23rd September 2021
Interview with a Student Writer
It’s that time of year again where we scour the halls of Monash in search for a voracious reader and splendid writer to share their story.
In this week’s blog post, we are joined by Jesse Pridham, a current student studying a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Literature and Minoring in Japanese studies. When he isn’t writing stories that make you shed a tear or two, you can find him drinking green tea and munching away at red liquorice in his hometown of Mansfield. Jesse is the current President for the Monash Creative Writers Club and played a pivotal role in collaborating with us here at SURLY in organising a Poetry Writing Competition earlier this year as the club general representative. You can find his work in Lot’s Wife Edition 5, but be warned it will certainly pull at your heart strings. Weirdly he wanted us to tell you his favourite animal is a Turkey, we’re not sure if that’s a metaphor but we do know he writes phenomenal stories and has an incredible amount of insight to share with us!
So read on to find out about all things reading and writing from the perspective of Jesse!
What got you into writing?
Back when I was in Primary school, my class was given English homework that required us to hand in a one-page story on anything we wanted to write about. I had never really written a story before. My childhood hobbies mainly were playing with Legos and bouncing on my trampoline.
When the time came for us to return our stories to the teacher, most of the class had either done half a page or forgotten entirely. But I had done at least 10.
I can’t remember what it was about. Pirates, I think? Or maybe it was aliens. Let’s just go with pirate aliens to be safe. Either way, that was my first encounter with creative writing. I wasn’t very good at verbally explaining things when I was young, especially something like a story. So writing was an effective way of delivering the worlds and characters I had come up with to my friends and family.
What are you reading and watching at the moment?
Recently my time has been chiefly occupied by university work and renovation projects. As such, the only writing I have been given a chance to read has been for my children’s literature unit. It has been quite an enjoyable experience revisiting and analysing books from my childhood, such as Peter Pan and Where the Wild Things Are. I have picked up on several themes and meanings I never knew were there for each of these texts, giving me a much greater appreciation for the genre as a whole.
What piece of writing has resonated with you most in your life?
I’m going to cheat and pick two. Sorry.
The first would be No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. This novel depicts the aftermath of an illegal drug deal gone wrong in Texas and follows the perspective of three central characters. Llewelyn Moss, a man who stumbles upon a satchel of drug money. Anton Chigurh, a psychopathic hitman. And Ed Tom Bell, a sheriff trying to protect Moss and his Wife. This novel continues to resonate and inspire me due to its extremely dark tone, the authentic way it tackled its characters, and its message about morality and free will.
The second would be The Garden of Sinners by Kinoku Nasu. This series is a collection of Japanese Light novels that follows Shiki Ryougi and her childhood friend Mikiya Kokuto as they investigate supernatural cases for a detective agency. The series is told in non-chronological order and tackles concepts such as multiple personalities, suicide, virtue, and sin. Similar to No Country for Old Men, this series resonated with me due to the unique way it presented its story, fascinating cast of characters, and complex themes. The novels inspired me to want to write, but it also changed how I viewed certain emotions like empathy and compassion.
These two texts are certainly not for everyone, but I would highly recommend giving them a chance. Both No Country for Old Men and The Garden of Sinners have also received film adaptations, which, in my opinion, were handled incredibly well. So those are also an option if you are interested.
Favourite genre and why?
It’s quite difficult for me to pick a definitive favorite genre. If I had to choose, it would most likely be psychological thriller, as I love unpredictable plots focusing on characters with complex mental states. Some of my favourite literary techniques are also commonly utilised in the psychological thriller genre, such as plot twists, red herrings, and unreliable narration. Furthermore, the themes it tackles are usually concepts I’m particularly interested in deconstructing, such as the nature of existence, death, and identity.
What do you hope to achieve with your writing in terms of the reader’s experience?
When writing, my ultimate goal is to give the reader something to walk away from the story with, something they will remember and think about. Even if they enjoyed it at the time, If the reader consumes my writing and immediately forgets about it shortly after, then I have failed. Conversely, if they manage to latch onto any particular element, even something they disagree with or dislike, then I have succeeded. That’s not to say I actively try to make my writing uncomfortable. Rather, I try to make it feel challenging for not only the reader to consume, but also for myself in attempting to create it.
Do you ever take inspiration from the work of any particular authors?
While I try to keep my writing authentically my own, it’s almost impossible not to be inspired or influenced by the works of authors I admire. That being said, if I do happen to take inspiration, it’s usually for aspects such as writing techniques or stylistic choices, rather than more fundamental elements like characters, settings, and plot points. As mentioned previously, No Country for Old Men is one of my favourite novels. As such, I have certainly been inspired by its unique way of handling story structure and alternating character perspectives. The same can be said for a large portion of Cormac McCarthy’s work, such as Blood Meridian and The Road.
Are you more of a plotter or a pantser?
I am most definitely a plotter. I cannot write a story without having some sense of a determined structure serving as the foundation. I am rather envious of those who can manage to sit down and write stories with little to no plan. However I also enjoy the process of outlining, sometimes more than writing the narrative itself.
What do you find to be the most difficult aspect of writing?
I like to equate writing to running a marathon. Except instead of being sustained by energy, one is sustained by passion and must make sure never to run out of it. Burning out or hitting a wall is the greatest obstacle I face as a writer. It’s why I tend to prefer writing short stories and poems instead of longer pieces. However, it’s not necessarily that I become disinterested in what I’m writing. Instead, I get caught up in numerous other smaller scaled projects that take less time to create.
In your opinion, what are the most important elements of “good” writing?
As my wheelhouse is fiction, the most important element of good writing for me is the theme. A story can have an excellent skeletal structure, such as being well written and containing memorable set pieces and exciting characters. But, without a compelling theme serving as the heart, the narrative will feel hollow.
A theme doesn’t necessarily have to be clear. Some of my favourite stories leave the theme up to the reader’s interpretation. But at the end of the day, the essential element we take away from stories is usually the message it conveys to us. We may not remember a character’s name or how a certain sentence was structured, but it is very hard to forget the message a narrative provides us with, especially if the message is one we may perhaps not entirely agree with or hadn’t ever given much thought.
Finally, what’s the best piece of advice you would give to a fellow aspiring writer?
Write, write, write!
Don’t sit around and wait for your stories to write themselves. Don’t decide to rewrite your story 50 pages in because you are unhappy with it. Instead, put your work out there, and don’t be afraid of criticism. Actively search for criticism! Criticism (so long as it is constructive) is the most incredible tool towards improving at anything.