Heartlines

Zahina Shah

"I use writing to express my thoughts about the world and raise awareness on human rights through creative writing. It overwhelms at times to hear things and as a Muslim I’d like to raise more awareness about the discrimination we face and bring a new, positive perspective on my faith."

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.

Zahina Shah is a writer passionate about storytelling and representation, she recently completed the Writing Change, Writing Inclusion hot desk program at Centre for Stories. Her work has appeared in Pulch, Podium Magazine and she has performed at the Youth Arts Mingle Night Photography Exhibition with Propel Youth.


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

Zahina Shah: I don’t have many other exciting hobbies, haha! I do enjoy cooking and I love to make meals for my family, it’s something I enjoyed doing as a teenager when my mum started to teach me. Another passion I’d say I love is fashion! I’m no expert but I love reading books about different styles and getting inspiration from them. It’s always intrigued me, and I find it a lot of fun.

CFS: Why do you write?

ZS: I use writing to express my thoughts about the world and raise awareness on human rights through creative writing. It overwhelms at times to hear things and as a Muslim I’d like to raise more awareness about the discrimination we face and bring a new, positive perspective on my faith.

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

ZS: I found writing to be very therapeutic as a teenager, it didn’t cross my mind as something I’d like to take up as a career choice but the more, I wrote the more I found peace. During that time a lot was happening in my personal life, so I found that to cope more than anything. I experimented a lot between different styles and genres but as I grew older, I decided to use it to raise awareness around topics I feel passionate about.

CFS: What are you currently reading and why?

ZS: Currently I’m reading ‘A Map of Salt and Stars’, by Zeyn Joudhakhar. I adored the poetic, and lyrical style by the author. It’s about a young girl in Syria who is trying to flee the crisis and touches upon issues around refugees and war which I am interested in as a writer. It’s hard to find many books by Muslims and whenever I find one, I get super excited and must grab it! I think it’s important these stories are shared, and books by Own Voices should be supported so I always try to find books by them.

A portrait of Zahina standing in the streets of Northbridge. She is wearing a beautiful red head scarf and a matching floral dress full of red, yellow and orange flowers. She is smiling at the camera.

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

ZS: It was! The work I produced centred around similar themes as the characters were also in a situation where they were forced to flee. Besides that, I absolutely loved the writing style and had to mark so many pages and beautiful phrases that stood out to me.

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

ZS: Usually, I go through several ideas before settling on one, and for this story I was finding a bit difficult to nail. I think what really came to me as an ‘aha’ moment was after I watched Kiki’s Delivery Service and investigated the movie a little bit more. One theme that was touched on was the burn out artists feel, and while the main idea in my story was more about crisis, I also wanted one of my characters to reflect this. I wanted both to have passion towards something and give a bit more depth the story and characters rather than them just centred around the crisis. I think that helped me give them more grounding and show the difference in thinking between adults having responsibility and burning out from work and on the other hand children’s ambition that is always enthusiastic. I loved the whole atmosphere Miyazaki creates in his work so that also helped me think about what moments I wanted to expand on in my story.

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?

A portrait of Zahina standing in the streets of Northbridge. She is wearing a beautiful red head scarf and a matching floral dress full of red, yellow and orange flowers. She is smiling at the camera.

ZS: I think what’s important is to have a writing routine each day or week that works for you. Everyone’s schedule is different so I can’t really say how much a writer should commit to, but if you have something that you can be consistent with and allows you to keep writing then it will help you grow. Doing your own research is also key, a quick Google search on organisations that support artists and have opportunities to submit or get feedback/mentor groups can be invaluable. I would recommend trying to contact places like Propel Youth and checking out Writing WA where they post opportunities to submit to magazines and have writing groups. Even talking to tutors/lecturers if you’re studying a university or an institution can help. I found out about Centre for Stories through Writing WA!

CFS: We’re all about taking things at your own pace, working with others, and providing a space for all. How has this space enabled you to think and explore your work?

ZS: I adored the Centre for Stories so much; everyone was very warm and welcoming and there was always ongoing programs and meetups available. I found the peer session with Robbie quite helpful and overall, it was a very calming space to be in that helped me get into the mindset to write. Writing also takes up a lot of time with research, so the time was valuable as I could spend it equally amongst writing and doing research to be able to take the time to work through the number of drafts until I reached the final one. My favourite spot was the library, when I was writing and needed something to refer to it was always available. On the days I couldn’t attend and work from, they were very flexible, and I appreciated that Centre for Stories allowed me to take my time.

A portrait of Zahina. She is standing facing the right of the camera, looking off into the distance. Behind her is a brilliant orange wall.

CFS: What will you be working on next?

ZS: I have so many ideas for different stories, but I’d like to get back to working on my manuscript again! I’ve been writing for a while now but there’s still a lot to work so I’ll be busy with that!


Zahina Shah is a writer passionate about storytelling and representation, she recently completed the Writing Change, Writing Inclusion hot desk program at Centre for Stories. Her work has appeared in Pulch, Podium Magazine and she has performed at the Youth Arts Mingle Night Photography Exhibition with Propel Youth.

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.