This week we interview Jane Skelton whose long story, ‘Flying Foxes’ is published as part of the Michael McGirr Selects series. Currently undertaking a artist’s residency in Norway, Jane will join our online bookclub for a discussion of her story, of writing fiction and her reading and writing habits. You can read a preview and buy a copy of ‘Flying Foxes’ using the link here and below. Join Jane and a group of short story readers and writers on our online bookclub on Facebook, here.
Do you remember the name and personality of the first character you ever created?
I used to write about our family dog, a French poodle called ‘Bobo’. He was a naughty boy who ran away a lot and rolled in poo. I was eight.
What drove you to write the story which is in the Michael McGirr Selects series?
The character of the brother with mental illness has been with me for a long time. I’ve written about him at other times in different guises. He is somewhat based on someone I worked with a long time ago, a young man who had schizophrenia who was also an amazing artist. I’m fascinated by bats and often think of their depiction in the Robert Gray’s poem, flying foxes, where they are ‘uncorked like musty vapour, at dusk, or there is loosed a fractured skein of smoke…’ The two things came together, battling with mental illness and images of flying foxes. The foxes are wild and unpredictable, creatures of the night, living on a different plane to ‘normal’ life. Without wild nature, without human differences, I think the world would be a sterile place.
How do you approach a new story? With a clear plan of where the narrative is going, or is it more of a ‘well, let’s see how this goes’ kind of approach?
I never have a plan! Stories usually evolve from images I become obsessed with. I invent a narrative so I can use the image.
Is there one particular author or book that you look to as a source of inspiration for your own writing? What are you reading now? Any recommendations?
There’s no one author, although I re-read Helen Garner’s fiction and find her very inspiring. I read eclectically. Lately it was Christos Tsiolkas’s short story collection Merciless Gods. He writes about sex very well – something a lot of authors find very hard (pardon the pun). I also enjoyed Ali Smith’s How to be both, especially for its experimental structure. I recently discovered W.G. Sebald and I’m working my way through his books at the moment. I’d recommend all of the above.
How does writing fit into your day-to-day life? Do you have any unusual writing habits? Any advice to share for those stuck in a writing slump?
I work (in a job) part-time in order to have days dedicated to writing. Sometimes I write on weekends as well, although there’s always a lot of distractions and other demands (like television)! It’s often difficult to get back into something if its been left without being worked on or looked at for even a few days. It can take quite a few hours – even half a day to wash away ‘normal’ life and return to the particular fictional world and find the ‘voice’. I don’t have the answer – it’s something I really struggle with. It helps though to have a dedicated space for writing. You know when you go into that room or space that’s what you’ll be doing. I like to have an array of objects, talismans around me – a couple of tiny buddhas, a little dancing Shiva, a couple of Ganeshas, some ceramic fish from Japan, a Chinese lucky rat and a plastic lion I found inexplicably in my car.
Jane Skelton’s short story collection Lives of the Dead is published by Spineless Wonders. Her fiction has appeared in a range of literary journals and anthologies over the years. She is currently working on a novel. She lives in the Blue Mountains, NSW. Her website is janeskelton.com.au.
Book available at Tomely