Ep 306 Meet Kirli Saunders, author of ‘The Incredible Freedom Machines’.

In Episode 306 of So You Want To Be A Writer: Discover scholarships for young writers. You’ll meet Kirli Saunders, author of The Incredible Freedom Machines. Are you a late night or early morning writer? And do writers prefer coffee or tea when writing?

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Show Notes

The Marten Bequest Scholarships

Vote: Coffee or tea when writing

Are you a late-night writer? Or would you rather get up early to get your words done?

Writer in Residence

Kirli Saunders

Kirli Saunders is a proud Gunai woman, with ties to the Yuin, Gundungurra, Gadigal and Biripi people. She currently resides on Dharawal Country.

Kirli is an award-winning, international children’s author, poet, emerging playwright and artist. She is the author of Kindred, published by Magabala Books. Her picture books include Prime Ministers Literary Award Shortlisted, CBCA nominated and internationally published, The Incredible Freedom Machines (Scholastic) and forthcoming, Our Dreaming and Happy Every After (Scholastic) and Afloat (Hardie Grant).

Visit Kirli’s website

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Competition

WIN ‘The Huntress’ by Kate Quinn

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Interview Transcript

Allison

Kirli Saunders is a proud Gunai woman with ties to the Yuin, Gundungurra, Gadigal and Biripi people. Kirli is an award winning international children’s author, poet, emerging playwright, and artist. She manages Poetry in First Languages and Poetic Learning at Red Room Poetry. Her picture books include The Incredible Freedom Machines, illustrated by Matt Ottley, and recently shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, and the forthcoming Our Dreaming, Happy Ever After, Afloat, and Mother Speaks. Kirli was the inaugural winner of the WA 2019 Premier’s Literary Awards and recently released her debut collection of poetry called Kindred. Because she’s just not busy enough, obviously. So welcome to the program, Kirli.

Kirli

Oh, thank you so much for having me. What a pleasure it is to join you today.

Allison

All right, so let’s go back to the beginning and talk about how did your first… What was the first book you published and how did it come to be published?

Kirli

So I guess back to the beginning for me would be at about 19. I was studying my Bachelor of Primary Education in Honours at Wollongong University and I adored writing. And especially picture books. I found a lot of love for sitting in the curriculum resources centre and flicking through the books and finding the right ones for my classrooms that I’d be teaching in.

And so I sat down each day, I made a target to sit down every day and write for an hour. And most of those things were just rambles or poetic fragments or directions that my mind was moving in at a time.

And on this one day… I was about 22 when I was diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression and writing was my way of healing through those things. And at the same time, I’d just bought a motorbike so riding was also my way of healing.

And I was riding my red Ducati motorcycle, a 659, a Monster, up and down the south coast of NSW and I stopped one day in a really cute little cafe in Keiraville and I just penned a poem of gratitude for this beautiful machine, my freedom machine, and the joy that it had brought me on that day and most afternoons during this tricky phase of life.

And from there, I reread it and thought, oh, this could be a picture book. And I began to go through the process of editing and refining and stretching the poem out into a manuscript. And from there, going through that drafting process of reading it to friends and getting feedback and rereading, editing.

And once I had something I was quite confident with, not knowing the process for how to be published traditionally, which now I know you go to an agent, an agent will pitch it to publishers, and all of those kinds of things. Instead, I just reached out to one of the world’s best illustrators, who I really admired, by email. And I said, Dear Matt Ottley.

Allison

As you do!

Kirli

As you do! “Dear Matt Ottley, person I don’t know. Please be my illustrator.” You know. “See attached my manuscript.”

And it took a fair while for him to reply and I was a bit worried thinking, oh gosh, what have I done? Of course he’s not going to reply. He’s such a big deal and he won’t even know who I am. And I’ve just sent him this random work. How silly!

And eventually he did, which lifted my spirits. And he said that he really loved it. And we took it to Scholastic. And it’s been published in Canada, in French, in Russian, Western Armenian, and Turkish.

So if you have a big dream, I very much encourage bold acts of bravery and lots of time spent sitting and writing over something. Especially if you’re healing or if you find a lot of joy in that.

Allison

That’s extraordinary. What a great story. “Dear Mr Ottley, how would you feel about illustrating my book?”

Now, I guess my question is you said you were writing a lot of poetry fragments and you wrote this initially as a poem, how did you know that it was a children’s book and not a poem that you would then put in a suite of poems later?

Kirli

Yeah. Well, I think, to me all of the picture books that I really love in some ways are poems or poem fragments. And they’re written in that lyrical way. And so when I looked at this one, and the fact that it was really telling a story, that kind of sang to me as, oh wow, this could be interpreted as a picture book.

And it was a little more esoteric, I guess, in that it could have been, the freedom machines could have looked like anything in particular and not just a motorbike. And I thought something less direct like that could really lend itself to the classroom, as in children exploring what freedom is for them. And for us to be able to see there’s this underlying metaphor that Matt worked in with the illustrations of books being our freedom machines.

And I think it’s a really necessary conversation to be having in the classroom. Did you know that books are our freedom machines? And when we’re in a library, we’re in a freedom machine garage. And how lucky are we to be able to access these beautiful collections of people’s ideas and thoughts and facts. And for us to go deep down into the ocean or up into the sky and still be sitting in one place. It’s really special.

Allison

Had you always been a writer? Were you someone… Like you said you were 19 and you loved writing. But were you someone wrote all through school? Was it something that you ever thought would be?

Kirli

Definitely not.

Allison

No? Okay.

Kirli

No way. No. And the reason being was my grandfather was a really profound artist. He’s a really beautiful landscape artist. He passed away a few years ago. And my aunt is a poet. My uncles are all musicians or sculptors. And so I’ve always been surrounded by very creative people. And I always thought I might turn out to be an artist rather than an author. But I just couldn’t get my skills together to be an artist.

And then I started writing in the meantime and I found a lot of joy in it. But there was a particular point, probably in year eleven at high school, when I had one English teacher who passed me some poetry across the table and started to see that I had an interest in it and point me in new directions and really fostered that love for language.

So I think that was a moment where things started to change for me. And now I’m moving more into dabbling back in art and exploring, well, if you can be a writer by being very bold and practising, well maybe you can be the same in being an artist.

Allison

Isn’t that fascinating. So your teacher obviously saw something in… For someone just to be sliding you poetry, that’s an interesting thing to do. They obviously saw something in you that was going to respond to that, you think?

Kirli

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, shout out to Hayley Chisholm wherever you’re listening from. She’s still a really wonderful English teacher. At the time we were studying probably poets that now I’d look at and think, well, yeah, I can see why they’re on the curriculum but there’s definitely some more diverse poets that we could be including in our literary realm.

So people like… Who was it? They were war poems at the time. And yeah, and I remember looking at them and in my family we’ve got a pretty strong military history with my grandfather being in the army and great uncles and things like that. So that was probably the interest that I had drawn to them.

But it was just the way that language was articulated with really beautiful assonance and alliteration or imagery and all of those different poetic techniques embedded which made language to me seem more like art and less like prose. And I think that’s what drew me into it.

Allison

And do you see similarities between that use of language in poetry and in picture books?

Kirli

I definitely do. Oh, the poet is Wilfred Owen. Of course it is!

Allison

Of course it is.

Kirli

I definitely do in that… Especially, I mean, I’m trained as an early childhood K-2 teacher. And so working with those children, when we’re learning about language, we’re really focusing on these phonemic linked skills. So we’re tending to the sounds in language and learning the way that language is broken down so that we can make words and meanings from it.

And so all of those finer details make children attentive to the stories that are in a book as well. And they kind of go hand in hand in developing an understanding of literacy or literature and language. And then at the same time, that joy of reading, when the story is diversified with all of these beautiful techniques. So I do think they go hand in hand.

Allison

So how many words are there in The Incredible Freedom Machines? In the text?

Kirli

You know, I have no idea in that I’ve never counted them. But as far as picture books go, it’s very sparse. And there’s very… I mean, on each page there might be ten to twelve words. Which I’m sure there’s expected to be many, many more.

But again, poetry for me, my love of poetry comes from telling a story with the most impact and the least words. Something being very concise. And so when that translates into picture books, it leaves for a very lean story. Which packs a lot of punch.

Allison

But it’s beautiful.

Kirli

Thank you.

Allison

And I just wonder how long it took you to get those words right? To know that you had exactly the right words.

Kirli

Yeah, it did take a while. And you know, as a writer, I don’t know if you ever really know. But that process of… So the poem itself was quite short. When I stretched it out into a manuscript, I added some extra words. And then I pared it back again. So there’s this almost like breathing, an inhale, an expanding, and an exhale, that contracting, that shrinking again. And somewhere in there there’s hopefully a bit of nourishment provided in the story.

Allison

And what about your new picture books? Where are you finding the inspiration for the new works that you have coming up?

Kirli

So all of my picture books are written based on life experiences. So Our Dreaming was written on the banks of the Shoalhaven River when I was writer-in-residence at Bundanon Trust. And for any south coast writers, I definitely recommend you check out that residency because it’s delightful to wake up with wombats and kangaroos and gum trees.

And at the time, so it was not long after The Freedom Machines had been written, I was sitting with an elder and asking him what do we do? What do I do in life? I love writing, but I love teaching. And he told me about the Dreaming, which is a way of being and knowing culturally for first nations people. And it’s different for different communities. And this one is based, Our Dreaming is based on the Yuin and Gundungurra Dreamings that were told to me. So those creation stories, and our responsibility to ourselves and the earth and to community, and where those paths intersect so that we can live a life of meaning that contributes to those different facets.

And so I’m excited for Our Dreaming to come out because I don’t know that there’s a really thorough understanding of the Dreaming beyond Dreaming stories in the classroom. And this lends itself to those conversations. This one is being released by Scholastic and Dub Leffler is the illustrator and I am so excited to see all those pieces come together. I really admire Dub. And when I was in conversations with Scholastic about this book, he was my initial thought for an illustrator. I thought, please, definitely give me this wonderful man. And this was before Sorry Day had come out, and I just love that book and I love its impact. And if you haven’t seen Dub’s work, definitely go check him out.

Allison

Yeah, sure.

Kirli

Happy Ever After is again to be published by Scholastic. We’re in conversations with an illustrator at the moment. This one is a really heavy picture book. It talks about my mum’s removal from country as a kid. So she was about six or seven when she was taken away from her community with her siblings and cousins, collected by government officials, placed in a black car, on to a bus, on to a train.

When they arrived in Sydney, the boys were sent to a different boy’s home, Kinchela Boys Home. And then her younger sister was fostered and she was sent off to Randwick Children’s Home. And it’s that haunting story of being removed from country and community and being told not to cry or miss those people who you’ve been taken from, or the life that you long for.

And when I shared this with the publishers, they had all said to me, oh, this is a really pointed story. Can you make it softer? And I said, well, no. We need these stories. Our nation needs to hear these stories of our first nations community, people who have been raised during the times of the stolen generations. So I think that’s another story that is borne out of experience, lots of long conversations with mum, lots of tears. The original manuscript for this one is covered in tears.

Allison

I can imagine it would be. And I wonder how do you… Because that is obviously as you say, it’s a very heavy story. It’s a big story. So how do you bring that down to a picture book as opposed to writing an older story about it, like for older kids?

Kirli

So this one, for me, I think there’s this notion of a picture book as being for very young children. And I remember using picture books in my HSC text as accompanying text. So picture books for me transcend, or an excellent picture book, transcends an age.

Allison

It does.

Kirli

It should be able to be taught to tiny little tuckers but have enough depth and complexity that you can be analysed visually or for its different literary devices for a much older audience.

And so I think this is one of those stories that will be hopefully accessible to multiple ages. But I am aiming for mid to upper primary for this, the age group of these students.

Allison

Okay.

Kirli

And even into secondary years.

So this one again is a poem that has been stretched out. And it’s… I’m excited to share. Of all of the books that I’ve released, I think this one is the one that’s closest to home and the most necessary story to come out of my writing for our communities and for healing and for awareness more broadly.

Allison

Wow, that’s…

Kirli

Yeah, it is.

The next one is a lot lighter. Afloat, which will be published with Hardie Grant. And I’m so excited about the illustrator for this one, but I can’t tell you about it. And you’ll just fall in loooove! He’s brilliant.

Afloat follows the story of an elder teaching the foraging and weaving practices to a child. With that notion of we’re going to collect all of these items to weave the yarn, to weave together our boat so that our canoes would survive an incoming storm.

And the text is all about unity and oneness and those reconciliation and strength themes. And it’s not tied to one particular first nations community because lots of first nations cultures rely on those weaving practices, and there’s customs around the way that they’re taught. So at the moment we’re in the process of having that liaison with lots of first nations communities and saying, hey, how do you weave? What do we need to be mindful of when we’re sharing this text? And how can we celebrate those ancient practices and bring other people into those ideas of the oneness?

Because to me, that using of fibres into one string and the strength of it is indicative of all of the way we could be fusing together more broadly in our communities. You know, every element of those fibres, every individual piece comes together to make something much stronger that could withstand all storms. And I think that is a really powerful metaphor for our broader education communities, especially, when this book will be released in classrooms.

Allison

It sounds amazing. Do you feel a certain sense of responsibility in sharing, in putting these stories together? As you said, you’re consulting, there’s an inclusion of making sure that there’s a representation there of different first nations, different members of different first nations. And I’m just wondering, do you feel a responsibility as an author presenting that to the world?

Kirli

I definitely do. I think in all of my work I’ve always felt some kind of responsibility to community. And whether that comes from the Dreaming, that idea of we share our gift with community, and our gift strengthens our community, or whether it comes from just being a global or social citizen, I think it’s really important that we’re writing about things that have an impact and raise awareness.

So I think texts, when I was a kid, that explored first nations cultures weren’t always about our strength or our prowess or all of those beautiful elements of first nations cultures. They were usually quite the opposite. And so that celebration, to me, is a really exciting thing to be embedding in a classroom.

I really love that in The Freedom Machines, the character is an unnamed girl who has tan skin. Because when I was a girl, I didn’t see tanned girls in books. And to see this girl being a symbol of one third of the world’s children who exist in poverty and her ability to get out of poverty with reading a book, which is an underlying message, is a really special thing. Because I’m not sure all of those kids who exist in poverty, one third of our world’s children, get to see themselves in books.

Allison

No, that’s right.

Kirli

Yeah. It is. I think we do have a responsibility as a writer to share, or make these things more commonly available in the classroom. And make that awareness something that we’re talking about within our classrooms.

Allison

So what about…

Kirli

There were… Oh, I was just going to tell you about Mother Speaks.

Allison

Oh, of course. Sorry. You’ve got another fourth one.

Kirli

Is that okay?

Allison

I forgot you had such a huge, huge forthcoming work!

Kirli

It’s frustrating when they’re all in the works, and people are like, oh, when’s your next book out? You’re like, well, publishing takes a little while. So there’s lots coming! We’ll just wait.

But Mother Speaks is what I’m actually working on at the moment. So this one was originally a manuscript. It was written on the banks of the Shoalhaven again. I was writer-in-residence at Bundanon this year. And it’s a picture book, or it was originally written as a picture books, that was born out of a conversation with Dr Anthony McKnight, who is a really powerful Yuin educator who works out of the University of Wollongong.

Allison

I know him! I know him!

Kirli

He’s brill.

Allison

He’s a great friend of mine.

Kirli

A really, really special man.

Allison

He is.

Kirli

And he was talking to me about the language of the earth. Because I run a language program at Red Room Poetry. And he was saying that if we want to teach kids tongues, as in the word, for Aboriginal languages, then we must first tend to the language of the earth and the way that mother earth speaks to us in all of her different ways.

And so this picture book manuscript talks about the way that the earth speaks to us. And it since has been stretched out into a verse novel. And so at the moment I’m working on a verse novel, which I’ve never dabbled in before. And it’s a real fun unfolding process and I’m being guided by my editor Grace Lucas-Pennington. And if you don’t know her work, you should check her out. She’s an editor for the Black & Write project.

And it will be released with Magabala again in the future.

Allison

Oh, it just sounds like… They all sound amazing. And I can’t wait to see all of them. They sound incredible. So I hope that they trickle through quickly for us so that we can go and have a look at them.

Kirli

Thank you.

Allison

So just on your role as an educator and different things that you do there, what about your work with Red Room Poetry? How long have you been doing that? And what exactly does that involve?

Kirli

So Red Room is a not-for-profit that aims to make poetry a meaningful part of every day life. And we put poets in classrooms to engage students with poets, to create and publish poetry in unusual ways. And all of our projects have a social impact, which is really cool.

So we might be working in a correctional services or a youth juvenile justice space helping children who experience educational disadvantage to access their voice and share their story through poetry. And we publish their poems in murals or on buses or trains or in local shopfront windows. And upload their audio online so that you can hear all those wonderful stories bubbling out of these educational spaces which aren’t always accessible to the broader community.

We also have kids write poems about plants for New Shoots, which is listening to the secrets of trees. My favourite workshops have been New Shoots. And then Extinction Elegies is all about talking about our threatened and endangered and extinct species to raise awareness that this is a reality, these impacts of climate are really damaging and really concerning and we have a responsibility to make a change to these wonderful creatures in our lives.

And Poetry in First Languages is again, born on the banks of the Shoalhaven. And I could hear the sounds of ancestors singing. They were all tied together with the experience of Our Dreaming and this project. And I could hear the sounds of ancestors singing, which I don’t know if you’ve ever had that, but it’s really terrifying. You can hear voices and you think you’re going crazy.

Allison

No. I can imagine it would be.

Kirli

So I called my aunty. Aunty, I can hear these voices! And she said, great, good! I was like, good? What do you mean, good? She said, well what are they saying? I said, oh I don’t know. She said, well that’s what they’re saying. It’s time for you to go and learn language.

And so I started my journey in Gundungurra. I learned from my Aunty Val Mulcahy, who is a language teacher of Gundungurra up at the Wingecarribee Aboriginal Community Cultural Centre up in the Southern Highlands where I was born. And from there I thought, how can I support other poets to learn language? And so I developed a commissioning arm of poetry in first languages, which is where first nations poets sit with elders and custodians on country and write poems in language, and we publish them online through Red Room.

And then there’s another arm where we take those poets and elders into the classroom. Well, usually we take the classroom out on country and have kids learn about the local culture and community and country and language and then they write poems about those experiences. And we often try and weave in bush medicine, bush tucker, dance, art, workshops at the same time so they’re getting a more wholistic experience of what those things look like when they’re interwoven traditionally and contemporarily.

Allison

Wow.

Kirli

And then from there there’s another element to it where we take those poems and publish them on… The best ones have been buses. They’ve been my favourite. Where kids get to see their poems drive around for six weeks on the back of the bus sharing language. And they’re just blown away. These tiny little eight and nine year old kids. Or year twelve kids standing next to a great big bus with their poem splashed across it. And beautiful work by David Cragg. If you haven’t seen him, check him out. Gorgeous. Or Tad Souden, a really powerful photographer from around here. Also check his work out.

Allison

Fantastic. So let me just ask you, when you teach poetry to a group of children, is there an initial reticence from them? Do you get resistance? In the sense of, oh, poetry, seriously? This is what we’re doing? Do you get that?

Kirli

Definitely. Until I tell them that, you know, hands up if you love music. And every child puts their hand up. I’m like, great, you love poetry! Because music is just poetry with a tune or a melody or a harmony or a beat added.

And then hands up if you watch, if you pay attention to social media or if you’re interested in any kind of marketing. And they look at me kind of puzzled. And I’m like, because every catchphrase you hear, that’s a poem.

And once you attend children to feel that awareness that poems are around them all the time, they’re just not always tuning into them, I think then they see poetry as something a little closer to home and not this thing written by dead white guys.

And I often talk to them as poetry being that. Because when I was in school, that’s what it was. And poetry had nothing to do with me. And I felt very separate from it until I had a broader understanding of those diverse voices in poetry and the power that poetry gives to all sorts of communities, especially minority communities in voicing things that are important.

Allison

So it’s about making them understand the accessibility of it, is the key to breaking down the resistance?

Kirli

For sure. I think accessibility and then impact. You know, that poems are so often written about something that needs to be spoken about. And if you were to write a poem, what would you want to talk about? What’s important to you at this point? What boils your blood or what are you loving?

And then the opportunity for then to be able to freed of what they think poetry is. That very stiff iambic pentameter or all those different structural rules which freak them out. When you take poetry away from those structures and say, well, let’s write something more free verse, it gets a lot easier for them.

And similes and metaphors and all those poetic devices become something really fun. So I’ll tell them, just write a simile and let’s make it the craziest simile you can imagine. Let’s make it really outrageous. Then they start to have a lot of fun with it and then there’s lots of laughs and poetry becomes something enjoyable.

Allison

It’s funny though, isn’t it? Because I actually think social media has been one of the best things that ever happened to poetry.

Kirli

Oh for sure.

Allison

I’ve never seen so much poetry in my life as I’ve seen since Instagram and that kind of stuff. I feel like it brought poetry out of its skinny volume on the bookshelf vibe.

Kirli

For sure. And it made…

Allison

And really put it in front of people.

Kirli

That’s how I started writing poetry, was just publishing to my Instagram. And for me it was being brave enough to put my work out there. And that’s the other thing, when you’re on social, when you’re publishing your work on social media, in some way, you can hide behind it. You don’t have to be out there reading your poems in front of an audience straight away. Other people, people can still be accessing your work. And it’s a great way for promotion and marketing of works and all of those kinds of things. Getting people along to events. So yeah, I’m very grateful for the love/hate relationship that is social media.

Allison

That’s so true, isn’t it? All right, so tell us about your debut collection of poetry. How do you go about putting together a suite of poems? Because that’s essentially what you’ve done there.

Kirli

Yeah. So Kindred was written over 6 years of life. All sorts of experiences jammed into one collection. It’s broken across three different segments. Mother, earth child, and lover. Mother is all about connections to culture and reconnecting to culture and finding healing and those intergenerational traumas that have been handed down in my family because of all the things that have happened in our nation’s history.

And then earth child is about healing through the earth. I spent a lot of time during that period, particularly about 19, 20, 21, 22 and into my later 20s spending time outside with the earth, a lot of time in the ocean, a lot of time in the mountains, trying to find the answers and just tune in to the broader spirits that were operating in those spaces. And regrounding with the earth.

And then lover is all about my connection with community. All those really wonderful people in my life who have helped me on this journey of healing and growing and reshaping my own cultural identity. So yeah, Kindred is all about making connections with other kindred spirits. And being at one with the earth and being at one with culture.

Allison

All right, so here’s a question for you. And I ask this as a person who has written a lot of bad poetry in my time, how do you know which poems are good? How do you know?

Kirli

Oh, it’s really hard, isn’t it? I think, oh, there’s… How many poems are there in this collection? Nearly 80 or 90 poems, I’d say. And it’s pared back from maybe 120ish bad poems which still live somewhere.

And I guess the process is I’ve got some really wonderful friends who helped me edit the collection when I originally submitted it to Black & Write. So this collection was highly commended for Black & Write and then I took it from there to Magabala who very graciously, lovely, said that they would love to publish it.

And so then I worked with that editor, Grace Lucas-Pennington, to begin to massage it and go through the process of editing. She’s wonderful at also guiding for what’s good and what’s not. A process for cutting.

So I’d say getting feedback from friends or people who you trust or people in the writing world who have an awareness of what sounds good and what doesn’t.

Reading it to people who don’t like poetry is also really helpful, because if you can strike a chord with them and they like one of your poems, well then it’s a good one. Because I think we can’t just be writing – well, I felt like I can’t just be writing just for the people who love poems. I want to write for people who don’t love poetry too. I want to engage those kids in the classroom who don’t enjoy poetry in poetry and make them feel like they’re seen and heard and a valued part of this literary world too.

Another thing that I do in the writing of poetry to make sure that I’m not writing the stuff that needs to be cut is so instead of writing the poem straight away, I’ll write what I call my surface. So on any given day, I like to sit down and check in with myself and just go, hey, how are you going? What are you thinking and feeling, Kirli? And I’ll jot all those things down on a page. And when I do that, I know then that when I get to the writing, all of that surface stuff, or even the subconscious stuff that I’m not really fully aware of, has in some way been acknowledged and then it’s not going to influence the story that I’m trying to write.

And sometimes it gives me fuel for the fire, because I’m like, oh, that’s a thing that other people might feel a unity with. Let’s write on that. Let’s say that can be my poem. And other times it’s, oh god! Don’t put that in a poem.

Allison

Don’t go there.

Kirli

Yeah.

Allison

All right. Well, I have to say, I found all this very fascinating. We’re going to finish today… Well, where can we find more about you online? What’s your website?

Kirli

Yes. So I’m Kirlisaunders.wordpress.com. So you can find me, if you Google Kirli, it’s a Noongar word for a little black and white bird that lives on the water. Kirli. Yeah. You can find me online. And otherwise, Red Room Poetry is a really great place to check out more about the Poetry in First Languages Project. And hopefully I’ll see you in the real world. That would be really lovely.

Allison

And let’s finish up today with our top three tips for writers. What are your top three tips for aspiring writers?

Kirli

When I first started writing, I set a goal for the number of stories or poems I wanted to be able to publish in a certain timeframe, or write within a certain timeframe. So I would say, set a goal. I would say, set a rejections goal. So this one comes from a dear friend of mine, Kristie Wan who is a poet and photographer. And she said, when I started working at Red Room, “Kirl, you need to set a rejections goal.” And I said, oh, tell me more. And she was like, you need to set a goal with a number of rejections you want to achieve in a year. Christie, that sounds hellish. Why would we do that? She’s like, because then we can go out for a wine, and celebrate that you’ve been submitting to things.

And so I set my goal for ten rejections within a year. And I had to submit to ten competitions or ten writing awards or ten manuscripts to publishers. Whatever it was, set yourself a rejections goal. And I found that a really good drive for writing. Because so often our work doesn’t get picked up as writers. And it can feel very much like there’s no worth in the work at times. And that’s definitely not the case, you just haven’t found the right fit for your work. Or maybe it needs to be massaged or have some editing processes done. So rejections goal.

And then I would just say write all the time. I love writing on the train. I love writing on my phone. I often have a notebook with me and a pen. I love a 0.4 Artline marker. It goes everywhere with me. So I often just write on the back of napkins, dockets, whatever is in my wallet at a time. I make poems out of the paint cards in Bunnings. I love to find poems out of street names. So be living your poems, as my director at Red Room would say, Dr Tamryn Bennet. And be constantly writing. I think they’re the best ways to improve as an early writer.

Allison

Fantastic. Thank you so much for your time today, Kirli Saunders.

Kirli

Oh, thank you.

Allison

We look forward to seeing all of those millions of books that you’re working on come out into the world.

Kirli

So do I!

Allison

Best of luck with it all.

Kirli

Thank you so much. Thank you. It’s been a real privilege talking with you and good luck to all of your lovely early and emerging writers and I look forward to seeing you all out in the real world and your works as they start to unfold. Thanks for having me today.


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