Antonella Gambotto-Burke has been hailed one of the world’s most inspiring feminists. She is the author of The Eclipse: A Memoir of Suicide, Mama: Love, Motherhood and Revolution, and the upcoming Apple: Sex, Drugs, Motherhood and the Recovery of the Feminine.
Antonella Gambotto-Burke is a critic and writer. Her contributions to a raft of international newspapers and magazines include those of The Sunday Times (UK), Vogue, Elle, The Telegraph (UK), The Mail on Sunday(UK), The South China Morning Post and The Weekend Australian.
Across her illustrious career, Antonella‘s subjects have included Princess Haya bint Al Hussein, Bette Midler, Marilyn Manson, Sasha Grey, Nick Cave, Morrissey, Robert Smith of the Cure, John Shelby Spong, Paul Ekman, Jackie Collins, Martin Amis, Neil Gaiman, Chuck Palahniuk and others.
Antonella’s literary nonfiction has also been widely praised. Professor Nicholas Humphrey, author of A History of the Mind, wrote that The Eclipse: A Memoir of Suicide is “an astonishing, deep and beautiful book.”
Her more recent journalism is notable for its humanitarian emphasis. In 2015, Mama: Love, Motherhood and Revolution, was published. Her forthcoming book, Apple: Sex, Drugs, Motherhood and the Recovery of the Feminine, is due in late 2021. Never confined to one art form, Antonella is also working on her first album.
FIB spoke to Antonella about her life and her acclaimed body of work.
At what point in your life did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?
At the age of six or so. A neighbour gave me two novels: Charlotte’s Web and Half Magic. That was it: I was lost in love. The very idea that someone could make money writing was amazing to me. To be fair, I’d always passionately loved Dr Seuss – I still passionately love Dr Seuss – and was ravenous for library books, borrowing about a million a week. My poor mother, who never reads, was always bored to death waiting for me in the carpark.
I was reading a bit about your time at NME. What was the inspiration behind your writing pseudonyms Antonella Black and Ginger Meggs?
My editor decided that my name wasn’t very rock’n’roll and so changed it to Black (because I always wore black and pretty much still do). And Ginger Meggs was down to the Australian connection and the fact that I then had electric red hair.
As it happens, I still move in the same London circles – my friends date back centuries; I moved to the UK when I was, I think, eighteen – and am beginning to make music with a number of them, if under my real name. John Robb of the Membranes and I are working on pieces together, and Chris Humphries of the North by South has asked me to be on his new EP. I’m meeting with a guitarist later this month to discuss a particular project.
It’s quite odd as I recorded my very first song in late 2019 on the suggestion of Youth, the producer and Killing Joke bassist. We were having dinner with my dear friend of many centuries Alan McGee, the Creation Records titan. Alan and I first became friends when he was living in a London squat in the mid-80s, and he has also known Youth forever.
When Youth suggested that I record a song, I was dumbfounded as it had never really occurred to me to do so, and Alan started saying DO IT! DO IT! And then all my other muso friends said, DO IT! DO IT! And so I thought, why not?
Alex McGowan (Captain Future) wrote the music, I wrote the lyrics and sang it, Alex produced it, and that was that. It’s called Dead from the Heart Up – you can find it on Soundcloud and Spotify, although I’m still messing around with band names. At the time, I called myself Gavin LDN. The current name – this was Youth’s suggestion – is Boilerplate Chick Routine, although other muso friends completely detest it and want me to change it.
I didn’t really do anything with Dead from the Heart Up – there was no PR or plan to play live – as it was kind of an experiment. And then I was contacted by a promoter who offered me twelve gigs on the spot, whereupon I had to tell him that, a) I had no band, b) I only had one song, and c) I hadn’t sung in public since high school. He told me to get a move on so he could get me the gigs.
One week later, I was offered a book contract for Apple: Sex, Drugs, Motherhood and the Recovery of the Feminine, and a week or so after that, lockdown was announced and has been in place, on and off, ever since. Lockdown has been intense in the UK – we were under house arrest for almost a year. So I just focused on my daughter and the book – all my musical plans hit the wall. Since lockdown has eased somewhat, we’re all beginning to get moving again, although I can’t really start singing or performing until I finish editing Apple: Sex, Drugs, Motherhood and the Recovery of the Feminine, which will be soon.
The feeling in my circle is so vibrant at the moment – there is a sense of breaking free for everyone – so I’m seriously excited.
What is one of your most stand-out (either good or bad) memories from your writing career?
Receiving my first cheque from the Sydney Morning Herald when I was 15. I was screaming with joy. Fifty dollars! A fortune! (I think they still pay writers the same amount.)
Completing the text for Apple: Sex, Drugs, Motherhood and the Recovery of the Feminine. So much work and thought went into the book – it’s just enormous, so the exhilaration was real.
Selling the first long, serious poem I wrote since school a couple of weeks ago: ‘A Call to Light’. I was incandescent, dancing around the house.
Being offered a weekly column in the books pages of the Weekend Australian. I’m working for investigative journalist and author Caroline Overington, which is in itself a thrill as I have adored her for years. I love the reading, the thinking, the writing – it’s all just so much fun. You can find some, but not all, of my pieces here.
Who do you feel are the most important or relevant feminist voices of our time?
Great question. Catharine MacKinnon is, to me, a kind of god. Absurdly intelligent, unrelenting, passionate and courageous. The greatest advocate for women alive. I love love love the British editor and activist Eleanor Mills, who is, and has always been, so active on behalf of women. Such a charismatic, ebullient and just woman. The late Andrea Dworkin was, I feel, marginalised on the basis of her appearance – she was so insightful, intellectually ravenous, and contributed so much. The Canadian comedienne Katherine Ryan’s feminism slays me; my daughter and I absolutely adore her. And the work of Anne Sexton, the late American poet, leaves me breathless. There are so many more.
I very much believe that the future is female.
What do you consider to be the most difficult part of your writing process?
Oh, I despise the final edit! I hate it with all my heart. The nit-picking, the restructuring – all of it. So tedious. Having to make the entire text congruent. The technical part of writing bores me to sobs. I’m one of those writers who revels in ideas and in the writing itself. That never, ever grows old for me. The thinking and writing are just such a joy, always.
Which has been your favourite book to work on?
Hmmmn. Writing The Eclipse: A Memoir of Suicide, my memoir of my brother’s death, was an evisceration, but so significant to me in a spiritual sense. The state I was in at the time – I was freshly bereaved: unimaginable. So much grief.
“The room was dim. And there, lying on a slab, was the body of my brother. He was dead. Other than his stillness, the first detail that registered was the size of his chest. It was so big. He had been working out. And then my knees buckled; had it not been for that slab, I would have fallen. Gianluca – oh, Gianluca. I could not look at his face for fear of being confronted by the very deadness of him, by the finality of this, of everything that we had shared.”
from The Eclipse: A Memoir of Suicide
Writing Apple: Sex, Drugs, Motherhood and the Recovery of the Feminine was equally intense, if in a completely different way. I was transported by the ideas in it – working through the night, almost every night, for 18 months or so. It was like flying on a magic carpet – seriously thrilling. At 7am, I would be as high as a kite on thought. My daughter would crack up, laughing, as I regaled her with my discoveries.
I love both books ardently, if for different reasons.
Your most recent book Mama: Love, Motherhood and Revolution deals with the notions of motherhood and social deconstruction. How do you feel that motherhood has impacted your writing?
Motherhood was, quite literally, a revolution in my life. I never knew it was possible to feel this kind of passion and purity for another human being. My daughter Bethesda is wonderful – not perfect, but wonderful. She has long, swingy golden hair, horn-rimmed glasses, a crazy-high IQ, and is completely hilarious. She is also a deeply kind and loving girl. Being her mother is such a privilege. Everything changed – the way I think, the way I live, the way I write.
I am always conscious of her existence, whether or not she is present.
Tell us a little bit about your upcoming book, Apple: Sex, Drugs, Motherhood and the Recovery of the Feminine.
It does what it says on the packet. This is a book that will change things.
From a list of people you may or may not have met, can we play “Kiss, Marry, Kill?”
Kissing is so time-consuming and I am so insanely busy. Off the top of my head? Dmitry Mikhnev, the Russian hockey player. Ridiculously beautiful, and I’ve always had a thing for red hair. I could kiss him for an awfully long time, I think, which would interfere with my work schedule, so I simply cannot go there.
Are they allowed to be dead? If so, Charles Dickens. I am in love with Charles Dickens and have been forever. There were so many levels to the man – so much goodness, and so much compassion. And his genius, my God. Bethesda and I reread A Christmas Carol every year. A perfect book.
Living? Professor Paul Ekman, a pioneer in the study of emotions. I interviewed him years ago and adored him. The mind on the man! Completely fascinating. Sadly, he is very happily married and also far too old for me.
Oh, that’s easy. Former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett. Such an ugly man, and on so many levels. I was sent to interview him by The Weekend Australian Magazine. He began bellowing at me after, I think, two questions – this great moose, shouting at me to get out.
And you can find Mama: Love, Motherhood and Revolution here,
and Dead from the Heart Up here.
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