Three Minute Squiz With… Bri Lee

Bri Lee is about to be everywhere. She’s a former lawyer and first-time author from Brissie who describes her debut literary effort (out today), Eggshell Skull*,as a memoir about sexism in the Australian legal and justice system. We’re thrilled she was able to take some time out from her national book tour to take on the Three Minute Squiz.

How and where do you Squiz?
In the morning – my phone in my right hand and a hot coffee in my left.

Where were you born? And dare we ask what year?
Brisbane born and bred! And I’m turning 27 late this year.

What was the first album you ever bought?
B*Witched, self-titled orange album. Rollercoaster still holds up as a banger track.

Eggshell Skull is your debut book. Congratulations! What does the title mean?
Thanks! The title is a legal maxim – the idea is that you must ‘take your victim as you find them’ so if you punch someone with a skull as thin as an eggshell, and they die, you’re not allowed to say they weren’t as strong as a normal person and so it’s not your fault. You are responsible for the entirety of the ramifications of your actions. I became interested in the idea of what would happen if a defendant had to take on a super-strong victim, rather than a weak one. What if you could turn the maxim on its head?

And in 100 words or less, give us the elevator pitch: what’s your book about?
I was a judge’s associate in the Queensland District Court for a year after graduating from law school and saw dozens of trials and sentences – mostly sex offences. We went all over Queensland, and ‘justice’ in regional towns looks different to ‘justice’ in major cities. ‘Triggered’ is an understatement. Every day in court reminded me of a memory of crime committed against me, and I could no longer stay quiet about it, so I went to the police. The book finishes with my own trial in that same District Court building, two years later.

Helen Garner has provided a rousing endorsement quote for your book. Two questions: 1. How’d you pull that off? and 2. What conversation do you hope to spark with this book?
I wrote a book and my publisher sent it to her to read, and it would seem she liked it. No trickery or scheming involved. I’m extremely reassured by her support and I think having her name on the cover means so many more people will now pick up or consider reading this book. There’s a conversation – the #metoo one – already happening, and I started writing this book two + years ago before that conversation reached its current mass-exposure. I hope my book furthers the more specific, pragmatic conversations we’re now having about what systems and structures can be improved.

Yes, we’ve seen Hollywood be swept by the #metoo movement. Is there a similar reckoning coming for the legal system in Australia – and what will it take to spark it?
I’m less interested in seeing a ‘reckoning’ of the legal industry the way it has come through the entertainment industry, and more interested in the legislative updates and policy & procedure updates we can put in place to have huge, positive impacts on the processes for people trying to access justice for sex crimes. People in the legal industry – in both civil and criminal law – are so incredibly invested in their high-intensity, high-performance jobs, it’s pretty widely agreed upon to not have a fantastic workplace culture. You’ve got people at the Department of Public Prosecutions categorising child exploitation material without proper training or support infrastructure. There’s a super-high churn-and-burn rate for young lawyers too, thanks to universities pumping out ten times as many graduates as job vacancies. The entire industry is cooked. I don’t claim to have the ‘fixes’ for equality within the industry. I definitely have a bulk amount of recommendations for how we can make it easier for the public to engage with that industry.

Who is/are your favourite writer/s? And which of their works do you hold especially dear?
HELEN GARNER, LOL. Mainly her shorter work – the essays and reportage. Everywhere I Look was a masterpiece. Let’s only do Australian authors, otherwise I’ll be here for hours. Charlotte Wood is right up there with The Natural Way of Things basically changing what I thought a novel was capable of. Fiona Wright’s Small Acts of Disappearance really got me ‘into’ essays and showed me how that form can be stretched to a talented writer’s will.  Can You Die of a Broken Heart? by Dr Nikki Stamp (a heart + lung surgeon) is about how our heart health is connected to everything else in life and should be mandatory reading for everyone, but especially women.

Name four people – living or dead – you’d kill to sit down to dinner with.
My partner would be one, so that for the rest of our lives together we could chat about how awesome the other three guests were. The other three guests would be Gillian Anderson, Julia Gillard, and Michelle Obama. Or maybe I’ll swap my partner for Dorothy Parker to keep things *sassy*.

What’s your go-to karaoke song?
Not a fan of karaoke. Did it once when I was in North Korea in 2011. Never since.

What’s your guilty TV-watching secret?
Oh boy, when I binge it’s normally because I’ve burned out and boy do I binge. The last two awful shows I lobotomised myself with were The Alienist and The Frankenstein Chronicles which, interestingly, are basically the same show? People like me are responsible for even more of these shows being made. For shame.

What skill or talent do you not have but wish you did?
Wish I was a great singer. Maybe this is connected to my lack of enthusiasm for karaoke. Also parkour is epic, but too scary for me.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?
I’m 26. No way I’ve done enough to self-identify with an historical figure yet, haha. Someone on Twitter just told me that I write like “a Joan of Arc of justice” so I’ll take that and put it in my pocket.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

What would you say is the most overlooked news story of today?
There is no such thing as an “illegal” asylum seeker. Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers and refugees will continue to be ‘the most overlooked story’ in the national news cycle until we let them in. Unless you’re Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander your family are relatively recent immigrants to this country. We have so much to gain from sharing these boundless plains.

*Bri Lee’s debut novel Eggshell Skull is available to buy from Booktopia (and it’s 20% off!). Buy any of the books using the links provided and The Squiz will get a little commission. Thanks!

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