Jessie Tu is a book critic at The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, and a journalist for Women's Agenda. Her debut novel, A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing, won the ABIA for 2020 Literary Fiction Book of the Year. The Honeyeater is her second novel. 

 

Harry Hartog Booksellers: What does your writing day look like? 

Jessie Tu: In the mornings, I’m on the am newsdesk for Women’s Agenda, a feminist publication that produces daily newsletters to subscribers on stories about women. In the afternoon, I work on my novel. Dividing my day like this suits me – I don’t think I can wake up and just go straight to the novel I’m working on. I write until the average work-day concludes, and then spend the evenings watching movies or reading a book. I don’t write at 2am, or 5am, like many writers I admire. I think I prioritise sleep and leisure too much.  

 

What skill do you admire most when reading novels in translation? 

Reading a novel in translation that doesn’t feel like its been translated – like when the translator has captured the rhythm of the original voice of the storyteller in its original language. I think that is an extraordinary skill for which I don’t even know how one adjudicates, because I don’t read in any other language besides English, so I can’t compare a book in translation against its original source text. But I think this rhythm must be intuited. You can feel the pulse and musicality of a well-translated piece of work within the first few sentences.    

 

Is there a particular skill from translators that you admire most? 

Translating humour. I learned from reading Jennifer Croft’s “The Extinction of Irena Rey” that puns are immune to translation, which I thought is so interesting – it’s something I’ve never really thought about. I think if an author’s unique sense of humor on the page is successfully translated into another language, that is remarkable. How can you transport a unique quality of humour or wit into another language? Comedy in translation is something I am completely fascinated and bewildered by.  

 

Have mentors been beneficial in your academic career?  

I’ve never had an academic career! Though I do admire those who work within its walls. I find the world of academia too stilted and hierarchy-rooted for my general preference for anarchy and unstructured methods of learning. I’ve definitely had professional ‘mentors’ in my life but they have come and gone – nothing sustained or long-term like what my character Fay has in The Honeyeater. I’d say generally that in all the times I needed women to give me professional words of advice, they’ve always shown up.  

In my twenties, I was extremely hungry for advice, and actively reached out to women (ie. complete strangers who had CVs I admired) and sought their advice. I don’t remember any stand-out piece of advice, not because they weren’t valuable or good, but because I think what I remember getting out of those encounters was more the sense that there were people out there who were willing to pay attention to me, and to make me feel like I was important, and seen in a professional capacity and taken seriously as a professional, and I think all young women need that. The problem, I think, occurs when you begin over-idolising these older mentor figures – as Fay does in The Honeyeater.  

The Honeyeater is Harry Hartog's feature Book of the Month