Bri Lee: “Don’t wait for permission. Don’t wait for the perfect conditions – they won’t come.”

by |June 5, 2018

Bri Lee has written a fierce and eloquent memoir that addresses both her own reckoning with the past to speak the truth, as well as the stories around her, with wit, empathy and unflinching courage. Eggshell Skull is a haunting appraisal of modern Australia from a new and essential voice.

Bri Lee now answers the Booktopia Guru’s Ten Terrifying Questions!


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born and raised in Brisbane, Australia – in fact I lived in the same house my whole life until I was 20! I have a wonderful, close family and spent my childhood playing in backyards and on bicycles around my leafy suburb.

 2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

When I was 12 I wanted to be an Egyptologist and Archaeologist, then when I was 18 I thought I was going to be a photojournalist. And thirty? I’m only 26 now! Haha. I am fairly certain I’ll be writing for the rest of my life. Other things might come and go, but the writing will be constant.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?  

Hmm, this is a tricky one. I think I was so inward-facing at that age, and still so surly and full of self-loathing, I thought that meaning could only come from sacrifice. Does that make sense? That improvement could only come from pain, or that if something wasn’t “hard” it wasn’t “worth it” or “good”. I have a lightness now. Loving is easier. Enjoying life can give it meaning. 

4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?

Winning the Kat Muscat Fellowship was so obviously a turning point for me. It came at December 2015/January 2016, which was just when I was trying to build up the courage to quit law and pursue writing full-time. From that announcement I got emails from publishers, got an agent, and eventually the book deal with Allen & Unwin. The second would be signing with my amazing publisher, Jane Palfreyman (who also publishes Charlotte Wood and Clementine Ford) because she’s always been so encouraging of me and unafraid of the book I was trying to write. The third would be when Helen Garner gave the cover quote – a lot of wonderful opportunities snowballed from that moment. An endorsement like that does a huge amount of good for a debut author and I’m extremely grateful.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why did you choose to write a book?  

Words are magic. I can write a word – pineapple – and I’ve forced you to think of a pineapple. In a book I can completely control my end of the story as well, which is important with a story like this one. I don’t think I could have fit in as much context and jurisprudence in a TV Show or podcast. Plus I just love how books are such a solitary experience. People can read my words as though it’s just me and them in the room.

6. Please tell us about your latest book…

My latest book is Eggshell Skull! It’s my first (hopefully of many) and is a memoir of sexism in the Australian justice system. It follows my journey through law: first as the daughter of a police officer, then as a law student, then as a judge’s associate, and finally as a complainant myself. I’ve seen the law from both sides now. If this book has achieved what I want it to, it’ll make you angry then hopeful. 

7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?

Change just one thing? Every single woman in the world has total control over her body and reproductive rights. So much (health, wealth, education, etc.) flows from this critical moment. 

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

Tough question! There are so many people I admire. Probably people working in disability care and aged care. Most societies can be judged by how they treat their most vulnerable. We don’t elevate the importance of these roles enough.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?   

I have some publications I dream of writing for – The New Yorker, The Monthly, and such. I’d like to achieve some success in the work I’m just now getting stuck into with proposals for legislative reform in Australia for the way the system treats complainants in sex and child sex cases. That work truly gives meaning to my life.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Don’t wait for permission. Don’t wait for the “right” or “perfect” conditions – they won’t come. Give yourself the freedom to start a shitty first draft. Just get the words on the page then everything else is easier.

Eggshell Skullby Bri Lee

Eggshell Skull

by Bri Lee

A fiercely intelligent, heartbreakingly honest memoir and feminist call to arms in the tradition of Fight Like A Girl

Eggshell Skull: A well-established legal doctrine that a defendant must 'take their victim as they find them': If a thin skull caused the death of someone after a punch, that victim's weakness cannot mitigate the seriousness of the crime, nor the punishment.

Bri Lee has written a fierce and eloquent memoir that addresses both her own reckoning with the past to speak the truth, as well as the stories around her, with wit, empathy and unflinching courage. Eggshell Skull is a haunting appraisal of modern Australia from a new and essential voice...

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