In 2019, the Centre for Stories selected a number of emerging writers to be involved in a 12-month mentoring program. The Inclusion Matters Mentoring Program, funded by the Copyright Agency and the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries, allows writers to improve their craft, to work in a supportive community, and to be paired with a well-established mentor. Both programs are designed for people living in Western Australia who identify as culturally and linguistically diverse.
Elham Mohammadnejad is a writer and photographer. Drawing inspiration from her life-experiences and her love for language and storytelling, Elham is a talent to watch. Get to know Elham and her fascinating work below.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Well, my name is Elham Mohammadnejad. I was born in the south west of Iran. The city I was born and raised in is famous for its oil resources, and because of that, it was divided in two parts with totally different appearances. One side is modern and green with affluent residents, whereas the other part was old, dried with mostly middle class to poor people. My family lived in the old part. So since so early on I have noticed a dualism in life—which profoundly puzzled me—and growing up, the city itself has become ironically the source of both my excitement and my resentment. I remember one day I wanted to be part of the modern area. Another day I felt in love with the old part, and in between. Inevitably, I’ve developed an introspective approach towards my self, my surroundings, and the order of things.
Influenced by my father I began reading books, particularly literature, by which I united my scattered thoughts. I soon started writing short stories. Early on I realized writing gave me my own ground to stand on, adds dimensions to my life, and goes not only beyond the city, but ventures so far—exactly as I was longing for.
Nevertheless, at university I decided to study political science since I always have been interested in politics and the edifices of power in our era. I believe it afforded me with deep insights into socio-political discourses, and how one discourse hegemonies in a certain time and society. Overall political science encouraged my critical thinking, which is something vital for a writer. By the time I got my Master’s degree, however, my old longing started to poke me consistently and I felt an urge to explore other lands and the other life, so I left Iran to pursue a life in a new country with new stories.
When it comes to writing, what has influenced you most?
Well if I want to name the writers, books, and all other type of arts and artists who have been my sources of inspiration, it will over-spill our time. So to be more precise on this matter I just feel it is necessary to mention one thing that has profound impact on me. And that is the language itself. I have been fascinated by language and its structure as far as I remember. Contemplating on how language evolves over eras, how it stimulates and evokes the intellectual thought, how we articulate it for different purposes, the metaphoric aspects of language, tracking literary prose stylistically, and so on. Those are some of my favorite subjects—not only to read—but these are the ones deeply influencing me to create my own way of expressing, creating different characters, and telling their stories.
What have you been working on during the Mentoring Program?
Well since the first meeting with my mentor we have discussed the detail of our collaboration. I have had some ideas for writing several short stories. Besides that, we discussed the possibilities of writing a longer story, probably a novel, as well as, an essay that I had been researching on for a short period of time which is about female immolation in Middle East. Considering the time frame, the idea of writing a novel did not seem attainable so I have been focusing on my short stories. Currently, I am about to finish the first one and I already know what will be the next—even though this one might take more time as it needs a little bit of researching before hand.
Along with that, I am hopeful there will be time to working on an essay as well.
What has it been like working with Brooke Davis?
It is fantastic. I am grateful that I have Brooke by my side throughout this journey. She is a kind, intelligent human, with so much to offer. We usually meet over a coffee and sometimes even a cocktail and we talk non-stop about everything, any possible thing. It’s not like we feel an obligation to go straight to my writing, even though rambling from this topic to the other, we unintentionally always end up talking about writing. One of the dearest aspects of our relationship is that I know she is working on her novel, as well, and sometimes our struggles are the same. So in addition to her review and her meticulous suggestions, the way she shapes a sentence, or says a word, or even a pause in the middle of talking, it comes so benefit me, gives me some hints on what needs to be done, and clears my tangled mind.
You are a multidisciplinary artist in both writing and photography. How does your writing influence your photography and vice versa?
Well, as I do fine art photography, my photos are not literal moments but productions of my own unique selective perception of a moment, which sometimes might seem rather surreal. The same as writing, I have always been moved by the symbols surrounding our life. So through my works both writing and photography, I seek to depict situations at the intersection of reality as an objective matter versus reality as a subjective one. I am nearly always presented in my photos however I try to position myself in ways, which eventually alludes to the elusive and fragmentary notion of being. So really it is just the decision to choose which medium is better to depict a certain point of view or an idea. These different mediums facilitate you with different devices to illustrate a piece of work, but the ground is the same. However, I am aware that sometimes a device might manipulate the idea and concept, but this is indeed where I have been nourished most. Through writing I came across prose rhyme, but later on I’ve tracked something quite similar in terms of order, in photography. To me photography is a language, a language to see.
When you’re not writing, what are you doing?
Well except photography—I love reading. If I could subside the flames of eternity, I would read more than anything. I began reading when I was so young, rebellious, unsettled, and most in need. Reading pacified me, and gave me sight and encouraged me to live my life to the fullest.
What are your goals for 2020?
Well the best thing about 2019 was that I came clean to myself. I do not want to stuff my mind with different purposes without any time frame or detailed plan. So, I am trying to break my task and prioritize my goals. I am excited and hopeful that 2020 would be the year when I can finally publish my own short story collection and if there would be anytime left by the end of 2020 it will be for my photo exhibition for sure. Even though I have presented some of my photos in group exhibitions here and there, I was too busy to have my first solo exhibition and I am optimistic that 2020 would be the year for finally doing that.