Yarning about the Blak&Write Fellowship

May 4, 2021

It was really deadly winning one of the Blak&Write Fellowships for 2020 with my picture book series, Backyard Sports.

The idea for the books came to me on a long drive between Halls Creek and Broome. I was thinking about all the different experiences and lives of remote Aboriginal mob. The stereotypes we often face. The misconceptions or mystery around what life in our remote towns is really like.

We all come from different language groups with unique language, culture, traditions, and ways of being. Each community has been impacted by invasion, colonisation and subsequent policies. Each community has its unique strengths and opportunities. But it got me thinking that even each individual person has a different story to tell about growing up remote. Every household does things their way and values things differently. Even just looking over the fences of each house will show a different kind of life- some are lush green with ferneries full of plants, others red dirt swept daily by proud occupants, others overgrown, others overwhelmed by rubbish, some with basketball hoops and kids toys strewn around, some with lots of dogs, some backing onto the creek with a tyre swing off a tree, some with a quite artist painting in the shade, some with old people sitting around fires meditating, some with black market grog being passed around, some with Elders carving, some with backyard cards, some with quad bikes, some with stray horses by the fence, cubbies in mango trees, fire pit with the remains of a goanna. Even that doesn’t show the surprises that you might find in remote backyards. We all come in different shapes, sizes, colours. Just like the city our Aboriginal people can be diverse too.

I remembered kicking around in the backyard as a kid. We’d often pop our heads over to the neighbours or jump over to play in different yards. We’d often be roped into the next adventure by a stray ball flying over the fence. And that sparked these stories.

I wrote a basketball, football, teeball (and after being selected for Blak&Write a cricket) versions of the idea under the series title of Backyard Sports.

It was deadly to get selected as one of the few Blak&Write Fellowship winners in 2020 for this series. Kind of a confidence boost knowing that I can write and that people might be interested in the stories of remote Australia too.

The Blak&Write Fellowship team are amazing. I felt really supported through the whole process. They gave me some great feedback to help sharpen and polish the books. I learnt how to write clear illustrator notes, how to set out the mock book pages to see how the words flow across the book, how to be clearer with my writing and how to add or delete words for flow.

Because I was working from Broome Western Australia during my fellowship… and it was in a Covid year… I was unable to visit the team in Queensland. But we chatted on the phone often, touched base on email and swapped notes using ‘Review-Track Changes’ in Word.

I’m feel pretty confident about the series and hope to hear back from Hachette soon with news if it has been accepted for publishing through them. Publishing contract or not, this has been a really worthwhile professional experience that I recommend for any other First Nations writers who might want to refine their craft. You lose nothing by submitting your work to see how you go.

Carl Merrison

#blak&write #Blackandwritefellowship #QueenslandLiteraryAwards #Queenslandlibrary #Hachette

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