Heartlines explores what it means to write – from the heart and soul – and where that writing takes us. Every writers’ 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.
Jose da Costa is a writer and filmmaker from Timor-Leste. Jose spent his early years as a clandestine activist resisting the Indonesian occupation. After arriving in Australia seeking asylum, Jose worked extensively to campaign for East Timorese independence and refugee status for 1600 East Timorese in Australia. Jose is the co-founder and inaugural director of Dili Film Works which made Timor-Leste’s first feature film and has also published children’s books in the Tetum language.
Centre for Stories: What do you do outside of writing? What is your most surprising passion?
Jose da Costa: I am a qualified primary school teacher, and I am also an actor on both screen and stage. My passion is to tell stories and to share life experiences with other people through storytelling, writing, and acting.
CFS: Why do you write?
JDC: I write because, since the country of my birth, Timor-Leste became independent in 2002, I have wanted to share the stories of how our people have survived. Such stories are still too few and far between, especially in English. To date, there is only one published memoir by an East Timorese in English.
Through my memoir, I want to share with the readers the place where I came from and how I grew up amidst war and conflict and was then forced to travel a very long way from home. It is also about our kinship, belief system, and everyday life in my hometown, Baucau.
CFS: When did you decide to pursue writing and what triggered that decision?
JCD: I had thought about writing this memoir for a long time, but I never had a chance to do so until early this year. What triggered me to begin writing was the Covid-19 lockdown because then I had the time to write. At the end of 2021, I was selected as one of the Next Chapter awardees. Next Chapter is a scheme run by the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne to support emerging writers.
CFS: What are you currently reading and why?
JDC: I am currently reading Timothy Mo’s The Redundancy of Courage. It is relevant to my writing, particularly its descriptions of the East Timorese landscape and the early years of the resistance against the Indonesian occupation
CFS: Is that also an inspiration for your current work?
JDC: It is inspiring in so far as this award-winning work, published in 1991, was based on the history of the East Timorese, and that when Mo wrote it, he had never even been to East Timor
CFS: Did you have any ‘aha’ moments while you were hot desking at Centre for Stories?
JDC: When I was writing at home alone, I would strike difficulties such as in how to structure a chapter and so on, but while I was at the hot desk, I had many aha moments. I was finding I could navigate my way more easily through various kinds of blockages. The hot desk gave me a good headspace to write.
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?
JDC: If you have the story and the passion, you should bring it to paper and once you start writing, your ideas will flourish.
CFS: Great advice! We agree. 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?
JDC: Centre for Stories provided me with a space to write and to meet fellow writers to share our work, experiences and ideas.
CFS: You are incredibly talented and have achieved so much already, Jose. There is so many avenues for future projects. With that in mind, what will you be working on next?
JDC: Inspired by Edward Bond’s works and my love of acting, I would like to write theatre scripts next.
Jose da Costa is a writer and filmmaker from Timor-Leste. Jose spent his early years as a clandestine activist resisting the Indonesian occupation. After arriving to Australia seeking asylum, Jose worked extensively to campaign for East Timorese independence for refugee status for 1600 East Timorese in Australia. Jose is the co-founder and inaugural director of Dili Film Works which made Timor-Leste’s first feature film and has also published children’s books in the Tetum language.
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.