Facing fears paves way for award-winning author
When she was 16, Wuilli Wuilli woman Lisa Fuller told her family she wasn’t going to university.
“I’m from Eidsvold, a tiny Queensland town with just 500 people – there were only four people in my grade graduating high school,” she explained.
“No one in my immediate family had gone to uni but they had this expectation that I would, and it was a world I knew nothing about.
“It was terrifying.”
After a careers day at her school helped change her mind, Ms Fuller moved two hours east to Bundaberg to start her Bachelor of Arts at CQUniversity in 2002.
That tough decision, and many more that followed, put her on the path to writing – and her first book, Ghost Bird, last week won the Young Adult Book Award in the Queensland Literary Awards 2020.
The recognition follows the book’s short-listing for the Children’s Book of the Year Awards in May this year, and the prestigious David Unaipon Award for an unpublished manuscript in 2017.
Ms Fuller wrote the fiction work, set in Queensland’s North Burnett region, while completing her Master of Creative Writing with University of Canberra, and it was published late last year.
Now undertaking a PhD, the author also tutors Creative Writing students at UC.
“It has been a journey, because I still remember first turning up at uni with no freaking idea, and no confidence that I was meant to be there,” Ms Fuller said.
“I was living with extended family who I’d never even met before, I didn’t know how to structure an essay – it was overwhelming.”
But Ms Fuller said passionate lecturers across literature and sociology, and support from a dedicated tutor, transformed the experience.
“Through a tutoring program, I was connected with my tutor (CQUniversity academic) Katrina Lane-Krebs, and that was the best thing that could’ve ever happened to me. I honestly don’t know how I’d have made it through without her,” she said.
“I’m a very quiet person, and was so shy at the start I couldn’t even ask questions about what my timetable meant – Katrina mentored me through all that, and I’ve actually gone on to mentor other students because of the impact she had on me.”
Ms Lane-Krebs, who was tutoring Ms Fuller as she wrote her first unpublished book while at CQUni, said the aspiring author was a star student.
“I became involved with tutoring because I wanted to support young people, and because coming to university from a culturally different background can be challenging,” she said.
”Lisa and her community were just so welcoming of me, it was a very rewarding and inspiring experience,” she said.
Ms Fuller also paid tribute to former CQUni Arts lecturer Lyn Hungerford for challenging her to find her voice.
“Lyn was so passionate, she would introduce ideas to the class like she was throwing a bomb, then she’d just sit back and watch arguments break out,” she said.
“I was the quietest in the room then, but now I love doing that with my own students, and encouraging them to weigh in.”
After graduating with her Bachelor of Arts, Ms Fuller secured a national cadetship in the public service, another tough decision to make.
“Getting on that plane to Brisbane to start the job, I was quaking in my boots,” she said.
Five years on, quitting the public service in 2016 to focus on writing was another leap of faith – but as with all tough decisions, Ms Fuller said her family’s support made it possible.
“Because I was the first in my immediate family to finish uni, I was kind of worried about walking away from a good career – but mum just looked at me and said, ‘it’s about bloody time!’” she laughed.
Family is also at the centre of Ghost Bird, which tells the story of Aboriginal twin girls Stacey and Laney, who take on small town rivalries and mysterious ancient forces to protect themselves, and each other.
“Growing up, I couldn’t find anything in books, TV, movies that I could relate to – nothing about us, or if there was it was stereotypical racist crap,” she said.
“But writing Ghost Bird, I was thinking about my young nieces, nephews, cousins, and making something for them, too.”
Ms Fuller, who’s also descended from Gooreng Gooreng and Wakka Wakka peoples, said she’s been shocked by the success of her debut, but relieved that she decided to tell a story that’s true to herself and her family, despite the challenges.
“I think one thing that I figured out pretty quickly is, if I’m scared of something, I have to chase after it – and I’ve been doing that ever since that first day of uni,” she said.