Written by Avery McDougall, introduction and background by guest curator, Bec Taylor
Avery McDougall is a writer of fiction, a voracious reader, and a grammar nerd based in Launceston. Avery works in youth support services promoting microenterprise. As a young woman with high functioning autism and autoimmune disease, she is passionate about both her day job and her role as an author. She trained as a teacher and then a librarian but being disabled has her living a life very different to what she had planned. However, she’s been able to follow her passions for writing and empowering young people to take ownership of their narratives.
Review of Invisibly Grace
Thankfully, Avery’s novel, “Invisibly Grace” is available on Kindle so I was able to download and devour it in one day. Her depiction of a teenager trying to navigate high school life while dealing with an auto immune disease was a delight to read – though heartbreaking too, given the stress the main character lived with on a daily basis. I adored the Tasmanian references, and I felt transported back to my own experiences at school in Launceston.
Avery’s wit and sass burst from the page through the main character, Grace. It was incredible to read such an honest, accurate depiction of what it means to live life with an invisible illness, constantly fighting medical professionals and peers alike to believe that the pain was real, and the right to live a ‘normal’ life.
An Interview with Avery
Literature offers us mirrors, windows, and sliding door moments. Which of these are the most present in your work and why?
One of the coolest things about ‘Invisibly Grace’ is that I surveyed just over one hundred teenagers living with invisible, chronic illnesses across six countries to talk about what it’s like being them – it’s true, I went overboard a little but it was fascinating. It’s what I wanted the book to be when I started it – a window into life as a real, disabled person where it wasn’t inspiration porn and no one died in the end or gets better. You just keep living. Sure, my own lived experience as a disabled woman with autoimmune disease didn’t hurt, but I was in my twenties when I got sick so it was really important for me to ask these questions. I wanted it to represent as many experiences as I could and the feedback has been utterly wonderful. I often get told by teens with chronic illnesses that they feel really seen by Grace, my protagonist, and love the way she’s written.
For able-bodied people, I hear how it’s surprisingly educational while being really fun for such a sad topic, which amuses me. I think a lot about contractualism – the philosophical idea of what we owe each other as human beings. This is a really hard question for someone like me sometimes because people expect answers about my mobility aids or ‘what’s wrong with me’ when it’s not their business. I should be kind and patient. I should explain so people know. But why should it be my job to be ‘Disability Woman’ and answer all their questions and make them more comfortable? It doesn’t feel very fair sometimes. When I write, I think about this idea a lot and what it means for my characters, what they owe each other and their communities and what they owe themselves, but also how I can create windows for people who don’t share their experiences so they can understand more and develop greater empathy and understanding. Fiction is such a powerful tool for this.
What makes Tasmania special to you?
I wish I had a poetic answer for this but I’m going to be honest… Tasmania is just the place I live. That said, it’s a beautiful island and I always come back to it when I leave. Socially, I’ve found Tasmania a really challenging place to grow up as a weird kid (said with pride) and it colours my opinions of the place. I always expected to move away but… home is where your heart is and my heart is my husband and my sister, so I’m not going anywhere! It’s also pretty cool that you can get from the top of any mountain to a beach in under three hours.
What makes Tasmanian literature unique?
Personally, I find that Tasmanian literature has an earnestness that’s hard to fake. It’s all small towns and long held secrets and grudges and there’s a really tangible sense of ‘otherness’. There’s a connection and respect to nature but I really think it’s the sense of wanting to find a place for yourself even if it’s not to truly ‘belong’. That’s why it’s such a great backdrop for mysteries and stories about family drama! A new person in town is often met with suspicion rather than curiosity – sometimes people joke that unless you’ve been here for three generations, you’re not really Tasmanian and it can definitely feel that way sometimes. It can feel very gothic in a literary sense and I really enjoy when that’s reflected in writing – like Kyle Perry, Adam Thompson, Heather Rose, and Kate Gordon.
How has the Tasmanian wilderness inspired you as a creator?
Oh my goodness, do we have some beautiful sights to see! The Aurora Australis, our waterfalls and bushwalks, and, of course, our animals and the mythos of the Tasmanian tiger (there’s always someone who’s seen one, who claims they aren’t really extinct, just hiding). My book, ‘Invisibly Grace’, is set in Tasmania but it wasn’t really the nature that inspired me so much as the oddness of the community here and how the social structures and medical systems work. But I was a born story teller, and our wilderness inspired many stories I used to tell my sister growing up – we used to camp at Liffey Falls every year and there was a tiger snake at the campgrounds we were all instructed not to kill – kind of like a deadly pet! There were platypuses dancing in the river in the morning, and the falls felt like the beginning of a secret to me. Every time I write anything fantastical in nature, I definitely think about Liffey Falls first.
What structures and systems are in place in Tasmania for you to succeed as a creator?
One of the cool things about Tasmania is the amount of respect for the arts in general here. There are several reading and writing festivals, public writing groups, and a general respect for creators doing their thing. The Tasmanian government has some really good grants available, too, and a bi-annual literary prize for Tasmanian works. Community is a big part of Tasmanian life and the writing community definitely doesn’t let the side down. We have an independent publishing house, too, called Forty South Publishing, which is fantastic and produces a literary magazine as well as award-winning works. While there are challenges being on the island and not having access to some of the bigger events and conferences, there’s definitely a lot to be said for the creative life here.
In what ways do you think Tasmanian creator culture differs from other areas of Australia or the world?
I don’t think there is anywhere quite like Tasmania. There’s no competition here among creators that I know – everyone wants to build each other up and support each other, across genres, themes, and audiences. We don’t name drop to be famous or part of the ‘in crowd’, but because we think it might help someone out or they’ll enjoy that person’s company. I think it comes back to what I said earlier about ‘earnestness’ and community. It’s definitely not as hard to find beta readers or a writing partner as I hear it can be in other places, and because creativity is so celebrated in Tasmania, there’s spaces to do the work of creating. It’s one of the biggest differences between being a kid here and being an adult here, I think, and it’s pretty great because writing is definitely a team sport, in my opinion. But there’s also a really healthy respect for being left alone to create which is important.
What is a misconception about Tasmania that you’d like to rectify?
I’m not the person to ask for this one because I love the misconceptions! When I travel, I always play them up to people and it’s very, very funny to me. When I was fifteen, I helped convinced a visiting contingent of international students that we road kangaroos to school and to watch out for the mythical drop bears. I enjoy playing like that – like when someone asks me why I’m using a walking stick I always have a different answer (like Grace from my book. We both think ‘ninjas’ is a fair answer to that question!).
What other Tasmanian creators inspire and/or entertain you?
Such a great question! I really like Adam Thompson and Kyle Perry as writers and people, and they both have a community service background like me so I can see the influence in their work and how they portray people.
Kate Gordon is a brilliant writer for younger fiction and her characters all feel very honest, she’s also a gem of a human – her book ‘Xavier in the Meantime’ was longlisted alongside mine in the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards this year – and hers made it to the shortlist.
There’s a creator and comedian named Dylan Hesp who makes ‘mockumentaries’ that I absolutely love – he’s got a series called “Australia’s Best Street Racer” on YouTube that he writes and acts in that is set in Launceston and is very, very funny, painfully earnest, and definitely Tasmanian.
When it comes to imports (that is, people aren’t really Tasmanian because they haven’t been here three generations), I love Lucy Christopher (especially ‘Stolen’ and ‘Release’), Damon Young (his philosophy as well as his fiction work), and playwright Finnegan Kruckemeyer – again, wonderful people with brilliant, creative brains that think about things in ways that inspire and excite me.
More About Avery
Invisibly Grace on Goodreads
Avery on Instagram and Twitter
Invisibly Grace is a 2023 Children’s Book Council of Australia Notable Book – Australia’s most eminent children’s literature award.
Listen to Avery share her story about writing for teens on Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC.
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.
I would like to pay my respects to the traditional custodians of the land, the Palawa people of Tasmania, and to their Elders, past, present, and emerging. I acknowledge their deep spiritual connection to the land and their ongoing contributions to the culture of this nation.