2024 Stella Prize Longlist: Reflections

Things I can’t write without

We asked Maggie MacKellar, longlisted for the 2024 Stella Prize, to give us a glimpse of her writing habits. These are the things she cannot write without.

I live and work on a farm and most of Graft was written in the dark of early morning or at night when the day was done. And although I was sometimes resentful of a lack of time to write, I’ve come to realise it’s a key part of my process to spend more time away from the manuscript, walking or moving sheep, or just outside. When I’m at my desk I need the sound of my dog snoring. She has a particularly impressive snore, and it acts as a sort of white noise machine. Also, her head on my foot keeps me sitting down, which is eventually, essential to writing.

A little bit of dirt balances the intimidating clean blankness of the page.

When it becomes necessary to go away to work on the manuscript, that deep immersive work where you really can’t be taken out of your head, I pack my dog, my notebooks, some bird books and a piece of flint that sits on my desk beside my keyboard. I found this flint out walking and when I picked it up my thumb fit just perfectly in the groove made by another woman, a woman whose country I now walk over and love, and whose story I can’t tell, but I can acknowledge. When the words won’t come, I often pick it up and it reminds me that my writing is a tool, and that storytelling is important.

I also quite like a little bit of dirt under my nails, you know the bit you can only get out with a nail brush and gardener’s soap, or when you wash your hair. A little bit of dirt balances the intimidating clean blankness of the page.

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