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Interview with Rosemary Sayer

Published 12th September, 2017 in Behind the Book

Rosemary catching up with friends who shared their stories in the book

It has been almost two years since the release of Rosemary Sayer’s book More to the story –conversations with refugees. Lucky for us, we were able to sit down and have a quick chat about her PhD, as well as her recent work with refugee communities.

What have you been doing since the release of your book?

My days are never dull and I am reminded so often about how lucky I am because I was born in Australia. I live in a free, safe country.

It’s hard to believe More to the story –conversations with refugees was published in November 2015.   When you ask a person to let you into their lives, which is what I do because I write about people, I try to do it with compassion and honesty. Sometimes you make new friends and that has certainly been my experience with this book.  I keep in contact with the people that I wrote about and many of their friends and family.

For seven months after More to the Story was published I worked hard with Caroline Wood and the team at Margaret River Press to market the book. There were media interviews, festivals and school talks.  I think the most satisfying of these was visiting schools.  I particularly enjoyed speaking with the social justice group at Margaret River High School and spending a day with students from Churchlands Senior High. The groups were so engaged and there was a hunger for more information and real stories.  It was during this time I realised I wanted to write more stories; I wanted to share more conversations.

Friends and colleagues suggested to me that I think about undertaking a PhD centred on the stories of refugees.  Over time I realised that I wanted to understand how stories are told and what role narrators, like me, play in writing the stories.  I was accepted as a doctorate student at Curtin University early in 2016.

I also do sessional teaching work at the university, most recently in refugee rights at the Centre for Human Rights Education.

Rosemary gives a talk on her book

 How has the journey towards your PhD gone so far?

The PhD journey has so far been amazing and rewarding – with some stress thrown in!    My doctorate includes a manuscript length creative work and a written exegesis (or thesis).   I am fortunate to have two wonderful supervisors – Dr Rachel Robertson from the School of Media, Culture, Communication and the Arts and Dr Caroline Fleay from the Centre for Human Rights Education.   They both bring completely different perspectives to my work. It is pleasure to spend time with each of them and learn so much.   Assuming I meet the deadlines, I will submit my work in March 2019.   It sounds a long way off, but I have to say at this stage I am feeling quite anxious about what has to be done.

Has the writing for your PhD been different than the writing for your book?

The good thing about doing a PhD like this is I can write both creative and academic works.   As a creative non-fiction writer it suits me perfectly.   Writing in an academic style did not come naturally I have to say.   Usually I need to do a number of drafts before I can find an academic voice. I also know now I can’t move easily from one to the other. I have to be completely immersed in the creative work or writing an academic paper.

Have you been doing any work with any refugee communities?

I am very involved with different refugee communities. My passion is to help change the conversation around refugees and asylum seekers who have been demonised and de-humanised by governments, media and others in our society through no fault of their own.  I am on the board of the Edmund Rice Centre in WA which has been providing grass roots services such as English and computer classes, learning to drive, sports, arts and youth leadership to people of a refugee background for over ten years. 60 students a day come to the Centre to participate in the language for living programme alone and over 3,000 people receive help each year.

I have also been fortunate to work with a number of asylum seekers living in the community as they strive for higher education and acceptance.  Curtin, along with an increasing number of universities around Australia, provides a small number of scholarships to vulnerable people in this category.

When the book was published, as part of the marketing activities with Margaret River Press, I started a website and blog:  The site has become more of a resource for information and issues now.  I post stories, articles, facts, figures, reports, links to other organisations, information on events, reviews of other books and links to what is happening in Australia and around the world.

Because, as I tell people, there is always more to every story. 

Rosemary Sayer is a writer, business communications consultant and former journalist. Her third book More to the Story – conversations with refugees was published in 2015 by Margaret River Press. She has previously written two biographies. Rosemary is a sessional lecturer and tutor in human rights and writing at Curtin University where she is completing her PhD about refugee life stories. She is actively involved with a number of organisations that assist refugees and asylum seekers in Western Australia.  She serves on the board of the Edmund Rice Centre, a not for profit organisation that helps people from refugee and other migrant backgrounds as well as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people.

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