my late teens and early twenties – translates to writing advice too. You have to do the work, try to look after yourself and keep going.

Also, when Dad and I used to run a bit together, I’d always be the slow one. ‘One more step, Ali,’ he’d always yell back, as I was shuffling behind him up a hill. Frustrating as I found it at the time, it’s always kind of stuck with me.

I think about jogging with Dad sometimes when I’m writing. But instead of steps I’m telling myself: one more word. One more sentence. One more story. Then I had A Constant Hum.

Both: how can people provide better support to the writers in their lives?

Lynne Bishop, Alice Bishop and Leon Bishop. 1988.

Alice: Be interested in their work. Don’t rush them, either; a book can take heaps and heaps of time. Buy their book when it comes out. (Mum has bought like 20 copies of A Constant Hum already (love you Mum!)).

Also, subscribe to some of the great literary journals we’re lucky to have in here in Australia. So many books, as A Constant Hum did, start within their pages.

Leon: Writers are precious. They provide the lens that helps us understand the world and each other. We have a responsibility to care for them.

If you are lucky enough to have a writer in your life, you need to embrace that responsibility by approaching their work with an open heart and believing that they will show you something that you’ve never seen before.

See the good and not just read for errors or ideas that you don’t like. Treasure the stories as much as you do the person. Give them the space they need to develop their work. A careless and offhand criticism can kill a good idea and destroy a young writer. Just love their work.

A Constant Hum
by Alice Bishop is available now from all good bookshops.


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