You have two stories in the integrated short story collection, Possessing Freedom. Without giving plot spoilers, what can readers look forward to in your two stories?
Readers can look forward to psychological suspense with a supernatural element.
The main character’s duty as a hospital psychiatric intern conflicts with his personal feelings about how his patient is being treated.
Your two stories are told through the point of view of the same character, Damian (21), but they alternate with stories from the point of view of Alice (17), written by Belinda Dorio. How would you describe your experience of writing your two Damian stories to fit in with Belinda’s two Alice stories?
Beau Hillier used an apt phrase to describe the kind of fiction in Possessing Freedom; “entertaining and mindful”. Writing Damian’s stories provided an opportunity to portray stories with clear conflict, whilst also presenting a character with a professional background in psychology and an emotional attachment to his patient.
After Belinda established her Alice character, I created Damian as Alice’s alternate narrator for the first four stories. As a newcomer to the hospital, and someone more susceptible to supernatural goings on than others around him, Damian starts to experience things he cannot explain and gets drawn toward Alice’s plight. This is the basic set up for Damian’s stories and I had fun exploring where that led.
Damian’s freedom, alternated with Alice’s confinement, helps build a greater understanding of Alice’s situation. He serves as a bridge between Alice’s boxed-in environment and the larger setting of the hospital and Melbourne in 2026, in those first four stories. Damian has a more clinical frame of mind than Alice, who is more openly emotive and internally conflicted, but Damian’s emotions do underly his choices from the beginning of the story and come out more openly as the story progresses. It was interesting balancing Damian’s narrative style with Alice’s to keep the story moving along as an intertwined single story, as a larger conflict emerges to be taken up in the later stories.
What do you hope readers will take away from reading Possessing Freedom?
I hope readers will take away a sense that they have gained some insight into the minds of the main characters, and that this will inspire readers to think more deeply about human behaviour and relationships between people.
I hope it will also inspire people to write their own fiction to explore human behaviour and convey this to others.
Possessing Freedom is set in Melbourne in 2026. What challenges or joys did you experience writing stories in this near-future Melbourne setting?
I extrapolated from my own experience to portray a fictional near-future in which things work a bit differently. 2026 is a little over a decade into the future, so things are much the same.
With a hospital as the primary setting for the first four stories, the time gap provided scope to rethink how a hospital could operate. I have some experience as a simulated patient for the Monash University medical school (that is, playing the role of a patient for medical students to diagnose for their practical exams), so I have some practical insight into how a variety of real-life medical professionals might behave in different situations.
Part of the storytelling was putting the characters in non-typical situations and having them respond in non-typical ways. However, a level of real-world grounding contributes to the subtle details which help build up plausible characters with a sense of believability – even though they are facing extraordinary and supernatural circumstances.
Part of developing the near-future setting also involved collaborating with the other authors to arrive at a shared understanding of how the storyworld works, and I enjoyed this collaborative process.
Possessing Freedom has a fan fiction competition running until August 31st, 2013, with a $2000 1st prize. What comments or tips do you have for writers who may be considering writing a short story related to Damian?
Damian is 21 and a competent intern. He places importance on independence of thought. This doesn’t necessarily mean thinking differently to someone else. It means understanding things himself and knowing why he thinks what he does. He also has a strong sense of fairness and will go out of his way to help a person or animal in an unfortunate situation – even to his own detriment. These attributes bring story possibilities which could be explored further.
In story 4 there is a moment where Damian reflects on his childhood pet cat, providing insight into the development of his personality over time, which could be taken up and expanded upon in fan fiction. It also touches on a possible supernatural element involving his childhood pet, allowing different readers to interpret this in different ways.
The question of what motivates Damian to pursue a career in psychology could also be a good starting point for story ideas.
What is one of your favourite fiction books that you have read in the past year, and why does it stand out for you?
I have recently read a number of novels set in Poland. An interesting one is The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P Kelly. The author’s well-rounded knowledge of his subject matter is evident in the writing and the tone of the narration is that of a worldly and educated adult narrator with appeal to children and adults alike. The Trumpeter of Krakow provides a window into 15th century Krakow while telling a story of duty and adventure which has held enduring appeal for generations of readers since it was first published in 1928.
Other interesting novels set in Poland which I have read in the past year include Auslander by Paul Dowswell, The Polish Officer by Alan Furst, and Escaping into the Night by D Dina Friedman.
One of my next reads will be Private Oz by James Patterson and Michael White, which I recently received from Random House. I had a chat with Michael in Sydney while he was writing Private Oz and, having read previous novels by both Michael White and James Patterson, it will be interesting to see how the collaboration has turned out.
You have a short story in another integrated short story collection, The Life and Times of Chester Lewis. For people not familiar with The Life and Times of Chester Lewis, what can readers look forward to in those stories?
The book explores family, responsibility and irresponsibility, love, morality, living life and facing death, and the progression of a life over the course of a century, with a healthy dose of adventure.
The Life and Times of Chester Lewis is a collection of eleven stories which spans the approximately 100 year lifespan of the title character. Beginning in 1931 Shanghai, prior to Chester’s birth in Perth in 1932, the book follows Chester throughout the following century.
Each story is personal in detail and contributes to the epic life story of Chester Lewis.
The book is primarily set in the Perth and Margaret river region of Western Australia, followed by the Whitsunday islands in Queensland, plus England, and Shanghai.
What is next for your fiction?
Following Possessing Freedom and The Life and Times of Chester Lewis, the focus of my fiction writing is on a novel set in 1939 Poland with a teenage main character. I am currently researching and in the early stages of writing the novel.