Over summer, BroadAgenda is featuring a short series of profiles on amazing women and LGBTIQ + folks. Our first Q and A is with Danielle Scrimshaw. She’s is a writer living on Boon Wurrung country whose work has been published in Archer, Overland, Lilith Journal and elsewhere. Her history of queer women in Australia, She and Her Pretty Friend, is out now with Ultimo Press.
If you were sitting next to someone at a dinner party, how would you explain your work and research in a nutshell?
For the past five years I’ve been researching Australian queer history, specifically women’s. My book She and Her Pretty Friend is the brainchild of a history Honours thesis and the subsequent research that followed, full of the stories of women who identified as queer in their lifetime or whose personal history is more ambiguous. I have also written creative essays and short stories which explore themes of sexuality, identity, relationships and grief.
What are you currently working on that’s making you excited or that has legs?
I’m giving nonfiction a break for now and working on a novel I wrote during the 2020 lockdowns. It’s about best friends Greer and Andie—young queer women from Melbourne’s eastern suburbs—and their respective obsessions: Greer’s, a girl at university she has a debilitating crush on, and Andie’s, attempting to solve the mystery of prime minister Harold Holt’s disappearance in 1967.
It’s a lot of fun to write and is making me feel nostalgic for my years at uni (and the girls I had a crush on…).
Let’s wind back the clock a bit. Why did you go into this field? What was compelling about it?
I’ve wanted to become an author since being gifted the first four books in the Vampire Academy series for Christmas ‘09. I vividly remember devouring them over summer, sitting in the kitchen with a towel over my shoulders as my mum dragged a nit comb through my hair (for the last time in my life, thank god).
I read the author’s—Richelle Mead—blog weekly, mystified by photos of her book signings and glimpses of notes scrawled across drafts. I wanted to be something like her so wrote versions of my own supernatural boarding school romances until, eventually, I found a love for Australian history in my last year of high school. If it wasn’t for my teacher, I would never have considered studying history at university.
What impact do you hope your work has?
A friend reached out to me while she was reading Pretty Friend to say it made her feel seen and valid—this, I think, has been the most touching response to my work.
I hope my book helps readers connect with our queer past (and present) and encourages people to seek out more queer history.
It’s still a growing field but there are some amazing books being published, such as Transgender Australia by Noah Riseman and Growing Up Queer in Australia. The ABC documentary Queerstralia, hosted by Zoё Coombs Marr, is another important (and funny) introduction to Australia’s queer past.
Do you view yourself as feminist researcher? Why? Why not? What does the word mean to you in the context of your own values and also your work?
I do. Even when I’m not consciously writing from a feminist perspective, I believe my values are so closely tied to feminism that my work can’t be separated from it. My research is primarily interested in filling the gaps of women’s stories and bringing a closer focus to queer women in history, who have so often been dismissed or left behind.
My relationship with feminism has grown and shifted over time, from first reading The Feminine Mystique to learning more about intersectionality. As I continue to read and consume content from a variety of people with different lived experiences, I expect my idea of feminism will continue to change and grow.
What have you discovered in your work that has most surprised or enchanted you?
I always love revisiting the 1970s gay liberation movement in my research, as it’s full of such rich documentation and primary resources. Something that surprised me from this era was an article about Australia’s first lesbian feminist festival in 1975, held at a small mining town in the northeast of Tasmania called Derby. Several women travelled from the mainland to attend; the festival ran over a weekend and included activities such as hiking, camping and skinny dipping. An ideal weekend, really.
AP Pobjoy has also directed a beautiful documentary about Francesca Curtis and Phyllis Papps, the first lesbian couple to come out on national television in Australia. It’s called “Why Did She Have to Tell the World?” and is inspiring and deeply moving.
Is there anything else you want to say?
If you want to be a writer, one of the best things you can do is make friends with other writers. There is nothing more important than having someone to share drafts with, cheer you on and keep you accountable.
Also, submit! My book’s journey to publication began by an editor reading something I wrote for Archer’s online magazine. Write many, many words and do your research to find a home for them.