16 August 2023

How the Illawarra's writers are penning pathways for one another

| Dione David
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Young writer Sky Carrall

Sky Carrall went from mentee to mentor at the South Coast Writers Centre. Photo: South Coast Writers Centre.

Writing can be a lonely business, though it doesn’t have to be, as one young Illawarra writer has discovered.

Sky Carrall was studying creative writing at university when she ran into her former high school mentor and renowned Wollongong author Helena Fox (How it Feels to Float, The Quiet and the Loud).

It felt like kismet.

“She said I should come along to her writing group, and knowing what an amazing mentor Helena was, I was all too happy to join,” Sky says.

“I was about to finish university and wanted to find a community of people I could continue to write with.”

Helena was referring to the Young Writers Collective hosted by the South Coast Writers Centre, where she was a facilitator.

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The purpose of the groups is to lift young writers out of their echo chambers and put them into a supportive environment among their fellow creatives.

Sessions are unstructured but generally involve a writing prompt and time for writers to respond to that prompt using any form of written word.

The prompts are kept as open as possible, so writers are free to cast a wide net into the lake of their creativity. Dragging it sometimes reveals the most unexpected outcomes.

“One prompt might be ‘bargains’, for example, a Faustian bargain or bargaining with fairies who have underhanded motivations. The writer asks themselves what characters want and what they’d give up for it,” Sky explains.

“Another might be ‘transient things’ or ‘liminal spaces’ – writing about the ‘places in between’. In that case a writer might think of train stations, where you wait to go on a journey but not yet at your destination, or they might think about being a teenager, where they’re no longer a child but not quite an adult yet.”

South Coast Writers Centre Young Writers Collective members

The Young Writers Collective is all about writers supporting writers on their journey. Photo: South Coast Writers Centre.

From micro-fiction to movie script, play to poetry, the responses are then shared among the collective in exchange for positive and constructive feedback.

To some, it seems untenably daunting. And though that’s the life of many who choose to walk a creative path, mentors have finely tuned instincts as to how to make the experience positive.

“It can be scary to share your writing with other people. There were plenty of times before workshops I’d get anxious and not want to go, but I was always happy after I went and shared my work,” Sky says.

“I always left feeling supported and motivated.”

Sky is still part of the collective and is using it to help advance her current project – a young adult novel.

“It’s a coming-of-age story focusing on female friendship and exploring some of the themes that come with that,” she says.

“So, things like learning to prioritise yourself, letting go of ‘people pleasing’ compulsions and that experience of growing up as a girl.”

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She also completed a South Coast Writers Centre Emerging Writers Program with author of Dirt Town Hayley Scrivenor as her mentor.

And this year, Sky stepped up as a mentor for the Young Writers’ Group, which fulfils the same purpose as the collective but for a younger cohort of budding writers.

Split into two streams – junior and senior young writers – the groups gather in person and online to nurture their emerging talents.

The Young Writers’ Group is one of the many programs hosted by the South Coast Writers Centre to foster the region’s writing talent – emerging, established and at every stage in between.

Members of the Young Writers Collective will be doing short readings of some of the stories produced in their writing workshops in the lead up to the South Coast Writers Festival.

Emerging Writers Readings takes place at the University of Wollongong on Thursday 17 August – book here.

The South Coast Writers Festival takes place from 18 to 20 August – check out the full program here.

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