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I know I dream, but all I remember are my nightmares.

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Why do you write? It’s a hopeful or optimistic thing, I think, to try to catch bits of life, large or small, and explore them, understand them, then offer them up to readers who might also connect with them or for whom they might make sense.

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There’s no single film I could claim as favourite – among the films I’ve loved are The Royal Tenenbaums, Lost in Translation, Beetlejuice, Birdman, Blue Velvet, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Apocalypse Now, Doctor Strangelove, and All About Eve.

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Why do you write? Because I have something to say – and not just to one person, but to as many people as I can reach. And when the writing goes well, I enjoy doing it ...

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I've realised in recent years that without my writing I don't quite feel like a whole person. It brings me joy – I constantly feel grateful that I'm able to work at something that is joyous – but it also allows me to make sense of the world, so much so that I actually think I would be lost without it.

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Australian scholars – at least in my field of history – are very good at reflecting on intellectual traditions. It helps one feel part of a long-term conversation that goes beyond individual reputations or achievements.

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I feel for reviewers – they can't win. If they review seriously, with gravitas and responsibility, it's difficult to find enough readers. If they shake things up with a bit of drama, they're sledged for being gimmicky. If they say nice things about someone they know (and in Australia everyone is someone you know), they're dismissed as sucks. If they deliver difficult judgements, they're attacked by the thin-skinned. All the while, spaces for intelligent engagement are shrinking.

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Writing is the best excuse I've found to play music all day. And to understand my country.

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I wouldn't mind being a fly on the wall when Ta-Nehisi Coates has dinner with James Baldwin and Chinua Achebe – and, as long as I'm out of range, up on the ceiling when Rudyard Kipling joins them.

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I have a recurring dream about discovering an enticing space in my own home – a basement or garden – always just out of reach. Its residue is an elated sense of creative possibility. I like the sign the symbolist poet Saint-Pol-Roux put on his door before sleep: Poet at work.

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