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People & Ideas

May 9, 2014

Follow Friday: @BrigidWD, live-tweeting compulsory silence

From locked bathrooms to silent meditation retreats, journalist and novelist Brigid Delaney is committed to stream-of-consciousness tweeting.

Matthew Clayfield

Journalist, critic, screenwriter and playwright

At the beginning of 2013, Brigid Delaney (@BrigidWD) attended a silent retreat. Bending the definition of “silent” somewhat, she tweeted the whole thing.


Delaney told Crikey this wasn’t cheating. “I was literally silent,” she said.

That the retreat managed to keep Delaney’s mouth shut was something of an achievement. Perhaps it would have been too much to ask that it curb her rampant tweeting, too. And it is rampant. “I tweet every day,” she said, “many times a day. I use Twitter like a stream of consciousness. It’s very quotidian. I also tweet a lot of news and culture stories.”

Her Twitter feed is thus a fairly accurate representation of her personality as a whole: Delaney the journalist jostles with Delaney the anti-death penalty activist and both have to contend with Delaney the self-styled clown. (She once locked herself in a bathroom and tried to escape by fashioning a key out of soap. She tweeted about it, of course.)

More recently, Delaney the novelist has made an appearance on the feed, following the publication of her first fictional effort, Wild Things, last month. “I’m tweeting some book-related stuff,” Delaney said, “but trying not to overload my feed with it.”

Set on the campus of an exclusive university, Wild Things follows the members of a college cricket team in the wake of a wild weekend in the mountains where a Malaysian student, dragged along for the ride, goes missing.

“I went to a university college and thought it was a fascinating world,” Delaney said. “It was a kind of halfway place — closed, secretive, with its own rituals and language — but at the same time attached to universities where new ideas and fresh thinking were the order of the day. I found moving between the two places really interesting, particularly at 18, when everything felt so new and novel.”

“As a journalist and a former lawyer, I also became interested in people who commit crimes in groups,” she said. “How is the group regulated when they are operating outside the law? How do a large group of people keep a secret? Does getting away with a crime embolden people to act recklessly and think they can be bad without consequence? Another big question was how power works in Australia. A lot of the powerful networks start at school and university.”

The book, which Delaney began in 2006, has been a long time coming. “There were technical challenges,” she said. “It was initially written in the first-person plural, which proved to be a lovely voice but too tricky to sustain in a long-form project. I had to scrap most of it and start again.”

In the meantime she wrote another book, This Restless Life, a non-fictional account of her generation’s hyper-mobile existence, hopping from job to job, lover to lover, city to city. Delaney has never quite shrugged off the restless life herself. She spent three months a year in New York City for the past two, travels to Indonesia regularly with her anti-death penalty work, and is this year planning trips to West Papua and Japan. “This Restless Life used a different part of my brain,” she said. “It was like a large op-ed, a book of ideas, not of characters.”

Delaney’s next project is a collection of interconnected short stories set in the world of Sydney media. “It’s called The Disruptions, and it takes place over the course of the NSW Labor years, roughly 2000 to 2010,” she said. “It’s about the effect of the internet on the world of print media and the lives of all these youngish journos.”

She’s now back in Australia after her latest overseas jaunt and working as director of news at the New Daily.

@BrigidWD’s #FF:

  • Virginia Lloyd (@v11oyd): For all things books
  • Alex McClintock (@axmcc): On boxing and the news of the day
  • Jessica Reed (@guardianjessica): French Guardianista
  • Susannah Guthrie (@susg91): Journalist at The New Daily, celebs and style
  • David Johnson (@_struct): Acerbic Melbourne man about town

On Australia’s media landscape…

I think now is a really good time to be a freelancer. There are some green shoots that make me feel very optimistic and excited about the future of the Australian media. The New Daily, The Saturday Paper and The Guardian Australia are three amazing new ventures that provide new outlets for journalists and more choice for readers. You pay $3 for the Saturday Paper — a bargain — and The Guardian and the New Daily are free. That’s a great deal for readers. I found the hardest years of freelancing were in 2010-11. There was a lot of pessimism amongst the big media companies and lay-offs. I saw my work drop off and word rates go backwards. These new media outlets were yet to appear. I considered leaving journalism and started studying for the bar exam. I thought it was all over.

On the Mercy Campaign and the death penalty…

I don’t think the state should have the power to take lives. It’s such a final, irreversible step, and doesn’t allow for the fact that a conviction might be wrongful. Albert Camus wrote: “But what then is capital punishment but the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal’s deed, however calculated it may be, can be compared?” I also believe in rehabilitation. The work that Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran — two of the Australians condemned to death in Bali — do in Kerobokan is great. They are helping other prisoners learn English, have set up a computer room, and Myuran has set up art classes. Artist Ben Quilty has been into the jail to assist him with those classes. There are a lot of positive things happen there in a prison that we often hear only negative things about. I’ll disclose my involvement in Reprieve and the Mercy Campaign if I’m writing about the issue. I’ve done a lot of op-eds on the issue, because I do have strong opinions about it and feel very strongly that it shouldn’t exist.

The Bali campaign is called The Mercy Campaign. It’s a chance for people to respectfully ask the Indonesian President to spare the lives of Andrew and Myuran. I’m also involved in Reprieve, which sends Australian interns to the southern states of the US to assist attorneys there on capital cases. The program has been going for around 11 years and has assisted in getting prisoners off death row. I’m immensely proud of the work young Australians do over there, on their own time and their own dime. It says something about how poorly funded the American capital defence system is when you have Aussie volunteers propping it up. Reprieve has also started working closer to home, on death penalty cases in Asia. I don’t believe that fighting against the death penalty is a lost cause. The Asian countries that we have started working in are mostly keen to modernise and engage with human rights. Indonesia in particular has shown a waning appetite for the death penalty. Particularly when their own residents are facing it abroad in countries such as Saudi Arabia. As for Andrew and Myuran’s plight, I would encourage anyone who cares to sign the petition. The pair has supportive families and a great legal team. They are keeping busy in prison and trying to be positive. I’m hopeful for them.

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