Interview: Dyschronia author Jennifer Mills on the climate emergency, Ancient Greek oracles, and her Miles Franklin nomination

The Miles Franklin Literary Award will be announced later today, and we’re slipping one last nominee interview in before the big reveal! This time, we’re chatting to Jennifer Mills, author of Dyschronia!

Congratulations on making the Miles Franklin shortlist! What was it like to hear the news?

Thank you! It was and is wonderful: to feel that my work is being read and valued, to be among this year’s shortlisted writers, and to be a part of the prize’s incredibly important legacy.

Could you tell us a little about Dyschronia?

It’s an unconventional novel about an oracle, migraine and perception, the way small communities cope with the ripples of a long catastrophe, the question of how prediction and belief might help or hinder our abilities to change, how we understand our responsibility to the future… and cuttlefish.

What inspired the novel?

It started as a very visual, hallucinatory process, a lot of dreaming and association.

I began unpicking some of the questions of time that arise from the climate emergency, and became very interested in the formal challenge – breaking down the novel’s illusions of linear time. I was inspired by the world around me: the landscape and people, and my own frustrations with the mechanisms of power, denial and inertia that keep us from acting in our own and the planet’s long-term interest.

Dyschronia seems to jump around the genres, from sci-fi and climate change fiction, to something slightly magical and dystopian. Where do you see it fitting? Does it need to fit into a genre at all?

I don’t think too much about genre while I work. The demanding nature of this project meant that I reached further for what i needed – deeper into my own imagination, wider into the world, even underwater. I play with genre tools a lot in my work. It’s probably a reflection of my own eclectic reading. The times often feel science-fictional; we need our imaginations more than ever.

There are elements here that put one in mind of a Greek tragedy, with Sam as a seer or oracle (perhaps even the ignored Cassandra), and the narration from the rest of the Clapstone residents as a sort of Greek chorus. Was this intentional?

Absolutely. In telling a story with elements of inevitability and even tragedy, I needed to access this old narrative technology. I visited Delphi while writing this book and the Pythic oracle resonates throughout, as does Cassandra – an all-too-familiar figure for environmentalists and climate scientists.

And, finally, what’s next for you?

I’m in the late stages of a new novel. I won’t say too much just yet, but I can tell you it’s a ghost story.

The Miles Franklin Literary Award was established using funds bequeathed by the My Brilliant Career author upon her death in 1957, and celebrates novels presenting an uniquely Australian experience. The overall winner will be chosen from six shortlisted authors, winning $60,000 in prize money. This year’s winner will be named on July 30th. For more information on the prize, head to the Perpetual/ Miles Franklin website.

Jennifer Mills’ Dyschronia is published by Picador Australia and is in bookstores now.

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