The Exhaustion of the Long Distance Lesbian Feminist Writer
There they were, the final words of the first draft of third book of the Archives Trilogy, Lesbians Ignite! In Victoria In the 1990s, that I’d been writing in a marathon effort for the past three years, on the computer screen: ‘This red hard covered book of 258 pages, BOLD, full of colourful photos and graphics as well as the courage of the LGBTIQ community members who have told their diversely different and interesting stories for our enjoyment, comes highly recommended.’
Of course, as any writer will tell you, this was certainly nowhere near the last words I’d be writing in this particular book because books, until they’re actually at the printers, are very much still works-in-progress. But it was certainly nearer publication than it had been three long years ago and having already successfully published the first two books of the trilogy, Brazen Hussies: A Herstory of Radical Activism in the Women’s Liberation Movement in Victoria 1970 - 1979 launched by Dykes Books Inc in 2009 and Stroppy Dykes: Radical Lesbian Feminist Activism in Victoria during the 1980s (2012), if all went according to plan this book would be launched in 2016.
I had been writing about the Women’s Liberation Movement and lesbian feminist activism since the 1970s. However, it wasn’t till I fell in love with a lesbian from the US towards the end of 2000 and realised that I’d need to get money together if I was to travel with her to the US while she packed up all her belongings and moved to Melbourne that I started to seriously think about documenting all the activist collectives and radical actions that had been organised here in Victoria.
How that came about was that after unsuccessfully applying for many government writing grants over the previous couple of decades, I sent off yet another grant application to write a book about the WLM in Victoria and was not only absolutely astounded when it was successful but even before we made that first trip to the States in 2002 I realised that I’d have to stand good for the money and actually write the book.
I started writing Brazen Hussies in January 2002. By the time I’d finished over two years later, it was a long book that included as many of the details about the WLM during the 1970s as I could find in my research and I’d included a few details of lesbian and radical feminist activism in the 1980s and the 1990s for good measure. I had started self-publishing my own books in 1976, established Dykebooks in 1984 and by 1994 when I stopped, because I’d run out of money and energy, I had published eleven novels and several books of poetry, short stories and plays as well as one non-fiction book I’d written, and two books by lesbian friends.
The idea of gearing up to publish Brazen Hussies myself no longer interested me so in 2004 I started doing the rounds of publishers, starting with the local feminist publishers here in Melbourne, Spinifex Press, to no avail. However, I soon realised that what I had on my hands was not one but three books, separated out the ‘80s and ‘90s sections and only sent out the book about the 1970s. In between, I got back to writing novels, memoirs and essays. Several rejection slips later and realising that expecting patriarchal publishers to accept a book about the WLM was a complete waste of time I knuckled down and established Dyke Books Incorporated in January 2008.
In the meantime, I rewrote BH to included some personal experiences as an activist in between the political details to show how the WLM and dynamic and radical feminist actions of the ‘70s had influenced me after I’d joined my first Consciousness-Raising Group in 1972. I also personally interviewed sixteen lesbian and feminist activists and included their comprehensive viewpoints in the book, to give a broader perspective. I finished this version in March 2009, sent it off to be typeset and printed and it was launched by Joan Kirner, a former Premier of Victoria ,on 21 November 2009.
I was on a roll and immediately started writing Stroppy Dykes in January 2010. Having had considerable experience by then as far as researching and writing about the personal and political aspects of lesbian feminist and radical feminist activism was concerned, this time I either interviewed or asked thirteen lesbians to write their own stories. By working really hard as if it was a full-time job and then some, I finished writing the ms in a final burst of energy in December 2011 and posted it to the typesetter on Xmas eve. Stroppy Dykes was subsequently launched by the singer songwriter Judy Small on 31 March 2012.
I decided, having researched and written two large herstorical books of approximately 800 pages each, interviewed over twenty activists, as well as getting the money together to pay to have the books typeset and printed as well as setting up Dyke Books Inc and then organising the launches, that I needed a twelve-month break away from such an intense project and went back to writing my memoirs, amongst other things.
As well as saving the money to personally finance the publication costs there was also the business of promoting and selling the books at readings and through the few book shops that would take them on consignment. While the limited print run of BH sold out, SD wasn’t as successful in terms of sales so we established a Dyke Books website in December 2013 to promote the books to a wider audience, www.dykebooks.com.
I didn’t start researching and writing Lesbians Ignite till January 2013 and was immediately aware that the enthusiastic impetus that had started me writing this trilogy was no longer there. Not one to give up I persevered but the thought of doing anymore interviews on top of everything else was more than I could bear. I was gratified when a lesbian friend agreed to write her own story which I could include in the book without me having to to do anything more than interview her a couple of times to get her started and then sending her encouraging emails from time to time.
Three years later here I am, washed up and exhausted. But with the end clearly in my sights. I have already started the massive job of culling the manuscript back to a reasonable and affordable 900 pages. And all being well, come the end of February 2016 I’ll be sending the finished product to the typesetter and after the usual corrections and whatnot to the printer. In the meantime, I’ll organise the where and who of the launch and afterwards I might take a small break before I get onto the next writing project. But with much-reduced hours and plenty of time for rest and relaxation that better suits my ageing body, keeping in mind I’ll be 72 in April 2016. And grateful that I’m still able to do the thing that, apart from my lover, gives me the most pleasure, writing.
© Jean Taylor Wurundjeri Country December 2015