Q&A with Yazmin Bradley

A square photograph of Yazmin Bradley is set against a banner. The banner is a zoomed in section of Maddison Henriks’s cover, which features stipple-shaded paper planes. Yazmin’s photo is in black and white. She has short, dark hair and a white shirt. Her hands are behind her back, and she looks to the right of the camera with a confident look. To the right are the words, ‘interview with Yazmin Bradley’. In the bottom right hand corner, in smaller font, are the words, ‘#31 subscribe’.

Yazmin Bradley (she/her) is a writer and essayist on unceded Dharug Land, Western Sydney, where she has lived most of her life. She is currently pursuing her Masters of Creative Writing with Macquarie University and her work primarily explores class, the body, and absurd speculative fiction.

Our Associate Editor Sarah Stivens talks to Yazmin about her essay, ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Substack’, published in #31: SUBSCRIBE.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Substack really dances on the knife edge of humour, vulnerability, and rage (in a beautifully woven way). What was it like to balance these elements throughout the piece?

It’s funny, it took me a really long time to find my voice in a satirical, comedic sense. I think I’m still uncovering it, so I didn’t really set out to create any semblance of balance. The use of vulnerability and rage is an interesting one because the first draft was really embarrassing actually. Vulnerable in a way that gave me the ick. I originally had a lot more moving parts, more storylines, but that lighter guiding soprano was drowned in a bunch of baritones wailing, ‘POOR ME.’ It came off as whiny and self-pitying. Realising that’s where I was headed was the first step in the balancing act. Then came all the stripping and the weeding to find what was essential. The remedy was pretty simple: I turned statements into questions. That helped make it more interrogative than reflexive. 

I think what also helped me wrestle with my own feelings of anger was bringing in an absurdist element. I’m a huge fan of the absurd and the ridiculous. I think it’s my favourite art form. I grew up on a lot of absurdist theatre and TV and my family has a very strange sense of humour so it’s a safe default for me to be able to laugh at my own despair. A lot of my favourite writers do this. They’ve got these really heavy works that demand a lot of you and then they make you laugh out of nowhere, so you just want to keep going.

A lot of writers are with you (including me)—secretly wishing for an AI-social media manager, or at least to share their work without carving out internal organs like the protagonist in this piece. What are you hoping will change in the industry as AI keeps gaining ground? What are you terrified of it learning?

Imagine if we could all just ask ChatGPT to make us successful writers. I don’t even think it would work if the secret hack became suddenly available. I grow so much through failure and the experiential, and AI cuts this process to the quick. What I am hoping for, though, is more transparency, or at least some sort of level playing field. If AI really can cut my boring administrative work in half, wouldn’t I be able to spend more time on the important stuff?

I think what I’m worried about most, as exemplified by the writer’s strike, is less AI itself than the people and corporations in power who view it as a way to rob writers of a living. Art is being mined for the market and this is the perfect excuse to pay writers less while producing more. On top of that the only way AI learns is by constantly consuming (see: plagiarising) the work of other writers like No Face in that gorging scene in Spirited Away and so we’re having the marrow sucked out of us. I wonder if in a future of oversaturated AI generated books whether we will turn to human-crafted material the same way we’ve turned to overpriced sourdough. We’ve lost so much art to the vacuous abyss of ‘content’ that I wonder if we’ll be forced to make it for art’s sake.

If all of this started with a longwinded story about dragons—which we absolutely need to know more about—what’s coming up next for you?

I’m not really sure what’s coming up next for me. I’m feeling somewhat fractured, surprise, surprise. Privately I write a lot of sci-fi and fantasy and it’s been a bit of a task squaring the circle between what I’m becoming publicly known for and what actually lights me up. I am currently in the middle of writing an essay for an anthology on illness and disability that I’m contributing to. This is probably a good time to give my lecturer a shout out because I sent her an absolutely dogshit draft and she still managed to help me excavate what it is I wanted to say. We spent a lunch hour finding some beautiful moments buried underneath layers of what she calls writer’s debris. Love you, Michelle (am I allowed to say that?).

There is a fantasy book that is lurking underneath my skin (it doesn’t involve dragons, yet) but my main character isn’t ready. He’s very stroppy with me at the moment and I don’t think we’re on speaking terms. I’m waiting for him to come back and let me start but he says I don’t make enough time for him and he’s probably right. As I wrote about in ‘Thirteen Ways’, I don’t really have much time for anything.