Artist in Focus
Jack Nicholls is a writer of speculative fiction, poetry, and essays, all part of their attempt to chronicle the tectonic social shifts of the 21st century. They are interested in history, climate change, and the narrowing space in our culture between plausible science-fiction and implausible reality.
They are one of over twenty independent artists and collectives to be offered space to create in the recently refurbished Henderson House studios as part of our residency program, RESIDENCE.
During their residency, Jack has been working on a speculative fiction novel. They like nothing better than hearing stranger’s stories, so if you are ever in the area, feel free to drop by and tell a truthful anecdote or a tall tale. In this discussion, Jack details their writing journey and what it means to connect with the local creative community post-lockdown.
Footscray Community Arts: Tell us about yourself and your practice.
Jack Nicholls: I’m a British-Australian science fiction writer, essayist, environmental activist and observer of life. Growing up trans and bi-cultural, I always felt like the world was a little off-kilter, and that feeling has been reinforced by my observations of twenty years of life since. In both fiction and non-fiction, I grapple with living in a world being ravaged by climate change and run by systems none of us really understand. But I try to be compassionate and funny about it, in writing and real life.
Footscray Community Arts: What will you be working on during your residency at FCAC?
Jack Nicholls: Having focused on non-fiction the past few years, I really wanted to get back to my first love, which is making up strange stories. So far in this residency, I have written two – one about a new generation of kids who cope with the anxieties of climate change by re-enacting the 1960s, and one about a woman fleeing domestic violence by escaping into a city where time runs faster than normal. My final project is to put together the first chapters of a speculative fiction novel that I can carry forward after the residency ends.
Footscray Community Arts: How do you want people to respond to your work?
Jack Nicholls: I want people to realise that the world need not be the way it is.
My work plays with reconsidering concepts we take for granted, like time and space, but by analogy, I want people to reconsider our society. Nothing in human civilisation is natural. We exist by shared conventions and those conventions can be changed. As we face environmental collapse, there is a lot that urgently needs to change.
My most recent response to telling someone I write speculative fiction was from a woman who said, “Hasn’t science caught up? What’s left to imagine?”. To me, that was a very telling comment about how our ability to dream different worlds has atrophied in an era of globalisation.
Footscray Community Arts: What have you learned about yourself as an artist?
Jack Nicholls: It is easier to work if you have a space to go to.
2020 taught me that isolation is corrosive to my creativity, and that even if I am writing about other worlds, I am fuelled by my encounters in this one. The flipside of that is that being at FCAC this year has made me feel connected to a new community, and I’m writing better as a result.
Footscray Community Arts: What’s next after RESIDENCE?
Jack Nicholls: Artistically, I feel like I am really happy with the place I’ve reached, so the next stage is to push myself commercially. That means applying for more grants, making more contacts, and making more pitches (all those depressing aspects of the artist’s life). At the end of all that, hopefully I’ll have a book published.
You can continue to follow Jack’s work on their website, including their most recent project: an essay series about musician Amanda Palmer. Sign up to their e-newsletter and follow them on Twitter at @Jackofninetales