EWF At Home Residency Q&A: Sharlene Allsopp

In 2020, EWF is proudly presenting the EWF At Home Residencies, a program that supports emerging writers by offering time and financial assistance to work on their craft.

Sharlene Allsopp is one of six writers selected for the  EWF At Home Residencies program, and is undertaking a fortnight of creative work, supported by EWF, in November and December.

Congratulations on being a recipient of our EWF At Home Residency! Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m at my happiest reading, writing, or at the beach, preferably doing all three at once with a cold drink in hand and my puppy frolicking in the sand. Even better if it’s a Bundjalung beach.

My everyday life focuses on family, studying, working at the charity I help run, a bit of tutoring at UQ, and writing every Friday.

What project will you be working on during the Residency?

A memoir.

One evening in 2018, I accidently discovered my great grandfather’s war record online. I didn’t know that he was a soldier in WW1, and many of the details were a revelation to my close family. He was a Bundjalung man, and at that time enlistment for Indigenous men was unlawful.

That discovery led me on a search for answers that I may not ever find. I cannot know why he enlisted for a nation that had no regard for his interests. Pursuing his story has resulted in the idea for a memoir that weaves our stories together, to expose the lies that Australia tells about us. Lies that I grew up believing, that have shaken me to the core, that still inform our nation today.

What do you love most about creative nonfiction/memoir?

It’s a challenging task to capture with words the weight held within a human’s story. I love that challenge because the journey is incredibly rewarding, and, for me, bringing visibility to my family stories writes us into an archive that erased us for so long.

Creative non-fiction also addresses the way historical narratives claim a credibility that creative non-fiction lacks – I am keen to expose that binary. Blurring the lines between fiction and non-fiction results in questioning what narratives we believe and why we have believed one account over another.

Is there a book that you can read over and over again?

There are many!

But I tend to re-read works that are relevant to whatever I am currently focused on. Right now,—because I am working on my memoir which interlaces my story with that of my great grandfather—I am re-reading Hearing Maud by Jessica White, because it is such a beautiful, seamless weaving of two life stories. It’s so vulnerable and so strong at exactly the same time, both stories are richer for the way they connect and inform the other.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

Two come to mind.

The first is the sage advice from Ernest Hemingway which I would have loved to receive in person – ‘write hard and clear about what hurts.’

The second was more of a revelation than advice. I attended an In Conversation event with Claire G. Coleman and somehow the topic came around to writing in past, present and future tenses. I can’t remember the exact words she used but it was a reference to Indigenous ways of understanding the past, present and future in terms of now, now, and now – the all-at-onceness of everything.

It was a revelation to me that my work unconsciously expressed this concept. I have always loved writing in present tense, going back and forth in time without making the ‘when’ super clear. From that moment I felt free to embrace it.

Thanks Sharlene! We’re so excited to work with you.