He doesn’t want to go.

His eyes are slightly open when he sleeps, leaving the windows to his soul ajar, so death can escape. His eyes are slightly open, letting the light in so his heart does not beat in the shadows of the tumour that’s rising like a boulder, hardening his belly.

 

He doesn’t want to go.

His rosary beads dangle from his branchlike fingers, a purple lifeline he winds around him. He turns breath into prayers and they bubble silently from his lips, seep into the air we all breathe.

 

He doesn’t want to go.

He holds my daughter’s hand, walking her around the lounge room, their feet shuffling. Grounding them in a moment that will fade from her memory but not her skin.

 

He doesn’t want to go.

So his body is on trial. His veins flow with new medication, testing his limbs while hope burrows inside him, promising one more day. To breathe his wife in as they lie on the makeshift bed in the lounge room that does not close in on him.

 

He doesn’t want to go.

So he eats with his mouth but he tastes with his eyes. He imagines the flavours bursting on his tongue as he spoons my plain fried rice into his mouth. He remembers the streak of spices that he washed off plates in Paris restaurants when he was a new groom, and the leftovers he packed in containers to share with his wife.

 

He doesn’t want to go.

His wife goes to Mass and brings home the Body of Christ wafer in a gold rimmed box. It melts on his tongue.

He wheels my daughter around the lounge room on the seat of his walking frame, his wife shadowing his fragile steps.

 

He doesn’t want to go.

His son massages his head, his skin collecting like grooves in the sand.

His daughter makes chicken vegetable pie that he eats with enthusiasm. It tastes of love on his tongue.

His son in law listens to him as he speaks of his childhood in Pakistan that smelt of worn out plastic shoes.

His wife dusts his worries and his fears and collects them inside her.

 

He doesn’t want to go.

His beanie keeps his head warm as the nurse sits beside him in the lounge room and drains fluid from his stomach.

He swallows the pain as his belly deflates. I massage baby oil onto his skin and it sucks it up like chapped earth.

 

He doesn’t want to go.

His smile lifts his tired eyes as he gives his family hoarse instructions on how to make Nihari, his signature dish. He directs us from his bed with gloved fingers. We scramble about, writing down his recipe, frying the meat, letting it simmer for hours, so that once a year we can recreate a piece of him.

 

He doesn’t want to go.

So he swallows the medication, knowing it will get caught in his throat.

We rub his neck, lift him up, knead his back to coax it down.

 

He doesn’t want to go.

He clings to his son’s neck as he lifts him up off the bed and onto the couch. The heat pack loosens the knot in his stomach as he writes his own prayers in a yellow A4 notebook. We are penciled between the pages and he breathes us out every night when he prays, even after his mouth stops producing sound.

 

We don’t want him to go.

“I’m tired,” he mouths, his hand caressing his face in slow motion. He signs the cross on his chest and lays his head on the pillow. We sit by his side, hold his hand, and wait, the air thick with our tears and singing.

 

In loving memory of Stanley Lobo

RIP – 29/12/1946 – 13/8/2018

 

 

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Footscray childhood flavours literary award winner

AWARD-WINNING AUTHOR DEMET DIVAROREN WITH HER WINNING NOVEL.
PHOTO BY CONNOR TOMAS O’BRIEN

 

Growing up in Footscray, Demet Divaroren was an avid bookworm.

Yet there was one story she never came across – her own upbringing as a Turkish Australian.

Divaroren set out to create a story that rang true to her own multicultural childhood.

The result – a novel called Living on Hope Street – last week was named the winner of the Young Adult category of the 2018 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards.

“I can’t wrap my head around it,” Divaroren said of the win. “It just feels like it’s happening to someone else, but it is very exciting.”

Her love of books meant Divaroren always intended to work with words.

“I was inspired to write through words and through other people’s stories in novels,” she said. “One day I just thought, ‘This is what I want to do, this is how I want to make people feel’.

“I like to work with identity and explore identity, especially in multicultural Australia, because there really is no one way of being Australian – our diversity is our strength.”

Divaroren said the voices of her characters range from seven to 70 and she hopes her stories are accessible to young people and adults alike, but when she starts writing the voice that appears in most of her stories is a young voice.

“Those years for me are so still alive and a part of my everyday life, I kind of identify and feel those vulnerabilities and insecurities and fears, all of those things that shape us when we’re younger and are part of who I am now,” she said.

Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta was the first book to come close to her own world, but Divaroren suggests there is still a big gap in diversity in fiction in Australia.

“I have tried to fill that gap as best I can, not just through a Turkish Australian voice, but through diverse voices… I’m trying to raise the voices that haven’t previously had much exposure in the mainstream.”

Divaroren said she had seen some improvements in society’s understanding of young people from diverse backgrounds, but she said the panic around the so-called “African gang crisis” was quite damaging for innocent youth tarred with the same brush.

“Regardless of background, we need a stronger dialogue, we need to be listening to what they’re experiencing,” she said.

“I just feel like dialogue is everything, language is everything, so we really need to be careful how we speak to the youth and be careful that our language doesn’t alienate them and make them the ‘other’.”

You burrowed inside my body
And made a home for
five weeks six days.
My heart beat for two
but couldn’t revive you.
They called you a “foreign body,”
I called you my baby.
My body became a fortress
to keep you in.
You wrapped your arms
around my heart and
we stayed like that until week ten
when you flowed out of me
and anger filled your place.
I didn’t know that you could go
that so many other
mothers’ hearts
were breaking too.
It’s been two years
but the anger still
bleeds into the present.
I dilute it with
the courage
that you left me
to try again
and again
for that second heart
beat
that now belongs to your
sister.

willy pic

Photo courtesy of The Williamstown Literary Festival.

On Saturday 17th of June, seven weeks after the birth of my daughter, my book baby ‘Living on Hope Street’ greeted the world at The Williamstown Literary Festival. My daughter’s labour was a short, intense affair that ripped me open then stitched me into someone new. My book baby’s labour took considerably longer and matured me as a writer. Both babies have taught me so much about love, pain, patience, perseverance and sacrifice.

When I was thinking about what to say in my launch speech, my ever so helpful husband said “Don’t over think it, you’re not accepting an award.” It made me laugh and I realised that in the many years that I’ve been writing, my biggest award has been the people in my life. The people who packed into the Council Chamber room on June 17 bringing their love, support and beautiful energy with them. Over the last thirteen years my tribe of amazing family and friends encouraged me when I dreamed out loud of being a writer, fed me when my funds were low, listened when I read work that was undercooked, and believed in the girl from Broady who dared to dream of being published. Their belief kept me company on days when writing was too damn hard, wiped away my tears when rejections piled up, shoved me forward when I thought of giving up. They helped me become a writer and I am forever grateful and overwhelmed with love for them all.

‘Living on Hope Street’ was launched by friend, mentor and children’s and YA author Sherryl Clark. Sherryl and I are in the Big Fish writers group along with Lucia Nardo who led an informed and insightful in conversation. I feel honoured to have these wonderful women by my side. My book is stronger thanks to their feedback and insight.

 

Sherryl Clark’s Speech

I was privileged to be ‘in’ on the writing of this book from the beginning, and to see how it developed – a rare experience to share. Often we writers hide away and don’t show our stories to anyone until they are finished. But I remember Kane’s voice bursting out of Demet’s first pages, his fear and bravado and anger, and then the other characters appearing, like nervous or belligerent or almost-confident actors walking onto Demet’s stage.

Sam’s little voice as he struggles against everything in his unsafe world, and the people who do their utmost to protect him- Kane, his battered mum Angie, and Mrs Aslan. Mr Bailey, so sure of who he is and his rights – his righteous, clumsy blinkers and his eventual loneliness. Mrs Aslan, so full of caring for Kane and Sam, and her own estranged daughter and grand-daughter Ada. And Gugulethu and her family, struggling to adapt to a new country, free from fear but not from prejudice – and Gugulethu’s cry, ‘I am more than a refugee.’

I also remember Dem saying at one point, ‘I have all these voices and characters. How can this be a novel and not just a bunch of stories?’ So I showed her Union Street by Pat Barker. ‘Just find the thread,’ we said. And she did.

There’s always discussion in the literary world about writing characters from other cultural backgrounds – lots of shoulds and shouldn’ts. A brave, authentic writer like Demet writes from her heart and moves far beyond those should nots. At the recent Sydney Writers’ Festival this topic came up many times and I want to read a couple of quotes. African-American writer Britt Bennett talked about how fiction has a role to play in bridging the divide by helping us empathise with other people. She said – ‘I try to think about this in my own writing: whose voices I can identify with; whose experiences I centre. I hope that this imagination and empathy can trickle into our politics. I don’t find a huge leap between creative empathy and political empathy: who you invite into your brain and heart when you read and write, and who you consider when you vote or protest or pass laws.’ **

She also said – ‘You have to push past the easy image, which is to say: do the work of writing, of imagining, of always reaching for more complexity, not less.’ I think Demet has absolutely done this. Her book is not a light, easy, boppy read, but we live in times where we need to embrace a book like this because, like all great fiction, it’s far more true and real than any newspaper report. It shows us the truth of all of our lives, and holds a mirror up to us. As Susan Faludi also said at the same festival, ‘Only when we let each other in and shoulder responsibility for each other’s distrust and animosity c[an] we find sanctuary.’ **

More than all of this, Living on Hope Street is a fabulous read. You will laugh, you will cry, you will remember your favourite characters and most memorable scenes long after you read the last page. And then I hope you will look at those around you with new eyes, new compassion and new understanding.

Sherryl Clark

**Quotes from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/may/29/sydney-writers-festival-2017-roundup-six-things-we-learned

 

 

 

As I write this, you are kicking and shimmying inside me, stretching me out of my skin, preparing me for your birth and mine.

Your moves are jerky and random like your father’s dancing. You may or may not inherit his cinnamon skin or my crazy hair but I know that we will inherit much more from you.

I promise to try and not look for pieces of us in you. You are your own person. While you’re a part of our flesh, you are not us.

You are human, and have within you the wisdom and knowledge of the universe and I will help you uncover who you are while you teach me what you know.

I promise to help you unfurl your wings but won’t push you to fly.

I will show you that happiness can be found in doing what you love but will be your cheer squad if you go searching for it elsewhere.

I will lead by example and show you how creativity and passion can set fire to the soul and light the way to a fulfilling life.

I will teach you that kindness is a form of prayer and it starts with the gift of your smile.

I promise to keep these promises. But if I slip up or lose my way, if I smother you with unconditional love or add some conditions, please be patient with me. Mum’s learning too.

In my maternal grandmother’s village in Adana, Turkey, the term ‘girl’ was kneaded and compressed like dough. Its weight made my great grandmother tighten her grip on my grandmother’s world, her fear wedging between them. It was the fifties and neighbours weaved in and out of each other’s yards and lives, their mud-cement homes conjoined like a family. “Ayıp!” neighbours would say if a girl ventured too far from home. “A young girl has no business on the streets!” Ayıp was shame, and fear of the word hardened my great grandmother, a woman who walked home from the cotton field when her contractions started, to give birth alone on her lounge room floor.

grandmas-sewing-machine

My nene’s sewing machine.

My great grandmother’s fears knotted my grandmother’s tongue, made her curl inward. She left school after completing grade three to the dismay of her illiterate mother who wanted her to study. “Why study, Sevim? Go learn to sew, it’s better for a girl!” neighbours said. A girl’s hands were for stitching, not reading and their collective voice was enough to steer my quiet grandmother away from the classroom and into a sewing course. By eighteen, my grandmother was a seamstress and a wife and she set up a small business in her marital home where she made her five daughters sleeveless dresses that defied the modest dress code.

As a girl, Mum dreamed of wearing pretty frilly dresses that the actresses wore in the movies. She grew up in the seventies when Turkey’s Yesilçam “Green Pine” film industry flooded cinemas with hundreds of movies a year. It gathered the masses to the big screen like a seductive lover. The doe-eyed heroines mesmerised with sultry lips, while tall, dark and handsome men protected, fought and conquered. Yesilçam was a patriarch with firm ideas on a woman’s role in society. Women were sisters, wives, mothers, aunts, and grandmothers. Men were husbands, breadwinners, brothers and fathers who protected a woman’s honour and virginity. If women were rich, money was an invincible guard. It quashed the poor, broke poverty’s bony fingers, taught the public life lessons while cementing their place in society. Mum watched these movies at a local open-air cinema sipping lemon gazoz with her siblings. They sat on wooden chairs as the stars on the big screen fell in love and lit up Mum’s romantic dreams. She was seduced by the romance; humoured by the goofy comedies and angered by the injustices when star-crossed lovers were separated by strict fathers or evil uncles.

When Mum migrated to Australia, she hired Yesilçam movies from Turkish video shops in Melbourne’s north. Yesilçam was familiarity in a foreign world and thick, black videotapes piled on top of each other in our Footscray lounge room. It was in this room that Yesilçam showed me where I’d come from. My roots were dusty and poor, macho and romantic. The men were strong; they were leaders, they saved and married women and conquered evil. Women were good or bad. The good woman cooked, loved, nurtured, mothered within the sanctity of marriage. The bad woman had sex out of wedlock and tarnished her name and honour. The movies lectured like a wise aunty. ‘Hee! See the girl who ran away with that boy? Tsk! She brings her family great shame! No one will want to marry her when they get caught!’ These warnings registered early on and I learned that ayıp was a word reserved for girls, a word that lowered a father’s head and laid the blame on the mother. Fear of the word shadowed me as a teenager in the nineties where gossip could spread like wildfire in our predominantly Turkish neighbourhood.

“Don’t worry about what people say or think,” Mum said often. “Shame is on those who talk! Good or bad is not about what you wear, who you talk to. It’s what you say and how you act.” Mum, a primary school graduate, was educated by novelists and their stories taught her about humanity and new ways of seeing. Her strong voice buffered me and my sisters from the judgements of the outside world. “Trust yourself,” she told me, “like I trust you.”

With Mum’s conviction, shame lost its potency. Shame became a reaction to my team’s loss at the football. Shame was a theme in Yesilçam movies that no longer mirrored a changing culture and society. Honour and virtue were not scripted values, they were mine to define.

 

First published in The Big Issue #517 edition.

 

 

 

 

I was recently interviewed by the lovely Nadia L King as part of her Writer Talks blog series about the turbulent yet wonderful journey that is writing.

 

Featured Image -- 922 

“Self-belief is everything. It’s the hand that mends your broken heart after a rejection. It’s the glue that keeps your butt on the seat to finish a first draft then rewrite it again and again. Self-belief is infectious. Once you believe in yourself, others believe in you.”

 

Demet Divaroren was born on a couch in a small village in Adana, Turkey and migrated to Australia when she was six months old. She is a Melbourne-based writer, editor and creative writing teacher. Her writing has appeared in ‘Griffith REVIEW’, ‘Island’ magazine, ‘The Age Epicure’, ‘The Big Issue’ and ‘From the Outer’. She is the co-editor of the ‘Coming of Age: Growing up Muslim in Australia’ anthology which was shortlisted for CBCA’s Book of the Year award. Her first novel ‘Living on Hope’ will be published by Allen and Unwin in 2017.

 

NLK: How did you get started as a writer?

DD: I came to writing through reading. As a teenager I was obsessed with books. I had a book hangover nearly everyday and would turn up to school still floating in the worlds the writer had created. When I was 24, I spent a month reading Jean M. Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear series. I remember finishing the last book and feeling so inspired by her writing that I jumped out of bed, ran to the lounge and declared, ‘I’m going to be a writer.’ I knew right then and there that I wanted to create worlds, characters, voices that made people feel; that were hard to ignore. So I enrolled in a Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing at Victoria University.

 

NLK: What was the biggest obstacle you faced in becoming a writer?

DD: My biggest obstacle when I was first starting out was that there were no Australian writers in the mainstream world from a Turkish background. I had to give myself permission to be out there and carve myself a path and a place. It wasn’t long before I realised that the main prerequisite to becoming a writer was to love the craft, which is what all writers have in common.

 

NLK: As a writer, how important is self-belief?

DD: Self-belief is everything. It’s the hand that mends your broken heart after a rejection. It’s the glue that keeps your butt on the seat to finish a first draft then rewrite it again and again. Self-belief is infectious. Once you believe in yourself, others believe in you.

 

NLK: Identity is an important theme for you. How much does it shape your writing?

DD: Identity is an organic thing. It changes over time. I love to explore the many layers that shape who we are, who we were and the fixed core attributes that define us. I especially love to explore the Australian identity. In a multicultural country, what is it that connects us as Aussies beyond the many labels? In 2014, I co-edited an anthology titled Coming of Age: Growing up Muslim in Australia (Allen and Unwin) a collection of twelve stories about the complexities of growing up with ethnic and Muslim backgrounds and forging an identity in multicultural Australia.Coming of Age strips back the stereotypes to give young people from all faiths and cultures tools to help them in their own journeys of reconciling their identities.

 

NLK: What’s the most important thing you teach your creative writing students at Victoria Polytechnic (VU)?

DD: Besides from make writing a habit, I’d say create characters from the inside out. Characterisation is the key to writing an authentic story. A character with an internal world and a past, a character who has wants, fears, dreams, hopes, disappointments and aspirations is multidimensional, relatable and believable. Knowing your character inside out will help you uncover the story’s plot.

 

NLK: Tell us a little about Living on Hope.

DD: Living on Hope is the third novel I’ve written but the first to be published. I was sitting at the hairdresser when I first heard my main character’s voice. ‘When Dad broke Mum,’ he said and that was enough of a hook for me to work backwards and ask questions to understand his world and find his story. Living on Hope started as dual narrators and grew into a multi-perspective story set in working class Melbourne. It follows the struggles, clashes and connections of seven residents of Hope Street. It delves beyond stereotypes to explore themes of intergenerational violence, cross-cultural friendships, class and multiculturalism.

 

Extract from Demet’s short story Hindsight.

The colds are here.

The windows rattle and there’s a whistling coming from the hole in the plastic covering. I wipe snot from my lip and follow the heat to the end of the room. The wood crackles in the stone hearth. I smell Grandma Farah’s wet hair fresh like mud. She chinks a ladle against the pot, her whispering mixing with the snapping of twigs in the fire.

I stand in front of her hunched body and warm my hands over the pot of milk. She is fuzzy, like everything, but I make out two blurred plaits on her chest. They are long, the size of three of my hands connected. I hear her quick stirring and smell the milky breath of her whispers.

“You left us too soon,” she says to empty space.

She is speaking to Baba. I know he’s here. He is the warmness that tickles my neck. Her words paint him; they are his arms, his legs and his heart that no longer beats.

© Demet Divaroren

 

Website: www.demetdivaroren.com

Instagram @demetdivaroren

 

 

I am writing a novel that is rewriting me.

 

Death is the only true magician.

 

Dreams need to be ripped open, their layers discarded like gift-wrap in order to come true.

 

Happiness is not created. It is uncovered.

 

Words should be harvested like crops.

 

Being mindful makes my mind full.

 

Breath is a gift that stokes the fire of life.

 

I am human. I know nothing.

 

 

I once had a black suitcase with a broken handle that I fixed by attaching a blue and white cotton scarf to the strap. I lugged it around Europe and it twisted and turned as I pulled, buckling under its weight. Still, it made the six-week journey. We all have weathered suitcases packed with dreams, hopes, achievements, disappointments, losses, successes. Even if our suitcases break or get too heavy, they will take us where we want to go as long as we don’t let go of that handle. 2015 was about belief and perseverance. Here’s to 2016! Make it amazing!

 

 

Love true

 

Beat fear

 

Hurt pain

 

Hope well

 

Grip fate

 

Load life

 

With zeal

 

Make guts

 

Rock hard

 

Seek self

 

Keep real

 

Grow wits

 

Shed hate

 

Look with

 

Wide eyes

 

Feel your soul

 

Open

 

This was a fun challenge! Would love to read your four letter word poems. 🙂 For those of you who are interested, here’s a list of words to work with:  http://www.becomeawordgameexpert.com/wordlists4.htm