#TasmanianLitMonth: Featured Writer – Meg Bignell

An interview with author Meg Bignell, by Bec Taylor

About Meg

Meg Bignell is a Tasmanian writer, actor and performer. She is the author of three novels published by Penguin Random House — The Sparkle Pages, Welcome to Nowhere River and The Angry Women’s Choir. She has written, directed and performed for cabaret, stage and television and sings with Hobart Voice Academy Ensemble. She lives on a dairy farm in Tasmania with her husband, three children, one dog and one thousand cows.

What makes Tasmanian literature unique? 

I think a lot of Tasmanian literature has a strong sense of place, because everything is place, place, place here. I see it in Tasmanian cinematography too — lots of long, wide, beautiful shots. Sometimes it works so beautifully, but in other cases I think we can get distracted by place to the detriment of story. 

I think in many ways Tasmania is only just waking up to itself, I mean it’s only been in the last decade or so we’ve started to tell the truth about our tragic colonial history, so it’s exciting to see what might come from our literary community, there is such talent here. 

What structures and systems are in place in Tasmania for you to succeed as a creator? 

The writing community here is small, but very supportive of one another. And the Tasmanian public is very generous with their support of their own. It’s like a microcosm of publishing that supports itself. The Australian Government recently announced changes to the Arts funding system, which includes better support for authors, whose average wages are woeful. I’m yet to see the effects of this but fingers crossed! 

How has the Tasmanian wilderness inspired you as a creator? 

From an everyday writing perspective, I’m more inspired by the people, the relationships between us in small regional communities and the nuances of living in relative isolation. Even the cities are big country towns really, with some really unique urban scenery. I mean I love the oceanscapes and the mountains too, but as I said above, my lens is tainted by familiarity. 

The wilderness here does raises questions for me which I think inform my work in bigger picture, subtextual ways –  are we looking after it well enough? Can we claim any sort of belonging when the country was taken unceded from the Palawa (Tasmanian Aboriginal) people? How can we protect its purity as populations grow? How do we share it without oversharing it? Are the animals okay? These things keeps me awake at night and I’m sure taint my work. It would be irresponsible for me as a writer to shut them out.    

In what ways do you think Tasmanian creator culture differs from other areas of Australia or the world? 

I can’t really say because I’ve only ever lived here – it really is time I broadened my horizons isn’t it! I so suspect we have a slight advantage in Australia at etc moment because Tasmania has captured the nation’s imaginations, especially since Covid, as we were in a sort of covid-free bubble for so long. And global warming has enlightened people to the renewable kind of energy systems we have here, and the importance of protecting natural places. Australia is interested in us. I’m always marketed as a ’Tasmanian author’. 

I sometimes long to experience the kind of rich arts culture that imbues places like England or Europe. I’m a white Tasmanian with English ancestry so the cultural landscape in terms of my ancestry is very young. I have no rights to the ancient cultures here. I envy cultures with beautiful traditional music and dance. My ‘traditional music’ is ACDC, my dance is the Tassie two-step. 

What other Tasmanian creators inspire and/or entertain you? 

Robbie Arnott is the latest Tasmanian author I’ve been excited about. His work is so wise and crystalline I thought he must be an old man, but he’s young, so there’s so much more to come. 

There are some incredible Tasmanian visual artists too, whose work I really admire. Michaye Boulter’s seascapes are just incredible. Being Tasmanian, I need to be near water or I start to feel weird. Her paintings bring the water inside. And I adore the work of Linda Keough. I don’t think my brain has quite grasped what she’s saying yet, but I just get lost in the magic realism of her paintings. 

I’m currently working on a non-fiction book about Tasmanian gardens, and I’m so inspired by gardeners. They are artists who just get on with their work, share ideas and seeds, care for country, watch the seasons and ask for little in return. Tasmania is full of them if you know where to look. I want to be a gardener when I grow up.  

What makes Tasmania special to you? 

I am sixth generation Tasmanian and have lived here all my life (forty-seven years), so for a long time I didn’t think of it as special, it was just home. It’s become more special to me as I get older – as things do – because I am so aware of how many people in the world don’t have a place to belong to, a place to call home, let alone a beautiful island to live on, with a house and some land. I’m also aware of my children’s relative safety here in Tasmania, now that I’m a mother of three seventh gen Tasmanians, and the world is kind of tenuous in so many ways.

I’m not in awe of Tasmania though. I don’t see its beauty the way others do. It’s just too familiar. But that level of familiarity is precious and special.  

What is a misconception about Tasmania that you’d like to rectify? 

I’m okay with the misconceptions. They give me something to riff off when I’m writing, or making appearances as an author. I wouldn’t want to disappoint anyone!

Lastly, literature offers us mirrors, windows, and sliding door moments. Which of these are the most present in your work and why? 

All three I think, but mostly mirrors and windows. I think I write to help people see, and to escape.  

About Meg’s Books

Blurbs taken from Meg’s website

The Angry Women’s Choir

Freycinet Barnes has built herself the perfect existence. With beautiful children, a successful husband and a well-ordered schedule, it’s a life so full she simply doesn’t fit.

When she steps outside her calendar and is accidentally thrown into the generous bosom of the West Moonah Women’s Choir, she finds music, laughter, friendship and a humming wellspring of rage. With the ready acceptance of the colourful choristers, Frey learns that voices can move mountains, fury can be kind and life can do with a bit of ruining.

Together, Frey and the choir sing their anger, they breathe it in and stitch it up, belt it out and spin it into a fierce, driving beat that will kick the system square in the balls, and possibly demolish them all.

Welcome to Nowhere River

Long past its heyday and deep in drought, the riverside hamlet of Nowhere River is slowly fading into a ghost town. It’s a place populated by those who are beholden to it, those who were born to it and those who took a wrong turn while trying to go somewhere else.

City-born Carra married into Nowhere River, Lucie was brought to it by tragedy, Josie is root-bound and Florence knows nowhere else. All of them, though familiar with every inch of their tiny hometown, are as lost as the place itself. 

The town’s social cornerstone — St Margery’s Ladies’ Club — launches a rescue plan that turns everything around and upside down, then shakes it until all sorts of things come floating to the surface. And none of its inhabitants will ever be the same again.

The Sparkle Pages

‘Is marriage just a series of texts about where the children are and whether we need milk until one of you dies?’

Susannah Parks – wife, mother, cleaner of surfaces and runner of household – is a viola virtuoso. Except she hasn’t picked up a viola for over a decade. She has, however, picked up a lot of Lego, socks, wet towels and other exhibits of mundanity. She has also picked up on the possibility that her husband has lost interest in her. (And frankly, she’s not very interested in Susannah Parks either.) But this year, she has resolved to be very interesting. Also thoughtful, useful, cheerful, relevant, self-sufficient, stylish, alluring and intelligent.

In her highly confidential diary, Susannah documents the search for the elusive spark in her marriage, along with all the high and low notes of life with her four beloved children, with her free-spirited (and world famous) best friend Ria, and with Hugh, the man who fills her heart with burning passion and her washing pile with shirts.

And perhaps amid the chaos she might be brave enough to find the missing pieces of herself.


Buy Meg’s Books

Meg’s website

Meg’s books on Audible

Find Meg on Twitter and Instagram

About guest curator, Bec Taylor

I’m Bec Taylor, the EY3 – Grade 2 cybrarian* at the International School of Beijing, China. I’m a global nomad with Australian roots and a Chinese family home – all my immediate family have lived and worked in Beijing as international school teachers for many, many years.  

Overly enthusiastic about everything especially children’s literature, Australian Rules Football (go Doggies!) and food, glorious food, I am easily bribed with coffee and dark chocolate. I am a passionate advocate of social justice, female financial literacy, and finding ways to tread more lightly on the planet. Alongside the demands of a busy family and professional life, I enjoy cultivating community through volunteer work that focuses on healthy families.

I am the current Chair of the Chinese international schools reading promotion, the Panda Book Awards. Titles chosen for the shortlists of the Panda Book Awards meet selection criteria that focus on social justice, diversity and inclusion by up and coming authors and illustrators from across the world. There is an added spotlight on titles that feature Asian settings, characters or creators. 

Twitter is my favourite professional development space so please come find me there: @becinthelibrary

The educational hills I will die on are:

  • a child’s right to choose what they love to read,
  • there is serious magic in reading aloud,
  • and the belief that schools are happier, more equitable places with better academic outcomes when the properly funded school library is well staffed with qualified, collaborative and passionate professionals.

*a fancy name that formalises and acknowledges the incredible work teacher librarians do each day to find authentic ways to integrate and explore educational technology in order to capture, expand, and enhance student learning.

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