FWF Q&A: Bri Lee

Writer and editor Bri Lee‘s debut memoir, Eggshell Skull, explores sexism in the legal system alongside her own personal story of seeking justice.

What does feminism mean to you?

Equality regardless of gender, and therefore fighting for everyone to enjoy the benefits currently experienced mostly by men. Also, more and more, listening. Listening to what other women with different backgrounds and needs have to say.

Was there a particular moment you can pinpoint that was crucial to the development of your perspective on feminism, and what it means to be a woman writer?

My mother is an incredibly talented visual artist, and she was never able to pursue her talents fully because she also wanted a family. In my twenties, as I came to understand the workplace and the women around me, the point of divergence for inequality always seemed most stark at the time of procreation. I find it infuriating that marriage and motherhood usually takes such a toll on women artists’ pursuits and dreams. I’m the first woman in my family to go to university.  I’m now making a living from my education and artistic endeavours, and I am grateful for this every day of my life. The more I understand the limited choices of the women who’ve come before me – both in my family and more broadly – the more my feminism grows.

In Eggshell Skull, you merge an examination and critique of the legal system with a very personal account of trauma. What considerations were there for you in writing this story and striking that balance?

I grappled with this balance throughout the entire process – from first drafts right through to final edits. The other difficulty was how to recount stories of others’ sufferings without becoming exploitative or alienating the reader. How could I paint an accurate picture of how awful these traumas were, but not go into a single unnecessary detail? Most of the time I just went with my gut. Some things you just sit with for so long, you can run around in circles in your head, but in your gut you know what call you need to make.

What was your experience like writing this book while your court case was still ongoing? How did you practise self-care during what was a very difficult personal time, and how did you balance the demands of book writing (eg. taking note of details to write later) with that self-care? 

I think writing is how I protect myself from life, but there’s no protection from writing. This book would have been exactly the same up until the final thousand words regardless of the outcome of the court case. I knew that this story was about so much more than the verdict. Having the book to focus on allowed me to detach from some of the proceedings – I was taking notes and documenting it sometimes, rather than living it. I was able to take something outside of my control (a crime committed against me) and turn it into something I could feel constructive and good about. But then the actual writing of it… oh boy. It took me to some dark places.

What goes into the day-to-day of managing and editing your feminist publication? How do your practices as an editor and as a writer impact each other?

Writing and editing are such symbiotic pursuits. I’m a much better self-editor now. I rarely submit freelance work without having proofed and polished it, because now I’ve been an editor for so long I can sniff out pretty quick if someone has sent me a draft rather than a final copy. I don’t use passive voice nearly as much, and I stick to word counts better. I’m not sure if I’m a better editor. I’m not very coddling or gentle, but when something is good I definitely let people know. The day-to-day of running Hot Chicks with Big Brains is super exhausting and random and stressful. It’s about 10 jobs rolled into one. No – about 20. But no day is the same, and I’m so proud of the work we put out.

Which women or non-binary writers do you think everyone should read
Gosh, where to begin? Okay, one short and one long. Short-form: Neha Kale is a big idol of mine – her journalism and arts writing is excellent, and she’s also a lovely human being. Longform: Dr Nikki Stamp’s book Can You Die of a Broken Heart? says so much about the current state of medicine and surgery in Australia, plus it’s got tons of fascinating and critical information that ought to be way more widely known.

What piece of writing advice would you give to your younger self? 

Diary. Diary. Diary every night, even if only for five minutes in scribbled dot points.

Bri Lee is an author and freelance writer. Her first book, Eggshell Skull, is about systemic injustice and sexism in the Australian legal industry. She was the inaugural Kat Muscat Fellow, a 2017 Griffith Review Fellow, and is now on a scholarship at the University of Queensland for her second book. Her essays and features have been published in The Guardian, The Griffith ReviewVAULT and elsewhere.

You may also be interested in: