A CHAT WITH…
WORKSHOP PRESENTATION: A Rebellion-The Stella Prize
Sarah Ayoub is a Sydney-based freelance journalist and author. Her novels 'Hate is Such a Strong Word' and 'The Yearbook Committee' are contemporary stories of identity, belonging and discovery. She regularly speaks at schools and writer’s festivals about identity and self-worth in young adult fiction, and is passionate about empowering young people to see the value in their own personal stories.
Hi Sarah. This your first time at LitFest2444. Have you been to Port Macquarie previously?
“My husband's late grandfather retired in Port Macquarie and his aunt still lives there, so I have been lucky enough to visit a couple of times – it’s lovely. This will be my first time solo (although I am sure I will get up to some shenanigans with Kirsty Eagar!), so I am really looking forward to it. LitFest2444 sounds like a great program, and I am keen to talk about my work with readers in the area who might find my experiences growing up in South-Western Sydney a bit foreign.”
You travel to schools and writer's festivals to talk about writing, representation and identity. What can students expect from your workshop?
“Representing The Stella Prize in schools always has an element of the subversive to it. So, while my workshops will cover some basic bits and bobs on creating characters, constructing settings and cultivating good dialogue, most of this will be done via a lens on gender, power and the intersections of our identity. I'll be working with students by sharing my reimagining of a particular piece of writing and encouraging them to do the same and in the process help them enhance those fundamentals of creative writing.”
Your novels have been tales of identity, belonging and discovery. Do you have a particular message for female students?
“I guess I just want them to know that their stories and their ideas are always valued and important - just as they are. Young women, particularly in this age of constant media consumption, are constantly told that they're not enough. That they have to change who they are in order to be important. I happen to think that girls and women never stop growing, and while their potential for understanding their identity comes with age, it really begins in adolescence. I don't like to diminish the magnitude of this phase of important growth, instead, I want them to harness it all - the good, the bad and the downright embarrassing - because that's what makes real and authentic storytelling. Writing fosters so much empathy and understanding, so writing authentically has the power to usher in change on both a personal and collective level. Stories are powerful, and so are identities and experiences, and I just want the students to know that they can write magical, amazing, powerful, beautiful stories by looking within, and knowing they have something valuable to say, and that they deserve to be heard.”
You are a freelance journalist and a published author. Do these writing styles complement each other?
“I love that they're at once the same and yet so different. The same in that there's always that initial process of gathering ideas and research and figuring out the crux of something, but then the approach heads in two different directions. When I am working on something journalistic, it's always grounded in truth - trends or news or facts or the experiences of the people I’m interviewing. Creative writing is often so much more frustrating because often, I’m creating so much from scratch. The facts aren't there in front of me for me to put together.
There's so much material to be made - we fashion our characters out of nothing, we put words in their mouth, we chart their everyday. And all of it is a complete fabrication, but like a news piece or feature story, there's something to be taken from that. To quote Khaled Hosseini, writing fiction is the act of weaving a series of lies to arrive at a greater truth, but journalistic work is distinguishing existing truths from lies or the things that we can't often see.”
During your workshop you challenge students to reimagine works from the literary canon to explore the position of power in how we read and tell stories. Please explain!
“This workshop is the brainchild behind the team at Stella Schools, but it's grounded in the fact that those in power often dictate history and even contemporary circumstance. The Stella Prize was borne out of the realisation that female authors were severely underrepresented in review pages, curriculums and even literary prizes, but yet in recent years, they were publishing more books than men. But, systems everywhere can be skewed, and stories can be skewed too. It's all about who is telling them and what their backgrounds and experiences are. It's why there's such a push for more diverse storytelling now - so that it can accurately reflect the wider world and its diversity. This workshop is all about turning classic or famous pieces of literature on their head. How does one author's view of love, or work or even their homeland differ from another's? We all have our biases and preconceptions and even our personal privileges - this task is just about looking at something that was written 400 years ago or 40 years ago or even 4 years ago - something that has become renowned - and reimagining it based on what we personally know, thus weaving our own varied and complex stories into the work.”
Thanks, Sarah. See you at LitFest2444.
Read more about Sarah Ayoub at http://sarahayoub.com/bio
© Laurie Sullivan