5 Questions with Raphael Farmer


 
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Raphael Farmer is a writer living in the northern suburbs of Perth. He has written for a number of publications, and, participated in the Indian Ocean Mentoring project with The Centre for Stories.

We talk with Raphael Farmer about reading, Sailor Moon, gay relationships, making connections, and writing from the heart.

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What do you like to read?
More often than not, you’ll catch me reading Stephen King. He is my absolute favourite author and I tend to get anything he releases. Sometimes the premise might not hook in but because he’s the author of the story, I’m willing to give it a chance. I’ve never been disappointed with a King novel. This is the result of a long and trusting relationship between Writer and Reader. I trust that he will tell me a story with honesty. 

I also enjoy writers from different parts of the world. Because I also speak French, I tend to read a lot of French books. One of my favourite books of all-time is Le Fils Du Pauvre (The Poor Man’s Son) by Mouloud Feraoun. I read it when I was a teenager and it stayed with me.

Graphic novels are also something I love to read. Ever since I was a kid I have been reading these, starting with Donald Duck comics and discovering DC Comics. Superman is still my favourite character of all-time. I was also an avid reader of Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon. One of my favourite things about Sailor Moon was that it was one of the first stories I ever came across that had a same-sex romance. Those were rare when I was a teenager. Otherwise, I tend to read Biographies, Adventure, Thrillers, Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult and Gay literature. I remember stories for the emotions they provoke in me. Those are the best kind of books.

Your identity has many threads and stories within it – can you speak about belonging here and where you have come from?
I am from Mauritius, I’m gay, I was raised Muslim but I’m not religious, I have Indian origins and I went to a Catholic primary school. I speak English, French and Creole. It might seem like an unusual mix, but in Mauritius there are many people with a colourful background.

Since I was a pre-teen, I had told my parents I wanted to go to Australia, even though I had never set foot there. I had this feeling that it was where I was meant to be – so, after high school, I made my way to Perth for university. It didn’t seem that different at first but I soon realised I wasn’t in my home country anymore. Friendships were harder to forge: in Mauritius I could become friends with someone within ten minutes, whereas in Australia a lot more time is required before you are granted friendship status with someone.

I had to adapt and to learn new ways to make connections. Eventually, I began to feel part of this country. I now feel pride for being Australian as well as being Mauritian. I am grateful to having been born in a country that celebrated diverse cultures. I grew up on television that aired Mexican telenovelas in between Chinese films and Melrose Place. The radio would play music from around the world and the number one song in the country could be anything from Turkish to French. I feel lucky to have grown up surrounded by such a variety of cultures.

What are you working on at the moment?
I have just finished a full-length novel manuscript. I feel excited about it! It’s Young Adult fiction and it centers around a gay character. The story deals with relationships and their consequences, whether they are good or bad. The focus is on the particular dynamic between two boys. It took me about a year to write and it was sometimes emotionally exhausting.  

I put my heart into the stories I write and I am the kind of author who is empathetic to what his characters are feeling, no matter who they are, and, in this particular story, my characters go through a lot. It is all worth it though because it is a story I am proud of. I will be editing this manuscript and then, hopefully, send it out into the world and see what happens. My hope is that it will find a home and be given a chance to tell its story to whomever would want to read it.  

Now, typically, this is where I am supposed to take a breather and replenish my batteries before writing again. However, I have ideas forming in my head already and I am fairly sure I won’t be resting for long before spending endless hours typing away. It makes me smile to think about it. There is nothing quite like getting lost into worlds you create and navigate them through characters that mean something to you. Dreaming up stories is what I love to do.

I had to adapt and to learn new ways to make connections. Eventually, I began to feel part of this country.

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 How does your writing think about genre, romance, and relationships?
I am interested in writing stories revolving around gay characters so it influences the way I write. If I have a romance in a story, it doesn’t work out the same way as the romance between a boy and a girl: the structure is turned on its head as the boys usually have to come to terms with feeling different.

I didn’t grow up in Australia so I don’t have the same connections to context as someone who has. Growing up gay in Mauritius was a different experience, as apart from television and books, there was no real exposure to homosexuality. At school, it was taboo to talk about it and if it was mentioned, it would only be as part of a joke. But as a teenager, I rejected all of that and told my friends that I was gay. The consequences, both positive and negative, made their way into how I write.

When I told the truth about me, people would in turn show their true faces to me. I’ve had friends who went cold on me once they knew I was gay and that has affected me in many ways, including my creativity. The way I write relationships sometimes relies on those heartbreaking experiences. Growing up with influences from Western and Non-Western cultures made me want to experiment with my writing. I hope I am able to blend all these influences together and come up with something that is uniquely me.

What is the future hope for your writing?
I grew up wanting to read stories that would connect with me and nothing quite matched what I was looking for. I decided that I would write the stories I had always wanted to read: with gay protagonists and within narratives that are not solely about them being gay. When I’m not writing, I don’t feel right. So, no matter what happens, I’ll always be writing. My hope is that my stories will find their way into people’s hearts and stay with them. I have been touched and affected by stories I have come across throughout my life and it is a feeling that is quite unique. I remember being engrossed in The Three Musketeers and imagining what it was like for D’Artagnan and his friends. I still feel a punch to the heart when I think of The Shining and its emotional conclusion. These feelings will stay with me forever. I love that. If I can do the same for whoever reads my work, it would make me very happy. As a writer, I want to keep improving on what I do and never stop learning. As a storyteller, I want to provoke emotional reactions from readers and take them with me into the worlds I create. As a man, I want to bridge my past in Mauritius with my present in Australia and forge something I can be proud of in the future. Through writing, I want to make connections that will last a lifetime.

 

My hope is that my stories will find their way into people’s hearts and stay with them.

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Interview by Robert Wood
Photographs by Leah Jing


 

Leah McIntosh