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.
Taya Reid’s life is full to the brim — from creative writing to photography to workshops, to being a partner and mum, plus campfires on the coast — and that’s the way she likes it. Whether she is interviewing someone for a news story, taking a family portrait, or writing long fiction, Taya is interested in people, and who they are beyond appearances. In this interview Taya speaks about her debut novel and its exploration of family gossip, the editing process and life in the eighties.
Taya Reid is a writer, photographer and professional storyteller on Whadjuk Noongar boodja (Margaret River). She is currently a fellow at Centre for Stories, where she is completing a manuscript of literary fiction, and is a regular contributor to margaretriver.com and Tales & Trails magazine. Recently Taya’s short story ‘Annuals’ was published in the Sydney Hammond anthology Water Under the Bridge (Hawkeye Books, 2022). You can see more of her work at tayareid.com
You’re self-employed as a photographer, a creative consultant and freelance writer. Are these outlets connected for you, or do you find they pull you in different directions?
In the sense that they’re storytelling devices, yeah, they do fit together. The common purpose is to get to the core of somebody, whether you’re taking photos of them, telling their factual story, or their fictional story, it’s very much just about stripping everything back and revealing their humanity. And photography is super intimate. You can’t be silent when you’re taking photos. You actually have to open up a conversation to get people to relax. I think that part of it is easy for me because I’m naturally quite nosy. And the more you talk to them, they kind of reveal a little bit extra about themselves. That’s them telling you a story, and you translating it to produce a better result.
Creative writing is often viewed as a pastime more than a serious vocation, and it’s easy to neglect amid the demands of earning a living and raising a family. How do you balance your writing with your work, and has the fellowship helped in that regard?
I’m really bad at it. Obviously some work makes money, and some doesn’t. So I try to make sure that I’m making money but also doing things that have a longer-term goal. The fellowship has been great in that it has a stipend attached to it, and that makes a huge difference because I often think, ‘I can’t be bothered being poor at the moment, so I’m just going to take on more photo jobs.’ With the stipend you can sort of breathe a bit and take a week off and just write. And that’s covered.
Then aside from that, just knowing there are other people in that little community doing the same thing and going on the same journey. We’ve got a discord server, and even having a small interaction can help, just to know there’s other people doing exactly what you’re doing. Because it’s so solitary. Without a group, you’re out to sea, aren’t you? You’re doing something separate from everything else that’s going on. Whereas this gives us a bit of a connection to each other, and having a base is a different way to write.
Through your fellowship at Centre for Stories, you’ve been working towards the publication of your debut novel. A draft of your manuscript is currently being assessed by Writers Victoria. How is the editing process going?
The manuscript is finished in the sense that the structure is there, but it’s not written to the point where I’m happy with it. I’ve had a little break from it and now I’m going to go back and look at what I want to change and combine the assessor’s feedback with my own. I’ve also shared the early chapters to people for peer-review, and that process so far is a mixed bag. You get constructive feedback that addresses real, tangible issues, but a lot of it is really about taste. You’ve got to separate that from real flaws, because changing things based on taste can lead you down a rabbit hole of completely changing your own style. In terms of real issues, most readers really enjoyed the second chapter of my book, because it hones in on a particular character, whereas the first chapter is like an ensemble. So I’m asking myself, does that clarity come in the following chapters or will people be overwhelmed by that many characters? I need to figure that one out.
That’s tricky isn’t it? Because an ensemble cast can really challenge the conventions of the novel by following multiple heroes, but the storylines can easily get out of hand. Tell me about the story you’re working on.
It’s set in the southern suburbs of Perth, and it focuses on three families that live next door to each other, in a row of three houses. One of the families has landed there more by luck than anything else; one of the families doesn’t fit in; and one of the families is a long-suffering family that deals with the others’ issues. There’s an ongoing narrative of addiction that flows throughout the story, and it’s passed down generationally. The kids, like me, were growing up in the 80s and 90s, and it goes through that period. It’s quite nostalgic. I’m a bit of a sucker for nostalgia. So I liked being able to go back and write my childhood into it.
I’m from Broome, and even when I write Perth-based stories, I want to set them in my hometown. So I understand the nostalgia element. You also mentioned class and addiction. Are these the type of themes you like to explore in your writing?
I am interested in the way people perceive each other, and I like a domestic setting for that. I like to pick apart a sort-of gossip perspective where people are just interacting on a very basic human level, the coffee-after-school update. How a certain person can seem like they’re sailing through life, but there’s obviously things beneath the surface. And then another person can seem like they’re a complete, washed-up tragedy, and turn it around. Bad things can happen to affluent people, and good things can happen to people who are lower on the socioeconomic ladder, and where you are in society doesn’t really make any difference to how much tragedy or trauma can occur in your life.
I think it’s a unique idea to explore how we appear to others in an era before social media, and maybe uncover some contrasts between then and now. Was including details about Perth important to you?
Absolutely. I think the details in place are what makes something seem authentic or genuine. So not just, ‘Perth’s hot.’ You’ve got to be specific. There’s a Christmas scene in the book where it’s quite stormy, quite electrical. And I think that’s a Perth thing. Those sorts of details are important to me. There’s quite a lot about specific jetties and beaches and dune life. There aren’t many indoor places I put in the book. It’s an outdoor life when you’re a kid, isn’t it? It’s very much bike riding and swimming and backyards. In fact, all the interiors in the book are more to do with the parents.
I noticed that the beach features heavily in your social media pages. I like the beach too. I think there’s a connection for everyone because all life came from the ocean. Is the beach a special place for you?
I love the beach. I live near the beach, so, yeah, saltwater person. And I do a lot of photo work down south, and spend 2-3 nights on the beach locally, shooting family portraits. My daughter and partner love it too. It’s purifying, there’s something — that’s why it’s a hangover cure I think.
Taya was interviewed by Andrew McGinn in March 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.