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Mara Papavassiliou

"I write because I like being creative. There’s something empowering about sharing your point of view with the world in a finished story. I feel most like myself when I’m writing, and while the government job pays the bills, it’s writing I enjoy most."

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

Mara Papavassiliou is a public servant by day and a writer by night. After recently moving to Kalgoorlie, Mara has been spending her time exploring old mine sites, reading, taking film photographs, and experimenting with genre fiction. In this interview with Centre for Stories intern Anika Donnison, Mara shares her day-to-day life, what gets her writing and her new life in Kalgoorlie.

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

Mara Papavassiliou: I am currently reading Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik. I had been reading a lot of – fairly morose – literary fiction this year and wanted a change of pace. I have a few friends who are really into the fantasy genre who have been trying to get me into it, so I decided to give this one a go. It was actually a recommendation from a book store – it’s a slow burn but really immersive, a world apart from the old school fantasy novels I read as a kid. It reads like a fairy tale – perhaps not less morose than the literary fiction, but a lot more enchanting.

AD: Is the more morose kind of books the style you like writing in? Or do you go through phases?

MP: I don’t think I would describe my writing as morose, but it certainly usually has elements of darkness or bleakness. That’s sometimes what inspires me – seeing things that aren’t necessarily good in life, or that left me feeling a certain way, and wanting to explore that in my writing. Maybe I could more fairly say of the literary fiction that it left me feeling morose?

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

MP: Outside of writing I work as a public servant. I started out in a department that does business development through science grants, but more recently got a job in emergency welfare management.

A portrait of Mara. She is facing away from the camera and looking at something in the distance. Behind her, the wall is a very bright fushia pink.

AD: What is your most surprising hobby?

MP: For hobbies, I like to take film photographs. I used to have an old ‘point and shoot’ camera that I would take with me everywhere, but unfortunately it broke a few months ago – I’m feeling somewhat lost without it! Other than that, I recently moved to Kalgoorlie, and my partner and I have been taking drives near town to try to find abandoned mine sites and other forgotten infrastructure. I’m not sure if that’s a hobby, but it’s definitely been taking up my weekends! You never know what you’ll find, and it’s always fun to find something with an eerie post-apocalyptic vibe.

AD: What is a book that changed your life?

MP: I have a few, but I’ll go with my favourite book from childhood, which was White Fang by Jack London. At the time I preferred stories about animals, and it was the first book I read that had a literary bent. I could ‘feel’ (if not express), that the story was doing something above and beyond telling the tale of a half-dog, half-wolf trying to navigate the wild and the human world. It was the first book I read that had some philosophical reflections on humanity and human nature in it, in addition to the main adventure. I haven’t revisited it in a long time, so I’m not sure how it stands up today, but I do remember thinking “I want to write like that”.

AD: That’s really interesting. Has that influenced your writing today? Considering your day job and interests outside in the ‘wilderness’, what inspires you to write?

MP: Funnily enough, I don’t think I’ve ever included anything close to a philosophical rumination in my writing (aside from maybe one or two diary entries!). But I do like to include descriptions of nature in my stories – I usually get a story “idea” through a description of setting, and then work back from there to develop characters and plot. The setting always comes first, and I am usually inspired by time spent in nature. So I do think White Fang and other nature stories were inspirational in that way.

I write because I like being creative. There’s something empowering about sharing your point of view with the world in a finished story. I feel most like myself when I’m writing, and while the government job pays the bills, it’s writing I enjoy most. In government work, you don’t have ‘ownership’ over a project (your work belongs to the public – as it should be!) so it’s nice to be able to create something and own that creation.  As for what inspired me, I think a lot of positive feedback at an early age for my writing efforts was pretty formative. Since then, it’s  just always been my chosen way of expressing myself.

AD: What inspired you to join the program?

MP: I was inspired to join the program as I wanted to write a piece about my Baba’s experience growing up in a Macedonian village, living in a Romanian orphanage, and then migrating to Australia when she was sixteen. I hadn’t written anything in the genre of memoir/creative non-fiction before, or anything so heavily based on someone’s real experiences, and felt I needed some guidance to help craft the piece I wanted to write. I also wanted to become more involved in Perth’s writing community, and felt this would be a great way for me to get to know other writers in WA.

A portrait of Mara standing in the setting sun (it's very nice golden lighting). She is smiling and looking at the camera.

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

MP: I have had far less time than I would’ve liked to write on account of moving and starting a new job! I would say that has been my biggest challenge. My mentor Rashida has given me lots of helpful prodding to keep me on track. I’ve found it has been harder to ‘disconnect’ to get into a writing space over the past few months due to those stressors, but Rashida has given me lots of helpful tips to get back into a writer’s headspace.

AD: How has having another person working on your writing shape your own style so far?

MP: It has been really nice to have someone empathise with the challenges of writing, which is often quite lonely. I think Rashida has helped me lean into my own natural style more than anything else, but she also encouraged me to experiment with genres I haven’t tried writing in before, including creative non-fiction. It has been great to have someone give me that creative license. I also have a tendency to over-write and its been great to have someone say “end the story there!” in places I wouldn’t have guessed.

AD: You said before you started that you wanted to write a story inspired on your Baba’s experiences of being a migrant, isolated and navigating a new country and politics of her husbands family. How has this developed so far?

MP: It’s developed slowly! I started out with lots of story fragments and snippets of dialogue that had been floating around in my head, and am now working on honing in on a few of these to form into a larger piece or ‘chapter’. The genre of the piece has jumped between fiction to creative non fiction and back again, and now it seems like it will end up a creative non-fiction piece.

AD: What’s your best writing advice you could give to emerging writers?

MP: I would say its that consistency is key – writing everyday (or in my case trying to) has been crucial to maintain my self-esteem as a writer, as well as keep my project on track!

A portrait of Mara standing in front of a brick wall which has a mural of a bilby on it.

AD: Who is your dream collaborator?

MP: That’s a really good question! Any writer who has a talent for dialogue, because its not my strong suit. So maybe a screenwriter? Or if we’re talking fantasy collaborators, maybe Jim Henson – my favourite film was the Dark Crystal growing up, and it would be so exciting to write a screenplay for amazing puppets (which I think are much better than CGI!).

AD: What are you working on in during this program?

MP: I’ve already said a little bit about the main piece I am writing for the program, but I’ve also been experimenting with the Australian Gothic genre as part of my mentorship – its clear that living in Kalgoorlie this year has absorbed through into my writing. I’d love to write something a little bit more fantastical after I’ve completed my first piece – maybe with horror elements.

Mara Papavassiliou is a public servant by day and a writer by night. After recently moving to Kalgoorlie, Mara has been spending her time exploring old mine sites, reading, taking film photographs, and experimenting with genre fiction. 

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.

Thanks to Melissa Drummond for photographing Mara in Kalgoorlie.

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