On Death

Ten days ago I woke to find that Terry Pratchett had died, surrounded by family and with his cat on the bed.

I’ve read stacks of Discworld but I certainly can’t claim to have read them all. When I’m in the library and feel in need of wisdom, wit and lolz, I usually head for “Pr” in the fiction section and choose at random. To me, Discworld books read like nutritious comfort food — that one soup recipe your mum always made when you were sick that was somehow both delicious and good for you.

Despite all this I was surprised to find myself waking to the news of Terry’s death at 5.30 am and weeping. And sobbing and weeping. A fairly stoic friend texted me to say they were sobbing at their desk at work. It felt like the collective sense of loss in the world had magnified itself and everyone affected by Terry and his work was swept up in this shared grief. It was a weird experience.

terry DEATH

I got to meet Terry once, at a signing in a school hall. I asked him what must have been a very tiresome question about getting stuck on a plot point — I was drafting a fantasy novel at the time — and he told me about a scene in Monstrous Regiment he couldn’t puzzle his way past, where the main characters are all imprisoned. His advice to me — to himself — was to let the characters figure it out. You’ve given them personalities and strengths; they’ll know what to do. I went home and read that book and that scene, and had the profound backstage experience of imagining Terry at his writing desk giving real agency to the people he’d created.

This was a major revelation to me as both a writer and a reader: writers have the power to create people who themselves have the power to invent and to love. As a reader, I thought about this throughout The Hunger Games recently travelling with Katniss as she develops and uses her singularly irreverent problem-solving skills. I remember struggling with shame as a nine-year-old whose only friend was Buffy; looking back — thinking of the team of writers and the actor who gave that character life and agency — I was bloody lucky to have such a resilient friend. Terry changed the way I thought about fiction.

At that signing, I gave Sir Terry a copy of a zine I’d made at school called Schrödinger’s Shoe. It was a collection of poems, comics and drawings by me and my school friends (including Bettina Marson). He took it very graciously and I always presumed it’d find its way to the recycling. Years later, my friend and fellow poet ReVerse Butcher travelled from Australia to the UK and visited London College of Communication’s Zine Library. Upon her return, she contacted me with a bizarre story: the very first thing she’d pulled from the huge sliding shelves, at random from thousands of zines, was Schrödinger’s Shoe.

Terry saw enough value in our work — made by 16-year-old girls in Macromedia Freehand — to donate it to a library.

Terry did not go gentle into that good night — and rightly so — but Death is very, very good at his job. Like millions of others, I’m grateful for Sir Pratchett — for the world and people he created and nurtured; for his irreverence; and for the 10 influential minutes he gave me a decade ago.

Hares, Hyenas and Home

Just dragged my suitcase in the door after a whirlwind week in Newcastle (at National Young Writers’ Festival) and Melbourne (for the Melb. launch of Salt and Bone at Hares and Hyenas). I met so many fantastic writers and readers at NYWF, thoroughly enjoyed lording it as a judge at the Epic Word Nerd Battledome (pictured, with Jane Howard and Adolfo Aranjuez), and relished reading Foreign Soil on the beach.

Word Nerd Battledome JudgesHearty congratulations, also, to Scum Mag on the launch of their first print zine. It comes with TEMPORARY TATTOOS. What’s cooler than that? Zero things. The zine fair was a highlight, as was getting up on stage at the launch orgy in a nightie to perform Blood Spells with the Scum gals. (Photo below by Alan Weedon.)

I’m so grateful to ReVerse Butcher and the team at Hares and Hyenas for hosting the Melbourne launch of Salt and Bone. Thank you to everyone who came along. Here are the lovely Broede Carmody’s words on the book (and thanks, Broede, for the launch snap):

“Zen describes herself as an expat of the Voiceworks editorial committee, for which she read and edited poems for a number of years before she turned 25 and we realised she was not just too old but also too disgustingly talented to be involved in the magazine any more.

“But seeing as we’re here for the launch of a poetry collection and not a memoir I should probably talk a little about Zen’s work itself and not just her pretty face.

“I think it’s appropriate that this book is called Salt and Bone because not only does the powerful imagery in Zen’s poetry leave a taste in your mouth but it also affects you physically. Poems like ‘Aftershocks’ deal with sexual assault but importantly use the language of survival. Similarly, other poems celebrate women, sex, polyamory and the queer identity. A lot of poetry out there—particularly the kinds we are introduced to in high school or that are available in book stores—are by old, white men and Zen’s poetry really strikes a chord with me because it’s different. It’s so important that queer Australians see themselves reflected back on the page.

“So with that I would like to say fuck you to the patriarchy, and consider this book launched.”

Hares and Hyenas launch