This time on 'Norman Asks' we have the pleasure of speaking with the amazing Jessie Tu!
If you’ve been around for a while, you’ll know that Jessie is a long-time favourite among our members, and it’s no surprise why. Jessie was already an award-winning writer – with work published in multiple journals – when her first poetry collection, You Should Have Told Me We Have Nothing Left, was published in 2018.
When she’s not receiving praise for her creative writing, Jessie also works as a journalist at Women’s Agenda and is a book critic at The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.
Norman the Bookworm brought Jessie to his nook to learn all about her novel, A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing. This daring debut hit stores in 2020 and won the ABIA Literary Fiction Book of the Year 2021. It also made the shortlist for a myriad of prestigious awards and was longlisted for the Stella Prize 2021.
A meditation on the intricacies of female desire and the emptiness that follows growing up in a world where the pressure to achieve eats away at your sense of self, A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing refuses to put a filter on intersecting ideas of race, sex and identity. The result is a glorious magnification of all the messy details and flaws that we might otherwise turn away from.
Read some of Jessie’s retrospective insights on her debut in the interview below.
Jessie: I think I just wrote how I felt. I’ve always been fascinated by the way we all have these different sides to us, and we show some side to a set of people, and some other side to other people. It’s like, all about context, isn’t it? Like, you wear your PJs to bed, at the home, but you’d never wear it to a work function, or an awards ceremony. You’d say some opinion aloud in certain contexts, and not in others. I think it’s like that. There are so many sides to us, and I tried to just allow Jena to have those different sides to her conveyed with the respect and dignity afforded to anyone else.
Jessie: That wasn’t intentional! But I suppose maybe you could make that link. I wanted to just write about power, in general, about someone who was terribly aware of her confined lack of it, and confined range of it. She has sexual power, and that was it. I think sometimes to know exactly the sort of power you have, and for women, realising how limited you have of it, can be very, very jarring, and like, there’s nothing else you can do about it.
Jessie: I think Jena is the person I’ve crafted through hindsight, meaning, yes, I think there are things you think about and make decisions based on as a young person, but you’re not as aware as her, I suppose. I think she’s just someone who is more aware of things, and of course, she gets to come across that way since I’ve crafted her into this fictional thing.
Jessie: I think there was no direct comparison I was trying to make, perhaps just allowing a different kind of relationship to be portrayed. I think Jena is someone who believes that just because a couple have stayed together for a long time, they are happy. She’s very naïve in that sense.
Jessie: The greatest, hands down, greatest compliment anyone can give me, about myself, or my work, or my writing, is that it is funny. I’m not saying I want to be a comedic writer, or that I want to be a comedian, but I love funny people, there are so few of them around, in fact. Like, actually, funny people.
I was waiting at an airport last year and a woman next to me was reading a book and at one point she chuckled, real loud and I looked over and saw the book she was reading and it was my book and I just was like, this is the greatest moment in my life. Being funny, just a tad, in an otherwise, rather serious and heavy book, is like, so important to me. Like, the saddest movies need to be threaded with elements or moments of humour. I don’t know if I did that with my book, but I would like to try to be, always, a little bit funny, or to just not take things too seriously. To take the piss out of things. Light-heartedness is the most valued trait, in my books.
I don’t have a version of Monkey in IRL, but I had a friend for most of my adult life, Barbara Robinson, who was around 80, 85 when I first met her, who sadly passed last year, in her 90s, and she was just the most remarkable, youthful and voracious human being I’ve ever met. She always taught me not to take life too seriously. She is someone I think of who changed my life profoundly, in more ways than I can even put into words. I credit her with shaping the way I think about my life, the way I move through the world, every single day. Writing can be a bit depressing and hard at times, so the most important thing I think, is to not take your vocation too seriously. I try not to take my creative work as a writer too seriously. I need to remind myself what I do is so small and insignificant, and that gives me a lot of playful energy to do something with light-heartedness.