A new YA author? Yes, please!!
Okay, so this is probably the best post ever on my blog! I’m not just saying that. I interviewed one of my favourite people in the writing industry who also happens to be a friend of mine and if you haven’t heard her speak about writing you really must!
Jes Layton is a freelance artist and writer and now a published author in a new release anthology titled Underdog edited by Tobias M. She has involved herself in the Australian writing industry for years and works for two Victorian bodies of writing: Melbourne City of Literature and Express Media. You can find her on the socials @ageekwithahat on twitter and Instagram and if you find her on Ao3 keep it hush hush 😉
Jes has a very informative and almost philosophical view on writing and storytelling. She is very dedicated to writing queer characters and crafting stories so that the plot isn’t around the character’s gender/ sexuality but something more. She likes to show that queer characters face the same problems that everyone else does. That’s the beauty of her short story; Chemical Expression.
About her story:
Chemical Expression is a short story Jes wrote especially for the Underdog anthology. During a reading of her story at a First Chapters event on Friday, Jes divulged that when the callouts were announced she had absolutely no clue what to write about. It took her four months before she actually had an idea. Coming from a small town, she used the prompt given for the story; something along the lines of “write about your Australia”, and drew on her own high school experience, adding drugs and changing the protagonist to be unlike her.
Did you have a plan to continue the story of Chemical Expression?
Chemical Expression came to me very much as a snapshot into Autumn’s life, and though I don’t have any immediate plans to continue on from Chemical Expression right now, the fact that people have been telling me they’d be interested in reading more of Autumn and Sheridan is really heartening.
Will we ever get to know what happens after the events of Chemical Expression?
I mean, you can always ask what I think? But I come from the school of killing authors. i.e fanfiction, meaning I love it when authors leave space for me, as a reader to continue on the story or fill in the gaps myself. That’s something I like to emulate in my own work. As a writer, I look up to John Green—who spoke about this drive readers have for authors to continue on a story while the authors themselves don’t necessarily know what that continuation would be—in a Lindsay Ellis video [link: https://youtu.be/MGn9x4-Y_7A ], I highly recommend it for any writers to watch.
What advice can you give to other writers for writing non-binary/ gender queer characters?
If you are not non-binary, trans, gender queer or gender diverse yourself, take the time to invest in a sensitivity reader, and work with the gender diverse people in your life (if they are willing!). There are nuances to being gender diverse that aren’t readily known outside of that experience. Similarly, there are pitfalls that cis and binary people often make when trying to portray gender diverse characters, sensitivity readers can help limit those proverbial LEGO blocks from getting stepped on by unsuspecting queer readers.
Does the multiple uses of “they” cause you any confusion while writing? Alternatively, what hurdles did you yourself face writing a gender queer character?
They pronouns have never been a real issue for me, I’ve written and will continue to write characters with a whole slew of different pronouns. The only issue I’ve really had when it comes to pronouns is when two or more people in a scene use the same pronoun since I write in third person limited! Although I guess this is more of a prescriptivist error rather than grammar issue, and a problem with the structure of my writing itself and not anyone’s pronouns. These things tend to get sorted out in edits/rewriting. Being gender fluid myself and embedded in gender queer communities and discourse, I didn’t really face any issues with writing my queer babies, and more so have faced issues (not with Chemical Expression/Underdog) with readers and in workshopping/editing settings. Some people just find pronouns outside of she/her and he/him confusing, and think it’s fine to take it out on the author.
When did you start writing, and when did you begin to take it seriously?
I’ve always been a writer, a storyteller, but I didn’t start writing fiction seriously until I was 11, where I forced my best friend to spend our lunchtimes workshopping my many ‘debuts’, and dedicated myself to writing fanfiction online. I didn’t see it as a viable career until Year 12 when I got a series of scholarships which allowed me to move to Melbourne and begin studying Creative Writing at RMIT. Tertiary study isn’t the path of every writer but it made ALL of the difference to my craft, accessibility and confidence.
Any writing lessons, you have learnt throughout your career (journey?) that you think all aspiring writers should know/ be aware of?
Shivaun Plozza [ author of Frankie and Tin Heart] gave me some great advice to own the label of a writer. Regardless of whether you have nothing published, publish things yourself or only have one small haiku in your school newsletter, if you write, you are a writer. That frank advice helped me pick up my game and beat down some imposter syndrome demons. Sue Lawson (Allie McGregor’s True Colours, Dragon’s Tear), also, one of the first people to ever read my work, gave 12 year-old-me the advice to just finish things. Finishing a project, I think is the hardest thing for a lot of writers to do, but it is the most important (and most addictive) thing. Once you finish the first draft, that is where the real writing starts.
Are you currently working on something, be it a novel or short story, and can you tell us anything about it?
I’m always working on things! I have my YA spec fic novel, which I can promise is as queer and delightfully Australiana as a thing can be. I have the first draft on an older YA novel completed that is the story of five nerds at a convention (five different POVs), and I also have a younger illustrated fantasy middle grade mapped out! You can find some of those sketches on my Instagram (shameless plug: https://www.instagram.com/ageekwithahat/ ). I’m always working on fanfic too!
Can you tell me any behind the scenes or secret insights that you haven’t told anyone, relating to your story Chemical Expression?
The people who know me well will know that there’s a lot of recognisable real-life nuances and influences in Chemical Expression. The high school and town are based on my own, my cousin’s name is Sheridan, my sister’s middle name is Rhiannon. I myself like Autumn did a lot of VCE unit’s in Year Ten (the rules are a little blurred in rural schools), and I love science. My Dad has also had a lot of health issues throughout my life and did duct tape a friend to the traffic lights in our home town for Year Twelve Muck Up Day while in school. I’m not going to say Chemical Expression has been a form of therapy for me, but…at the end of the day, they do say it’s best to write what you know.
Where can you find Jes’ writing?
You can find Jes’ story Chemical Expression in the anthology titled Underdog, sold at all good book retailers. You can also find more works at this link https://t.co/iTfDwqvXrx and on her socials as she mentioned above!
You can read about the Underdog launch here, and I will have a review for Underdog up (hopefully) on Monday.
With Love Bree xx
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