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 Raihanaty A Jalil, a self-confessed jack-of-all-trades—poet, writer, high-school teacher, rapper and speaker. Read on to hear Raihanaty talk about the itch to share stories, how our Write Nights helped her novel, and what’s on the horizon after last week’s cross-country trip to Melbourne for the Digital Writers’ Festival.
You’ve been involved with a few projects at the Centre for Stories. How did you first get involved with us, and how have those subsequent opportunities come up?
At the end of 2016, I made the decision to focus on my lifelong passion of writing (something I kept ignoring for decades, distracted by too many other things). I started a blog, then sought out a writing group to keep my motivation up. That’s how I found Centre for Stories’ Write Nights and just fell in love with the safe space it provided to work on whatever writing project you have as well as the inspiration I got from hearing about what others’ were working on.
This eventually led to learning about the Indian Ocean Mentoring Project, then being on a panel for Perth Festival, among many more opportunities that I feel so humbled to have had.
You grew up as an imaginative kid in first Malaysia and then Australia. Can you tell us a little bit about how your childhood has influenced you and your creative work today?
I moved to Australia at the age of three, so I primarily grew up here. I remember in my childhood I had a very creative imagination and I’d make up dramatic stories in my head that I’d play out in our backyard. I also loved reading, especially through my Primary School years, literally reading a book a day and all genres—horror (R.L. Stine), mystery (Nancy Drew), and series like Babysitters Club. But when I discovered love stories through authors like Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, it was the beginning of the end in terms of my enjoyment of genres other than “sweet/classic romance”.
I think this history of mine explains why today, if it’s “longer-form fiction”, like a novel, I would struggle to write a story that didn’t have “love” as a central theme. If it’s a short story, however, I do like to explore and experiment with different genres that I once deeply enjoyed.
We also love stories. Could you tell us a quick one from your life?
There are so many stories I could share it’s hard to choose! That’s perhaps why I feel destined to be a writer sometimes. I’ve had so many memorable experiences (good and bad) that it’s almost like an itch—I can’t keep the stories to myself! If I had to pick one… This story has a sad element but ends with hope—the kind of stories I love most.
A bit over a decade ago, my father trusted a family friend and put our home (that my parents had just paid off) on the line to invest in a business. The family friend turned out to be a professional conman and as a result, we lost our family home.
We came home one day to an eviction notice plastered on our front door, telling us we had two weeks to clear out. I worked in the community sector at the time (supporting youth from refugee backgrounds settle in Australia) and knew how hard it was to secure accommodation in such a short timeframe, let alone find a house that could house a family of seven! But we did what needed to be done, desperately searching for and calling rental home listings every day.
During one of my work lunch breaks, I remember sitting outside with stacks of printouts of upcoming home opens and calling a few real estate agents in the Belmont area (where we hoped we could at least stay). The third phone-call was strange. The man who answered was quiet and sounded confused and I realised I’d dialled the wrong number. But then he asked, “Did you say you’re looking for a house in Belmont? For how many people?” I discovered the man happened to own a four-bedroom house in Belmont and was intending to call a real estate agent to put it up for rent! That afternoon, he gave us a tour of his beautiful two-storey house and within two weeks, he got the house cleaned and ready to be let. He even reduced the rent after he learnt of our circumstances!
What does storytelling mean to you—and why is it important?
To me, storytelling is a way we can relate and deeply connect with others because often stories reinforce our commonalities rather than our differences. I also feel that people learn a lot from hearing a story and stories remain imprinted in our minds for longer. In fact, I think they say creating a story is a great memory strategy to remember even random objects!
What are you working on at the moment—and what’s coming up next for you?
Currently I’m focussed on polishing some short stories and poems I worked on during the Inclusion Matters Fellowship and submitting these to journals and competitions to slowly get my name out there in the writing stratosphere. Thereafter, there’s a novel I wrote in 2017 that needs a lot of love and attention before I can put it out into the world, so I’m hoping to work on that next.