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Writing in Ngukurr

When Courtney Collins' partner took a job running the Ngukurr Arts Centre, she moved from Victoria to the remote community. Collins had the bones of a second novel but, despite being around 300 kilometres from the nearest town (Katherine), Collins found she still needed to find the time and isolation necessary to write. The NT Writers’ Center’s Sally Bothroyd caught up with Collins to talk about living and writing in Ngukurr.

“I moved to Ngukurr about 18 months ago, and pretty quickly I became enmeshed in the community and community life. Part of that is because we live in the arts centre and it’s such a hub of activity. It’s not like we go home at the end of the day and have that work-life balance. You do need a place to retreat to and know that you have a stretch of time that won’t be interrupted,” said Collins.

Collins managed to find a routine that worked in with community life, and her second novel The Walkman Mix is now nearing completion.

“We have a rhythm there in that we get up early so we have some time to ourselves. By eight in the morning, people start arriving and I’m at my desk pretty soon after that. I write in the morning, and then I often prepare the lunch for the artists lunch program. After that I retreat into my re-purposed shipping container and write more. It works really well. If I need a chat I just go next door. There’s always someone happy to have a cup of tea. It’s quite a secure feeling because my previous experience had been of writing a novel in isolation.”

Collins said the Western concept of “writing a novel” is not easily translated to the community’s residents, but she wasn’t complaining too much about that.

“Writing a novel is totally meaningless to them. One of the freedoms of being in Ngukurr is that really, at the end of the day, I’m judged by how good the lunch was, and whether there was enough meat in it. This project I’m cooking up in the shipping container, no one’s concerned about it except me.”

Collins’ first novel The Burial was published by Allen & Unwin in 2012. It’s since been published in the UK, the US and France and has been shortlisted for numerous prizes in Australia and overseas, including the Australian Vogel, the NSW Premier’s Award and the Stella Award.

Beneath the Surface: Writing Workshop with Courtney Collins

See the event listing 


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