WSU celebrates the literary pioneers of Finishing School ahead of International Women’s Day

An image of the Finishing School's installation, Talking Bodies.

‘Trailblazers, with unique voices and a relentless work ethic’ is how Dr Felicity Castagna describes Finishing School, an all-female Western Sydney writers’ collective which has achieved incredible success since starting 7 months ago.  

Dr Castagna – who is co-founder of the collective – says this month’s International Women’s Day is the perfect time to reflect on the success of the collective. A group based at the Writing and Society Research Centre and supported by The Parramatta Artists Studios, Create NSW and The Crown/Packer Foundation.  

“Beyond creating a safe and supportive writing space, the goal of Finishing School is to identify and develop women who will be the future voices of the western Sydney region – during the past 7 months, these women have definitely been heard,” says Dr Castagna.  

Notable achievements have included:

  • Zarlasht Sarwari receiving a fellowship from Lost In Books to work on a bilingual picture book with artist Uma Jeyaseelan – the pair will develop illustrated children’s stories, drawing inspiration from Zarlasht‘s Afghan storytelling traditions.
  • Eda Gunaydin receiving the prestigious Neilma Sidney Fellowship for a research trip to France and Germany for the novel she is writing which explores first-and-second-generation members of the Turkish diaspora
  • Rawah Arja being signed by Giramondo for her first book The F Team
  • Faith Chaza, Sheila Pham and Eda Gunaydin being featured on ABC’s The Mix
  • Chloe Higgins and Michele Freeman winning writing fellowships with WestWords
  • Chloe Higgins being signed by the prestigious Jane Novak Agency, who represents writers such as Helen Garner and Tim Flannery for her novel ‘The Girls’.
  • The collective also recently produced a large-scale installation of stories for The Parramatta Laneway Festival which was viewed by 120,000 people and has a performance, ‘Talking Bodies’, which focuses on women’s relationship with their bodies as part of the Sydney Writers’ Festival this May.

According to Dr Castagna, there has been a lot of focus in western Sydney on encouraging people to write but there has been less focus on developing the skills of writers who are  already skilled wordsmiths and who may need a different kind of support in order to make the leap from an emerging to a professional writer. All the women in The Finishing School are  working on completing an entire fiction or non-fiction work and the focus of the group is this manuscript development.

“I fully support any group that encourages women to start writing, however what we thought was missing in western Sydney was a group that really honed the talents of female authors by providing intensive individualized feedback on their developing manuscripts – enabling them to finish works and become viable, published authors. This is what the Finishing School is doing, and doing with great success,” says Dr Castagna.

Collective member Zarlasht Sarwari says the Finishing School has been an oasis of support.

"The collective has offered a great deal of encouragement to improve our writing craft and validated the importance of getting diverse voices out into the literary landscape,” she says.

“In its own unique way, the Finishing School collective allows us as writers to challenge some of the stereotypes attributed to Western Sydney, and potentially help readers reimagine the place from the perspective of those who are intimately connected to it.”

For more information, visit the Finishing School website.


1 March 2018

Emma Sandham, Senior Media Officer.