So you’ve heard me banging on about this book The Life and Times of Chester Lewis recently, yes? If not, perhaps I haven’t been shouting loud enough. Anyway, Steve Rossiter, the man who got the ball rolling on Chester, gave up some of his time recently to answer a few questions regarding Chester Lewis, the Australian Literature Review and his own writing.
To begin with, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Grow up?
I was born in Hobart and grew up in Tasmania, until I moved to the Gold Coast as a teenager, later moved to Canberra to study at uni, lived in Melbourne for a number of years and have spent extended periods travelling around Australia.
Can you remember when you knew you wanted to be a writer? Was there a particular author or book which propelled you in this direction?
I first considered being an author at 9 years old when I started reading novels instead of shorter children’s books. At that age, some of the fiction books which appealed to me were Tintin books and Choose Your Own Adventure books. The following year, my Year 4 primary school teacher would read books out loud to the class one chapter each day. Ones that stood out were Charlotte’s Web by EB White, Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. I found more Cynthia Voigt novels (my favourite was The Wings of a Falcon), as well as The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier and others, but started running out of fiction books I liked in the primary school library and branched out to novels by Stephen King, Wilbur Smith, Ken Follett and Eric Lustbader.
You established The Australian Literature Review to help emerging Australian writers to find their feet. Do you think there’s a particular need in Australia for new writers to be helped find themselves?
The aim of The Australian Literature Review is not necessarily to help emerging writers find their feet. That is one aspect, but it is also about giving readers and writers access to interviews and articles so they can get first-hand insights into how authors go about their fiction writing and their thoughts on various aspects of fiction writing. This is useful for aspiring fiction authors, but also to published authors and readers who don’t necessarily want to write their own fiction.
Australia is a relatively small publishing market which makes building a sustainable career as a novelist generally more complicated for Australian writers than writers in countries such as the US and the UK. Australia also has less world class universities where novelists can build sophisticated knowledge and writing skills to compete on the same level as US and UK novelists.
The Life and Times of Chester Lewis is the latest in a series of books published under the Auslit banner. The way it was written, with one author taking on the next stage of Chester’s life with nothing but the previous stories to base it on, could have lead in quite a few different directions. Did the book unfold in the way you envisioned?
I put the initial book concept in place, which was to chart the approximately 100 year lifespan of the main character via a story per decade in that character’s life. Beyond that, and a general idea of some authors I might invite to each write a story, I did not have a pre-conceived idea of how the book would unfold. The first story, by Michael White, established Chester’s parents and the circumstances leading up to Chester’s birth,that Chester would be born in Perth in 1932, etc. If Michael had established the main character’s birth for 1900 or 1987 instead of 1932 it would have been a very different book.
The Life and Times of Chester Lewis has an associated fan fiction competition with a top prize of $2,000. What advice would you give to someone whom this has prompted to write their first short story?
In a recent interview, Kelly Inglis asked me what makes a compelling character and I said a combination of purpose and personality. In another recent interview, I told Jo Hart that a simple but important tip is to have a story concept in mind before writing the story. (You can click on the relevant interview link to find a fuller explanation.)
You’re working on your own novel right now, set in WW2 Poland. Tell us about it? Was there a particular reason you chose that period and country?
The 1939 invasion of Poland is a pivotal turning point in world history, marking the start of WW2. It is a time and place which has gravity for people around the world, yet it is not a setting which has been overdone in novels or films. Poland is a place rich in sophisticated history. For example, Nicolaus Copernicus (who famously advanced the idea that the Earth revolved around the Sun and not the other way round) lived not far from where my story is set, around 400 years earlier. It is a time and place where high stakes conflict is all around in various forms while a conflict of ideas also plays out on a grand scale.
What authors do you particularly admire, or had an influence on your writing?
In a recent interview, Kerry Brown asked me which ten authors, living and dead, I might ideally select for a hypothetical book of similar concept to The Life and Times of Chester Lewis and I suggested the following might be in the running:
Robert Louis Stevenson
Finally, the question all writers dread…. Keyboard or pen?
I prefer to do the first draft in pen and do the first edit as I type it onto the computer, or to do planning and write research notes in pen and/or on a whiteboard then to type the story.
Thanks Steve for taking to the time. And if you’d like to try your hand at the fan fiction competition (and why wouldn’t you? What’s there to lose?) head right on over to the Chester Lewis site or its Facebook page. Happy writing.
I’m a bloody idiot. No, no, don’t correct me… oh, you weren’t… well regardless, the initial sentiment remains. Why? Well Ironwatch, the fan magazine for Mantic Games came out a while ago, and it features stories by me, and forgot to tell you. And my level of stupidity is double because it came out not once, but twice! If you like quick and dirty sci fi short fiction I hope I delivered, and it tantlises you enough to keep checking back, because that bad boy is going to be spread across four issues.
I’m pretty certain I’ve written about Mantic before, but if not and you like free fiction (did I mention it was free?), and wargaming then go check it out. The guys there have got some solid IP going on in their universes which I’m happy to pick apart in my own writing.
Oh, and keep an eye on the next issue. I’ll have something on their new game Dreadball in there too…
…and if I were technically enough minded I’d do some kind of scrolling text like the beginning of Star Wars. But I’m not. Sorry.
Anyhoo, The Life and Times of Chester Lewis has been on sale for a while now, and I’ve been getting some lovely feed back from those who have read it and enjoyed it. Seriously, there’s nothing sweeter to a writer to hear from someone who appreciated your work.
But Steve Rossiter, the editor, has been heading around doing a blog tour after the release, and will be on this blog later this week, and today he appeared on the very talented Bernadette Kelly’s blog for a interview, here. Head on over for a read. It’s short and sweet. LIke a sugar coated Umpah Lumpah.
I’m back! The holiday was a blast, if tiring (if proof is needed, I actually started to go grey at the temples, as Suzie enjoyed pointing out to everyone), and I step back into an Australia which suddenly has The Life and Times of Chester Lewis available to it!
I still haven’t had to time to read the final chapter of my copy, but I’m itching to see how Steve Rossiter ended the saga.
Also since I’ve been away the first two instalments of another story of mine, Asset Procurement, have seen the light of day in Mantic Games’ fan magazine Iron Watch. It’s quick and dirty sci fi fun for anyone who swings that way.
And now if you’ll excuse me, I have a steampunk epic to finish. TTFN!
I’m still on holiday, and with somewhat sketchy Internet access, but I’m dropping by to share a link to an interview with me over at the Chester Lewis website: http://chesterlewis.net/2012/09/14/michael-grey-author-interview/
(apologies for the dodgy formatting! It appears WordPress doesn’t like iPads that much)
Although I will be back on October the first…. which is less poetic, but certainly more accurate.
Yup, I’m off on holiday, so I’m afraid this place will be a tad quieter than usual for five weeks, but I’m sincerely hoping my own writing output won’t be too effected. Oh, it will be, I’m going with two small boys with a pad and pen, but still, I aim to fill this pad and god help me if I don’t…
There’s an interesting article over on Alison Goodman’s blog about fear, self doubt and their role in writer’s block. And honestly, reading it made me feel really lucky.
I don’t tend to get writer’s block. I mean, I get stuck, I get frustrated, I hate myself, my writing and want to bite pens in half (I write on a battered old laptop, so why I hate pens in those situations I don’t know), but I don’t stop. And honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The fear doesn’t stop me. If anything, it’s fuel, an urge to always do better, to prove to myself and readers “Look! I can do better! love me, LOVE ME!”. When I hear otehr writers, especially ones as well regarded as Alison, have it affect them in different ways puzzles me.
I suppose what I wanty to say here is use the fear. Stare it in the face, and when it’s attention is distracted steal its wallet. And also, I feel blessed to think this way.
The people who lived in this house before the wife and I moved in were kind enough to leave a wind chime in the outside entertaining area (I don’t like the word pergola… to me to sounds like some pacific battle from WW2), for which I was very greatful.
I love windchimes. To the point where I don’t understand why otehrs wouldn’t. Not that it matters, because I also don’t trust them. I mean, who could trust someone who doesn’t love windchimes?
For me they herald they beginning of something. Perhaps it’s my watching all those terrible late 80s and 90s horror films, where a few clink-clonks on them signalled someone was about be offed…. whatever the cause, I love them, and they aid my writing no end… even when the pigeons also took a shine to them.
There’s also a tree in our back garden. And oak, I think, although I’m terrible at guessing trees without leaves and we moved in in winter, but to the local pigeons its the most comfortable tree around, and since I moved the windchomes to catch more breeze, well now they have something to play with too.
So, I’ll be writing, with a gentle tinkle-plinkle-plonk in the background, when suddenly it be like Bez from the Happy Mondays has been on the Vimto and decided to go at them with his maracas.
Exhibit A (minis Bez and maracas):
Twitter’s wonderful. Of course for the ability for everyone around the world to disseminate information without filtering it through faceless agencies, and lolcats, but also I wouldn’t have found out about The Composites. People with way too much time on their hands who use it wisely by putting the description of literary characters through police composite software.
And you know what, most of them are scarily accurate. Just check out the Cathy Wilkes compo from Stephen King’s Misery. Anyone else see Cathy Bates?
And my personal favourite…. I could see Kate Bush singing at him on a blasted heath.