Jay Carmichael, writer and lovely human talks about his first novel, rejection and capturing pain with clarity

Jay and I met a year or so back when he was interning at Orygen, The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health. Jay struck me as an incredibly humble, passionate and genuinely lovely young person who really could write! 

I kept in touch with Jay, and when I heard that Scribe had signed him for two novels I was so excited. His forthcoming novel, Ironbark will be published in 2018 and was awarded the 2016 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. 

In this interview he talks about rejection, struggling to capture the pain and angst of adolescence and where to next.

Jay, you must be so chuffed, having been signed to Scribe for two books; your manuscript Ironbark and your post WWII exploration of homosexuality and authenticity, Marlo, that's incredible! How long were you working on the manuscript for Ironbark, and how does it feel to know that in 2018, your words will be made available in book form for a captive audience to digest?

J: Chuffed, and so full of gratitude and thanks — it’s been five years this year writing the manuscript for Ironbark, so I can hardly believe my luck. I never wrote it to be published — as a novella-length manuscript (about 45,000 words) and having a strong focus on homosexuality, I understood it’d be a hard sell. The shortlisting came after 36 other rejections and that particular award was the third last item on my submissions list! After that, I signed with an agent and had several more rejections, so I was very much ready to move on to the second manuscript. To think that people will be reading my writing is both exciting but also a little terrifying.

How do you want readers to feel when reading your work?

J: Because the book is about discovering a sexuality that’s different, I hope that young and old same-sex attracted people feel it’s authentic firstly, but also I’d like those who may be struggling with their sexuality to find a story they can connect with in a meaningful way. For a general audience, I hope they see this as a true representation of the difficulties that persist today for people who don’t fit a cookie-cutter mould.

In your recently published Overland and Guardian (Aus) pieces you talk about mental health and the anxiety associated with "coming out" particularly for young people in rural and remote areas of Australia. In these two pieces you also intimately recount your own experiences of doing so. Where was writing in your adolescence? Did it serve as an anchor or something reliable, comforting even, that you could turn to, amidst the upheaval your were experiencing?

J: I found it hard to recount my experience of coming out in those pieces of writing you mentioned, and the end result is thanks greatly to the editor at Overland for asking the right questions — even then I struggled to capture the clarity of pain and angst that I felt while first coming to terms with myself and then verbalising that to my loved ones. Words make things sound simpler than they are, but as you rightly pointed out, I did use writing as a space of comfort during high school. I didn’t start writing until I was 14, and that was a rather fickle decision. I think it’s important to point out that I didn’t consciously decide I needed such a place — it simply happened. In fact, I’d never thought of writing in this way until a year or so ago. What writing does for me is create a parallel, and invisible, world that I operate within alongside the real, tangible world, and having these two very different worlds helps to displace the disappointment, sadness and, not to forget, joy. The second invisible world is not anchored anywhere because, let’s not kid ourselves, it doesn’t exist and only I have access to it. But, it’s nice to carry it around with me.

How do you feel young (and old) writers can contribute constructively to conversations about the future?  Do you feel there are important or relevant topics in the present, or do you feel that impact can be made regardless of the topic when using the micro level of our day to day experiences as a way to speak about the macro?

J: A bunch of important topics need discussing — climate change and population growth for example. Unfortunately, humans by nature will most always put themselves first, and both climate change and population growth haven’t yet affected humans enough for us to do something effective about them. While there’s a smorgasbord of dystopian fiction concerned with a post-climate change world (e.g. no water, people fighting each other for food, blah, blah), writing in this way doesn’t necessarily affect change. (And no, I am not suggesting my writing will change attitudes to sexuality.) If we look at books that have affected change in humanity en masse, those books consists a handful of religious tomes (i.e. the Bible, Torah, Qur’an, etc.) There are others, such as seminal feminist texts. I like the idea of using the micro level of our day to day experiences as a way to speak about the macro and I guess it’s just a matter of incorporating key concerns into our writing in a way that’s not preachy, condescending and, most importantly, that is natural. As a globalised community, humans have come to a point of ‘Well, what’s next?’, and that’s a really important question. Where to from here; how do we get there; what does ‘here’ look like? I think it’s also important to look back into our history in order to inform our next steps, which is something I try to convey in my own writing.

What will 2017 hold for you Jay?

J: I’m studying for a Master of Writing and Publishing, which I will hopefully finish in 2017, I have that second manuscript to polish up and my day-job as a copywriter and copyeditor. As boring as it sounds, 2017 will be buckling down! 


Thanks Jay :)