Lost in Books announces its inaugural artists-in-residence.

Once upon a time there was a girl from Fairfield called Maria Tran. The Australian-Vietnamese actor, director and martial-arts specialist used to spend her weekends bringing mattresses to different parks and filming fight scenes with different people from the area.

Last year she a realised a dream to work with idol Jackie Chan as a stunt attachment on his film Bleeding Steel.

This year she launched a production company, Phoenix Eye, based in Fairfield where she hopes one day to make the next big action flick from this area.

And after years of raining down punches on adversaries and scissor-kicking across the cinema screen, she lived happily ever after. The end.

Well the tale is not over yet. In fact, it’s just beginning.

The 32-year-old was just announced as one of the inaugural artists-in-residence at the multilingual bookshop/cafe Lost in Books.

The Fairfield bookshop’s In Other Words residency was one of eight projects across western Sydney to share funding of more than $400,000 from Create NSW to create hubs for a diverse mix of arts, screen and digital projects and organisations.

Essentially it meant emerging and established authors, graphic novelists and translators will now have a place at Fairfield to develop, produce and deliver new literary works in languages other than English.

For Tran, it meant a chance to not be just “that martial-arts girl”.

“It was nice to know people see potential in me with other media. That’s exciting,” said Tran, who’s written several screenplays.

“It’s a new artform so I’m a bit nervous but I’m looking forward to collaborating and getting inspiration from different people.”

Maria plans to create a Vietnamese/English children's bilingual book exploring the Vietnamese legend of the Trung Sisters –– female warriors who saved the day and claimed back the land 4000 years ago.

It was a story she was told as a youngster, a folktale of sorts.

“This story is very important to Vietnamese culture. The Trung sisters were the first female rulers in the world and they became queens of Nanyue, a kingdom of ancient Vietnam.

“But I never saw it in picturebook format.

“Then I went to China and visited some museums and discovered text about the sisters lies in The Book of the Later Han, a chronicle of the Chinese Han dynasty compiled in the 5th century.

“All of a sudden I realised it wasn’t a fantasy or a legend – it was a real story, and not only a real story but a story to empower women.

This story is very important to Vietnamese culture. The Trung sisters were the first female rulers in the world and became queens of Nanyue, a kingdom of ancient Vietnam.

Maria Tran

“Women in the Vietnamese culture tend to be more submissive but knowing we had this big and epic role 4000 years ago as warriors, it makes you feel like in modern times we can access that moment to empower all women.

“That’s the reason I want to create the book. I wrote a screenplay about it but it didn't get off the ground but I needed to get the story out so I’m glad I have this chance.”

Zarlasht Sarwari has an equally important story to tell.

So important is the story she needs to get out there that Zarlasht stayed up all night to complete her application for the In Other Words opportunity which seeks to change the way literature is produced in Australia.

Along with Uma Jeyaseelan, the pair will develop illustrated children’s stories, drawing inspiration from Zarlasht‘s Afghan storytelling traditions.

Her son Isaac is her inspiration. “As a child growing up the only thing of Afghan culture you see are narratives of terrorism and asylum-seekers,” she said. “I had an idea to write a children’s story that reflected Afghan narratives and culture and oppose the terrorism and asylum-seeking stories as a way to connect my son to his culture.

“When in Perth visiting family I saw this opportunity but the deadline for applications was the next day so I stayed up all night to complete it.”

With the story in the idea phase, Zarlasht  put out a call to Sri Lankan artist Uma on Facebook.

Her distinctive minimalist silhouette illustrations are rather eye-catching considering they don’t feature eyes.

Through the power of words and illustrations, they want to show some new perspectives of contemporary Australian life.

“I want to draw on Afghan folklore tradition and the stories older relatives used to tell and capture the golden nuggets of wisdom in their story and how it’ll tell a timely message in an indirect way,” Zarlasht said. “When I went to look for books like this there weren’t many that were relatable. So we want to use the Afghan story tradition but place the story here with common imagery, names and locations so kids can relate to it.”

The In Other Words Space studio is the third element of the Lost in Books shop. It includes a retail section selling books in languages other than English and a cafe for carers while children enjoy creative programming. 

The brain child of Think+DO Tank Foundation creative director Jane Stratton, the multilingual bookshop/cafe provides high-quality children's literature in English and other languages and promotes literacy in the community. “Lost in Books is for everyone. It aims to give the community a high-quality bookshop in a beautiful setting that lets everyone find something a little magical,” Ms Stratton said.

Applications for the next In Other Words residency close on January 12.