As a child, Nike Sulway dreamed of being a mermaid, a pilot or an interstellar explorer. “I settled for writing: I still get to have adventures every day, even if many of them are imaginary.”
Considering it was only her fourth choice of profession, Nike is not doing too badly at this writing gig. Her work has received many accolades, including the James Tiptree Jr Award in 2014, for her novel, Rupetta. The award included a trip to Wisconsin, which she lists as a career highlight. “I was presented with a tiara, which I wore for the duration of the conference, met hundreds of amazing people, ate deep-fried cheese, was sung to by the Tiptree motherboard (a group of incredible people, many of whom I’d been a long-time fan or admirer of), and was given, in place of a trophy, many marvellous gifts, including an original 3D artwork by Carl Cone.”
As well as penning award-winning works, Nike teaches creative writing at the University of Southern Queensland in Toowoomba, a job she feels is complementary to her writing. “Teaching and writing are both creative and challenging experiences. Both are aimed at creating something new.” Reading and responding to the work of others helps Nike with her own craft, as she continues to develop a surer sense of her own ambition and faults as a writer. “As a writing teacher, my job is to help students find strategies for bridging the gap between what they imagine for their writing, and what they’re putting on the page. The more you do that, the more you can take that analysis and reflection and skill-building back to your own practice.”
Nike says she is also still learning about Toowoomba, after arriving in the region several years ago. Before this, she had never even visited the city. ”I arrived in a rattle-trap old Peugeot that only just made it up the range and promptly died in the driveway of my new home. I guess that means I was meant to make it here, and meant to stay.” She says the city, and her growing affection for it, has surprised her. “On the surface, it does seem quite conservative, which isn’t very comfortable for someone like me, but at the same time there is a vibrant, active, and growing community of artists and activists.”
Nike’s latest novel, Dying In The First Person, is the story of twin brothers separated by several oceans, and explores the transformative power of words and the imagination, as well as the complex relationships of family life, of silence and memory. “It’s funny how we think our imagination belongs to us, but it often feels as if it’s something separate from us at the same time. Something external, which we can visit, but not control.” One must think, though, that Nike’s imagination is a fascinating place to visit. Hopefully, she does not learn to control it and continues to use it to expand her literary canon, and inspire the next generation of writers from the Downs and surrounds.
Words by Gemma Easton | Images supplied by Nike Sulway