‘Good writing helps us to understand ourselves and the world’

This article was published in The West Australian newspaper on 7 June 2022

By Sharon Flindell

“Western Australia’s most important resources are, in my opinion, above the ground.”

So said Writing WA Chairman Guy Boyce at the launch in February the ‘Best Australian Yarn’ short story competition, an initiative of this newspaper and the Minderoo Foundation. Since then, thousands of entries have flooded in to the inaugural competition, the richest of its kind in Australian history for new and established writers.

That this bold conjuring of new stories and fresh voices has originated in Western Australia is not only exciting but fitting. This is a state rich in stories and in people who can beautifully render them, a tradition begun by our original storytellers, the First Nations people of WA.

Some of Australia’s biggest literary names today, creators of stories that resonate across time and borders, are from Western Australia: Kim Scott, Joan London, Sally Morgan, Gail Jones, Shaun Tan, John Kinsella, and four-time Miles Franklin winner Tim Winton.

Their trails were blazed in part by foundation writers such as Elizabeth Jolley, Dorothy Hewett, Randolph Stow, Geoffrey Bolton, Peter Cowan and Doris Pilkington Garimara.

Nationally and internationally authors such as Dervla McTiernan, David Whish-Wilson, Natasha Lester, Holden Sheppard and Sisonke Msimang are also ensuring the WA writing scene continues to punch well above its weight. Equally, children’s book writing is awash with award-winning local talent, as are the thriving local YA and poetry communities. I do pity the task ahead of the judges of this year’s WA Premier’s Book Awards – every category is packed tight with worthy contenders.

“There’s a historical grievance at work,” Tim Winton once said about writing in this state, “about being forgotten or forsaken by the rest of the Federation.” This may have been true of past decades, I think, but today the WA writing sector is driven less by isolation than pure inspiration. The voices are more diverse than ever, the inventiveness without limits. Writers are creating their own platforms and maximising every new development opportunity supported and created by organisations such as Writing WA. They’re looking to the future rather than the past for answers.

The people writing here now – many from all over the world – are neither overly parochial nor disconnected from place. They are simply writing and doing it exceptionally well.

As an internal observer of this world, I get particularly excited by its rich interconnectedness and the many ways in which established writers go out of their way to champion those just emerging. There is a genuine inclusivity underpinning the WA writing scene, a quality that can’t be manufactured, only encouraged.

Not just in WA but across the globe, this is a time when good writing – writing that helps us understand ourselves and the world we live in – is vital. Writing and books have found new value during the pandemic, taking us beyond physical borders, giving us entertainment, joy and deeper insights into the human condition. Indeed, for all its attendant challenges, the pandemic has inspired a fresh wave of storytelling, much of which we’ll no doubt be reading in the next couple of years.

As C.S Lewis once said, “Literature adds to reality; it does not simply describe it. It irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.” This is a wonderful time to both champion and consume good writing and to acknowledge a state that so actively nurtures it. I hope you will find many ways to enjoy ‘Love to Read Local Week 2022’ (3-12 June), a state-wide celebration of the state’s writing sector, its many talented writers and their readers, its endless stories and its boundless potential.

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