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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.
“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
Moments in our lives are like bracelet charms. Some are cute, some colourful, some are jagged; they dig into our skin. When I think back to earlier years, of primary school in Footscray, in Turkey, in Meadow Heights, my charms don’t jingle, they don’t make a sound. That’s because I had no voice. When I was eight we’d moved to Turkey for two years. My first day at school I stood in front of a class of twenty or so kids, my hair a boy short mess, heart in my mouth, staring at the first word of a story I was asked to read to assess my Turkish. The word was Ev. House. I knew the word; I was tutored briefly before starting school to have basic reading and writing skills. With each second that passed the word got bigger and bigger, it took over the page. Ev I repeated in my head over and over, felt my lips move, heard my teacher’s encouragement, took a deep breath, looked up and saw the smirking kids and the word got stuck in my mouth like an ulcer. My teacher let out an exasperated sigh and closed the book. The kids laughed out loud and my confidence was crushed by a one syllable Turkish word that followed me home to Australia. When I think back now, it’s that moment that dictated the rest of my education. In high school my friends called me ‘D for Demet’, that’s the grade I averaged until year 11 when an inspiring speech from the assistant principal made me realise that I could have the one thing I’d convinced myself I wasn’t good enough to achieve: success. This moment was my catalyst for change, my lucky charm.
Five years ago I found myself in a Professional Writing and Editing course at Victoria University. I was going after a profession that wasn’t encouraged at school or recognised as a career at home. I sat in that class with fear eating my confidence but this time I trusted my gut. I had courage and belief and they’ve steered the way ever since. Well most of the time. I often doubt myself, my writing, my voice and some days the term ‘writer’ just doesn’t fit. Sometimes I’d rather vomit than write but I still sit there and face the screen because even with its ups and downs writing is a part of me, it’s the only time I make sense. I’ve come a long way from that scared little girl in a foreign classroom but now I have a new battle with my writer’s confidence and my emotions that fluctuate with doubts, fears, successes and rejections. Some days I still hear the laughter of those kids but this time I spit the words out. I keep writing, keep learning and continue to raise my voice.