February 18, 2020
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.
Jo Newman is a twenty-something Yamatji writer, born and raised on Whadjuk Noongar Boodja. They graduated from a double degree in Environmental Biology and Professional Writing and Publishing from Curtin University in 2018, and completed their Honours in Creative Writing the following year. They write a lot about their experience with chronic illness, and dabble in speculative fiction when they have the energy. When they’re not reading or writing, you can find Jo napping with their dog and cat, or re-watching their fave horror movies on Netflix.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m Jo, a 20-something Yamatji writer born and raised in Perth on Whadjuk Noongar country. I’ve been writing since I was a kid, but I didn’t really start taking it seriously until I did my Honours in Creative Writing in 2018. I’m super into science and science fiction, and my favourite thing to read/write about is the way that humans interact with technology (artificial intelligence is my current obsession). I’m also a bit of a car nerd, and spend way too much time and money on my 30-year-old BMW.
What have you been working on during the Mentoring Program?
I’ve mostly been working on improving existing pieces, but I’m also writing some new stuff. I’m playing with the cyberpunk subgenre at the moment which is slow going, because I’ve never written in it before, but it’s very fun. You can do a lot of wacky stuff with technology in cyberpunk which you can’t really do in other subgenres so much. I’ve also been writing some memoir, which has been unexpected, but I’m just rolling with it. As long as I’m writing I’m not too bothered about what form it takes.
What has it been like working with your mentor, Matt Chrulew?
It’s been great. Writing genre fiction, it makes a really big difference to work with someone who understands and works in the same genre. Matt has so much experience and good advice to share, and his book recommendations are on point. He’s really encouraging me to branch out and experiment, and to engage with subgenres that I haven’t really explored before. One of my favourite things so far has been his recommendation that I explore Weird Fiction—it’s a genre that has been haunting my work for a while but I didn’t realise it was a thing. But hey! It’s a thing! So it’s been really fun to read stuff like Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation and try to replicate that delicate balance between the uncanny and the real that he does so well.
Has your writing style, practice, or vocation changed since the beginning of your Mentorship?
My practice has definitely changed. The Mentorship is really encouraging me to go back to my roots. With uni and work, I got so used to writing being lower down on the list of priorities that it was really hard to give myself the mental space I needed to be creative. I’m putting a lot more effort into daydreaming (sounds kind of silly, doesn’t it?) and figuring out a way of writing that works for me and is sustainable long-term. I’ve learnt that I like composing on my phone or by hand in a notepad. It takes the stress of the blank page out of it for me, and then by the time I type it up on the laptop I’m already at the second draft stage so it kind of feels like I’m making more progress. I’m also giving my work a lot more space to breathe before I come back and try to edit it into something publishable, which makes it easier to spot the bad things (and the good things too).
When you’re not writing, what are you doing?
I have a chronic illness, so I spend a lot of my time resting and taking care of my health. When I’m not doing that, I’m usually reading, watching science fiction and horror movies, or playing videogames. I’m also pretty into cars—I have a 30 year old BMW which is my pride and joy (cliché, I know), and I love meeting up with friends and going for cruises. I also recently got back into sewing, which has been one of my favourite hobbies since early high-school. I love the satisfaction of making things with my hands. It’s kind of like writing in a way, in that you’re bringing something into the world that didn’t exist before you thought of it. It’s cool.
What have you been doing to get involved with the writing community?
I lurk in a lot of Facebook groups. I also go to events at the Centre for Stories as often as my health will allow, and I swap work with some friends from my Honours course pretty regularly. I guess the main thing for me is reading what other local writers are putting out there, and keeping up-to-date with what’s going on around town even if I can’t be there. Accessibility is a big thing for me so anything I can do from bed is great. Yay for the internet!
What are your goals for 2020?
Hitting us with the big questions, huh? Gosh, I haven’t thought about it all that much yet to be honest. I’d love to have a short story or an essay published somewhere. I want to finish the quilt I’m making for my niece. I want to get a better handle on living with fibromyalgia so that I have the option of going back to work or study. I guess that’s the big one. And I want to keep writing, keep experimenting, keep learning new things. It’s a year for personal growth and acceptance, I think.
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