Interview with… Adam Byatt

Today it’s the turn of Adam Byatt to sit down and share his writing with us. This is my 13th interview, and there are still some wonderful authors to come!.

Adam is a high school English teacher sifting through the ennui, minutiae and detritus of life and cataloguing them as potential story ideas.

Hi Adam, welcome to the Fountain Pen. Is there anything else you’d like to share about yourself?

Here are 6 Random Things to form your own gestalt interpretation of the individual known as Adam:

  1. I teach children smut, profanity, obscenity, racism, misogyny, murder, violence, drinking, drugs. Basically, I teach them Shakespeare. In reality, I am a high school English teacher in Australia.
  2. I look like a musician on account of my long hair, and have been mistaken for one from time to time except I have to let them down and say I am a drummer. I own a large number of band t-shirts. They’re mostly black in colour.
  3. I have a penchant for doughnuts, hot chips and strawberry milkshakes.
  4. One day I will visit Trinity College Library in Dublin, Ireland, and see The Book of Kells, an 11th century illustrated manuscript of the Gospels. I once saw Tolkien’s original painting for the cover of ‘The Hobbit.’
  5. When I teach, I wear a suit, tie, waistcoat, pocket watch and painted nails. On Fridays I wear Converse Chuck Taylors with my suit for that little hint of rebellion.
  6. I claim the title of The Ambassador Of Beige – the patron saint of the nondescript and boring.

How did your writing career begin?

It started with a deliberate decision to do the thing I had wanted to do since I was fifteen. I loved writing in high school and wanted to pursue it but had no way forward. I thought about it for the next twenty years and came to a point when I had to level with myself and decide if I was going to write, I had had better start or let it go.

I started out writing sentences and paragraphs, reading blogs about craft, before I ventured into writing flash fiction. I found a website, Write Anything, that had a weekly Friday writing prompt, and I used it as an impetus to write. I look back at that time as an apprenticeship in my writing as I learned to craft stories, blogging for the site, and connecting with the community of writers there which lead to the privilege, as a new writer, of contributing two stories for two separate anthologies organised by one of the site’s convenors, Jodi Cleghorn.

My time there lead to a collaboration with Jodi, resulting in our novel, Post Marked Piper’s Reach, and a range of strange ideas such as Post It Note Poetry. Jodi dared me to write bad poetry for the month of February. I said it had to be written on nothing bigger than a Post It Note.

Why literary fiction? Did you choose it, or did it choose you?

I write on the outside boundary of literary fiction, because I don’t think I am intelligent enough to write ‘proper’ literary fiction. I prefer to call it ‘suburban realism,’ a term coined by an old writing friend, Icy Sedgwick, and I think it is the most applicable term for what I write. It is where I feel most at home writing because it is representative of humanity telling their story, and people are remarkably fascinating. In my writing I don’t want to shy away from the ugliness of life but to understand where it comes from and to see how it shapes and affects people, and to see the beauty in the ashes.

‘Suburban realism’ is a fantastically evocative term.

Where do you see your writing career heading?

I would like a varied approach to my writing career that is a mix of traditional publishing and self-publishing.

I’ve had a short stories published in online literary journals, and I keep looking up at the horizon and wonder what type of writing career I can carve out through short stories, novellas, novels, and miscellaneous projects, both in traditional publishing, indie publishing and self-publishing.

I also work with Jodi, and Rus van Westervelt, as The JAR Writers’ Collective (an acronym of our names). It’s a co-operative allowing us to create and publish individually and collaboratively on projects that don’t necessarily fit the mainstream. We have put out a novella from Jodi, a novel from Rus, a chapbook from myself, and we are working towards a collaborative novel which is almost finished (we’ve been saying that for a few years, but we have a deadline now).

There is so much joy to be had in collaborating with other people. During a recent conversation we were talking about how good our writing was when we were collaborating on this novel because we pushed each other to write without fear, to write adventurously, and it showed in what we wrote. We gave each other permission to go with it, and the positive outcome of that has been the strength in our writing in individual projects.

How do you approach a new project? Are you a plotter or a pantser, or somewhere in between? Where do you get your ideas?

I am definitely in the tented field of plotters. Once I know what the ending will be, I can focus the concept and purpose of the narrative and develop the architecture of the story. If I am writing long form, I will generally have a chapter outline and work from that. For short stories I will write scenes out of order, like putting up tent poles as marker points, and then I will fill in the gaps and create the transitions.

That being said, writing collaboratively with Jodi and Rus means it’s very much by the seat of our pants but we trust each other in the process of our writing.

Tell us about your most recent publication.

My most recent publication with Vine Leaves Press was “Post Marked Pipers Reach,” written with Jodi Cleghorn, and was my debut novel. This is the blurb:

“To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart.” Phyllis Theroux

In December 1992, Ella-Louise Wilson boarded the Greyhound Coach for Sydney leaving behind the small coastal town of Piper’s Reach and her best friend and soulmate, Jude Smith. After twenty years of silence, a letter arrives at Piper’s Reach reopening wounds that never really healed.

When the past reaches into the future, is it worth risking a second chance?

We brainstormed this novel at the beach and via text in January 2012, and by the end of the month, the first letter was written and sent. Jodi was the character of Ella-Louise and I was the character of Jude. Every letter was handwritten and sent in the mail. The date of the letter is the date it was written. We waited patiently for the postman when we knew a letter was on its way, and mail day was eagerly anticipated. It’s quite the memorabilia to have half a novel sitting in my study from Jodi, and knowing my half is with her.

We wrote with a “No Spoiler” policy meaning we could only talk about what had been written, not what was going to be written so each letter felt authentic and truthful from our perspective as writers and from the perspective of the characters.

We wrote a Christmas Special, like a prequel, which is on the website to read, and two standalone short stories that are connected to the world of Ella-Louise and Jude.

My most recent JAR publication was a chapbook, Mount Pleasant.

As a writer and music fan, I had played with the idea of writing a series of narratives based on an instrumental album for a while, particularly within the post-rock genre as its instrumental focus and structure lends itself to a narrative connection. One of my favourite home-town bands, Solkyri, released their fourth record, Mount Pleasant, and was inspired by the themes of deception, deceit, and false facades. I interpreted the music to as a cohesive framework of stories built around 1990’s/early 2000’s Western Sydney vibe where the band grew up. It’s representative of a broader truth: we consciously and unconsciously live falsified versions of ourselves based on where we grew up, what we aspired to be, or move beyond, or embrace or reject, and deceive ourselves in the process.

What an interesting way to write an epistolary novel, to have it happening in real time!

What’s next for you?

The wall above my desk where I write/work/waste time has a collection of Post It Notes and on those notes are various ideas for short stories, verse novels, novellas, and impossible dreams. The danger of a broad range of options is choosing which one I want to focus my creative life on.

I do have two things in the works. One is a novella connected to the world of Post Marked: Piper’s Reach, which will be accompanied by a novella Jodi is working on in the same world space.

The other long form work I have in development is another novella based on current issues of masculinity. I am writing a short story as a precis to this longer work to explore thematic concerns and characterisation.

Ah, yes, the wall of Post-Its – I know it well. Good luck with your next two projects, and thank you for visiting today.

You can find more of Adam on Twitter, Instagram, and at the JAR Writers Collective.

11 thoughts on “Interview with… Adam Byatt

  1. I loved hearing more about the background to Adam’s work. I didn’t know Postmarked Piper’s Reach was written as actual, mailed letters. What an exciting way to co-write. Also, he knows Icy Sedgwick – I’ve known Icy for years, through the strange online sea that connects us all, but I forget how it connects us all until I see a familiar name pop up in an unexpected place. And I applaud his teaching outfit! Those students are lucky indeed. What a creative, energising interview – perfect for a Monday.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Icy Sedgwick is someone I’m familiar with but haven’t actually interacted with. And yes, the letters are such a unique and interesting way to write.

      Thanks for sharing this post, too, Roz


  2. Hi Annalisa and Adam … fun interview … but being a drummer, surely is a musician?! Can’t say I’d join your diet recommendations. It sounds like you inspire your kids – even from down-under … congratulations to you both for your authorships …
    The idea of the epistolary novel sounds wonderful … while working with friends you admire and enjoy working with must be so encouraging and fun.
    Wonderful post – thanks to you both … cheers Hilary


  3. I love how he described what he teaches; I bet Shakespeare would laugh and agree. And this is a very interesting blog post! I really like reading about other writers’ writing process; it’s fascinating to see how they put their stories together.


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