The first thing you see when entering Cheyenne Valero’s room is a dark brown bookshelf, filled to the brim with rows of colourful books pressed together. The shelf is tall, almost double her height, and Cheyenne smiles when I point out her collection in awe.
Reading has always been one of Valero’s passions. Her interest started growing in primary school, and soon evolved into a love for storytelling and writing. The novels she wrote were mostly kept to herself, although the few she shared amongst friends were well-liked, which only made her passion grow.
“Having a career as an author is pretty far-fetched, but I just knew I wanted to work in the writing industry somehow,” she says.
Valero is currently the deputy editor of Curtin Writers Club – next year, she will lead the publication of the student club’s seventh annual literary journal, Coze, as editor-in-chief. Her involvement in the club started with a simple question about editing opportunities on offer, which led to a role as editor in her first year.
Early this year, the 20-year-old pursued another editor opportunity with Perth-based student publication, Grok Magazine.
“I’d say my previous experience with the Curtin Writers Club and being deputy editor this year has helped me get the job. I managed to get it straight away and was put in the category of contributing editor for people at Curtin,” she says.
Beyond networking, meeting new people and building her writing skills and portfolio, Valero’s involvement in these local publications has given her industry experience that will help her step into a future writing career.
She recognises pursuing a creative career is filled with uncertainty, but the first steps she’s taken to realise her dreams has helped to slowly open the doors and introduce her to new opportunities.
The local scene
Despite being a creative writing student, Valero only found out about the local publications and organisations in Perth through the connections she made after joining Curtin Writers Club and Grok Magazine.
This leads her to believe more work is needed to better publicise the range of opportunities that exists within the local writing space.
The aspiring writer thinks the writing organisations and publications are currently limited to their circles and need to do more to ensure young and diverse writers know about the opportunities available for them.
The missing piece
Centre for Stories co-founder and chief executive officer Caroline Wood thinks the writing scene in Perth, and wider Australia, has a long way to go. Wood says the writing industry is monocultural and does not showcase diverse stories that reflect the contemporary Australian population.
“I certainly think existing organisations can be far more inclusive and diverse than they are at the moment,” she says.
“There’s a lot of talk about being inclusive and diverse, but when you look at the composition of staff, when you look at the composition of a board – it’s not very inclusive.”Caroline Wood
“That’s where it begins, really. The commitment has to be demonstrated in the organisation.”
Centre for Stories is a not-for-profit arts organisation based in Northbridge that works with people from diverse backgrounds. The centre supports oral and written forms of storytelling, with a focus on people who are underrepresented in the creative sector, particularly those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. The organisation also works with First Nations people, those in the LGBTQIA+ community, and people with disabilities.
Fellowships, mentoring, desk spaces, and publication opportunities are some of the forms of support the centre provides.
The centre also runs a pop up literary space called the Story Lounge, designed to bring its work to new audiences.
As someone from a CaLD background, Wood recognised the writing sector was lacking support for writers from diverse backgrounds – which led to her co-founding the centre.
“A lot of what we’ve done in the past few years has been elevating these voices through publications, and also through giving people opportunities. I think it’s a long way, I think it’s a slow process. It could be many years until we see the impact,” she says.
Wood says the lack of published writers from diverse backgrounds means expectations are put on the few published diverse writers be the voice for the wider CaLD community.
“It puts a lot of pressure on them to be representatives of whole groups of people,” she says.
Centre for Stories program coordinator Luisa Mitchell says the centre is publishing more compared to traditional publishing spaces, which have been struggling to put out work due to the surge in online audiences.
The centre publishes writing anthologies, produces an online literary journal called Portside Review, and supports other new small publications like Pulch – with a goal of making publishing more accessible for emerging diverse writers.
Mitchell leads the centre’s oral storytelling program, which she says is an accessible form of storytelling that removes the language barriers which hold many people back from writing.
“That’s the main mission at the Centre for Stories; to empower people who have historically been underrepresented or marginalised and haven’t been able to share their stories,” she says.
Carving a space for youth
Luisa Mitchell is also a writer based in Perth. When the 25-year-old and her friends noticed the lack of spaces for young emerging writers during the in-between period of their life post-graduation and pre-career, they decided to create their own youth-focused literary publication.
In 2020, Pulch was born.
Through funding and support, Pulch has grown from an idea into a publication for online and print forms of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction written by Western Australian youth. The youth-run publication produced its first physical journal in 2021 and will be soon releasing its second issue.
Mitchell says beyond being a space to centre the perspectives of young people in WA, involvement in publications like Pulch allows fledgling writers and editors to get industry experience which can act as a steppingstone towards a future career in the writing industry.
“There aren’t enough publishing opportunities and outlets for young people who are just getting started and don’t necessarily have a name for themselves yet,” she says.
“So these baby programs like Pulch and Grok Magazine are really pivotal.”
Mitchell adds it’s important to recognise that a career in writing is multi-layered. Alongside writing, people typically need to find other pathways to support their writing career whether it be through running creative writing workshops or hosting presentations.
Mitchell says being proactive is vital for new young emerging writers to overcome the barriers their age and inexperience may present.
The Broome-born writer says the emergence of small publications like Pulch makes her believe, with proper funding and support, they can lead the way in the future of Perth’s local writing space.
Mitchell says there is no shortage of young people who build their own spaces. Instead, she says the issue at hand is the lack of support for these newly-established start-ups, which often leads to it being shut down when the founders have no one to pass it down to.
“The main problem is the burnout and the sustainability of those things,” she says.
“Which is why more permanent funding is so vital.”
A hub for connection
Writing WA chief executive Sharon Flindell says WA’s writing scene has continued to punch well above its weight in recent years. Many of the nation’s popular writers hail from WA, including award-winning author Tim Winton, and Aboriginal writers Kim Scott and Sally Morgan.
The children’s book and young adult genre, along with poetry, are also filled with local talent.
“The WA writing sector today is exceptionally vibrant and diverse, having continued to build on a tradition begun by our original storytellers, the First Nations people of WA,” she says.
Writing WA was established in 2005, with a goal to build opportunities for local writers. The organisation helps to connect writers to resources and opportunities. It also organises large-scale writing festivals – like the recent Quantum Words Perth festival and the Ubud Readers & Writers Festival.
Flindell says Writing WA supports diverse and emerging writers of all ages by creating opportunities and platforms for new work.
“Our membership includes organisations that work directly with emerging writers across all platforms, and we host a Literati Database of emerging and established writers to help them gain paid work,” she says.
She says WA has a bright future ahead as there is genuine inclusivity underpinning the local writing space.
The next chapter
Abbey Carson studying creative writing and professional writing and publishing in Perth, and is also on the journey to pursue a future in the writing industry. As an aspiring editor, Abbey has put in effort to ensure she will have a host of experience under her belt when she graduates university.
Carson is currently Editor-in-Chief of Curtin Writers Club. Her role in the club has led to further opportunities from people who have learnt about her experience – such as her editorial internship with Portside Review and a role as a communications assistant at Curtin University.
She believes emerging smaller organisations like Portside Review can grow to become the future of Perth’s writing scene.
“I used to think I had to go to Sydney or London to pursue a career in the writing industry, but now I know it’s possible to have it here.”Abbey Carson
Carson says organisations like the Centre for Stories, Pulch, and Curtin Writers Club provide a space for writers and editors to come together while building a platform to support different forms of writing, which in turn allows a wider range of writers to get exposure.
But above all, what Carson says she about being in these spaces is the passion she finds within them.
“There’s something sort of homely and cozy about the smaller communities and teams you work in here,” she says.
“They’re fostering a community that’s going to grow together and get to know each other, and it’s so interconnected.”
Valero hopes there will be more growth and awareness of Perth’s writing scene in the coming years.
“The bigger the writing scene gets, the better it would be – and the more opportunities it would give for writers.”Cheyenne Valero