My 2019 was huge – busy, successful, sad, fun, accomplished and adventurous. At times I felt like a hamster on a wheel, running at full speed. I haven’t sat still long enough to reflect on what a ride it’s been, so it’s nice to do so now. I have fitted so much in, I’m proud. This is a long one, I’m sorry.
I was in Hoi An – Vietnam – with my Mum from late December to early January 2019. It was my first trip to Asia and I loved it. We mostly did cooking classes, restaurant hopped and had clothes made at the tailor. The weather was humid though cool. And the hospitality was wonderful. We made friends with some Australian, British and New Zealand tourists, and also the hotel manager (who has since visited my parents while she stayed in Australia). I’d love to write some recommendations of activities and restaurants one day.
As soon as I started work back at Melbourne Fringe, I commenced my book tour for the release of Say Hello. Most book tours are around three weeks, and comprise launch events, media and book shop visits, but I wanted mine to stretch because I wanted to continue working at Fringe two and a half days a week, and also didn’t want to be on and off planes every day – that would not have been good for my health, especially in the hot weather. My book tour was from January to May. Melbourne Fringe has been incredibly good to me with my varied work days because of travel – and I’m very grateful.
The first stop of my book tour was signing books at Booktopia. I signed around 300 and it took less than an hour – honestly, I expected longer. It was fun to see the books being packed in the warehouse. Then I recorded an interview with Mia Freedman for No Filter.
The following week was the start of the many book launches around the country. It was at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne on an incredibly hot evening (45 degrees!). I was so hot from the very short walk from the taxi to the venue that I had to cool myself down by lying on the tiled floor of the toilet – the antithesis of glamour. My incredible agent Danielle Binks was there to calm me, get me food and ensure I signed 250 books from Readings. This event was hosted by Kevin Mitchell (Bob Evans) and it was everything I could hope for – warm, friendly, packed with people despite the heat, and funny.
Next stop was The Project, on the Monday before Say Hello’s official release. It was live TV and they were so great in preparing me. I sore this photo of Chaz, who also has ichthyosis, watching me on TV. Representation matters.
The book tour was in full swing – countless radio interviews (ABC, TV (ABC News Breakfast, Studio 10), podcasts (Wil Anderson, Shameless, Better Reading, ABC Conversations and more) and newspaper and magazine interviews (with Ben Law for Good Weekend, Mindfood, The Border Mail and more). All of the media for Say Hello can be found here.
I went to Sydney for my launch at Newtown Newtown Neighbourhood Centre – I was interviewed by Annabel Crabb. We had so much fun!
I also recorded the audiobook, which took three days and my voice.
I went to Perth to Perth Writers festival – what a gorgeous experience that was. The hotel was lovely and so were my events. I launched Say Hello with Tess Woods who has become a good friend, and did panel events.
In my down time in Perth, I caught up with many dear friends who live there, saw a brilliant show (The nature of why) and ate some really good food. I also spent time with writers I admire, and hung out with Jordon Steele John for morning tea and an interview.
I got to go home to Albury for a few days – I presented writing sessions to high school students, had a 300 person launch at The Cube in Wodonga (hosted by Erin Somerville from ABC) and then to Wagga where I chatted about Say Hello to Caroline Candusso from Papel Paper. It was at these events so many people from my childhood turned out – school friends, nurses and doctors and teachers. It was so lovely – and unexpected!
I had a Brisbane launch event, hosted by one of my best friends, Elisha Matthews. It was such a full room, and I was chuffed that so many people with ichthyosis were there! Pearly Sprinkles baked me biscuits with my face on them!
I also met the amazing Kurt Fearnley for the first time after being online friends for years. He’s wonderful and we talked like we’ve known each other forever. We recorded his podcast, Tiny Island.
And later that week I met Penny Wong – a politician I’ve admired for years. She spoke with such power and conviction. She and Jordon Steele John were presented The McKinnon Prize for outstanding political leadership.
I did a book event a a brewery with my friend Eliza Hull – brilliant ABC presenter.
Maxine Beneba Clark asked me to write for Growing Up African in Australia last year, and it was launched in March. Many of the contributors read their chapters at the launch. After the event, I went to see Roxane Gay speak and met her briefly, giving her Say Hello and Growing Up African.
I went to Canberra for my book launch in April – Ginger Gorman interviewed me – we both wore our pyjamas. Ginger and I have had a similar year with our book tour. We got to sit side by side, signing books and drinking wine.
I went to my first sewing class hosted by Bron Sheridan, and it was fun. I learnt new skills and met new friends. She’s an excellent teacher. I did a few more classes through the year.
On 23 April, my best friend Camille died. She was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive cancer in January and lived life to the absolute fullest in those last few months. I am devastated. I haven’t processed it yet. She asked me to talk at her celebration of life, which as an honour. Camille touched so many people, bringing us together. Losing her is enormous.
I also did a beautiful winery event for the Wheeler Centre at Montalto – it was a cold night, but so many turned out and the food was delicious. Mum and my agent Danielle Binks came to support me.
I flew to Adelaide for my final book launch event – I was interviewed by Ruby Allegra, disability Instagram celebrity. It was a great chat, but a bit of a blur. Lucky it’s recorded.
By this time I was exhausted. I remember seeing Kevin Mitchell at the airport and being both excited and saying that I just wanted a sleep.
It was a surprise to meet my friend Rick Guidotti for dinner one night – he was here for a project with Professor Ingrid Winship. Later that week Rick and I had a little photoshoot after breakfast. I am so happy with the pictures.
I was a panelist on The Drum one Friday night in May – it was the most terrifying media I’ve done as I felt so out of my depth and I couldn’t see the panelists in Sydney. I haven’t watched it yet.
In June I finally booked in to see a grief counseller and then took some bereavement leave – which was much needed.
I stayed over at Danielle’s house and did some Mornington events – a school talk and also a book event at Farrell’s.
One of the highlights of my year at Fringe happened in June – I moderated a panel on embedding Access with Sarah Ward, Emma J Hawkins and Bec Matthews at Arts Centre Melbourne. We talked about the importance thinking about Access at the start of creating live performances, and they shared their amazing work as performers.
I also gave panel talks at the Emerging Writers Festival and Progress (on the same day!), and then again as a keynote at Progress the following day – urging them to be more accessible.
At the start of July, I began a paid Instagram partnership with T2 Tea – this was a perfect fit. I was a T2 ambassador for six months, paid to drink tea. Admittedly, I probably bought almost as much tea as I was paid!
Adam and I went to a wedding outside of Sydney – it was a beautiful event in the country. He has totally overhauled is style this year, and I’m here for it. He looks amazing.
After the wedding I flew from Sydney to to Adelaide to work with Access2Arts South Australia on delivering a personal branding workshop, and talk about writing on a panel with Gaele Sobbot, Kate Larsen and Gayle Kennedy.
I went back to Brisbane for Write Like a Girl at st Rita’s – this was a brilliant day meeting young writers and readers, and grown up writers including Jenna Guilliame and AJ Betts.
I got to hang with Elisha again – she stayed in my hotel and we talked and ate – I so wish we lived closer. A group of Brisbane friends came to the hotel for dinner, and one baked us a Penis unicorn cake which we took up to my hotel room. We laughed and laughed and filmed a funny Access video. I also met some friends from the ichthyosis community and we went to GOMA. I had a giant bubble bath. It was a lovely stay.
Danielle and I saw a brilliant musical – Come from Away. Cannot stop thinking about it, months after.
Mum and I went to Sydney to film It Takes Two for ABC 7.30 – producer Monique Schafter was wonderful to work with. We had a lot of fun and the response was incredible.
Byron Writers Festival was from 1-4 August. It was so wonderful. I got to see a lot of events – which doesn’t happen a lot when I’m at Melbourne Writers Festival – and also spend quality time with writer friends and my publishers. I had three sessions – a solo talk about Say Hello to a group of aged care residents (and a brilliant artist sketched me!), a panel talk with Maxine Beneba Clarke and Sara El Sayed about Growing Up African in Australia, and a talk on writing disability with Caro Llewelyn and Jessica White.
My Mum came with me, earning the moniker #FestivalMum. She absolutely loved the sessions and made friends with (and fangirled) a number of writers. It was very funny to see her swear when I told her about a scheduling conflict between Ben Law and Sisonke Msimang.
And one of the best things about Byron was meeting up with Tash – a blogger friend who I don’t see often, and Adelle – a gorgeous friend from Albury who now lives on the Gold Coast. We were close when we worked at Kmart and I so enjoyed hearing what she’s doing now. We had lunch and she saw me talk.
Forever grateful for the travel allowing me to see friends.
While in Byron Bay, I started editing Growing Up Disabled in Australia – Reading the 366 submissions and choosing them for the anthology. This was a wonderful task – the quality of writing was excellent and the hunger to be published and to read is evident. This took me through August and September.
I also went to Warrnambool to give a keynote speech and three schools talks. I worked with a wonderful woman from a school program – she drove me around and we got on very well.
My friend Linda and I saw Killing Heidi twice, and we also also saw Bob Evans.
September was a very busy month. At the start of the month I had two Melbourne Writers Festival events – a school talk for Growing Up African in Australia with Maxine Beneba Clarke, Guido Melo and Magan Magan, and then a spoken word event where I wrote and read a new piece about family.
Melbourne Fringe Festival was on for almost three weeks in September – it’s a lot of fun to work at. As Access and Inclusion Coordinator, I’m really proud of all of our Disabled and Deaf and artists – they put on incredible shows and I can’t wait to see their careers soar. It was also great to see many artists implement access provisions. I saw some wonderful shows this year, some I will be thinking about for a long time. I am also really proud of the Producers Guide to Access that we developed.
I also saw Fleetwood Mac with my friend Linda. We books tickets at last minute and were so glad we did – we had a blast. Neil Finn and Stevie Nicks doing Don’t Dream It’s Over and Landslide was my highlight.
I worked with some editors, including mine at Black Inc. books on delivering an editing diverse voices workshop – I so want to deliver more like these!
I went to Albury Wodonga to deliver sessions in the Stella Prize girls write up day – this was brilliant. I met wonderful young people and saw them create beautiful poems, and also worked with brilliant women writers – Racheal Oak Butler, Desiree Dallagiacomo, Lorin Elizabeth and more. I felt so inspired by them.
Black Inc announced the Growing Up Disabled contributors, which was so exciting. I’m so proud of all the contributors (and those who wrote but didn’t make it in, too). You’re going to love this anthology.
I was invited to speak at the Ubud Writers Festival – my first international writers festival. While it was very hot and humid and my skin became extremely sore, it was a wonderful experience. I moderated a panel on fashion, spoke on a panel about feminism (with writers including Lindy West!) and presented a workshop on accessibility and inclusion in the pub,owning industry at an arts centre outside of Ubud.
#FestivalMum was with me in Ubud and we had a ball. Her highlight was meeting Yotam Ottolenghi twice.
I stayed on and visited Semarang – for the Ubud Writers Festival satellite program. The theme was “writing changes everything”, and writing certainly has changed everything for me – writing has taken me to so many places and connected me with many, many wonderful people. I’m the luckiest.
Below is absolutely beautiful group of people at my last session of Semarang Writers Week for Ubud Writers & Readers Festival . I talked about the creative process of writing Say Hello, the main messages and my next project – Growing Up Disabled in Australia. The most delightful thing about this afternoon was the questions – how does a mother write about the discrimination her disabled son has experienced without making people uncomfortable?, was it hard to find love?, how many books were printed?, what should someone do if they have a disabled child or relative, and a statement about Semarang public schools’ welcoming of disabled students. Everyone gathered for a group photo and they took SO many selfies with me. I feel so welcomed and loved during my stay here. Audiences have been so eager to learn and also work more with marginalised communities. Thank you for having me.
Wonderful friends were made in Ubud and Semarang. The food was great too! The Festival staff and volunteers did everything they could to make it as accessible and comfortable for me. I’m very grateful.
I worked with Women with Disabilities Victoria on their Do Your Thing series – showing women’s leadership.
I loved how this turned out. The series is so good. Do check them all out.
I found out I was a Horne Prize Finalist for the piece on family that I wrote for the Melbourne Writers Festival and then reworked.
I did a three day residency at Arts Centre Melbourne with dancers Josh Pether and Rodney Bell, creating the foundations for a new disability arts festival happening in 2021. It was so wonderful to be with other disabled people of colour planning something wonderful and learning from them.
I saw a few live bands – Rob Thomas, U2 and Steve Poltz.
I also wrote about Savage Garden for Whimn.
I had lots of disability day events and other conferences in December – like nine speeches in seven days. I admit I was pretty exhausted. I had a wonderful time working with with disabled people – at University of NSW and also at Melbourne Fringe’s Common Rooms for Writers Victoria’s Bold and Brilliant.
I had a wonderful birthday with friends, but was discriminated against by a taxi driver – again.
For my birthday, I commissioned (thanks to Adam) a sculpture of my book by Kenny Pittock. Kenny made clay book sculptures for the Readings 50 year anniversary, and mine featured. A few weeks ago Kenny brought me my present, and the Readings book, to me. Oh my! The detail is incredible – from the cover art to the paper stack resemblance! Kenny also gave me two other gifts – sculptures of Bob Evans’ Full Circle CD and Savage Garden’s self titled CD. Amazing! Read about them here. Thank you Kenny. It’s so special to have an artwork of my own work of art. 🧡💗
The Horne Prize dinner was the night after my birthday, and while I didn’t win, it was wonderful to meet the other finalists – Mick Daley, Thomas Mayor, Claire G Coleman (who is a dear friend) and Rachael Lebeter (who was the winner).
I also had my regular gallery meet which was fun.
I went to the fabulous Arts Access Victoria Christmas party and along with Olivia Muscat, I was awarded scholarship. I will be using my funds to make a podcast in 2020.
And I caught up with Danielle, my amazing agent and friend, where we toasted the year that’s been.
I have had a little rest, but not as much as I should. I went to my parents at Christmas but didn’t rest as much as I wanted to.
As the year ends, it’s hard to feel celebratory because of the bushfires that are burning across so much of Australia. Climate change is real. I’m so sad for those who have lost their lives and houses, and for the millions of animals lost. It’s devastating.
This year has been a hard one because of so many deaths, especially in the disability community. I mentioned Camille before, but we’ve also lost some other great leaders in the disability community including Talya Jane Goding, Andrew Followes, Carrie Ann Lucas and Mama Cax – just to name a few. These deaths create giant holes in the community – so much knowledge and spirit is gone. I send my love to everyone who love them.
I’ve travelled so much for work this year – to Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Byron Bay, Albury, Wagga, Warragul, Warrnambool, Ballarat, Bacchus Marsh and Indonesia. The country hospitality has been just wonderful – country events have become my favourite. In every place I’ve been to, had friends and colleagues there to welcome me. They’ve come to events, championed me, baked me cakes, hugged me, given me presents. Thank you for making me feel so special.
I would have loved more time to create, more time to write, more time to rest. I feel that now I’d been published, I don’t have as much time to write. I’m going to set aside some creative time in 2020, make more art. I have to make a podcast and start some new book projects – can’t wait!
One of my biggest achievements was repairing relationships with two friends. I’d lost them due to fall outs a few years ago, and this year, through work projects, we reconnected. It is a good feeling to apologise and rebuild.
I also took up sewing – to be more creative, and also to feel closer to Camille and help my grief. She was an amazing sewist – whipping up a new dress after work! I’m not quite there yet, but I’ve made a few dresses and on my way to a quilt. Mostly it’s a nice way to really focus and slow down.
This year has been very busy as you can see, and pretty hard at times. I’m really proud of all I’ve achieved, but it hasn’t been a lone effort. I’ve had amazing support from family, friends, colleagues and my publishers, writing and speaking agents and book shops. I really feel buoyed by you all.
Thank you for your incredible support and advice and love. Here’s to 2020.
Find out about my book Say Hello here.
Order Growing Up Disabled in Australia – out in June 2020 – here.
Book me for speaking work by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
if my work has helped you, you can buy me a drink here.