Canley Vale writer Claire Cao sees the 'power' of stories

 Claire Cao. Picture: Simon Bennett
Claire Cao. Picture: Simon Bennett

Have you heard the story about a bunch of kids trying to sneak a dog into a temple during Lunar New Year? Truth be told, the story isn't entirely true.

Canley Vale writer Claire Cao penned the tale for Sweatshop Women: Volume One which will be officially launched at the 2019 Sydney Writers' Festival on Friday, May 3.

The book features short stories and poems by 22 culturally diverse women from western Sydney.

Ms Cao's entry is titled Going to Kuan Yin Temple and was inspired by the temple at the end of her street and growing up near its "noisiness and intensity."

"My dog also actually ran in there once, but the story tells a more exciting version of events," she said.

"Winnie Dunn who runs the Sweatshop women's collective and edited the anthology, really helped me focus on a childlike sense of mischief."

The 22-year-olds passion for writing began as a child. She can remember writing silly stories as soon as she could pick up a pen at age 4 or 5.

She speaks of writing as something she has always enjoyed and credits her parents for encouraging her to read as solidifying that passion because she saw the "power of stories."

Last year she was selected as one of eight writers to be part a CuriousWorks project titled Behind Closed Doors that aimed to bring new western Sydney voices and untold stories to the screen.

Her background is really important to her writing which she fits in while studying a law/arts degree.

"Mainly because you don't see too many stories told about western Sydney and I think it's a really rich and inspiring place," said Cao, who one day plans to write a book.

"Everyone here has such extensive and complicated histories and struggles and I want to give voice to that. In terms of my ethnic background, I was obsessed with Chinese martial arts films and mythology as a kid so that shapes a lot of the quirkiness in my writing for sure."

Her writing caught the eye of the Citizen Writes project. She was one of 10 culturally diverse writers selected for a series of workshops with award winning author Roanna Gonsalves.

"I was really encouraged to try out because Roanna was running it. I saw her speak at Sydney Writers Festival a few years back and was just so impressed with how funny, frank and witty she was," she said.

"I immediately read some of her short stories after and found that her writing reflects her wonderful personality. The chance of being mentored by her and meeting other emerging writers was a huge motivating factor.

"The workshops helped me become a better writer because not only were we always writing, we were always reading too. Roanna chose a great selection of experimental and revolutionary voices that were really inspiring. She also brought in this year's winner of the Deborah Cass prize to talk about her journey, which helped me realise writing is more realistic as a career than I thought."

Her work is also being featured in a poster campaign throughout Sydney which will enable passersby to engage with powerful words embedded within the urban landscape.

"The posters around the city are using a line I wrote about Cabramatta: the suburb was like a fragile charcoal drawing, each brick, each path, each person sketched out from a miasma of remembrances, not quite true to life," she said.

"My story is about an elderly woman who lives in Cabramatta who at first seems like a stereotypical Asian granny - she has a fanny pack, puffy vest and spends her time telling off her grandson. But later you find out that she's meeting up with an old flame from her home country that she hasn't seen for 50 years and the piece is really about her sexuality and the inner lives of old people that grandkids don't usually think about."