We are thrilled to announce this year’s Slinkies authors. In the next series of posts we bring you interviews with 2020 Slinkies authors, Sophie Overett, Harry Goddard, Ch’aska Cuba de Reed, Liam Higham, Sky Carrall, Emil Colic , Tehya Nicholas and Thomas Alan. In this post, Thomas talks about his short fiction, Stumps/Smokes, how adolescent experience informs his writing and about his favourite authors. Stumps/Smokes is available from all major ebook retailers.
Can you talk a bit about the Tennby setting in ‘Stumps’ and ‘Smokes’ and where your ideas came from?
Tennby is haunted. It’s a horrible crockpot filled with all the urban myths we believed as kids, as well as the worst memories that I have from my own formative years. I think growing up is messy and it’s revealing and it’s endless, and I think that a small country town like Tennby is the perfect embodiment of how claustrophobic those years can seem. You can’t necessarily hide in a small town, and you sure as hell can’t escape. A lot of my ideas come out of memories or feelings from my youth that I still hold onto. I try to twist and tangle these moments around my characters and draw some rationale or reasoning out of them. For instance, the basic idea for Smokes came from a memory I have of warring with kids in the bushland behind my house. I remember my neighbours and I throwing pinecones at kids who were exploring the scrub and then ducking the rocks that they threw back. I didn’t know those kids and they sure as hell didn’t know me. But, at the time, it was utterly freeing. Don’t get me wrong though, I definitely don’t condone throwing rocks at people.
Are these two pieces part of a broader Tennby fictional world?
Definitely. At the time of writing this, I have two other short pieces set in Tennby as well as the beginnings of a novel.
What draws you to writing about the darker side of childhood and adolescence?
Probably my own self-comfort – if I’m being completely honest. I think our adolescence is a time where we have extraordinary agency over ourselves and yet it is also a time where we feel utterly constrained by the systems that surround us – whether that be in regards to school systems, family structures, social circles, or even our own perception of self and what place we hold in relation to larger society. A lot of the memories I have from my adolescence are weird and nonsensical. When you’re a kid everything feels like the end of the world and everything you do feels important. Even now, I struggle to understand why I value some of the memories I hold onto. Writing about them allows me to prescribe some semblance of truth and meaning to them. I think it helps me to understand myself a little better as well as the people around me. Beyond this, I would say that everyone can relate to the struggles of adolescence. Everyone remembers the school fights. Everyone remembers that kid who came to class drunk. Everyone remembers shitting themselves around the class turd. But everyone also remembers their own darkness – the time they took a joke too far, the time they hurt someone’s feelings, the time they were the bully. Everyone remembers the shit. And I think adolescence brings out both the best and worst in us. We embellish it and glorify it and cringe at it, and I think that adolescence is a goddamn mess and I don’t necessarily like the idea of it being meaningless.
What are your favourite authors and books? How have they influenced your writing?
I adore Markus Zusak’s novels – specifically The Messenger and Bridge of Clay. I think Zusak creates some of the most brilliant characters I have ever read. I think they’ve got a lot of heart, and I will forever aim and struggle to create characters and stories of that calibre. I would also say that David Mitchell has had an influence on my writing – especially his coming-of-age novel Black Swan Green and how the characters of his novels make recurring appearances throughout his universe – and a good friend of mine just placed Tim Winton’s The Turning in my hands. Holy shit, I have wasted so many years not reading Tim.
What do you like about the short story form?
I actually hate writing the short story form! Well, no – I suppose that’s not completely true. I hate writing so few words. I’m the sort of writer that disappears down rabbit holes and rummages around until I find something shiny. Short form requires me to be direct and ruthless and pointed. I love the challenge of writing short form, but it forces me to introduce ideas quickly and efficiently and to cull things that might serve the Tennby setting but not necessarily serve the overall purpose of the story. I don’t know how effective I am at it, but I like to think I’m getting better.
What other projects are you currently working on? Where can people catch you on the internet?
Currently, I’m working on another Tennby short story and after that I have plans to continue work on the Tennby novel. My twitter handle is @ByThomasAlan – come say hi!
Thomas Alan was born and raised in the dry, Australian heat. He graduated the University of Queensland with a major in creative writing and a graduation gown ruined by pit stains. His writing looks at Australian adolescence and magnifies the condition of a society that never truly comes-of-age. When he’s not outside working as a carpenter, he’s inside basking in the air-conditioning, hopefully writing, working to get out of this damn heat.