“I love to tell the story of my rejection and put it out there in the world because I know that so many emerging writers are facing the same dilemmas that I was.”

Each month we celebrate an Australian debut release of fiction or non-fiction with the Kill Your Darlings First Book Club. For September that debut is Rawah Arja’s The F Team, out now from Giramondo Publications. The F Team is a rich and funny novel that draws an intimate portrait of Western Sydney families and friendships.

Our October First Book Club title will be Hysteria by Katerina Bryant (NewSouth Books). Our theme song is Broke for Free’s ‘Something Elated’.

Further reading:

Read Ellen Cregan’s review of The F Team in our September Books Roundup.

Read Rawah’s Shelf Reflection on her reading habits and the writing that inspires her.

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Let us know what you think by rating and reviewing in your app of choice!

TRANSCRIPT

Alice Cottrell: Welcome back to the Kill Your Darlings Podcast. I’m KYD publisher Alice Cottrell and today I’ll be bringing you our September First Book Club interview. Our pick this month is The F Team by Rawah Arja, out now from Giramondo Publishing. Rawah Arja is a writer and teacher from Western Sydney. Her writing has featured in Arab, Australian, Other, SBS Voices and at the Sydney Writers Festival. The F Team is a rich and funny young adult novel that draws an intimate portrait of Western Sydney families and friendships. First Book Club host Ellen Cregan spoke with Rawah to ask her about the book.

Ellen Cregan: Hi Rawah, it’s so nice to have you on the phone. We’re just going to start the podcast with a quick reading from the book, so go ahead.

Rawah Arja:

Picture this: an Arab man with a whistle around his neck, surrounded by other bearded Arab men, yelling in Arabic, followed by more Arabs who were also yelling in Arabic.

To the outsider or the security guard calling for backup, it might have seemed a little terroristy, but it was just an extra-paranoid man, with a purple spotted beard, leading a bunch of men and women having a regular conversation twice as loud as average humans.

Dad blew his whistle a couple of times and waved his hands in the air. ‘Yallah. Yallah. We’re here. Everyone take seat.’

An old woman looked at me. ‘What a strange man.’

‘Hey! That’s our dad,’ Amira said, annoyed.

I pinched her leg. ‘Don’t listen to her,’ I told the woman. ‘She’s adopted.’

We found a couple of seats while the rest of my family stood around and waited. The kids all ran up to the glass barrier to see who came through the arrival doors.

Dad walked around, counting everyone and marking them off his list.

Yes, he carried a roll of names.

Huss: Where you at?

Tariq: Airport. My Aunty’s comin 2day.

Ibby: You guys doin a barby?

Tariq: Yeah.

Ibby: Done. I’m in.

PJ: I’m in too.

Huss: We’ll be there when we see the smoke in your street.

Two hours went by with me answering Amira’s ‘Would ou Rather?’ questions until we heard my cousins shout with joy that she had arrived. Aunty Salma walked out pushing her trolley, with seven Louis Vuitton suitcases stacked on top of each other. She looked like an Arab movie star covered in jewellery and a face full of plastic surgery. She wore a bedazzled denim onesie, which made her look like a disco ball. Aunty Salma stopped to take a couple of selfies in the middle of the ramp, then continued to push her trolley in her red high heels until she found us and waved.

The kids all ran up and bombarded her with hugs. You could tell she was uncomfortable by how she tried to shuffle out of their hugs. Next, Mum and all the women rushed up to her, suffocating her with flowers and balloons. They tried to do the whole three-kiss-and-hug greeting, but Aunty Salma thought it would be better to respond with air kisses. My uncles then took over the luggage before a mini-fight broke out as each tried to outdo the others, arguing over who would carry her suitcases.

If you didn’t know us, you’d think Aunty Salma was getting kidnapped. Security ran up the ramp, explaining to my family that they needed to wait until people reached the bottom. There was a massive line of people wanting to get out and my family were blocking the way.

My brothers and I waited until she walked over to greet us. She looked like she’d come out of a tornado. Her red lipstick was smudged and her long black hair was a mess.

Dad blew his whistle one more time and we gathered outside the doors. He counted us and marked off his list and back we paraded to our van. It was only when we were halfway home that Dad realised that the Australian flag was still stuck on top of the van, flapping in the breeze.

Aunty Salma sat between Abdul and me, still trying to catch her breath. Her arms were clutched to her chest and she looked around our van like it was a moving rubbish tip. Mum asked about her flight and how everyone was doing in Lebanon, in particular my grandparents. The last time Mum had visited Lebanon was before Amira was born, so she wanted to know every detail—details my aunty couldn’t be bothered to share.

‘Don’t tell me you still have those bees, brother?’ she asked Uncle Charlie in her American accent.

‘Yes, Amira and I have business,’ he replied proudly from the backseat. ‘MashAllah, is doing very well. I show you when we get home.’

‘No,’ she said, looking in her compact mirror. ‘I don’t want to go anywhere near them.’

Uncle Charlie’s smile slowly disappeared and his shoulders slumped. ‘Okay. Up to you.’

Saff leaned forward and whispered in my ear. ‘Man, she’s savage. I feel like we should say something for Khorloo.’

I nodded.

A couple of minutes went by in silence before Saff leaned forward again. ‘I meant you should say something.’

‘Why me?’

‘Cos I’m the oldest and you have to listen. Plus, Uncle C always has our back. He gave us money to buy the PS4 remember?’

I took a deep breath. ‘You know, Khala, you can save a lot of money with Khorloo’s bees?’

‘What do you mean, Tariq?’ Aunty Salma asked.

‘Like, instead of all the botox you get on your face, you could just get some of his bees to sting you.’

I could hear my brothers try to hold their laughter while Mum shook her head at me in the rear-view mirror.

‘I don’t do botox,’ Aunty Salma said. ‘It’s a new treatment in Beirut that only certain people can afford. So no, I don’t need my brother’s cheap bees.’

My uncle patted my hair a few times. Mum still stared at me through the mirror.

We arrived home, and the women rushed out of the cars and ran inside to get everything ready. The men sat around the tables, smoked a few packets and waited for the food to be set up.

‘Yallah, food is ready,’ Dad called out, officially opening the buffet.

People leaned over each other, filling their plates as Uncle Charlie threw sizzling chicken from the barbecue onto their plates. Even though Aunty Salma insulted him almost every minute, he still fixed her a plate of food with extra tabouli. The kefta and lamb skewers almost took out a couple of people’s eyes and the tabouli was gone before you could bat an eyelid. Aunty sat in the middle of everything, which meant that not only did everyone lean over her to get more food, but also that garlic oil dripped into her hair. My cousins laughed and ate while Mum ran from one side of the pergola to the other, making sure everyone was looked after.

The boys arrived and wasted no time digging in. We sat away from the main crowd, under the mulberry tree, where my dad had set up some lights. Ibby and PJ licked their fingers like they hadn’t eaten in weeks then stole from Huss’s plate when he wasn’t looking.

‘So I heard Mariam gave it to ya?’ Huss asked with his mouth full.

Ibby cracked up. ‘Bro, Uber put it on him too. Wallah that guy kills me.’

‘First of all, no one ‘put it on me’ and secondly, it worked out alright in the end,’ I said, swinging on my chair. ‘There’s a girl called Jamila and she’s now my partner for this poetry thing.’

‘Is she hot?’ PJ wiped the garlic oil from the side of his mouth with a piece of chicken.

‘Yeah, but she’s also different.’ I had done a quick search for her online but I couldn’t find any trace of her.

‘Different how?’ Huss asked. ‘Like Mariam different?’

‘Nah, not like Mariam. I don’t know, man. If anyone put it on me, it was her.’

Ibby slid my plate his way. ‘Bro, I wanna meet this girl now. The only girl in Punchbowl who’s put it on Tariq. I already like her.’

EC: Thanks Rawah, that was really great.

RA: Thank you, sorry.

EC: No, I love that section so much, it cracks me up, I was trying not to laugh into the microphone. (BOTH LAUGH) So if you, just, just really quickly, what’s your elevator pitch for The F Team in terms of plot?

RA: Ooh, that’s pretty tricky, ah! Um, a book of a coming-of-age story of people in minority, or people of colour, who try to find their way in life. However they have to do it by going to the other side, i. E. Being in a football team with boys from Cronulla, and they have to put their differences aside to win the cup.

EC: That’s really good, that definitely sums it up perfectly. So first question I’m going to ask you is like, going back way, way, way, way, way to the start—I know that it was quite a journey for this book to get to publication, and that you submitted it to a few places—I think you wrote a little note about it in the, um…

RA: Acknowledgements?

EC: Yeah, in the acknowledgements—sorry, my brain. So can you tell me about this book’s journey to publication?

RA: I think I would give JK Rowling a run for her money, to be quite honest with you. (LAUGHS) I started in 2016, and I started writing this book because as a kid I couldn’t find a book that I connected with, and along my teenage years I came across a book called Looking For Alibrandi, and Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah, and that book changed my life. And I knew later on in my teaching career when I came across many boys and girls who also didn’t like to read, that they found that there was the same problem, that they couldn’t find the book they connected with. And so halfway through my teaching journey I realised that I think I can—you know, if the book doesn’t exist then I, I should create it. And so, rejection after rejection, I think you would, you would see a picture in the dictionary next the word ‘rejection’ with my face there, with two thumbs up saying ‘hey, that’s me’. I don’t know, I think…it’s a book that, um, I don’t think people really saw the potential in, to be quite honest with you, and it didn’t fit anywhere. Just like my life, I just don’t fit anywhere. And so I sent it to so many different publishers, agents, I even went into fellowships that I was rejected for—one that broke my heart was a Western Sydney fellowship, and I tick, I ticked all the boxes, and I was like, surely I should get this, I am the epitome of Western Sydney! And I was rejected, and I was heartbroken, and I thought to myself, there’s really—is it really bad, the story? Or is it just…you know, literature can be very subjective, and so fast forward 6 months after that rejection in 2018, Felicity Castagna, who was on the panel to choose on that fellowship called me up and said, ‘look, I haven’t got that story out of my mind. It’s far from finished, I think, I think I can help you, because I’m starting a mentorship program for Western Sydney women called the finishing School,’ and she said, ‘I’d love to mentor you.’ and so for two years I was under the best mentorship possible with Giramondo and Felicity, as well as Randa as well, and they really helped me get this book to a standard in which it could be published. But yeah, nobody liked it at the beginning! (LAUGHS).

EC: That such a, that’s such a lovely, lovely story to, you know, have someone see the potential in something that is unpolished because I feel like, you know, a story isn’t about how good your copy editing is in the first draft, it’s about, like, the bones of the story, and this has fabulous bones to it, and I’m glad somebody saw that.

RA: Oh, thank you very much. It’s difficult because I’m not from the writing world, I don’t know any writers. And so I wish someone said to me that rejection is normal, that, you know, I shouldn’t take it so personally, and that crying myself to sleep at night is just not going to do anything, (LAUGHS) or eating that tub of ice cream is not going to get that book published. So I wish I had mentorship early on, but I guess, you know, everything happens for a reason. And I think I love to tell the story of my rejection and put it out there in the world, because I know that so many emerging writers are facing the same dilemmas that I am, and I just want to let them know that, believe you me, nobody’s going to get rejected more than myself, and I still managed to get it published, so please don’t give up.

EC: And rejection’s such a key part of actually being a writer, like, you know, I speak to debut writers every month for this podcast, and we always talk about rejection, ‘cause it’s, you know, I don’t think anybody doesn’t experience it, it’s a really important part of, like, shaping your story as well.

RA: Yeah, I, I, and you know, rejections for me, now that I’ve matured a little in the, particularly with my skills in writing, rejection is rather you as an artist going back a few steps and going, okay, what is it that I still need to do—the story still there, like you said, you have the bones there, it’s just now putting, you know, the flesh onto that arc of your story. And I always say to, to the youth that I work with in schools, it’s—constructive criticism, though it can be constructive in one way, it still hurts. And so you’re allowed to feel upset. I always, you know, don’t suppress that emotion. Because once you feel upset, you know, give yourself 24 hours, go okay, now I can look at it with a clear mind, what is it that, you know, the rejection is trying to tell me? You know, should I obviously fix my characters? Should I work on the plot? What is it that I need to take out, what is that I need to add—you’re constructive about it once you accept that rejection.

EC: Yeah, that’s really, that’s really great, and I’m glad that those young people are hearing that now as well. So you—you briefly mentioned finishing School before, can you explain what that is and tell me a bit about that?

RA: So it’s basically one of the first group of women writers and artists, founded by Felicity Castagna, Sheila Pham and, oh my God, my brains gone blank, but there’s another incredible woman, her name will come to me, I’m sorry…

EC: Yeah, no stress.

RA: Um, yeah, and so basically it’s working with Felicity or Sheila or whoever it is to basically help you from start to finish with whatever manuscript that you have. And they set you up in, to meet different people, to go to different schools, if it’s creative writing or something that you want to teach, they pretty much network you to, to basically stand on your own feet, and as a writer, and like I said before with the rejection, having a group of supportive women, or men, it doesn’t matter, just having supportive people who understand what you’re going through does wonders. Because life is lonely, and it’s nice when people understand what you’re going through, and that finishing School pretty much is a supportive collective group of strong, independent women who all have a story to tell, from all parts of Western Sydney, and pretty much—they like to call themselves, or we like to call ourselves ‘badass writers’. Can I say that? I’m not sure. (LAUGHS)

EC: Of course! Of course. (LAUGHS) That’s really great, that sounds like a super awesome environment to be making a book in as well.

RA: Yeah, it’s so amazing. I can’t even remember, like, I don’t know what I would do without them to be quite honest. So many times we’d meet up, and we just sort of go through each other’s work and give each other constructive feedback. We entered the Sydney Writers Festival together, Sydney Design Festival together, and so you really go on a journey with these women and you, you know, that bond that’s created is, is really something that’s worthwhile.

EC: That’s awesome. So the other thing you mentioned before that I wanted to quickly go back to is Melina Marchetta, who you got a quote on the blurb of your book for, which is amazing. How did it feel getting that quote from her with with Looking For Alibrandi being such an important book for you as a young person?

RA: Um, I fainted a couple of times, and then… (BOTH LAUGH) after I regained consciousness I realised the enormity of having the same woman that I looked up to when I was 15 years old, sitting in that English classroom, feeling honestly absolutely lost. I never, like I said, I never read, and I thought to myself, I have my HSC in a few year’s time—I don’t read, I don’t know how I’m going to get through, through high school pretty much. And so I remember I read her book in, honestly, 2 days. And from not being a reader to being an avid reader because a book spoke to my world. It changed my life, and I remember thinking to myself, I want to meet her one day, just to tell her that she’s—she, as well as Randa, ignited that spark in me to, to create change, but create change through literature. And so fast forward, when she endorsed my book and I actually met her and we had breakfast together, I didn’t even know how the food went down, to be quite honest with you, because I was looking at her, and she’s obviously so amazing and calm, and I’m like, I’m literally choking while I’m sitting next to her, trying to chug down that toast with some water, and I’m like how is this happening to me? Like I, 15 years later, I’m sitting with the woman who, you know, helped me when she didn’t know who I was, and now we’re having breakfast together. Like I call her my BFF, but she doesn’t even know that I call her that, I dunno if that’s… (EC LAUGHS) I dunno if that’s appropriate, but we’re totally BFFs, so.

EC: I believe it! It’s just so nice that you, those are the two, Randa and Melina are the two authors that you’ve kind of mentioned to me just now, and they’re both there, next to each other. It’s really lovely.

RA: It’s very surreal—and I remember, you know, they say ‘don’t meet your heroes,’ like they, right? But it couldn’t be further from the truth with Randa and Melina. I remember sitting at an event, and I’m really quiet, shy, and I don’t know much about the writing world, and I was sitting there, and—I don’t know how to speak to people, like I’m socially awkward, and so Randa came over and I remember she had a reading, and I was watching her—she finished, sat next to me for an hour, took a notepad and a pen and gave me all these people that I should speak to, all these networks that I should follow up on, and, and pretty much spoke to me about everything and anything for an hour. She didn’t mingle with anybody else, she sat with a nobody. And I was like, I, I, I want to do that for somebody, I want my book to be that light in that time of darkness.

EC: Yeah absolutely, that’s, that’s lovely. So the, the book largely focuses on a group of boys, so both the Wolfpack, who are the friends that we saw in the little reading you just did before, and then there’s the rest of the the football team that they’re on. So I just wanted to ask, why did you want to write a book about young boys as opposed to young girls?

RA: Ah, because I was told not to. (BOTH LAUGH) And I’m, I’m a Taurus, and I’m very stubborn, and I pretty much was highly encouraged to keep this book in my drawer. I’m quoting actually, because the market is for young girls—and unfortunately in many publishers now, I understand, you know, things are a business, you have to make money in order for people to have jobs and in order to have things running, but you sort of lose sight on stories that aren’t told. And I knew this story being, in my professional experience of over a decade of teaching in both primary and high school, I knew this story, whether I wrote it or somebody else wrote it, I knew a book for boys, particularly in a way in which sport is that, that, you know, main theme to bring people together, needed to be told. And I, I pretty much knew that if I wrote this book that I’m actually going to spark some, some love of reading in my community, because unfortunately my community, a lot of these children and the youth feel as though reading is only a school chore. Much like how I felt when I was at high school. Like, reading was done when I was at school—finished, close the book, all right, I get home and I’m climbing a tree or watching TV, you know what I mean? And so I, I know that’s still, it’s still prevalent and exists in my community, and I pretty much was told firsthand from those, a group of boys from Punchbowl, ‘why should I read if there isn’t anything that speaks to my world, and that I’m always the bad guy? So I, why should I put myself through that pain, like, I’m already second-guessing myself, I already feel second best, being a minority and being from Western Sydney, I don’t want to read.’ And it really sort of, it still sticks with me till today, and so this book was honestly created for, for those boys, so they can feel safe when they open up my book.

EC: That’s really nice, and there is this—I mean, this is beyond the cultural context you’re talking about, but with boys specifically, I’m also a bookseller, and I feel like there’s a, there’s a real, like, circular thing that happens that people say ‘boys don’t read’, and then if boys hear people say that, then they think they don’t want to read. And it’s, I guess it’s a similar thing that’s happening, you know…as well as seeing yourself as the villain, if everyone around you and if the society around you is saying, oh, like ‘what are you going to do, you’re not going to read, you’re, you can’t do that,’ of course you’re not gonna want to read.

RA: Yeah, I, we, you know, I remember growing up and almost writing the list of the things I could do as a Muslim woman. Because of what I was labelled with, I can’t do so many things because of the way I look or what I believe. And unfortunately these boys, I think have a little bit worse in that, you know, we are constantly—and you know, it’s not to say they community’s completely innocent, I’m not one of those naive people and says, you know, ‘there’s nothing wrong with my community, and it’s only the media,’ no—I believe in accountability and taking responsibility, but to put that accountability or that guilty by association on a, on a kid that’s 15 years old, who’s honestly struggling just as a teenager, regardless of what culture or religion people come from, and then you add all these expectations that you limit those expectations. Of course, anyone’s gonna unfortunately give in to those labels. And it’s not right that they do, I’m not making excuses, but these kids, like I explore in the, in the, in the book, there’s so much context to, to people and why they, they make the decisions that they make. You know, so many broken homes and violence, and a lot of the time it’s easy to judge someone face value, but when you really take an insight into someone’s life, you sort of think twice about, or you really understand why they make the choices that they make.

EC: Absolutely, and that’s one of the things that I really took away from this book, is that you’ve presented these kind of imperfect characters, these young boys, but you never stepped away from the fact that they’re children, and also they have this, you know, they have their reasons why they’re making the choices they’re making, and why they might not make a better choice. And you know, they don’t want to be perceived as being villains, but they are—and it’s very frustrating for them.

RA: Yes, it’s almost like they don’t have—and this is honestly real life, as my experience in teaching, as it’s so easy to say, ‘don’t do this,’ like, it’s so clear that things can be wrong, like that’s the wrong decision, but honestly when I immersed myself in their world, because I mentored at Punchbowl Boys for many months, and I would visit them once a week and they honestly, a lot of them, don’t know how to communicate. They don’t have that emotional intelligence, because they haven’t been brought up with it. It’s easy for me to say, I have a very supportive family, but I don’t know what it’s like for somebody who, who’s also from my community, who’s also Arab, Muslim—I actually thought we were all the same, and even it was a shock to me, and I’m from the community. And so it’s so easy to be on the outside and say things are easy and a, you know, 1 + 1 = 2, but it’s…even though that is the answer, sometimes it’s really hard for those kids to understand, because they don’t have the role models that they should have.

EC: Absolutely. So a large part of the book is, is kind of about the culture clash that happens between the Wolfpack, the group of friends, and then their fellow F Team members who are from Cronulla. How did you approach writing about this sort of conflict between these two worlds, in—and you did it in a very, like, I mean it was, there were moments of drama, but it was a generally quite a light-hearted sort of exploration.

RA: (LAUGHS) I have personally experience, actually. I remember we had a high school teacher, and I was in Year 12, we had a high school teacher just come out from Cronulla. He was a head teacher—really lovely, sweet man, but I will, I’m not, I don’t think he knew what he was getting himself into, coming from Cronulla all the way to Wiley Park to a all-girls school, and, and unfortunately, like, school isn’t our top priority -well, it wasn’t my top priority. I was like one of those cheeky kids, I was always, I was pranking people. And so I remember in December 2005 the riots happened, and that was so traumatising, because 2001, I was 12 years old and September 11 happened, and my whole world turned upside down because I was now, like I said, guilty by association. And just as I was getting used to accepting that no matter what, people are not going to accept me as a human being, 2005 happened, Cronulla Riots, and that put another sort of spanner in the works, and my history teacher said in, I remember it was early February, so still raw and fresh, the riots, you know, both sides are still angry at each other, thought it’d be a good idea to take a group of Muslim women, visibly Muslim women and Arabs, to Cronulla, I can’t remember what school it was, and to walk the streets, so catch the train and a bus and walk the streets, and I was like, oh god, I don’t think this is a good idea. Let things settle a bit, but he was really kind hearted and wanted to do the same thing that I sort of did, but instead of sport he focused on, I think it was ancient history, we had something for HSC, a speaker was coming to speak to us, and thought, you know, this intercommunication, in a dialogue can work really well with these two schools. And I remember feeling very uncomfortable, because there was this disconnect, you know, that no one really wanted to speak to us, we didn’t really want to speak to them, and I remember coming home thinking, ‘why does it have to be that way?’ Like, I’m not, like, surely people can see wrong is wrong, regardless of what religion you are. Like, and so that always stayed in the back of my mind, and I remember, like I said, years later becoming a teacher—my principal, she always gave me the naughty kids, which I loved, I love dealing with naughty kids, they’re actually quite entertaining. And so the only time I could fix fights between boys was if we played a game of sport. Constantly, I was like, all right guys, we’re going to play a game of dodgeball, if you do anything silly, you’re not gonna play. And that was enough for them to get back in line and actually follow rules. And that sparked something me, and I thought, ooh, I wonder why there isn’t more, you know, focus on sport—because I love watching sport, and when I go to watch sport, nobody asks me about my religion. I can actually, I can enjoy a game and not have to explain to people, ‘hey guys, it’s a hijab, I don’t have a bomb underneath here, I’m all grey, I just want to eat this hot dog and I want to, you know, I want to cheer for the Bulldogs,’ that’s all I want to do. And so that’s how the idea started, and because this community so loves sport, like they, I mean really, not just this community, Australia is really, that sports culture is very prominent in the Australian world, and so I just thought, why not do this? I’m not sure why it hasn’t been addressed before, so I wanted to address it.

EC: That’s great, you’re so right. ‘Cause sport is one of those things that, you know, people cross the political divides, religion doesn’t matter, it’s all that sort of stuff. It’s very correct.

RA: Yep.

EC: So just going back to the, just, just the Wolfpack, so the four boys who are kind of at the centre of this whole novel—they have such a beautiful, beautiful friendship dynamic, and there are ups and downs throughout, and as we were saying before they come from quite, some of them come from quite troubled backgrounds. How did you approach writing about this group of friends in such an authentic and sort of lovely way?

RA: Ah, have you met my family? (BOTH LAUGH) I have a million cousins, and I, like I said, I was born in Punchbowl, I went to primary school in Punchbowl, I went to high school in Wiley Park, which is the next suburb, and I went to university in Bankstown, and I taught in Wiley Park. So, and Punchbowl. So really I’m still in a bubble, and I was always, I know may not sound like it on this podcast, but I’m actually not a talkative person, (LAUGHS) I promise, and I’m very, like, I observe a lot. And so growing up, I used to just watch the way people interacted, the dialogue between, I come from a family with four brothers, so being around boys is very normal for me. I mentored young boys so that was normal for me, and I’m a bit of a, like, you know, I like playing sport, I was always wrestling with my brothers, like I, that was me as a kid, as well. And I really wanted to create those characters because those characters are what I see, and what I deal with every single day. And I know that outside teachers, like teachers from outside of the community when they come in to teach, whether it be casual days or temporary blocks, say, you know, ‘these kids are just, like, they’re naughty, but they’re likeable’. That’s honestly what everyone says when they come to this area, I’m like, that’s probably the best way to describe them. They’re a little bit cheeky, but there’s something so charming about their cheekiness, I can’t explain it. But pretty much those characters are also based on me. I took a bit of myself, and I just put them in every single character in his book. Things that I never shared with people, or things that I always wanted to say or do, or you know, you sort of put yourself there. And so that’s how those, that Wolfpack came about, because there’s lots of Wolfpacks in these communities.

EC: Yeah, absolutely, that’s really great. So even though representation in Australian literature is getting, it’s getting better all the time, it’s still such a white dominated space, and a really, like, Euro-centric kind of Australian space. What would you like to see Australian readers doing to support authors who, who aren’t focused on those kind of, like, white Australian stories?

RA: You know, honestly, I can’t really speak on other people, what they should do. I think as an artist it’s up to all of us to create a space that’s worthy for everyone. Like, so for example, somebody said to me, ‘oh, you’re the first Muslim from Punchbowl to write a book,’ for example. I was really upset, that doesn’t make me happy. Because I don’t want to be the first, I want to be the 50th. I want to be the 100th. I want to be in a space where every, everybody’s voice matters and everybody’s equal in some respect, right? And so for me, I would never want to be in a room where everyone looked like me and everyone spoke like me. That’s just, I love learning about other people other people’s cultures, whether I agree with them or disagree, that’s not the point—you can always learn, and you understand why people think the way they do. So for me, my advice is may…what…how would you want this world to be represented? If you had children, what would you like them to grow up, what type of world would you like them to grow up in? Would you like them to grow up in the world that people only looked like them, and sounded like them, and believed like them? I don’t think there’s any growth there. You can’t progress in life. Purpose and meaning only apply to people and circumstances that only you have experienced. Where if a room has enough space for people from all walks of life, then it only benefits you, honestly, and I don’t mean that to sound in a selfish way, but why would you want to be in a space where in the world is represented in in the literature or the writing community? And plus, I believe everybody should tell their story. I don’t believe somebody else should tell my story. And I don’t believe I should tell somebody else’s story who’s Arab and Muslim as well—I want to create enough space, pretty much, you know, hold my hand on that door, so everybody can enter, and if everybody hold their hand on a door and doesn’t close it behind them once a door opens for them, then literature and particularly Australian literature will move forward, and we’d be richer for it. Like, you’d just be so much more worldly for it. And so that would be, I think, my little two cents. (LAUGHS)

EC: Yeah, I think—I totally agree with you, ‘cause the the Australia that I feel like I see in, in the broader picture of the books that get published, and the books that get marketed as well, like really strongly—that’s not the Australia that I think exists, like, that’s not what I see in my neighborhood necessarily. It’s kind of a shame, but I think it is getting better and, and like you say, you want to be there creating space for the next generation, and those younger writers to come through and tell their stories as well.

RA: Yeah, definitely.

EC: That’s really great. So I’m just going to ask you one more question…

RA: Yeah?

EC: Who are some other Australian authors who, who write young adult or just write general fiction, who you can recommend to everybody listening to the podcast?

RA: Oh, so many. Ah, Felicity Castagna, she’s incredible, The incredible here and now and no more boats are just amazing literature, that actually represent, like you said, that Australia that is present, and that’s the world that I live in. Nina Kenwood wrote a book, ‘What it sounds like in my head’, I think that’s what it was called, that was great. Kay Kerr, Please don’t hug me, Lisa Fuller, Ghost Bird. That’s actually, I’m actually just started that one, and it’s amazing. There’s so many—Randa Abdel-Fattah, she’s incredible, so I would say, you know, to go find out—I always say this, honestly, like if I go to a bookstore, and I can’t pronounce the author’s name, I pick it up. Because I know… (BOTH LAUGH) in a nice way, I’m like, yes, there’s change, there’s something different that I’m going to read. So that’s what I would recommend because…

EC: That is such a good approach, I love that, I’m going to do that. And also you’ve just, you’ve just actually mentioned two authors who, if anybody listening wants to scroll back through our podcast, we have interviews with Kay Kerr and Nina Kenwood.

RA: Yeah.

EC: So that’s an easy way to, to sort of check them out before you read their books and they’re both very good books as well.

RA: Yep, they’re great.

EC: It’s been so lovely talking to you, and I’ve just enjoyed talking about the book and yeah, just having a chat, it’s been really beautiful. So thank you so much, and everybody, if you have not read The F Team yet, go out and buy a copy, borrow a copy, just somehow get, get your hands on it.

RA: Thank you so much, it was my pleasure, this was a great conversation.

AC: That was the September first Book Club edition of the Kill Your Darlings Podcast. We’ll be back soon, but while you’re waiting, you should drop in on the KYD website for new commentary, criticism, memoir, interviews and reviews. If you’re in a position to, please consider supporting KYD by becoming a member. You’ll receive exclusive access to members-only content plus heaps of great perks and discounts, while also supporting independent Australian publishing. Thanks for joining us—see you next time.