Bri Lee, author, Eggshell Skull
To know my words could have that affect on people is so wholly, incredibly, fundamentally affirming. I am changed too ...
When we first spoke to emerging writer Bri Lee in early 2016, we knew she would be destined for great things. Two years on and our prediction came true when Bri’s book – the engrossing memoir Eggshell Skull – was released to widespread acclaim. Published through Allen & Unwin, Egghell Skull is the story of Bri’s journey through the Australian legal system, where she witnessed numerous injustices against sufferers of sexual crime. The story grapples with these harrowing experiences – and also that of Bri’s own reckoning as a victim of sexual abuse and her fight for justice – and showcases the flaws in our legal system in a country coming to terms with prolonged bouts of systemic failure. Bri will be speaking at the Brisbane Writers Festival about the process of putting together her first book, but we were lucky enough to catch her for a chat to get her thoughts on her recent journey.
Congratulations on the incredibly positive response that Eggshell Skull has received! How has the journey been for you so far?
Absolutely mind-blowing. I had hoped this book might mean a lot to a few people – that it would find some readers who really needed it. I had no idea it would mean so much to so many people.
We’re very familiar with your work through Hot Chicks with Big Brains and your other creative projects – how did you find penning your first novel, and a memoir at that?
It was daunting, for sure, to be sharing so much of myself. But like anything else in life you just have to break it down into its smaller parts, set yourself goals, and don’t go to parties if you’re missing deadlines.
In addition to your own personal journey of trauma, the book draws heavily from your work as a judge’s associate. What sort of observations did you pick up during this time that you then wove into the fabric of Eggshell Skull?
Those observations were the real reason I wrote this book – there are so many barriers for sexual violence complainants trying to access justice. Most of all I thought that the trials and sentences I saw in court were the hard, tough, awful bit. Then when I went through the whole process myself I realised that if your matter even makes it to court, that’s the final, end, tip-of-the-iceberg point in your journey. It’s a brutal process that is inhumane to put people through and needs addressing.
What inspired you to funnel these observations into a book?
I needed a way to tell people about these inequalities that could be taken seriously. Being an author comes with a certain level of presumed legitimacy, and I needed that for the establishment to take me seriously.
What were some of the biggest hurdles you encountered during the research and writing of Eggshell Skull?
How to give people enough detail so that they knew how serious and awful the crimes were, but never a single detail too much so that the result was overly graphic or exploitative. Finding that balance was so hard.
How has your perception of the legal system changed during your time working within the system and through your time piecing together the book?
I now see it as the flawed, human thing it is, rather than some kind of truly blind, faultless beacon for truth-finding. I still believe in it, but it needs work.
What sort of systemic changes would you like to see enacted to ensure victims of sexual-related crimes can adequately access justice?
Honestly this is way too huge a question to answer here! First and foremost though, in Queensland specifically, we don’t have dedicated police departments or teams to deal with sex crime. It means that complainants (like myself, and others who have written to me) get told that the police are dealing with more important things, like murders, and therefore our matters need to wait. The delays and dismissive attitudes are inexcusable and simply come from a lack of training and resources. The situation in this regard is much better in Victoria, for example.
What has been your favourite piece of feedback you received since Eggshell Skull’s release?
A couple of people have come up to me after events and said that they read the book just as they were wondering whether or not to make a police complaint, or to withdraw one they’d made, and my book made them want to push on and fight for their own matters. To know my words could have that affect on people is so wholly, incredibly, fundamentally affirming. I am changed too.
We’re excited to catch you at the Brisbane Writers Festival, discussing how you worked with your editors and publishers to produce your first book. What advice would you give to writers currently embarking on their first foray into writing a long-form work?
Keep at it! Give yourself permission to write an awful first draft – just get the bulk of the words on the page – then moving them around and improving them is much easier.
Who are some Australian writers that have been particularly inspiring to you recently?
Krissy Kneen, Rahael Brown, and Shastra Deo spring to mind, but there are so many more of course. I have found the Australian writing scene incredibly encouraging and warm, and I’m proud to be a part of it.
When it comes to writing, what other kinds of projects would you love to tackle?
I’m tits-deep in my next book. It’s a collection of personal essays and it’s proving to be a tricky beast to wrangle. I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, for sure, but normally that’s a good sign.
You can catch Bri Lee at the Brisbane Writers Festival on Friday September 7, speaking on Eggshell Skull alongside Jane Palfreyman and Kate Goldsworthy. Eggshell Skull is out now through Allen & Unwin.