You wrote the 7th story in The Life and Times of Chester Lewis, set in 1990 when Chester is 57-58 years old. Without giving plot spoilers, what can readers look forward to in your story?
Chester is keeping secrets and a family camping trip is more than just an attempt to spend time with his son. Unfortunately for Chester, even a camping trip may not be enough to escape his past and keep his family protected.
How would you describe the personality of Chester Lewis?
He’s a smart man and a business-minded man. He believes in hard work. He is also protective of those he cares about, though he is not one to share everything with them.
How would you describe your Chester Lewis story in juxtaposition to your other fiction?
I generally write a lot of fantasy and stories geared towards a younger readership, whereas my Chester story is very much grounded in the real world and more suited to adult readers. I do enjoy including action and adventure into my fantasy stories and my Chester Lewis story is no different in that regard.
Another big difference for me was writing from the perspective of a 57-year-old man. With the exception of my story ‘Eighteen for Life’ (in the anthology Eighty Nine), which has an eighteen-year-old male protagonist, my other published stories have all been from a female perspective. I had to get myself into the headspace of a male, and I drew a little bit on my dad, actually, who is close to the age Chester is in my story. I would ask myself, ‘How would my dad think/feel/react’. Of course I had to factor in Chester’s experiences and personality, too.
The Life and Times of Chester Lewis has a fan fiction competition, for stories 2000 – 4000 words, with a $2000 1st prize. What advice do you have for entrants?
Can I start by revealing a secret? I currently have two stories on auslit.net that originally started their lives as fan fiction. Fan fiction can be a great way to inspire ideas and practise your craft.
The thing I love about fan fiction is that you can take characters, even minor characters, and explore their untold stories. My advice for entrants into the fan fiction contest would be to do just this. Tell the untold stories of the characters. Explore the events of the intervening years. Tell the story from another point of view or tell the story of what happened to one of the minor characters before or after their entry into the story.
You could be described as an emerging writer. How would you describe how far your fiction writing has come and your approach to which direction you’d like to take your fiction writing?
The last two years have been a real confidence booster for me in terms of my fiction writing. As a writer it’s often hard to feel confidence in your own writing, especially when you are yet to be published. Having had a few different stories published has given me validation about my writing. The key for me has been to just keep writing and to learn from my rejections and from my successes. The past few years I’ve had the opportunity to work with an editor and with other writers, which has been invaluable in terms of improving my craft. I don’t think I would be where I am without their advice and critiques.There is great value in gaining insight from others who are knowledgeable in writing. All writers should have a critique partner or a critique group.
Apart from gaining critiques from others on my writing, my other approach has been to submit! I realised I was never going to get published if I never submitted anything. Like most writers, I’ve had rejections, but rather than let them get me down, I’ve used them as a way to ask myself, ‘What can I do to improve?’ I also try to enter competitions where there is an opportunity for critique. The CYA conference is a good one for writers of children and young adult books as every entrant receives feedback.
My approach at the moment is to keep on writing, getting feedback and submitting.
What is one of your favourite novels you have read in the past year, and why?
I really enjoyed Sweetly by Jackson Pearce. I’m a real sucker for twisted fairytales and found her writing in Sisters Red to be fantastic, so I couldn’t wait to read Sweetly, which is loosely based on Hansel and Gretel. She does a great job of weaving the original fairytale into the modern world and including her own mythology. I enjoy stories that keep me guessing, and Sweetly does this.
Another book that was amongst my favourites this year was Karen Tyrrell’s Me & Her: A Memoir of Madness. I don’t tend to read memoirs, but I was really hooked into this one from the first page. What made this book so compelling was how relateable the main ‘character’ was (especially considering she was a teacher like me). I was totally drawn into her story.
If you could bring one fiction author back from the dead for one day for the sole purpose of discussing writing fiction, who would you choose, and why?
Ooh, that’s a hard one! I’d probably say Tolkien as I’d really love to pick his brain about world building.
What is next for your fiction writing?
I’ve been focusing a lot on writing picture books lately. I’ve been participating in Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 in 2012 picture book writing challenge and have a folder full of picture book drafts to work on. I also have a couple of fantasy novels I’m working on, but they are on hold at the moment as I have a young baby at home, which is quite time consuming!
Jo Hart author site: www.thegracefuldoe.wordpress.com