This week we caught up with Adelaide-based writer, former books editor for Lip Magazine and feminist champion, Lou Heinrich, to chat about her writing life, recent travels and, most importantly, what she’s reading.
You’ve had a pretty full year so far—you went on exchange to the Bali Emerging Writers’ Festival, were writer in residence at the SA Writers Centre and finished up a two year stint as books editor for Lip Magazine, just to name a few things—what’s been the highlight?
Phwoar. When you put it like that it sounds jam-packed!
Bali was marvellous—I learnt that no matter where in the world I go, writers and artists are my people. And having a love for creativity can establish connections beyond language. It was an honour learning about Indonesian literature, and becoming familiar with the work of the country’s writers.
But perhaps my favourite time of year is when I go to Melbourne. A couple of weeks ago I went to the Emerging Writers’ Festival. And even though it was a short visit—for three nights I slept on the floor of my friend Emma’s house and shared a mattress with her cat Tilly—it’s always such a delight to dive into the talented, strange, wonderful, and kind community there.
Two of our favourite pieces of yours are ‘The Booby Myth’ and ‘Name Calling: Coverture in a Feminist Age’, (both published in Kill Your Darlings). What about the personal essay appeals to you?
Honesty. I love reading work where the writer has pulled their chest open like a flasher’s coat. When someone reveals their whole self and, to borrow a phrase from Simone de Beauvoir, their ‘dirty heart’, the vulnerability is shocking. And the truth—truth in its deepest, shocking form—is exquisite. Because for me, writing is about expressing the inexpressible, communicating our deepest truths.
Call me un-subtle, but so far I’ve found personal essays to be the most useful form of honesty. And to be honest, there’s so much further I can go.
Secondly, there’s an idea that a feminist PhD candidate friend told me about: reflexivity. The concept originally came from the field of anthropology, and is often used in the context of academic feminist research. What it’s really about is the researcher, or writer, examines and calls attention to themselves in order to further analyse cultural practices. As a feminist I want to discuss gendered social convention, and I use myself (and my habits, expectations, failures) as a vehicle for this.
What themes and ideas do you explore in your writing?
In ‘The Booby Myth’ I wrote candidly about body insecurity, and in ‘Name Calling’, I wrote about taking my husband’s name when I was married.
I write about women and gender, and the ways that our society expects us to conform to certain norms. Because I’m continually exploring these things in myself, I want to share them with the world.
I want to profile people more. I love human beings in all their glorious contradictions; this is the only reason why I’ve survived working in hospitality for five years without going (completely) insane. The best stories are, at their heart, about a person on a journey, and my next step is learning about that form (ie. narrative non-fiction).
What are you currently working on?
Inspired by my time in Bali and Jakarta, I’m hoping to wrap together a narrative about Indonesian labour rights, the divide between locals and tourists, the expat bubble, and my own failure to burst out of that bubble. It’s about money, culture, and people.
Why do you write?
- For the pursuit of beauty.
- Because I never feel I articulate myself adequately when speaking. Writing is the most accurate way I can communicate.
Can you describe your perfect writing day?
6.30/7am: At my desk. Tea, steam curling up from the mug: earl grey, please.
Write solidly, in the strange silent world of early morning.
11.30am: Go for a walk or swim. Sitting at the desk all day makes me terribly restless by 2pm OR causes me to heavily rely on chocolate for staying power. Also, half of writing is thinking about things to a deep level, and getting the body moving is a great chance to explore ideas in a different manner. (See Benjamin Law, Damon Young, and a million other writers on how exercise benefits writing)
1.30pm: Back to work.
8pm: Eat leftovers for dinner because cooking takes up too much time.
The day is long because I have one (two if I’m lucky) days per week that are for writing. The other days I am earning a consistent living at my day job. So I have to push aside all coffee dates and housework and desire for naps in order to smash out as much out as I can.
Which books and authors have influenced your work?
Helen Garner is a great hero of mine due to her crispness; for everything that gathers underneath her words. She is truly an iceberg theory writer.
Benjamin Law for his compassionate yet uncompromising depictions of people.
Christos Tsiolkas for his brave depiction of the unsettling elements of human nature.
Rachel Hills in her examination of sexuality.
ALSO! The slightly more grown-up writers of the Australian literary community who have established an extended family that is inclusive, generous and helpful.
What are you currently reading?
This afternoon I laid on my belly on the thick lawn of my backyard, the winter sun warming the backs of my legs, and finished Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. I hissed, ‘Yes’ at the back page, thank you Chimamanda for the satisfying ending!)
Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things
Monica Dux’s Things I Didn’t Expect (When I Was Expecting)
Barbara Kingsolver’s collection of essays High Tide in Tucson
Sarah Bessey’s Jesus Feminist
Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex
Yes I know. So many! Some of them I will read in the space of several days. Some of them I read a couple of chapters from every month. But I’m currently in the midst of all of them.
What are your plans for the year ahead?
Haha. Let me just first point you to a photo that writer Rachel Hills shared recently:
What I’m trying to say is I make plans but often life gets in the way. I’m definitely done travelling for the year!
I have writing goals. I do know that I’ll keep pitching, keep typing, keep trying to balance my life with the right amount of family, romance, community, swimming, wine and chocolate.
As both a writer and editor, what one piece of advice would you offer someone who wants to write professionally?
Discipline is greater than talent.
Keep up with Lou and her writing on Twitter: @Shahouley
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