Breaking Blueprints is an interview series that showcases the unique journeys of Centre for Stories’ Writing Fellows. We gain insight into how each writer discovered their voice and found the tools they need to pursue their dreams of becoming published authors. This series is a testament to the power of community and the potential of every aspiring author to break through the barriers and achieve their dreams. By sharing their stories, these writers inspire others to pursue their passion for writing and explore the many paths available to them.
The library for many may be associated with reading. For Ana Brawls, however, it has become a place that nurtures her love of writing. Ana is driven by an enterprising spirit and finds empowerment within her community of storytellers. In this interview she speaks about her work as a librarian and her interest in rare books, the high regard she has for her writing companions, and how her unique voice connects to her heritage.
Ana Brawls is an emerging writer from Brazil. Her work explores family traditions, myths, belonging, the human condition and multiculturalism. She is a recipient of the 2022 Centre for Stories’ Emerging Writer’s Fellowship and the 2023 Westerly Writers’ Development Program. Her work appears in the Australian Poetry Anthology,Bangalore Review, Portside Review, and the anthology Under the Paving Stones, The Beach (Centre for Stories, 2022). She has performed her poetry at the Perth Poetry Festival and other events, and is a book reviewer for WritingWA and Books+Publishing.
In researching this interview I discovered that you work at Margaret River Library. That sounds like a cool job! What brought you there?
I never wanted to be a librarian, I wanted to be a journalist. But I decided after working at a newspaper in Australia that I didn’t want to be a journalist anymore, that it wasn’t fulfilling. I volunteered at the Margaret River Library for five years, doing mainly digital mentoring, and completed a post-grad course in library studies. I was then offered an assistant role and, a couple of years later, an E-Services Librarian position. I do a lot of digital training, the majority of my job is helping people, especially seniors, with technology. Now the writing aspect of my life and the library aspect of my life are very intertwined. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them. Because they are the ones that give me support. I have colleagues who, if I’m doing a poetry event, come and watch, they’re interested in what I’m doing. They are taking my writing just as seriously as I am, and that is such a privilege.
That is quite a pathway. You had to sacrifice a lot to get where you are. A little bird also told me that you also started a writing group at the library? How did that come about?
That evolved as well. I was in a writing workshop a few years ago and I asked the other people, ‘What if we start a writers group?” Everybody wanted to be part of this writers group. At the first meeting, there were twelve people; at the next meeting, there were three people, and one of them, who is now my long-time friend, was Annie Horner, a lecturer in creative writing. This writers group became Annie and I up until the pandemic, and then, after that, I put out an invitation and we started to have people interested again. Now we have about ten of us that meet regularly every week at each other’s houses, it goes for nearly three hours. We read each other our story, give feedback. It is lovely. I always say how inspiring this group is for me, because they have the most zest for life and write the most incredible stories. It’s become a place where, if someone asks about a writing group, they send them to me. It is hilarious, because I feel like, ‘Oh, there’s so much I can’t do.”
That’s so inspiring! I admire your commitment, to be consistent and meet with the group regularly, especially when it was new. You’re writing a novella as part of the fellowship. Can you share a little bit about the story?
It’s a futuristic world — Perth 100 years from now — where books are not printed anymore. You have those books in the digital world, they’re just not coming out in this medium anymore, ever. In this world it’s not the stories that are valuable but the books themselves. And so the story is around the preservation and conservation of books. I’m very interested in rare books, and a recent auction of a 1924 copy of Agatha Christie’s Poirot Investigates served as inspiration for the story. Back then when you buy a book from a bookshop they throw away the dusk jacket, because it was just a marketing thing. So in 2012 a rare copy Poirot Investigates sold with the dust jacket intact for £40,000. That just struck me as a lot of money, and I used that as an idea for the story.
A lot writers find the editing process both painful and rewarding. How has it been for you? Have you received any negative or critical feedback and, if so, how did you feel about it and what did you do with it?
I sent my manuscript to Writers Victoria for an assessment and the mail came back with a knife in my gut, and I was like ooph! They were very clinical, but they gave me the blueprint I needed. After I did the rewriting, I showed it to Annie from the writing group and she really didn’t like my main character. Actually she hated it, but the reason she hated it was because she didn’t know anything about her. And that was a good thing to hear because I didn’t want to tell anybody anything about this woman. I was a person writing with no backstory, and clearly that was not good enough. The biggest problem was that I was writing for the imagined reader that I would like to read a story. That story had nothing of my heritage in it. Not that it needs to, but I can’t separate myself as a writer of stories, I think they inform each other. So one of the reasons this story wasn’t working was because I wasn’t allowing that part of me to come into the story. I stopped being afraid to show that side.
Your previous short story, Creatures of the Crossing, does draw on your Brazilian heritage. When you first come up with a story idea, do you typically find something ‘out there’ to explore or do you turn to your experiences and memories?
They come from within, but they are triggered by something outside. I come from a very old family in Brazil, and we trace our history to the last slaves. So both of my sides descend directly from slaves. And there was a lot of storytelling in my family, you know, horror, every single one of them is scary. I worry sometimes that my stories might not be interesting, that they may be too personal. At the same time, I feel like they are not just my stories, you know, the things that form who I was and who I am. And then that element informs my creativity to write things like Creatures of the Crossing. There’s a lot of fantastic realism in South American writing and I feel that’s when I’m the truest to my writing, when I allow that to happen. Not every story that I write has that element, but when I feel the most compelled to not stop is when I let those bizarre elements come into play.
Congratulations on being selected for the 2023 Westerly Writers’ Development Program! What gives you the courage to apply for writing development programs, whether at Centre for Stories or elsewhere?
Well, for the Centre for Stories’ program, Simone Lasaroo, my mentor, looked at my draft, and said I should finish it and apply. I have this thing that if I need to do something, I will sit down and do it. Even if I need to wake up before work to do it. So I was waking up at five in the morning and I hate mornings. I’m Brazilian. We don’t wake up early. When Logan told me I got it I was so shocked that I had to sit down and scream for ten minutes! For Westerly, I saw their call for submissions, and the other fellows encouraged me to apply, so I did. I never thought I was going to get it, just because it’s Westerly, but I got it and — big shock! I almost didn’t accept but my other mentors, Josephine Taylor and Robert Wood, told me, ‘No, you’ve got to do these things, you’ve got to keep moving forward.’ I love applying for the programs now, once I learned how to do it, to write something about yourself, and whatever needs to come back to you will come back to you.
Ana was interviewed by Andrew McGinn in April 2023.
Writing Change, Writing Inclusion is Centre for Stories’ signature writing program for 2021 to 2023. Generously funded by The Ian Potter Foundation, Australia Council for the Arts and Centre for Stories Founders Circle, this writing program features mentoring, hot desk, and publication opportunities for emerging writers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and/or Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander backgrounds.