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.Raphael Farmer is a storyteller, gamer, YouTuber, RTRFM presenter and quite possibly Stephen King’s biggest fan. Raphael was a participant in the 2018 Indian Ocean Mentorship Program with the Centre for Stories, and most recently, the 2019 Centre for Stories Inclusion Matters Hot Desk Fellowship.
Please introduce yourself.
My name is Raphael Farmer and I’m a storyteller. I am originally from Mauritius and immigrated to Australia about fifteen years ago. I came here for my university studies and stuck around. It had been my dream ever since I was a child to come to Australia and I can say that I have accomplished that dream now that I am officially an Australian. I grew up gay and Muslim. I speak three languages: French, English and Creole. I often binge read several books at once and Stephen King is my absolute favourite author. I write gay stories, make videos (both in English and French) about gaming (and pop culture) on YouTube and I am a presenter on RTRFM.
Can you tell us about your writing practice?
I used to think that I needed to wait for inspiration to come around to be able to write. To do it well. But for a while now, I have changed my mind about that. I realised, after hearing many authors talk about it, that inspiration is a factor that should be considered more like a bonus to when you write rather than the engine you rely on. I have therefore started practicing writing everyday no matter what. I have failed a few times on that front because I can be very lazy sometimes and I have this issue that if I write a crappy sentence, it takes me out of the zone. In the end, I’m learning to do two very important things: write everyday and let go of being precious about what I write. Finally, to add to the mix, I aim for at least 1000 words a day but really the goal is 2000 words a day.
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?
I began the fellowship working on a manuscript that is my current work-in-progress. I thought I knew where I was going but as I worked on it, I realised I was being pulled in too many directions. The fellowship allowed me to rethink my position on the manuscript and to find the voice I was looking for. It took me a while to figure it out and that included constantly writing different versions of one scene, outlining the story further and digging deeper into what I wanted to talk about with the story. At this point in time, I feel confident in what I’m doing and where I’m heading towards with this work-in-progress. I’m actually very excited about it!
Throughout the duration of the Hot Desk Fellowship, what changed for you in terms of practice?
I didn’t use to write every day. I used to think about my stories every day, that has never changed for as long as I can remember. What the fellowship changed for me is the way I approach writing. I have been more focused on getting words on the page than ever before. I can think about stories in my head, day in and day out, but it is when I write them down that I have a better understanding of the mechanics behind those stories. Now, I often start writing an idea down and before I know it, it becomes a fully-fledged scene that could be extended into a short story. This has really helped my practice, more than I can say.
How did you find the culture of the Centre for Stories?
The Centre for Stories, to me, is often like an oasis in the desert. There have been days where I felt depleted in terms of creative energy and when I spent time at the Centre, I could feel that energy going back up again. To be in a space where art, creativity and writing are valued, encouraged and most importantly: understood, is something very precious. Being amongst other artists also helps a lot. They understand what you go through and how you feel. Unfortunately, it’s not always the case with people outside of your artistic circle. I have learned that being surrounded by people who are in-tune to what you want to achieve is something incredibly important for me as an artist. I know who to talk to about my writing, about my art, and to whom I don’t need to develop much further than a basic answer as they won’t be subtle about the fact that they don’t think much of what you do and who you are.
Robert Wood ran a series of workshops around reading, editing with Camha Pham and publishing. How did you find these workshops and how will you apply what you learned?
That was one of the things I looked forward to the most with being part of the Hot Desk Fellowship. Having the chance to speak with Robert Wood and Camha Pham about the behind-the-scenes, so to speak, of the publishing industry was a positive experience. I got to ask questions and I have learned quite a few things that will help me in my career. Just to give a couple of examples; it was interesting to learn about the international book market and the opportunities that are available worldwide. Robert Wood shared his experience as well in terms of being published in journals, collections and more which was an insight into the various roads that lay ahead of me. In short, I would say that the workshops helped in showing me doors I didn’t realise existed in the world of publishing.
As part of the Inclusion Matters Project, we took five Hot Desk Fellows to Melbourne for the Digital Writers’ Festival. Can you tell us of your experience?
I hadn’t been to Melbourne since I was eight years old and it was the very first city I saw of Australia. Heading back there for an artistic event was special. I enjoyed the city, it felt compact and full of life. I walked outside late at night and ended up on a main street where people were laughing and having a good time. That was a personal highlight for me as I love exploring urban jungles. I heard Melbourne was an artistic city and I was glad that it was the case. There were many things happening in the city and visiting a place like The Wheeler Centre was incredible. I have met some cool people at the events we attended as part of the Inclusion Matters program and on the night of our performance on stage, we got to see some of Melbourne’s talent.
Being on stage and reading some of my work was a huge moment for me. I felt at home on stage and I loved connecting with the audience. It felt very special and I’m so grateful that I got to experience that. Another personal highlight for me was tasting Korean Fried Chicken for the first time and it was delicious! Anybody who knows me knows my undying love for Fried Chicken so it’s always good to try different and new variations of it. Being in Melbourne, going to The Wheeler Centre, performing a reading on stage, they all made me feel happy and reinforced my conviction that I was on the right track in my life. I am doing what I’m meant to be doing.
Now that you’ve completed your Hot Desk Fellowship, where will you take your writing?
I am going to finish my work-in-progress, mould it into the best shape I can, and see where it takes me. I have started paying close attention to competitions, journals, publications opportunities more than ever before. I used to be solely focused on getting writing done and ignoring all these things happening around me. I had to figure out what I wanted to do and now that I have a clearer idea of the direction I have taken I feel ready to see what’s out there and what could be good opportunities for me. It is an exciting time and I look forward to putting myself out there more than I have ever done! I will work as hard as I can to get a novel published sooner than later. That’s my #1 goal!
Can you briefly describe the piece of writing you submitted to the Centre for Stories at the conclusion of your Hot Desk Fellowship?
It is a short story called A Thousand Doors. I had this idea for a little while but wasn’t sure how to approach it and all of a sudden, it all clicked. It is the story of a man who has a lot of regrets in his life and who faces something unexpected. I wrote this inspired from reading a lot of Stephen King and also from my own anxieties and insecurities. The character isn’t me but he has a piece of me somewhere in there. It felt good writing something like this. There was a sense of freedom to it.