Rafeif Ismail

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.

Rafeif Ismail is an award-winning emerging multilingual WA writer interested in exploring home, belonging, and identity. Rafief first came to the Centre for Stories in 2016 and was involved in an emerging writers project for African Writers called Ways of Being Here. Rafeif’s work has since been published in anthologies and journals across Australia.

A photo of Rafeif Ismail standing in front of a bright orange wall smiling

Please introduce yourself.

Kaya! My name is Rafeif or Rai. I’m a student, creative, and absolute nerd. I am an award-winning emerging multilingual WA writer who explores themes of home, belonging and Australian identity in the 21st century as a third culture youth of the Sudanese diaspora. My work has been published in anthologies and journals across Australia.

Can you tell us about your writing practice?

My writing begins and ends with planning. That can often be a problem as I tend to get too stuck in the details (hell is a four-hour search for the perfect word in an eight-word sentence). I write across different genres, but my favourite part is always worldbuilding, whether that means creating an entirely new universe from scratch or examining our current reality and how it fits into the narratives I’m writing.

As a multilingual speaker, I tend to codeswitch a lot in my everyday speech, and I see that reflected in my writing. It can be frustrating at times as some things cannot be translated and so I have to find a way to incorporate an element or sentiment without losing the flow of a piece.

I carry a notebook in my bag and my notes app, both always ready in case I need to jot down ideas on the train, when walking or even in class! I also love taking photos to use as reference points for scenes.

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?

At the beginning of my fellowship I came in with multiple projects and a very ambitious timeline. I had finished a screenwriting intensive with AFTRS (WA Talent Camp) in the week prior to my fellowship, and instead of transitioning from screenwriting to prose, I worked on my playwriting skills for a bit, which bridged both well.

The fellowship gave me space to write, without distractions, and with support always there if I needed it.

Throughout the duration of the Hot Desk Fellowship, what changed for you in terms of practice?

With more time and space, I learned to be flexible with my work and more kind to myself. As the fellowship days were from 9-5, I was able to structure my days well, so in the morning I may expand on a fiction piece while in the afternoon I would do research on a nonfiction work.

I also loved the fact that I could ask my peers for feedback, it helped me grow as a writer and improved my work tremendously.

A photo of Rafeif Ismail standing in front of a bright orange wall smiling

How did you find the culture of the Centre for Stories?

I have been going to the Centre for Stories since late 2016. It’s my literary home in Western Australia. I don’t know if there is any place like it in the world, a space that envelops people with care, skills and support and spurs us onwards in our creative journeys.

The Centre is the first literary space I recommend for any emerging writer I meet in Boorloo, or elsewhere in WA. The support and confidence I gained from the Centre has been instrumental to my growth as a young creative.

What relationships have you developed from your Hot Desk Fellowship and where will you take your writing?

I was so lucky to meet other writers and build new friendships!

I’m currently working on a manuscript that I completed a draft of during the fellowship. I’ve also been lucky enough to be appointed co-director at the literary journal Djed Press. There have been a few publications already from work developed during the fellowship, a few more on the horizon and some really exciting seeds that I hope will grow into fantastic projects!

Can you briefly describe the piece of writing you submitted to the Centre for Stories at the conclusion of your Hot Desk Fellowship?

The City They Made is a piece of work following a group of refugees as they enter the city of A-Mal. It was inspired by one of my favourite short stories, Ursula Le Guin’s The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.

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