Centre for Stories: What do you do outside of writing? What is your most surprising passion?
Franchesca Walker: If we’re purely basing it on the amount of time I spend on anything other than writing (and excluding the obvious eating, sleeping and shitting), I’d say I garden, read, tramp (the Kiwi version of hiking), do what I like to call a ‘walk-shuffle’ (which is basically interval training but my jog phases are too slow to be called actual jogging) and yell at people in overly-large cars who forget there’s such a thing as an indicator.
CFS: Why do you write?
FW: For some reason, putting words on the page helps me figure out what I think about the world around me. I also love being in a flow state as much as possible and writing seems to be the fastest way of getting there.
CFS: When did you decide to pursue writing and what triggered that decision?
FW: I’ve pretty much always written, although in the past the majority of my work was for other people—as a historian then report writer, I mainly pumped out reports for the organisations who helped pay my bills.
I only really started pursuing my own writing after my grandfather died, back in 2017. I spoke at his funeral and afterwards great aunties and uncles who I hadn’t seen for years kept coming up to me and saying, ‘Oh yes, you’re the writer, aren’t you?’ They knew about me because Poppa had sent them some of my essays and speeches from high school. I hadn’t written anything like that for years, but it suddenly struck me—if Poppa said I was a writer, then I’d better get busy writing!
CFS: What are you currently reading and why?
FW: I’ve got a few on the go at the moment, although I’d like to stress that this isn’t evidence that I’m well-read but that I’m incredibly fickle and jump from book to book depending on my mood. Here they are, in no particular order:
Edward Said’s memoir, Out of Place – I read some of Said’s work back in university then never went near him again. When I saw him on the shelf of a second-hand book shop, I figured it was time to learn a bit more about him.
Orhan Pamuk’s memoir, Istanbul – I’m fascinated by the history of Istanbul and how a sense of place shapes our lives, so a book that combines both seemed perfect.
The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson – I’m trying to read more about climate change and one of my friends recommended Ministry to me. I might have to admit defeat, though, because I seemed to have stalled halfway through the book (although in my defence, it is 563 pages long and I’ve reached page 389, which any author other than Robinson would see constitutes a full book).
Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe – I’m prepping for this month’s First Nations Book Club, where fellow Centre for Stories’ alum Daniel Hansen will be facilitating a discussion on Dark Emu.
One of the Centre for Stories’ crew also recommended fantasy writer Sarah J. Maas to me and now I’m hooked so I’m making my way through her back catalogue.
CFS: Is that also an inspiration for your current work?
FW: I’m sure something somewhere in any one of those books will be inspiring me!
CFS: Did you have any ‘aha’ moments while you were on the hot desk?
FW: I don’t really have ‘aha’ moments, which I’m now worried is a sign that there’s not much going on upstairs.
CFS: Not at all! Our differences are what make us interesting. 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?
FW: Find or cultivate a group of people who’ll drag you back from the edge when you’re convinced everything you’re writing is absolutely rubbish. I started out by going to a monthly writing group at my local library, then signed up for Rosemary Stevens’ short memoir writing course where I met my next writing group. The support I received from the amazing women in this second writing group then gave me the confidence to start submitting my writing to publications and applying for the Hot Desk Fellowship.
CFS: Centre for Stories is about taking things at your own pace, working with others, and providing a safe place for all. How has this space enabled you to think and explore your work?
FW: When I think of the Centre for Stories, two Māori concepts come to mind: manaakitanga and whanaungatanga. Manaakitanga is the process of showing respect, generosity and care for others while whanaungatanga is a relationship that’s developed through shared experiences and ultimately results in a shared sense of belonging. Whanaungatanga means everyone in the group has a responsibility to support and strengthen everyone else in the group.
Writing can be an incredibly vulnerable process. You’re not wearing your heart on your sleeve so much as etching it into paper for everyone to read and critique. So having a space where manaakitanga and whanaungatanga are so present—from the cups of tea to conversations about good books—is a true gift.
CFS: That’s very beautifully said, Franchesca. The concept of manaakitanga and whanaungatanga is really lovely and it’s nice to have new words to describe what’s going on here. What will you be working on next?
FW: A lot of my fellowship was spent writing a memoir, which still has a lot of work to do, so I’ll be trucking away on that.
Reading Sarah J. Maas has also got me wondering whether I could write a bit of fantasy. I used to read heaps of YA fantasy—especially anything by Tamora Pierce—but stopped for some reason once I left high school. Anything I write will no doubt be crap, but still… it might be an interesting exercise.
Franchesca Walker is a writer and storyteller who grew up in Aotearoa New Zealand and is gradually learning to call Australia home. Her work explores her Māori and Pākehā identities and how they can be navigated while living outside the country in which they were defined.
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.