UWA Publishing interviews Graham Akhurst the author of Borderland.
Graham Akhurst is a Kokomini writer who grew up in Meanjin. He is a Lecturer of Indigenous Studies and Creative Writing at UTS. Graham began his writing journey in a hospital bed in 2011. He read and started journaling while passing the time between treatments for Endemic Burkett Lymphoma. As a Fulbright Scholar, Graham took his love for writing to New York City, where he studied for an MFA in Fiction at Hunter College. He is a board member for the First Nations Artists and Writers Network and Varuna. He lives with his wife on Gadigal Country in Sydney and enjoys walking Centennial Park with a good audiobook. His debut YA novel, Borderland, was published by UWAP in October 2023.
Photography credit: Giovana Schluter Nunes.
What as your motivation to write Borderland?
When I was growing up there were very few Indigenous authored books written for a young adult audience. To see Indigenous perspectives in stories, particularly those on school curriculum, is so important for Indigenous young readers who can see themselves in the text, and non-Indigenous readers have the opportunity to engage with multiple Indigenous viewpoints. That engagement plays a big role in unlearning colonial ideologies of Indigenous peoples. So, a big driver for me was to write a book that spoke to my experience growing up Indigenous in Meanjin. It’s the book I wish I had access to when I was in high school, but I also wanted to show multiple Indigenous views on big issues like identity and the extraction industry.
Can you tell us about your writing process? When do you find the time to write? And when did you begin writing Borderland?
I began writing Borderland all the way back in 2015. I initially wrote a 10k word version of the story as part of my honour’s thesis at The University of Queensland. I then moved towards a research master’s degree in creative writing (also at UQ) and continued to flesh out the manuscript into something that looks similar to the published version. It’s been a long road and I have learned a lot in writing this book. When I am in a writing mode I write every day for a couple of hours. It might take me all day to get those couple of hours done, but I feel good once finished regardless of how good or bad the writing that day might have been. I prefer writing in the day. At night I have a lot of trouble sleeping if I have written before bed. I can’t switch off and keep thinking about the text.
What is one thing about Borderland that will entice readers?
I really tried to make Borderland a fast-paced edge of your seat reading experience. I hope that the eco suspense thriller aspects of the novel entice readers in.
Which writers have inspired you throughout your life?
J.G. Farrell, V.S. Naipaul, Ian McEwan, Alexis Wright, Tara June Winch, Peter Carey, David Malouf, Damon Galgut, Alice Munro, Markus Zuzak, Kim Scott, to name just a few.
What are some of your favourite books by an Australian author?
The Book Thief, True History of the Kelly Gang, Oscar and Lucinda, Carpentaria, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Remembering Babylon, Taboo, The Yield, and Cold Enough for Snow to name but a few.
What is your hope for the future?
I hope that more and more Indigenous Australian voices get the opportunity to be heard both here and internationally. There are so many incredible emerging Indigenous voices coming through at the moment and I think it’s a really exciting time for Australian literature.
What are you planning on writing next?
I’m working on a couple of projects at the moment. The first is a critical book that looks at the Indigenous experience of Australian literary institutions and the second is a co-authored ekphrasis poetry collection that responds to seminal works of Australian art.