Author Q&A: Jason Wallace
March 08, 2018
Jason Wallace’s incredible first novel ‘Out of Shadows’ won the Costa Children’s Book Award! We were lucky enough to catch up with Jason about becoming an author and hear his top tips for young writers…
How do you get your inspiration for your stories?
From reading. And writing. But more often than not inspiration is around us all the time, we just don’t realise it. The people on the train, the strange neighbour opposite, the cat that comes and goes, the shoe lying on the pavement, the rain that won’t stop… Any of those could be the starting point of a story, of any type (funny, sad, scary, stupid…).
Look around. Play with ideas. And don’t be afraid to take things to strange places!
What tips would you give to our young writers?
I could fill a page with this. However, there are three key things, I think, above all else:
- Read as much as you can. Even if you think it’s bad, a book will teach you by showing how others are doing it. Take inspiration from the books you love, and take note of the books (and bits of books) you hate!
- Write as much as you can. No one (and I mean, no one!) succeeded after their first time of trying. You can only get better with practice. And don’t get too disheartened if you feel what you’ve written isn’t very good – you can always go back and make it better later.
- Enjoy. If you really hate or are bored by what you’re writing, chances are your reader will feel the same thing too. Don’t give up too easily, but learn to spot when there really is no point with carrying on with your story and try something different.
It’s important not to get too bogged down with writing – remember to enjoy life too! After all, it’s life that will ultimately feed your stories.
We are asking children to write stories about a hero for our free writing competition. Who was your hero when you were a child and why?
That’s a tricky one! I remember enjoying the usual superhero characters that young boys enjoy reading/watching, such as Batman, Superman, etc.
However, looking back, I also remember that my true heroes – people I admired, and was inspired by – were often real people whose names I didn’t even know.
For example, I was in utter awe of the astronauts who flew the very first NASA space shuttle to beyond our planet and back. I thought they were amazing – to be achieving something that no other person had – their feat stayed with me for a very long time.
In terms of literature, I remember being drawn by characters who went beyond themselves to achieve great things, like Danny the Champion of the World (Roald Dahl), who bravely goes to rescue his father… Not an obvious choice, but even then I felt the true heroes are the quieter ones who quietly get on with things, not those who show off and shout about what they’re doing.
Who is your hero now and why?
I think I’ve kept that sense of admiration for the less obvious heroes in life. I still feel immense respect for, and am inspired by, those who succeed at whatever it is they do. It could be anyone, but particularly sports men and women, like athletes at the Olympics (Mo Farah is just one such hero of mine, and not just because he trains in my local park!).
Why? Because it’s not just about winning on the day, it’s about putting in the hours/days/years of training in order to get to that single point of achievement. The mental determination and stamina to go through all that in order to achieve a single goal is, in my opinion, heroic.
You speak about how getting published didn’t happen overnight, how did you keep up your motivation?
That’s quite simple. By living with the knowledge that, ultimately, writing is all I’ve ever wanted to do – I enjoy it too much to NOT do it! And if I was to give up writing I would have been saying to myself, ‘You’re never going to do the thing you love’.
Sure, there were times I wanted to give up, but at the end of the day it was still my goal, and a goal – by definition – is something that requires focus and dedication, there is no easy path.
And anyway, no one ever feels a sense of achievement having watched TV all day, but everyone feels satisfaction after a 10-mile hike – that’s just human nature.
Add to that the well-known saying – we’ve all heard it many times, the one about life being short – and that’s how I kept (and keep) up my motivation.
When you were a child, what did you want to do when you were older?
I pretty much wanted to be a writer all the time, even before I realised it! I loved creating stories, even at an early age. I guess writing and letting my imagination work overtime is just in my DNA.
What advice would you give to children about pursuing their dream job?
Do it! Don’t be put off. And don’t be told you can’t, or won’t. Those dreams are yours, not theirs!
Sure, there are some things that you’ll never do – I’ll never break the 100m sprint record, for instance, and it would be pointless trying – and so you should take care to keep a degree of realism in check. But if there’s nothing concrete blocking your way, then you owe it to yourself to give it a go. Just don’t give up as soon as you fail. You really do learn by mistakes, they give you a better chance of succeeding the next time round.
What was your favourite children’s book growing up?
I loved the Roald Dahl stories – almost all of them, but ‘James and the Giant Peach’ was a real favourite, as it let my imagination run wild (giant fruit and giant insects… How could it not?!).
And the Dr Seuss books are brilliant (‘Horton Hears a Who’, and ‘The Lorax’)… I love reading those to my son, perhaps even more than he enjoys listening to them. The use of language is utterly brilliant!
What stories do you love to read now?
Time is short and so I don’t have a great deal of reading time. However, I do enjoy – as I just mentioned – reading my old favourites to my young son. I hope he gets what I used to get out of them.
I read a lot of non-fiction, to help with researching my novels. And other novels? As long as it keeps me hooked, I’ll read it. I don’t have the time anymore to wade through books I find boring or that are wasting my hours!
Jason Wallace’s new book Encounters is published by Anderson Press in paperback in April 2018.
If you know an aspiring young writer, why not tell them about our National Young Writers’ Awards? It’s a great way for them to practice creating a short story and they could win a family trip to Disneyland Paris!
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