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Faiza Bokhari

“It’s been a joy to come and write in an environment that is both calming and inspiring. To be surrounded by people who celebrate creativity and all have different skill sets has helped me think outside the box.”

Heartlines explores what it means to write – from the heart and soul – and where that writing takes us. Every writer’s journey is different, so we invite you to take a moment to read, pause and reflect on what it means to shape stories for the page.

Faiza Bokhari has a Pakistani background and was born and raised in Western Australia. With a master’s in psychology, she has always been incurably obsessed with stories. Her writing has appeared in places like Djed Press, Roi Fainéant Press, Portside Review, Indian Review and Burnt Roti Magazine, among others.

She was shortlisted for the 2018 and 2023 Stuart Hadow Short Story Prize. She is currently completing her hot desk fellowship at the Centre for Stories.

Centre for Stories: What do you do outside of writing? What is your most surprising passion?

Faiza Bokhari: I work as a UX researcher although currently on maternity leave juggling a toddler and new baby. I’m not sure if these are surprising passions, but I’ve been bringing trashy reality tv series lately-which is pretty much the antithesis of literary fiction. I have also been enjoying getting back into tennis and rollerblading along the river.

CFS: Why do you write?

FB: I think the urge to write must be innate because I felt the compulsion very early on. I have always been obsessed with books and was writing little stories and poems as soon as I could string a sentence together. As a child, I’d often carry a notebook around with me to jot down things I wanted to include in my writing before I forgot them. My mother kept all my childhood writing and has always been encouraging, which is lovely. 

I stopped writing for most of my teenage and early adult years and only started up again in my thirties. Once I restarted, I found myself jotting down sentences and ideas once again, only now using the notepad on my phone rather than paper. The act of writing gives life to characters and stories, creating little worlds. There’s something really satisfying about it, even if these worlds only exist for a short moment. 

CFS: When did you decide to pursue writing and what triggered that decision?

FB: I can’t remember if there was something specific that triggered it, but I was reading Haruki Murakami’s short story collection, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman at the time and his writing is always inspirational. I wrote a short story and asked my husband to read it and provide feedback (something he still does now). I ended up submitting it to different journals and have continued to write short stories since. 

CFS: What are you currently reading and why?

FB: I’ve spent the last few months accumulating books without much time to read them. I’ve started reading Still Born by Guadalupe Nettel (translated from Spanish by Rosalind Harvey). It explores two women’s experiences around maternity and the choice not to have children, the writing is thought provoking and deft. Next up I’ll be reading Western Lane by Chetna Mantoo. Both books were part of the Booker Prize lists last year.

CFS: Is that also an inspiration for your current work?

FB: Whilst the subject matter isn’t directly related to what I’m currently writing, the calibre of writing is definitely an inspiration. 

CFS: Walk us through an ‘aha’ moment while you were on the hot desk (it’s also okay if you didn’t have an ‘aha’ moment).  

FB: I really enjoyed the meet and greet with Fremantle Press. It was a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the ins and outs of the publishing industry and what makes a manuscript stand out. Hearing from publishers and published authors made the prospect of completing and sending out a manuscript feel more accessible and less daunting. 

CFS: Based on your experiences in the writing industry, including your hot desk at Centre for Stories, what advice would you give to writers who are starting out or are unsure where to start?  

FB: Writing and putting your work out there can be a messy process and leave you feeling vulnerable. This feeling never really goes away wholly, but there are certain tips and tricks I found that helped me become more organised and less nervous. 

Start small, if it gets you writing. I remember entering some 100-word story competitions just so I felt as though I was writing and finishing something to completion. It’s also a great exercise in brevity. Using an online portal for submissions also helps in finding suitable homes for your writing. I use Submittable to look up competitions or journals that are open to submissions and keep track of where my writing has been sent. I remember at the start I’d constantly be checking my inbox multiple times a day to check for responses from journals, spoiler alert, the response never comes quickly – the wait is long and painstaking! 

I’d also recommend doing writing courses (either online or in person) and attending write nights such as the one’s Centre for Stories hosts. Online short story courses motivated me to write to deadlines and it was so helpful receiving feedback from the instructor and other course participants. 

Lastly, don’t let age deter you. Society often celebrates success that comes early, but in reality, it can come at any age. Acclaimed writer Hilma Wolitzer published her first short story in her thirties, her first novel in her forties and is still writing now aged in her nineties. I like to think about this when I worry about how I still haven’t finished my manuscript. 

CFS: Centre for Stories is about taking things at your own pace, working with others, and providing a safe place for all. How has this space enabled you to think and explore your work?  

FB: It’s been a joy to come and write in an environment that is both calming and inspiring. To be surrounded by people who celebrate creativity, and all have different skill sets has helped me think outside the box. I’ve loved having conversations with other writers who work with genres that are vastly different to my own. 

The centre was also very supportive in giving me flexibility after I gave birth to my son partway through the fellowship which has been invaluable. 

CFS: What will you be working on next?  

FB: I’m a few stories away from completing a manuscript of short stories, so I’m working towards getting that done. I’d also like to write something more long-form one day. I don’t have the discipline or stamina to write a novel, so I’m aiming for a novella. 

It’s also continuous lifelong work to try and improve my writing skills, grammar, and formatting.   

Faiza has a Pakistani background and was born and raised in Western Australia. With a master’s in psychology, she has always been incurably obsessed with stories.

Writing Change, Writing Inclusion is Centre for Stories’ signature writing program for 2021 to 2024. Generously funded by The Ian Potter Foundation, Australia Council for the Arts, My Place, 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.

Copyright © 2024 Faiza Bokhari.

These stories have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of these stories, please contact the Centre for Stories.

This interview was published on 6 March 2024.

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