Explore the 2024 Program

Take Me Away Q&A with J.M. Field

As May rapidly approaches, we are so excited to welcome you to the Festival and to introduce you to the writers who make it all worthwhile. To awaken your Festival spirit, we're got a series of Q&As to introduce some of the 2024 participants. Get to know them as we discuss their reading, their writing practice and the Festival theme, Take Me Away.

First off the mark is J.M. Field, author of the picture book Etta and the Shadow Taboo with illustrator Jeremy Worrall. J.M. is a Gamilaraay mari from Moree way who grew up on Darug land in a small town along the Great Dividing Range. Etta and the Shadow Taboo is his first book.

Which book would you take to a deserted island?

Their Eyes Were Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Every couple of months I pick this book up, flip to a random page, and get lost again in Neale Hurston’s skill with words. It’s very corny to say but this book makes me want to fall in love, both with people and with living. A triumph of Black literature! 

What kind of books do you get lost in while reading?

Fantasy and sci-fi – a welcome break from my academic life – but only by authors that have something real to say. Sounds odd, I know, but many authors of these genres use them to escape, instead of to understand, to make sense. Octavia Butler woke me up to this and I’m ever grateful.

Is there a book you wish you could read for the first time again?

Wild Seed by Octavia Butler.

You have such an impressive background in mathematics and French literature, studying at the University of Sydney and Oxford University before beginning your McKenzie Fellowship at the University of Melbourne. What made you interested in writing a picture book?

I was very lucky to have grown up in a Gamilaraay family that kept many of our traditions – such as shadow avoidance as in Etta. This is despite the best efforts of the missionaries and government policy prohibiting the practice of culture. The writing of this picture book, and other projects in the works, come less from an interest and more from a need or a compulsion to share.

How did you and illustrator Jeremy Worrall collaborate on Etta and the Shadow Taboo? Was there a lot of back-and-forth?

Oh my lord, so much back-and-forth. I honestly don’t know how Jeremy and I are still friends – every couple of weeks he’d send an absolutely beautiful work-in-progress and I’d say: I love it but not for Etta. The vision I had was very clear: a stripped back palette, colours reminiscent of Country, and a style that gave a nod to our traditional carving.

Between this and being culturally sensitive (sharing the right amount), the back-and-forth between us took 2-3 years.

What events are looking forward to attending at the Festival?

Firetalk and Trailblazing Women. The first because, like all Murris, I’m a sucker for freaky yarns and ghost stories. The second because Sara M Saleh is speaking – I attended her Sydney launch of The Flirtation of Girls and loved hearing her readings.

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