Updated: Mar 13, 2020
Image: Jackie Ryan, Fanciful Fiction Auxiliary
Interview with Jackie Ryan
What a fabulous year 2019 has been! From Crystal, Ursie and myself we wish all our listeners and readers a super creative 2020. To round off the end of the year, I caught up with Jackie Ryan, whose work I am forever in awe of!
R: Jackie, we met earlier in March of this year in our home town of Brisbane. You were in the beginnings of a new project, having recently been awarded the Queensland Writers fellowship for your incredible book We’ll Show the World - Expo 88. The fellowship provided financial support and has allowed you to focus on your research and writing for a year.
Image: Jackie Ryan, We'll Show The World - Expo 88
I listened to your Greater than 11% interview again today - it was a joy! You are so focused on creating great writing and work but have such a delightful wry take on the realities of a creative career. I was also reminded it was about 38 degrees and we were sweating buckets at the time of the recording, so I had a moment of warm reprieve as it is currently freezing cold in London.
J: Thanks, Renee. It was so much fun chatting to you—and very flattering to be included in this terrific project of yours. Thanks again for inviting me to be a part of it.
R: At the end of your episode we discussed that you were interviewing former Queensland politicians. You had also collected a 'dictator chic' vase, that had been gifted to Mike Ahern (Queensland Premier 1987-89) by the Romanian communist politician Nicolae Ceaușescu when he visited Brisbane in the late 80s.
Can you shed some light on your interest in this interaction? Ceaușescu was truly terrifying and was executed in Romania about a year after his visit to Australia. I’d love to know more about how the entire project is taking shape?
J: I’m still in the research stage—and what a journey it’s proving to be. Interview subjects
have now extended from the council and state political realm to include former Foreign Affairs Minister Gareth Evans, and Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard. Over the course of these interviews I’ve heard some bizarre stories about Ceaușescu’s antics in Australia, and about the people responsible for getting him here. I’m also in the process of interviewing a number of Romanians who escaped Ceaușescu’s reign and settled in Australia only to discover that their adopted homeland was giving him a state visit. One of them was even prevailed upon to act as a translator of Ceaușescu for Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke!
A fairly standard justification proffered by democratic governments dealing with dictators of this ilk is that such interactions positively influence human rights, so I think it’s important to hear from some of the humans in question. Much to my dismay, every Romanian emigre I’ve spoken with so far noted that my interview was the first time an Australian had asked them about their experience in any depth. We’re an incurious country, I’m afraid. One of the reasons I’m exploring this visit is that I simply can’t fathom that it happened at all—let alone that it happened with so little scrutiny (both then and since). We threw a party for a genocidal dictator and it’s barely a historical footnote.
R: What has it been like to have the freedom to work full-time on a project and not worry about maintaining a day job to pay the bills?
J: ’Living the dream’ turned out to be a very apt expression. A whole year of just being able to write and think and plan? Magic. The only downside is knowing that I have to wake up at some point. I’ve learned that I would be very good at being independently wealthy.
R: Creative people dream about having a paid block of time for their own artistic work, but most of us work and negotiate our time very differently, as we are often juggling. I’m curious to know if this wonderful opportunity shifted or revealed things you hadn’t anticipated in your own work process?
J: I now have irrefutable proof that I bore myself while working on the same project—even when I’m the one who chose the darn thing. Luckily for me I have a lot of projects: I’m researching two other prospective history books (one on the Fitzgerald Inquiry into police corruption in Queensland, and one on British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace), and my long-term projects re: Burger Force comics and the Fanciful Fiction Auxiliary comedy writing collective are ongoing. When I get bored, I just switch projects.
R: How has your writing benefited from being able to purely focus on your work for one year?
J: The most obvious gift has been the vast stretches of concentration time unmarred by practical considerations re food and shelter. I’ve never been much good at switching from ‘work brain’ to ‘deep writing state’. I’ve also been able to knock off some tedious but very necessary creative maintenance work, such as updating my various websites to conform to SSL requirements, and rebuilding a creaky old website from scratch. Many independent creatives are, of necessity, their own archivists. If I don’t preserve most of my own projects and take the relevant steps to keep them accessible to the public, they will be lost.
Image: Jackie Ryan, Fanciful Fiction Auxiliary
R: So what are the next steps for the project? When can we get our mitts on it?
J: The most advanced of the non-fiction projects (Ceaușescu) is a couple of years away at least, as I am a slow researcher and writer, and this defect is further compounded by my previously admitted inability to be exclusive to one project. I’m also travelling to Romania and America in 2020 as part of my research for two of my non-fiction projects (Romania re Ceaușescu and America re: natural history museums).
R: We also discussed your other two long-term projects: Fanciful Fiction Auxiliary, a hilarious spoof writers collective, and Burger Force, an incredible, award winning comic that you have been producing for the past 20 years. Any updates or gossip on either of these two projects since we last met?
J: Forward momentum on both fronts! In November I finished a new website for the Fanciful Fiction Auxiliary, which sets it up nicely for 2020 when I return to the workforce and have less time but more money: I’ll be in a position to keep things moving by commissioning new work, but won’t have to fuss with the website. And I plan to lure some exciting new contributors into polyester for it.
Image: Jackie Ryan, Burger Force
Volume 4 of Burger Force (which collects a story arc originally told in issues #11-14 around six years ago) came out in December. I’ve also done a fair bit of work on Issues 21-24, but I’m unlikely to finish many them this year or next, as once I return to work, my spare time priority will be the Ceaușescu story. Some images from Burger Force are making inroads in the visual art sector, with a couple of pieces acquired by local collections and collectors, and a piece was included in the Trace biennial art exhibition.
R: I’m so looking forward to hanging out again sometime soon - if not in Brisbane, surely you are due a European book tour in the very near future? We should make that happen!
J: That would be fantastic! I’m pretty sure Europe is crying out to know more about Brisbane’s 1988 world exposition. ☺ If I don’t make it to England hopefully I’ll see you here in Brisbane.
R: Thanks Jackie.