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Centre for Stories

Luisa Mitchell

"Growing up knowing I was Aboriginal too and listening to the stories of spirits and dreaming and things we can’t quite understand fully, this all made me feel incredibly connected to the world, other people, and their stories."

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.Luisa Mitchell is a Nyungar writer and filmmaker from Broome, in the Kimberley. After moving to Perth to study Screen Arts, Luisa has co-written and produced a short film, started a novel, and worked for Pulch Mag. In 2020, Luisa was a Centre for Stories Writer-in-Residence where she worked on her screenplay that is half autobiography, half adventure-fantasy. Learn more about Luisa below.Louisa Mitchell is sitting on a brick staircase looking at the camera. She is resting her head in her palm and smiling.

Anika Donnison: What are you currently reading and why? What drew your attention to it?

Luisa Mitchell: I’m kind of dipping in and out of different books at the moment. I started reading Taboo by Kim Scott recently, which was a gift from my dad. The story is about reconciling the past horrors of colonialism in our country and finding hope in new connections to culture and land in the present day. I was fortunate to actually attend one of Centre for Stories events a couple of weeks ago, where Kim Scott himself was interviewed by Elfie Shiosaki, who also recently published her new poetry book, Homecoming (another GREAT read). As two Nyungar authors writing about reconnecting to history and culture, this is a really powerful and interesting topic for me at the moment, as someone who is on a journey to reconnect with my own Nyungar heritage.

The other book I’m dipping into is The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. It’s a fantastic and classic guide to the different aspects of the hero’s journey and the reoccurring stories we tell ourselves across different nations and cultures through myths; I’ve been using that to help spark ideas for my current writing project.

AD: When you’re not writing, what do you do?

LM: I love films, so I’m often watching movies; one of my guilty pleasures is watching movie analysis videos on Youtube, which really go into the nuts and bolts of the writing, themes, and film techniques behind great visual storytelling.

I’ve also been going on more nature hikes which I’m really enjoying. I recently discovered the joys of learning about different orchid species and trying to spot them in the bush, or what I call orchid-hunting. One day I’d like to be one of those people who knows the names of all the trees and flowers and particularly if they have any other useful qualities, like medicinal properties.

AD: What is a book that changed your life?

LM: This is so basic, but I can’t go past the Harry Potter books. Like a whole generation of millennials, I grew up obsessed with these stories and its core messages of love, bravery and friendship are still so moving and relevant today. They showed me the power words hold to make people feel connected to something bigger than themselves.

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials is another life-changing book series and a great fantasy epic read. More recently (and moving away from fantasy), I devoured Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend series. I’ve never felt more seen and understood as a woman by a writer who could capture the female experience so accurately. The funny thing is, Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym – no one knows her true identity. I found this fascinating that whoever she is, she had no desire for personal fame – her books feel like the most generous gift as a result.

A portrait of Luisa Mitchell. She is looking off in the distance. There is a red brick wall and green bushes behind her.

AD: You have a heavy interest in film and Aboriginal culture. How does this influence your writing and why do you write?

LM: I’ve always been a dreamer and fascinated with symbols and mythology. I have incredibly vivid dreams that are usually fantastical. I think that was always a heavy influence on my interest in storytelling, because that’s essentially what storytelling is – using some medium of art to communicate a message. Growing up reading books and watching films, and feeling so moved by the ways they made me feel, it was almost inevitable I would start writing and making movies as well.

Growing up knowing I was Aboriginal too and listening to the stories of spirits and dreaming and things we can’t quite understand fully, this all made me feel incredibly connected to the world, other people, and their stories. This influenced my writing in that I always had real truths to talk about that were inspired by my reality growing up in Broome, but also that I kept being drawn to the magical and mysterious, the intangible myths that grew up around those more physical truths.

As a result, my writing has always attempted to make a statement about the way the world is, while simultaneously acting as a form of escapism to go somewhere far more beautiful and where possibilities are boundless.

AD: What inspired you to join the program?

LM: I’ve been working full-time this year in a not-so-creative job. I wanted to continue working on my writing on the side and having a mentor is the best way to keep me motivated and continuously improving without having to sign up to a class or chase a fellowship.

AD: What are the unexpected things that have come up in the early stages of your mentorship?

LM: I think my mentor, Perun, has pushed me to look beyond just the writing and explore what this story means to me at a really personal level. I think that surprised me, that it would feel like I have a responsibility to keep a fire lit under the story.

AD: How has having another person working on your piece shaped your own style so far?

LM: I’m really enjoying it. I think there is nothing better than finding a skilled mentor, because you realise how much you have to learn and feel grateful that they’ve chosen you to give their time and knowledge to. Of course, I feel scared at times that the story may change too much from my original ideas – but mostly the act of collaborating just feels exciting to me, because it’s through those conversations that the best juice comes out.

AD: You said you wanted to write a screenplay about two Aboriginal kids who are whisked away by malevolent spirits into ‘the dreaming’. How has this developed so far?

LM: Yeah, this idea started out just as a literal dream I had while driving out somewhere in the Pilbara with my dad and siblings. It didn’t really have a structure at all, just this very basic concept and some cool spirits. So, my mentor and I have just been working on the concept and story outline, which is almost finished. That basically gives an overview of the entire story, who the characters are, what they achieve, and so on. Once that’s “finished” (a screenplay is never truly finished until the film itself is made), I’m going to get started on the actual script.

A portrait of Luisa Mitchell standing in front of beautiful green trees.

AD: Best writing advice you could give or that you have received?

LM: Figure out why this story is so important to tell and why you are the best person to tell it – and never forget that – and get lost in the joy of the process of writing. The beauty of art, which I have found to be true myself, is the collaboration with other artists. Writing a book may start off as a solo act, but you’ll find it’s the conversations you have while doing research, getting feedback from friends and family, or working with your editors, is what truly makes this work one of life’s treasures.

AD: Who is your dream collaborator?

LM: Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), Warwick Thornton (Samson and Delilah), and Jennifer Kent (The Nightingale) walk into a bar…

AD: Can you describe a piece of writing that you are working on during your mentorship that you are particularly excited about?

LM: The Dreaming is a screenplay for a feature film about two Nyungar kids who get swept up in the alternate universe of the Dreaming, a land made up of the present, past and future, which is beset by an evil spirit spreading a sickening over the Country and keeping the children’s beloved grandmother’s spirit captive.

The outline is pretty much finished which is really exciting, to finally see it get to a point where I can see the beginning and end quite clearly. The middle part is what needs the most work at the moment, because this is where the trials and tribulations occur and where the children learn the most about themselves and their roles in protecting Country. So, I’m looking forward to doing more research on different spirits and culture for this next part of the story’s journey.

Luisa Mitchell is a writer, editor and filmmaker. She directed and managed a number of youth-led creative projects, including the Uni Goonies Film Festival, and Athena and Grok Magazine, two student multimedia publications. She is passionate about empowering young artists and ensuring the stories of diverse voices are heard. Luisa is a Kimberley woman of Whadjuk Nyungar heritage and her upbringing in the creative industry up north gave her a passion for using art to achieve social justice, particularly for Indigenous Australians, rural populations, and other underrepresented groups.

Anika Donnison studied Professional Writing and Publishing at Curtin University. She has appeared in GROK and COZE. She currently works as a Social Media Coordinator for Pegasus Professional Accounting.

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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