On The Table is an interview series with emerging writers from the 2019 Centre for Stories Inclusion Matters Hot Desk Fellowship. Here, writers reflect on their Hot Desk experience, the changes to their practice, and the connections they made.Prema Arasu is a Perth-born emerging writer and PhD Candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Western Australia currently living and working on Noongar Boodjar. In 2019 they explored a variety of creative projects including science fiction and fantasy worldbuilding, found-object poetry, dada art, and performance art. They are particularly interested in the ways in which the imaginative construction of alternative worlds in fiction writing can function to destabilise the ways in which gender identities and gender roles are constructed through language. Prema also engages with postcolonial writing, the body, the monstrous, and leeches. They have a cat called Ghost.
Can you tell us about your writing practice?
I write when and where I feel like I have something to write, whether that’s at a coffee shop in the morning, the Centre for Stories during the day, at university late at night, or in my home office at 4am. I’ve only really become part of the writing community this year since starting my PhD – before 2019 I was academically-oriented, but not in creative writing – and have found that there’s a strong culture of counting and producing words. Although I appreciate that this approach works for many writers, I can’t do it – I tried NaNoWriMo this year and gave up after a few days. Since the novel that I’m writing is for my PhD and therefore has to make an original contribution to knowledge, I spend a lot of time researching, reading, and thinking about the purpose of absolutely everything I write as well as exploring my ideas through other creative avenues. My output is therefore comparatively low, but hopefully by the end of the PhD I’ll have something that means a lot to me and hopefully also has academic significance.
Where did you start at the beginning of the Hot Desk Fellowship? What changed in your work and what did the Fellowship allow you to do?
This year I’ve really tried to establish myself in the WA creative community and the Hot Desk Fellowship has been incredibly helpful with achieving that goal. The Fellowship provided me with a creatively stimulating space to write and meet like-minded others, and I feel like less of an impostor and more like I belong.
Throughout the duration of the Hot Desk Fellowship, what changed for you in terms of practice?
Hot Desking at the Centre for Stories and attending editing and publishing workshops really got me thinking about what to do with my writing. It really encouraged me to write more short stories and poetry outside of the novel which occupies most of my time, and submit these shorter works to competitions and journals for publication.
How did you find the culture of the Centre for Stories?
Before the Hot Desk Fellowship I would either work in my office at UWA or in my home office. While my shared office at UWA is great for being around other academics, it’s much less of a creative space. The Fellowship gave me the opportunity to write in a space that was more artistically stimulating, although not by any means less intellectual.
What relationships have you developed from your Hot Desk Fellowship?
During my Fellowship I started running the SFF Collective; a group that meets roughly every two weeks at the Centre for Stories to discuss a topic related to sci-fi, fantasy, and speculative fiction. I’ve found that the SFF (or ‘genre’) writing and fan community is quite separate from the general writing community and feel like the SFF Collective bridges that gap in many ways. It is attended by writers, academics, as well as fans who just want to talk about their favourite books. It has been immensely enjoyable to run these sessions, and I’ve made a few new friends who share my interest in SFF. More generally, I’ve met a lot of incredible people at the Centre for Stories, including local writers Laurie Steed and Holden Sheppard. I’ve also connected with other emerging writers through the Fellowship who are immigrants, CaLD, queer, Indigenous/First Nation, and have often felt alienated at local writing events. It is brilliant to know that The Centre for Stories is actively diversifying and supporting marginalised writers through the Inclusion Matters Program as well as being a generally very inclusive and safe space.
Now that you’ve completed your Hot Desk Fellowship. Where will you take your writing?
During the Fellowship I wrote a series of haiku which has been accepted for publication in Creatrix. I also submitted a short story to the Armadale Writer’s Awards and won second place. I intend to continue running the SFF Collective at the Centre for Stories so that I can engage with and support SFF writing. My novel isn’t anywhere near finished yet, but I’ve made a lot of progress.
Can you briefly describe the piece of writing you submitted to the Centre for Stories at the conclusion of your Hot Desk Fellowship?
I submitted an excerpt from my fantasy novel, Valiant Dust. This is the novel that I’m also writing for my PhD. The title is taken from Much Ado About Nothing in which Beatrice is talking about not wanting to be ruled by a man, as men are made of an unruly substance. It’s set in the fictional city-state of Morgancast, an East-Asian inspired port city somewhat based on Hong Kong and Singapore under British Rule. The main character, Lock, is a witch, and finds himself implicated in the political affairs of the state while struggling with a personal crisis of identity and gender. The excerpt is set towards the beginning of the novel in which Lock has been expelled from boarding school for an incident involving witchcraft. Witchcraft is considered a feminine profession, and Lock’s interest in it places him outside of the gender binary, which in the hyper-masculine microcosm of boarding school means he is subject to bullying and exclusion. He is displaced and is dealing with depression, which in the world is understood as ‘melancholy’. The seasons in my setting are based on the four humours – black bile (melancholy), blood (sanguine), yellow bile (choleric), and phlegm (phlegmatic), which also reflects Lock’s emotional journey across the book. This excerpt takes place in the melancholic season.