Do you like the highs and lows of television drama? Do you like singing all the words to radio hits? Do you also like railing against sexism, right down to the microaggressions? Then maybe you’d like Brodie Lancaster.
The writer, editor and podcaster returns for another edition of the Emerging Writers’ Festival, with her first ever memoir No Way! Okay! Fine! – a reflection of her life through the lens of feminism and pop culture – hitting bookstores in late June. You’ve probably seen her name in the bylines of MTV News, Rolling Stone and Rookie among others, and you’ve probably heard her through your headphones on the Can U Not? podcast with writer and lawyer, Kamna Muddagouni.
We spoke to the new author (and RMIT alumna!) about advice for young writers, navigating social media, and how the political and personal intersect.
Jen Park: What does being on this line-up for the Emerging Writers’ Festival mean for you?
Brodie Lancaster: This is the fourth year I’ve been at the Emerging Writers’ Festival as an artist, but it’s also the second year I’ve been on the programming advisory committee. So I’ve got a very different relationship to the festival since I’ve been doing that than I used to have when I would get an email saying “hey, do you want to do this event?”
But it’s always nice to be on a line-up with my friends or people whose writing I love. This year there’s a bunch of people on the line-up who I know or whose work I know who have never been on the festival, and that’s really cool.
What do you love about listening to and making podcasts?
Not to sound like a wanker, but I have a pretty curated list of ones I listen to every week and I can tell when I really like something straight away or don’t, but I’m not quite sure why it is.
I really like listening to The New York Times Daily podcast every morning, because it’s short and it tells me really great news updates. But I also listen to an hour and a half long Kardashians recap podcast every week. I’m not sure what it is that I like about them!
You said you met Kamna through the internet, and you’re very active across social media. How important is having a digital presence to young writers?
It’s important if you want to do it. It’s like how dogs can smell fear – people can smell out fake desperation. You see those Twitter profiles where someone’s like, “Interesting article” and that’s their whole feed. That’s not a human being, that’s a link machine. You can tell when someone feels like they have to. I feel like I don’t curate my social media and I’m pretty silly on it.
Earlier today, the lead singer from Thirsty Merc – he’s been posting these bizarre Facebook statuses lately – I was literally going to post the entire status as a series of tweets, like maybe I shouldn’t… [laughs]. I’ve also gotten work from it. Editors who might follow me on Twitter because of one thing I wrote might assign me an article. That’s a pretty lucky scenario, but it’s definitely happened before, and not just to me. I know people who are being contacted by editors or other writers on Twitter and gotten opportunities through it. So if it’s something you’re into using, it’s something that can definitely help your career.
Your new book No Way, Okay, Fine! is coming out really soon, which is really exciting. What has been your proudest moment while creating it?
I don’t know if the creation of it was very prideful. It was lots of sad and lonely times, like reading my old diaries… but now that it’s done, I’m very proud of it. I was pretty proud a couple of weeks ago, when I went to Sydney Writers’ Festival where the book was out early (for just the festival). I attended an event about Looking for Alibrandi,which was a huge movie in my life and I wrote about what effect it had on me in my book.
After the event, everyone who had a book went to the signing table to sign copies, and so I was sitting next to the author of Looking for Alibrandi while we both signed our books. It was just amazing! She signed my book and she said real nice stuff. I was like, this is wild!
Your book talks about your life through the lens of pop culture, and I know you’re a big advocate for pop culture. How important has it been to you in your personal life?
A lot. And the book is all the things that I care about in my life and the pop culture that informed it, reflected it or didn’t in some cases. The stuff that people enjoy, don’t enjoy or are told not to enjoy is all really interesting, and it matters a lot. Engaging with pop culture critically is just as important as engaging with poetry or literature. I don’t read proper literature! It’s taken me a long time to realise the stuff I consume and spend time with should be stuff I enjoy on some level.
I used to force myself to read or watch or listen to a lot of things I found boring because I thought I was supposed to. Realising that that doesn’t matter while also realising what I do like is not always “highbrow” is important to learn.
The book also tackles many feminist themes. Why do you think it’s so powerful to write about feminism through the personal experience?
I think it’s powerful in the same way that memoir can be really powerful. When you let someone get really personal and specific to them, it ends up speaking to a more universal truth. But that’s also the only way I know how to write about anything, through myself and my experiences and what I’ve consumed or seen or heard. I don’t try to represent anyone but myself.
When people are trying to represent more than just themselves, it can tend to not achieve what their work could achieve if they just would’ve said ‘this is me, and this is just one representation of womanhood or feminism in a broad pool of millions of others’. We know that there’s not just one person feeling just any kind of way or thinking any kind of thing. All those other experiences are there if you actively look for them, and so there’s no pressure for one woman to represent all experiences.
Is it nerve-wracking for you to write about and publish the personal details of your life?
It is. I have a stack of my book on my desk and I’ve put little labels on them to send them to my parents, my sisters, and people I know very well personally, and I just don’t want to! This is all of my feelings in this book, stuff that I’ve never said aloud and stuff that nobody knows. So it is pretty scary. But I can’t go back now, because it’s done.
It can be difficult to write publicly about feminism too, especially considering the nature of the internet. You can be left vulnerable and emotionally burnt out. What keeps you going?
I think I’ve been pretty lucky – touch wood – that I haven’t been met with a lot of antagonism because of my writing before. It sucks that I have to be like, I’m so lucky to not be threatened for my opinion! I don’t know if it is possible to write about anything to do with feminism or politics or social justice issues or things that affect you on a really personal, daily level without feeling really wiped out. I don’t think it’s possible to do any political writing without it being draining on a physical and emotional level. But why do I keep doing it… I think it’s because it matters. If it matters enough to you to do it, you have to hope that it matters to people who read it.
A lot of my earlier and feminist writings are on Rookie, where I started contributing to in 2012 or 2013. I always had in the back of my head, ‘what did little baby you need to read?’ They’re the things that the readers are going to want, even if they don’t want to read it. That’s a real motivating force. And that’s part of the book as well. ‘What are the things you wanted to say’, or ‘what can this book say if you could go back in time to little teenage Brodie?’
It can be hard to balance study life with achieving career goals and feeling like you have to do more. What advice do you have for students who are trying to balance these two?
You have a lot of time, and you don’t need to do everything right now. I half wish someone had told me to trust myself more when I was younger, except I probably wouldn’t have listened. When I was at university, for example, I didn’t have internet in my share house, and so I wasn’t hustling while I was at Uni. I didn’t do a bunch of internships in Uni. I did one in my last year that turned into a job, that job moved me to New York for a year – which is very lucky, and it isn’t the result of every internship. I didn’t break my back at Uni to get ahead when I was 19 or 20. I didn’t do any freelancing until I was 23. I didn’t start writing my book until I was 26. Don’t feel like there’s a rush to do everything because you think the offers or the interests are going to run out, or if you’re the flavour of the month now, no one will be interested in a year or two years.
If your work is good, people will wait for it – even if they’re unaware that they’re waiting for it.