New Australian Fiction shortlist spotlight: New Animal by Ella Baxter
New Animal is one of the six books shortlisted for this year’s Readings New Australian Fiction Prize. The story follows young embalmer Amelia, who works at her mother’s mortuary.
Our 2021 judges described Baxter’s novel as, ‘a confident and gritty debut’ that 'takes the reader places they will never expect’. Staff reviewer, Izzy White, also said of the novel: ‘Exposed to other people’s grief, trauma and pain on a daily basis, Amelia escapes her mind and body through sex with strangers, all of whom she quickly discards. However, when faced with her own trauma and grief, Amelia’s desires and compulsions are challenged, and finding ways to escape her own mind becomes increasingly difficult.’ You can read the full review here.
We asked author Ella Baxter about writing inspiration, advice and what she hopes readers may take away from her book.
What was the initial inspiration for this story?
I wrote New Animal in my twenties at a time when I was obsessed with things I couldn’t quite understand. I found that practices around both sex and death seemed focused on either highlighting or hiding some aspect of intimacy. I obsessively started researching and writing about intimacy in all its various incarnations (kink, family dynamics, grief, funerals etc.) and what started as a work of non-fiction eventually turned into a character and a narrative: a young woman who is in the business of sterilising death to create comfort for others, but who is also doggedly pursuing physical intimacy through casual sex.
What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
That both the body and mind are two very precious things, but you need to keep watch over them so they don’t annihilate each other.
What has been the best writing advice you’ve received?
When I told my mentor, Nadine Davidoff, that I was anxious about my next novel, she told me to get over it and to do the work. We were on the phone and I could hear her making coffee in the background, and she said it loudly just like that, ‘Forget the fear and get to work.’ It was perfect advice for me because I have a huge capacity for dithering around. The biggest hurdle for me has always been sitting down, shutting up and writing.