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Debut author Alex Sarkis has penned an authentic, funny and fresh book, Something Blue. Alex tells LSJ Media about her childhood inspiration for the book, an extract of which is also available below.

You described your book as a love story set in Sydney’s west but “also a love story about Sydney’s west”. How important was it to you to bring the area to life in the book?

Very important. I always say that one of my main aims wasn’t just to have Sydney as a setting in the book, but rather as a character in its own right. The Area, for me, is one of the most significant parts of this ‘character’ – it’s arguably the most renowned subculture in Sydney; it dictates a lot of trends, and also Sydney’s West in general, is the backbone of Sydney’s economy. Despite all of this, it hardly ever gets the credit or the love that it deserves. Bringing The Area to life in the book was an absolute delight because I was able to ‘lift the curtain’ on it, so to speak, and to show readers what it’s really like behind all the headlines: funny, vibrant and family-orientated.

How have you previously found popular or cultural depictions of Western Sydney, as someone who is from the area, and did that shape your goal to write an authentic and accurate story of the area?

I was raised for the first part of my childhood in Bossley Park. Though this is very much in Sydney’s West, I wouldn’t say I’m ‘from The Area’, but I’ve spent a lot of my life around those parts because my church is in Punchbowl and most of my extended family live there. Growing up in Sydney’s West was so much fun, and I think shows like Fat Pizza and Superwog have done such a great job of taking that particular brand of comedy mainstream.

When I was writing Something Blue, I wanted to combine those elements with very real depictions of how layered certain ‘stereotypes’ can be, and how culturally rich Western Sydney actually is. I think that was my main approach in achieving authenticity: by showing it all – the good, the bad, and the ugly – but always with an affection toward The West and even more so, the Lebanese community.

There is remarkable detail in your characters. Have any family or friends who have seen the book yet tried to spot themselves in there?

The main character’s immediate family is very much inspired by my own. It was an easy reach for me, and a workable basis for the rest of the story. Any characters beyond that, however, are one hundred percent fictional. I’ve definitely borrowed traits from people I know, but not to the extent that they can spot themselves!

Do you have a favourite book of the year so far?

Sadly, no! I haven’t done much reading this year but the last book I read and loved was Sarah Winman’s Still Life.

Do you read reviews of your work?

There haven’t been many reviews for Something Blue so far , but I don’t know if I will! I’m not sure how I’d go with a bad review – hopefully there won’t be many!

An exclusive extract of Something Blue, published by Ultimo Press and now available at all bookstores for $32.99

I cross the courtyard, and for the first time in months I feel the dull ache of hunger in my gut. The sun glares off the white brick walls and the light is blinding. I blink and follow my nose; that warm aroma willing me forward.

When I reach the hall, I see the old woman with the wooden cane crouched beside a smoking saj. She places flattened dough on its black metal dome, and I watch as it bubbles and bakes.

‘Is my tayta inside?’ I ask.

‘Eh. She inside. Badik manoush?’ She pinches a browned edge, dragging the flatbread onto a paper plate and folding it in half. It feels hot in my hands. I pull at the dough with my teeth, tasting the tangy za’atar and the subtle flavour of sesame.


I nod. ‘Very good.’

She smiles. ‘Eh, sahten.’

‘Aa albik.’

I move to the shade and eat it all, watching from beneath the awning as people start to gather for the feast. They come through the gates in the afternoon sun: schoolkids, families and neighbours from across the street. Behind me, I can hear Tayta yelling orders through an open door. I throw my empty plate away and peek around the threshold, curious to see the ‘kitchen’.

There are ten or so old ladies seated along a foldout table with Tayta at its head. Some roll and cut the pastry into circles, others add the filling (either meat or spinach), and another group pinches the pastry into triangle pies. The rest of the dough is sent to the saj.

In the far corner there’s a smaller group of women gathered around a large pot of soup simmering on a portable stove. It’s a meat and wheat stew called hrisi, and it’s so thick it has to be stirred with a wooden paddle.

I’m too shy to join them, so I call out over the noise. ‘Tayta?


The room stops. Tayta looks up at me, elbow deep in flour.


‘I finished praying.’

‘Eh, good.’ She smiles up at me, waiting for more.

‘Do you need any help?’

‘Eh. Come sit here, next to me.’

One of the women hands me a hairnet and a pair of rubber gloves. I take a chair from against the wall and bring it to the table. A low murmur rolls through the room and then everyone starts working again: cutting, kneading, plating and cleaning. They chat as they go, gasping at village gossip and making jokes about their senile husbands. I sit idle until Tayta trusts me enough to spoon spinach onto the centre of the circle-cut dough. I do this over and over, sliding my finished work to Aunty Mary who, having been forced down the line to make room for me, finds issue with everything.

‘This no good. Not ’nuff.’ She takes the smallest amount of spinach from the metal bowl and adds it to my attempt.

I nod and try again.

‘Too much.’ And she deducts the same amount.

We work this way for a while, until she pushes back her chair and announces to the table, ‘I going for smoke.’

No one answers, though among their faces I see a shared look of relief.

She shuffles out the door, holding her lower back and groaning loudly. From the show she puts on, I can tell she’ll be gone a while.

‘Here, Nicole.’ Tayta leans down and picks up my bag from the floor. ‘Put on the chair, better.’ She points to Aunty Mary’s empty seat. ‘Yi, very heavy.’

‘Yeah, I know. I got my camera with me.’

‘Oh, that nice. You taking photo today?’ She starts rolling the dough again.

‘No, not today. I was in a rush getting here; I should’ve left it at


She shrugs. ‘You can take photo here. It nice for the people.’

I glance around the room. ‘Father Boutros love it. He love picture. Maybe he put in paper.’ She smiles at the idea and keeps rolling.

‘I like picture too.’

I bite my lip and think it over. I’ve been looking for something to photograph ever since I re-read Bronwyn Farley’s course criteria. It’s proving to be more of a challenge than I thought – putting together an abstract self-portrait, when I have absolutely no idea who I am anymore. My life at the moment seems so far off track, not even my own reflection rings true. Still, I have to find a way to tell my story, and what better place to start than by taking photos of someone I love?

‘Okay. But just of you.’ I peel the rubber gloves off my hands and pull my camera from my bag. When I stand and raise the lens, Tayta smiles and talks through her teeth.

‘Like this?’

‘Yeah, that’s perfect.’ I press down on the shutter. ‘Okay, one more.’ And I go again. ‘Okay, this time just roll the dough.’

She adjusts her hairnet then moves the rolling pin back and forth while I snap away.

‘These are good.’

‘Eh, let me see.’ We look together at the little screen. She’s youthful, my tayta; she could easily pass for a decade younger than her seventy-five years. She has highlights in her hair and her skin is still smooth. Even her eyes have stayed bright; light brown – almost amber – just like mine. I wait while she stares at herself. Finally, she approves.

‘Eh, good. Nice photo.’

I’m about to lift the strap from my neck, when a raspy voice whisper-shouts from behind me. ‘What ’bout us?’ One of the old ladies has an arm around her friend, already posed.

‘Do you want a photo?’

‘Eh, why not. We working too.’

I take their photo, and then after that the whole table wants in. I thought they’d be camera shy, but they’re smiling and posing with their rolling pins in the air, and I start to realise, old people are just the opposite. They love having their photo taken. They love being looked at. Because no one ever does anymore. They walk around unnoticed and undesirable; hidden in halls, making pies.

And it’s not fair. Because even though they’re old, they’re still here. They still wake up every morning and do their hair and choose their clothes. Some of them are even wearing lipstick. So, I take my time; I do my best to make them feel beautiful. A few ask for portraits and I start to learn their names: Martha with the thick glasses, Salma with the rosy cheeks. Hayet and Jamila who live across the road, and Amira who has mild dementia. I’m halfway through a photo shoot of a 90-year-old with missing teeth when we hear a shout from the opposite end of the table.

‘Who put this here!’ Aunty Mary has come back from her break and she’s not happy about my bag being on her chair. She knows it’s mine and she scowls at me from the other side of the room.

‘Me.’ Tayta keeps kneading, her voice firm.

Aunty Mary turns to her. ‘This my chair.’

‘Eh, so?’

She takes my bag and drops it on the floor. ‘So, move.’ Tayta stops what she’s doing and glares at her sister. ‘Put here.’

She points to the chair beside her. There’s a mounting tension in the room. We all watch as they face each other – both too proud to back down – and I don’t know what comes over me, but I call out just to fill the silence.

‘Aunty. Badik soura?’ I hold my camera up for her to see.

She looks at me like I’m fucked in the head. ‘Shou?’

‘Come get a photo. Everyone’s had one.’

‘Eh, helwi bitkoun,’ lisps the 90-year-old with missing teeth. ‘It for the church.’

‘La. I no want.’

She turns back to Tayta, so I call out again. ‘They need them for the paper!’

‘For the paper?’ Now I’ve really got her attention.

‘Eh.’ Tayta joins in on the ruse. ‘To say special thank you.’

Aunty Mary glares around the table. In her mind, she’s the hardest working pie-maker here – despite taking a forty-five-minute smoke break – and she’s not the type of woman who likes to be overlooked. If anyone deserves to be acknowledged in the Maronite Monthly, it’s Aunty Mary.

She draws herself up and walks to where I’m standing, giving silent consent. I pull a chair over to the window. She sits with her back straight and her hands in her lap like royalty. I say, ‘Turn more towards me,’ and, shockingly, she cooperates. There’s a hush around the room; a collective intake of breath. I bend to her level, camera raised, and for a moment I think we might really connect.

‘Okay, Aunty, smile on three.’

But when I look through my lens, all I see are those angry, piercing eyes.

‘I no fuckin’ smile,’ she says.