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Lobna Rouhani

"It was by talking to other fellows when I realised how important these spaces are to getting voices and stories that we wouldn’t usually hear, out there. I heard about some interesting projects that wouldn’t otherwise get airtime and I hope to see them out in the world one day."

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.

Lobna Rouhani is a researcher and writer, originally from Jordan, who migrated to Australia in 1987. Rouhani is currently working on her first novel, and is a fellow at the Centre for Stories, and the Wheeler Centre. In this interview, she talks candidly about her inspirations, her writing process, and what it’s been like to write at Centre for Stories and with all the staff and other fellows. Discussions of race, gender, and how these have influenced and impacted her process, as well as some quality book recommendations await you in this interview.

Centre for Stories: What do you do outside of writing?

Lobna Rouhani: I became a mum a year ago so that has been taking up most of my time; by most I mean 24/7. However, I recently started a new job as a researcher/advocate on mental health issues – a very pertinent topic these days. Like most people I have a passion for food, I feel it’s so cliché,  but when I get the time to make a meal, I absolutely love it. I’m now hell bent on perfecting lasagne – so if anyone out there has tips please let me know.

CFS: Why do you write?

LR: I don’t know if there’s a why as such. It’s more of a need for me. I have always felt the need to write; it’s a vehicle for me to express myself.

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

LR: I started writing in my teens but never had the courage to share it. I became serious two years ago, I woke up on my 35th birthday so frustrated that I hadn’t written and published a novel yet; how could that happen if I didn’t find the courage to share it? So I started submitting my work to journals, competitions, and for fellowships that changed everything.

A portrait of Lobna Rouhani standing outside and smiling. She is wearing a lovely baby pink dress and behind her is an olive tree.

CFS: What are you currently reading and why?

LR: I have been reading madly all summer and here are some highlights including what I’m reading now: Manifesto by Bernardine Evaristo – I wanted to understand how she broke so many barriers and achieved so much as a woman of colour. Black and Blue by Veronica Gorrie – this won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Prize, and if there’s one book you read this year it’s this one. Gorrie writes in such a non-pretentious way, I felt as if I was having a conversation with a friend, even though the conversation had so many confronting facts about what it’s like to be an Aboriginal Australian woman. Home Going by Yaa Gyasi – I’m trying to read more books by women of colour, and I also wanted to learn more about the history of colonisation in another part of the world. Gyasi’s storytelling and prose are flawless. She takes no shortcuts and has taught me how to be a better writer. I will stop there but if you want to hear more recs, just ask!

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

LR: My work is about strong and marginalised women who break barriers, so yes, all these stories and their writers serve as an inspiration.

CFS: Walk us through an ‘aha’ moment while you were on the hot desk.

LR: It was by talking to other fellows when I realised how important these spaces are to getting voices and stories that we wouldn’t usually hear, out there. I heard about some interesting projects that wouldn’t otherwise get airtime and I hope to see them out in the world one day.

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?

LR: It can be really daunting to put your work out there, but the best thing I did was just that. When I became serious, I started a spreadsheet listing all potential journals, competitions, and fellowships; and worked towards submitting to them. I know a spreadsheet sounds like the enemy of creativity but it really helped me focus and achieve my goals. I have also done a couple of writing courses which have helped me greatly, not just in terms of craft but also meeting peers who can provide feedback for your work.

A portrait of Lobna Rouhani on the street out the front of Centre for Stories. She is holding her baby daughter in her arms.

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?

LR: What struck me was the passion and dedication of all the staff at the Centre for Stories who work so hard to create the most inspiring and supportive space for emerging writers. Staff and other fellows would always ask how my work was going and these conversations pushed me and my work to lengths I wouldn’t have been able to go to otherwise.

CFS: What will you be working on next?

LR: I started writing a play last year, so I would love to spend time finishing that.

Lobna Rouhani is a researcher and writer who migrated to Australia from Jordan in 1987. She has always reflected on the impact this has had on her identity, beliefs and the choices she makes. She has been awarded a Wheeler Centre and Centre for Stories Hot Desk Fellowships. She is working on her first novel.

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.

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