Anika Donnison: When you’re not writing what do you do?
Ana Brawls: Mountain biking is my number one hobby, after reading. I have been riding for about seven years and participated in a few adventure races in the past, with another one coming up next month. Riding is a fantastic way to get me ready to write. I tend to go out for an hour or two, be with nature, and come home energised.
Making terrariums is another hobby that I took up just over a year ago. It’s also another creative outlet.
AD: You currently work within a Library and started the Margaret River Writers Group. Why do you write?
AB: Big question! I suppose the desire to write has always been there. I used to write letters, lots of them. To my dad when I was angry with him, to friends who moved away, and to boys I was interested in – I dropped the letters on their mailbox and ran for my life. As a young woman, I studied journalism because I wanted to be a war correspondent, hence moving to England to learn English – needless to say, I didn’t follow that career path.
The deep desire to write creatively only struck after my father suddenly died three months before my wedding. I returned to Australia after his funeral in Brazil and wrote a long monologue that resounded a lot like an angry letter. Then, I started writing poems and researching ideas for stories, all in English. However, I was still unsure of my writing skills in my second language and very insecure, so nobody got to read any of these early works.
The truth is, I write because I must. There is this need inside me, not in my mind as such, but more on my chest. I get this energy that needs to be released, normally triggered by a memory, a sound or an external input. When I don’t act on it for long periods, I get a little overwhelmed.
The Margaret River Writers Group has also been great for my writing skills. A few months ago, we started the Quill & Parchment Society Literary Journal. A medium for the participants of the group to get their stories “published”. I am working on the layout and design of the second issue at the moment. We distribute it via email to our friends and family.
AD: Is there a book that changed your life?
AB: I gave this question some thought. It’s difficult to pinpoint a book, I can easily mention several, but a life-changing experience only happened once – Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder. I was in my early twenties when I read it. Philosophy has always interested me, and this book helped me navigate questions that I didn’t know I had.
I will be a little naughty and mention one more book: Lanny by Max Potter, this book showed me what experimental fiction can look like, maybe I read it with a writer’s eye. But I loved it.
AD: What are the unexpected things that have come up in the early stages of your mentorship and how have you navigated it?
AB: Initially, it was the fear of sharing my writing. Before I met my mentor, Simone Lazaroo, I had only shared my pieces with a handful of people and the occasional tutor. But she was so amazing in our first meeting that this fear was immediately out of the window. This freedom allowed me to create without barriers. I shared the ideas I had and she was all in, which to me was great and scary at the same time. I learnt to trust in my abilities and find the balance to create.
Tapping into my Brazilian background has also been something that came up. Before the mentorship, I avoided accessing that part of me because it makes me homesick, and with everything that is happening, I am not sure when I will see my family again. Surprisingly, the mentorship allowed me to channel memories, thoughts and feelings on my writing, instead of the unpredictability of the future. The program has been great in that sense as well.
AD: You live in Margaret River, your mentor lives in the Perth metro area, and Centre for Stories is located in Northbridge – what has been the challenges and rewards of creatively collaborating remotely?
AB: The main challenge is feeling a bit isolated from Centre for Stories, which I remedied with the occasional trip to Perth. I believe it is important to make an effort, I feel so privileged to be part of this program that travelling to Perth is not a problem.
Working with Simone has been so easy, it seems like we have known each other our entire lives. We tend to meet in person, or, if it’s hard for any of us, via FaceTime. We talk at length every time we meet, regardless of the format, so I don’t think being far from each other has been an issue.
AD: You said you wanted to write a poem based on your recurring dream, that explores the intricacies of Brazilian and Aboriginal folklore. Did you decide to continue with this idea, and how has it developed?
AB: Well, that has been the most intriguing experience in my writing so far.
Early in the year, I wrote a prose in verse based on a recurring dream. During my first conversation with Simone, I realised I could turn this piece into a story that could incorporate my own family folklore. To link two distinctive cultures with a limit of words might be the trickiest work I have done so far, but it seems to pay off. Work on this story is helping me to find my voice as a writer. It’s such a revelation to understand the direction your craft is taking.
I have profound admiration and respect for the Australian Indigenous community. I want to make sure this piece is not offensive to those who read it, nor that it sounds like cultural appropriation. That is why being surrounded by the right people is so important, to put you in the right direction. I am proud of this piece; I am enjoying writing it, I hope people understand it.
AD: How has having another person working on your writing shape your own style so far?
AB: Simone has enabled my writing to flourish. She has a lot of faith in me, which I find a bit daunting. When I got my first drafts back from review, I had a little moment of panic. But through her own experience as a writer, Simone assured me that these first big edits tend to be normal. She is helping me create the best stories I can, without interfering in my writing style. It could have created doubt and fear, but her abilities only added rapport.
AD: Can you walk us through an ‘aha’ moment you’ve had so far in the program?
AB: I have had an ‘aha’ moment, which turned out to be the best writing advice I have heard so far.
A couple of months ago, I was at Centre for Stories making the most of the writing environment and using a free desk that was so kindly available to me. I was concentrating hard, and the writing was flowing like hot lava. Caroline Wood was talking to someone – I promise I wasn’t eavesdropping – and I only heard this phrase “time is the best editor.” I wrote it on the inside cover of my journal with the line “heard through the cracks.” It stuck with me as an honest moment of wisdom.
AD: Who is your dream collaborator?
AB: Can I say Simone Lazaroo? Honestly, I am wary of picking someone, I always worry about my English, so it needs to be someone who understands what it’s like to write in a second language, Simone is that sort of person.
But if I could choose anyone, past or present, it would be the late Brazilian writer and poet Cora Coralina.
AD: What are you and your mentor working on at the moment?
AB: I couldn’t foresee working on six pieces, but they were all there, just waiting to appear on the paper. Eventually, they became something more. After the first months, we decided to focus our energy on the three main short-stories that had potential, one of them, as mentioned, was exploring Indigenous and Brazilian folklore.
A second piece also incorporates Brazilian and Australian cultures in a somewhat dystopian future. The third short-story is set in Margaret River, and deals with themes of prejudice and homelessness.
Currently, I am working on the last edits of these stories and if time permits, I will go back to the other three pieces, that are slightly experimental in shape and see what happens.
Ana Brawls is a Librarian at the Margaret River Library and is a founding member of the Margaret River Writers Group.
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.