So many good people interact with us online and walk through our doors at the Centre for Stories, and so we’re pretty proud of the little community we’ve grown. Collaborations often turn into comradeships and patrons become friends. Short Talks is a series of interviews highlighting the remarkable people who have connected with us at the Centre for Stories. Some are writers, poets, and storytellers, and others are arts workers, community leaders, and small business owners.
We invite you to get to know our friends a little more. Today, we feature Josephine Taylor, a writer, academic and freelance editor, who lectures at Edith Cowan University, edits at Westerly Magazine, and sits on the editorial board of Margaret River Press. Read on to hear Josephine talk about nurturing new writers, helping teachers unlock creativity, and what’s on her beside to-be-read book stack.
You’ve facilitated a fair few writing workshops for teachers here at the Centre for Stories. Could you tell us about some of the unique challenges or experiences you’ve had in leading teachers as part of this?
Oh, I’ve loved doing this! I’m there to facilitate learning for teachers of creative writing at the secondary school level, focused on short stories, and I’ve found the best way to do this is through providing examples of excellence in prose (mainly from local authors), and having participants complete creative writing exercises themselves. That way they really have a sense of what they are asking their students to do, and how best they might teach and assess their students. The teachers are coming from an array of settings and can be confused about curriculum expectations, so their needs can be different. I’ve discovered, though, that creativity is a wonderful way to find common ground and for all of us to learn something. And we have great fun, too!
Have you got any lessons, surprises, or takeaways from these workshops to share with us?
I’ve taught this workshop over a few years now, and it still surprises me how much the teachers enjoy the creative writing exercises. Some are returning to writing creatively and others are writing in this way for the very first time, but most everyone taps a dormant passion with excitement and enthusiasm.
Each time I teach teachers, I also realise how lucky we are now in having continuity through all levels of education in the process of learning creative writing. It’s something I’m acutely aware of at Westerly, too: there is a continuum along which we’re all travelling, from early and emerging through to established and well recognised, and it’s wonderful to be in a position to help nurture and facilitate this. Local storytellers are fortunate to have a supportive literary community, too; all of the writers I’ve recommended actively contribute to the progress of their peers. I’m thrilled to be a part of it all!
You’re a tireless supporter of other writers through that nurturing and facilitation. How do you keep your own creative well filled when so much of your professional life involves coaching, leading, and helping others?
A writing and editing life is often scattered, in that many jobs are contractual or part-time. It’s easy to focus on the downside of this, but there are some terrific positives as well, including the freedom and independence such a workstyle can provide. For me, one wonderful upside of part-time and freelance work is that it leaves spaces for my own creativity to flourish.
I also find that coaching, facilitating, and so on exposes me to the creative juices of other people, and that informs and inspires my own writing. I see the whole mutable and organic mix as a community in which we’re all learning, rather than me being some kind of expert imparting knowledge. We all always have something to learn, and that’s exhilarating!
Your work is as widely published writer and associate editor of Westerly Magazine. Which local writers are exciting you at the moment—any reading recommendations for us?
Do I have reading recommendations? Absolutely – I’m always reading, and I especially love reading new work from local authors.
Bindy Prichard’s Fabulous Lives is a wonderful collection of funny, sad and unsettling stories. I did edit the book, but the strong critical response confirms I’m not the only one to love this new and distinctive voice! Recently, I’ve also enjoyed Amanda Curtin’s Kathleen O’Connor of Paris, for its wonderfully immersive research journey, and Marcella Polain’s Driving into the Sun, for the character Orla, and the embodied evocation of Perth in the 60s. Other recent prose standouts are Laurie Steed’s You Belong Here, and Susan Midalia’s The Art of Persuasion – Susan’s short story collections are also highly recommended. In poetry, I’m dipping into four terrific and very different collections: The Sky Runs Right Through Us, by Reneé Pettitt-Schipp (winner of this year’s Premier’s Prize for an Emerging Writer), Nandi Chinna’s The Future Keepers, Kelly Van Nelson’s Graffiti Lane, and Caitlin Maling’s Fish Song. On my bedside table, calling to be read, are Refuge, by established author Richard Rossiter; Louise Allan’s novel The Sisters’ Song (coming late to this one); and several chapbooks from local poet Scott-Patrick Mitchell. I gave my copy of Michelle Johnston’s Dustfall to my ninety-five-year old mother to read when I bought it – she loved it – and she then passed it on to my sister. I’m clearly at the end of an appreciative queue! Looking ahead, I can’t wait to get my hands on a few new and impending releases: Kim Scott: Readers, Language, Interpretation, an original collection of essays on the multi-award-winning Noongar author; Emily Paull’s Well-behaved Women; and Holden Sheppard’s prize-winning Invisible Boys.
What does storytelling mean to you—and why is it important?
For me, storytelling is what life’s all about; we’re always constructing stories about who we are and the world in which we find ourselves. I find writing an awesome way of making this creativity conscious, and playing with it. It’s a feedback loop: telling stories expresses who we are, and the stories we tell shape us and our world. My own storytelling is a way of talking to and finding out about myself, of co-creating who I am; when I’m not writing, I feel out-of-touch with something timeless and important. I reckon storytelling is about being heard, too – the Centre for Stories plays a critical role here in providing space for diverse and important stories to be told and properly heard, and this ripples out into the community, rendering it richer and more vibrant.