AUSTRALIAN author Gabrielle Carey has taken up residency at the Australian National University as the H.C Coombs Creative Arts Fellow for 2019.
The writer whose first book “Puberty Blues”, co-written with Kathy Lette, lifted the lid on teen sex, drugs and beach culture in south Sydney said she has been circling the subject of addiction, mental health and suicide ever since.
While Carey is also working on a biographical book on the Australian-born comic novelist Elizabeth von Arnim, who became a Prussian countess by marriage and wrote about the pursuit of happiness, she will use her time at ANU to tackle the subject in another new book.
“Psychosis, addiction and how people experience these things has been weighing on my mind for some time. It’s quite a gloomy subject, so I’ve chosen to focus on stories of recovery,” she said.
“If you look at the last page of ‘Puberty Blues’, there’s a list of people who died from suicide or drug overdose in the gang that we hung out with. Kathy and I got out of the gang just in time, just before heroin came in.
“I noticed in my research a real tendency for the medical profession treating people with mental illness to view them as very separate, almost ‘other’.
“After decades of talking about de-stigmatising mental health issues, I don’t think we’ve come very far.”
Carey said she had made contact with the university’s mental health unit and Carers ACT and hoped to speak to people about their recovery stories.
She will be available to students throughout her fellowship and will hold a masterclass in writing for PhD students.
She lived in Canberra in 2017 during a National Library of Australia fellowship, and said the fellowship was just heaven.
“This is what all writers dream of; a weirdly monastic life that you long for but rarely get a chance to live, where you can devote your full attention to a project, I just wish it was for four years,” she said.
The HC Coombs fellowship was established in 1964 by the then ANU Chancellor Dr HC “Nugget” Coombs to allow artists in various areas of the creative arts to engage in a period of uninterrupted creative work in residence at the ANU.
Last year’s ANU Coombs Fellow was composer Andrew Ford.