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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

 

 

 

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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.

 

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“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

 

 

You’re lame, one whispers as Mum searches my face. She eyes her purse. Tighten my lips sticky with gloss. Smile; shake my head. “I’m fine, thanks, Mum.” Nope, you’re a loser says the voice louder as I walk out the door. You’re so lame, a charity case. All you got is loose change. I got my words, I say, so shut the f#$k up. A shrill laugh like a banshee. Yeah, you got your words. They’re broke like you.

 

I tell you story, you write ten books! His accent’s thick, I imagine he has a moustache to match. Not in the mood for your migrant story I tell him. Oh, but I want to tell you how I get shot in my back when I kidnap my bride! Sounds interesting, really, but today I’m writing about boys. Teenage boys, angry boys, horny boys. I carry her and my back break from pain but I never let go. Fair effort with a bullet in your back. Yes, that same bullet kill me forty years later. Oh. His words nip my brain like hooks.     

 

Hey stop writing. I can smell the shit you’re spinning from here. Piss off. I tap the keyboard like a woodpecker. Tap tap tap out that hideous voice. But I’m serious. Just because you’ve fluked your way in to a magazine or two doesn’t make you a writer. Tap tap. It’s not about publication, it’s about creation. HA HA HA. The laugh settles around my bubble of hope like frost. Tap.       

 

Them Indians are a worry. This voice is whiny like a mozzie. They’re taking over the country. I don’t want to hear it. You think you’re better than me you wog? Didn’t say that. You’ve all taken over the country, a bunch of cockroaches. Bzzzzzz. Not listening. You stink like kebabs. Blah blah blah. I’ll never forget what you people did in Gallipoli. You’re so low. I don’t want to write about you. Then you move here to add insult, you stupid Turks. You’re an ignorant pig. Nah, I’m an Aussie.   

 

Her eyes are like two black holes, they suck you in like lies. She sounds evil. They’re dark and mysterious like the jungle where lions sleep and the howl of wolves drill my ears. What else has she got? My guts, they are slippery in her hands. Hmm. Bit gross. I’m scared she’ll let go and I’ll slip through her fingers. Been nice listening, really, but who’d want to read this gruesome shit? Cross out the words, close my notebook on many ideas that may never hit the white screen.

I’ve opened another notebook with lots of space for new voices in 2010, a year full of holes. Have fun filling them in with love,  adventure, randomness, new beginnings and happy endings lovely people. I know I will 🙂

Have a happy New Year!