2024 Stella Prize Longlist: Reflections
Kate Mildenhall stella prize 2024

What this book showed me about my writing practice

“A book will tell you how it wants to be written,” says Kate Mildenhall, longlisted for the 2024 Stella Prize for The Hummingbird Effect. In this piece, she shares why this was so relevant to her writing process for this book.

The Hummingbird Effect started life as something very different to how it ended up. The novel was originally straight historical fiction set in Footscray in 1933 which I worked on for over a year during COVID-19 lockdowns, but, when I handed it in to my publisher the response was lukewarm. Before my editor had a chance to call me back a couple of weeks later with some relatively minor plot adjustments to fix, I had “exploded” the book. I tore apart what I had, and started writing multiple points of view and narratives from the present day to the far future.

I did not know whether it would work and while I trusted that the fragmented stories were connected, I didn’t, for a long time, know how. I didn’t tell my publisher what I was doing. I was terrified of the risk I was taking and that I would never come close to my ambition for the book.

What this book showed me was what dear mentor Charlotte Wood had already told me: the book will tell you how it wants to be written. I had to hold my nerve and trust that, at some level, I knew what I was doing.

What this book showed me was what dear mentor Charlotte Wood had already told me: the book will tell you how it wants to be written.

the hummingbird effect

Writing The Hummingbird Effect also taught me how integral creative collaboration is to my process. I worked with an incredible visual designer, Eva Harbridge, who created the diagram of the Hummingbird Algorithm which features in the book. Over a few months, Eva and I met online and shared notes, conversation, links and images as she undertook my strange request to design an uninvention algorithm. As Eva reflected the ideas and meaning of my work back to me through a different medium, she gifted me news ways of thinking about the book and unlocked new ways I could think about what I wanted to say. Now, I want a diagram from Eva in every book I write.

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