Julie Koh embraces the madness

Arts cuts, fake news and ‘jobs and growth’ rhetoric are enough to make anyone want to quit writing and get a ‘real’ job. Fortunately, Julie Koh had the opposite reaction – ditching her career in corporate law to write whip-smart fiction that is equal parts hilarious and unnerving.

In the lead up to the Emerging Writers’ Festival Program Launch, Everything’s… Fine, Koh offers us her top tips on maintaining a sense of humour and staying sane when the craft of writing is devalued and just existing seems hard.

As an Asian-Australian woman living in a Liberal seat in Sydney, Julie Koh’s political satire doesn’t avoid the absurdity of mainstream Australian culture, it dives in headfirst.

“It’s good to know firsthand how mainstream Australia is thinking. Science, however, says that the loneliness of my lifestyle may well help me to an early death.

I write a lot about how political, social and economic structures entrap individuals, so the political environment always affects what I write. In terms of my approach to writing, the post-truth moment has recently led me and my Kanganoulipo pals into producing faux non-fiction, which we’ve found very amusing.”

Political satire won’t make politics any less exhausting, but it can keep you sane.

“Done right, humour and writing can offer fresh perspectives on seemingly intractable issues.

That said, I don’t think my own writing necessarily shakes people out of political ennui. I think the humour in my work just helps to keep some readers sane, without necessarily curing their intense boredom with the politics of the day.”

“Stay Positive!”, Schmay Schmositive

“I personally stay negative and humorous. Jennifer Mills has said that she gets the impression I am ‘as delighted by the awfulness of late capitalism as [I] am horrified by it’. This is the way of the masochist – take delight in what ruins you.”

Sometimes a laugh can help, but you don’t always have to get the joke.

“I don’t think emerging writers must find humour in current circumstances. Although I do think it may be cathartic for all of us to have a laugh about how things can always get worse.

The best advice I can give emerging writers is actually about self-care. It can be useful to write down a list of activities that are guaranteed to make you feel a bit better, so you know to do them immediately when you feel yourself burning out. Play some music, go for a walk, drink some tea, call a friend. Maybe that friend will make you laugh.”

Julie Koh is one of the featured writers joining us for the 2017 EWF Program Launch Everything’s…Fine. This event is sold out, but you can follow along with us as we live-tweet the event on our Twitter.  

If your reaction to political ennui is less humour, more critical analysis – check out Neha Kale’s top tips for writing a think piece.

For more thoughts and advice on writing, buy tickets to the National Writers’ Conference.