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The Popcorn Sessions: Jason Wallace

18 July 2017

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The Reading Hack group at Varndean School interviewed Jason Wallace this week about his new novel, Encounters.

On the surface, this book is about an alien invasion, but it’s really about the kids and their lives and issues. Did the focus of the story change as you were writing it, or did you have a clear idea of what the book was going to be from the start?

“The focus of the story was always going to be on the kids and their lives.

When I first started to think about how to write a story based around the real-life (alleged) encounter, I did wonder what it would be about: a simple story about a UFO sighting? A retelling about what happened in Zimbabwe 1994? The problem was how to deal with the Big Question – did those children really see the spaceship or not? – because I don’t know the answer!

Then it came to me to write from the points of view of different children. It was more interesting, telling a criss-crossing story of the same period of time. But above all, it meant I didn’t need to answer the Big Question as we have six different stories from six different children. Can we trust them? Are they telling the truth? It’s up to the reader to decide…"

What was it about this particular alien sighting story that caught your imagination? And what do you think really happened?

“A number of things caught my attention with this particular story, mainly that it happened close to where I used to live. Just like with mt other book Out of Shadows, I could slip very easily into the place and time – the smells, the accents, the light, the sounds… A writer should write what they know, and by being so familiar with that place I was already halfway there.

But I also found the story fascinating in its own right. The more I watched the clips of the kids on YouTube, and even talked to people who were at the school, the more intrigued I became. Because what DID the kids see? Or rather, WHY did they see it, whatever “it” was?

What do I think really happened? I think the kids saw something, but sadly I’ll never know for sure what because I wasn’t there. Was it really aliens? I’d like to think so."

The inter-chapter interview excerpts – were they from real transcripts or did you make them up for the book?

“They were inspired by the actual transcripts, though I wrote them from scratch. They’re from my imagination. I thought they were a good way of stepping back from the individuals’ stories and re-focussing on the UFO sighting.”

What Hogwarts Houses are the main characters in?!

“That’s a tough one! But I’ll give it a go…

Gary is Slytherin. He might not be the most likeable character, but Gary’s pretty resourceful as he tries to get what he wants

Chloe: Gryffindor… Chloe is pretty brave, all things considered

Tendai is loyal to his family, and has a strong sense of the fair play he’s not getting himself. He’s Hufflepuff.

Karl is Gryffindor, without question. Karl is polite, kind, and always thinking of others before himself. And, let’s face it, extremely brave to have done what he did

Sixpence is Ravenclaw… Sixpence has a thirst for knowledge, to help him leave the life he has.

Holly is Ravenclaw too… Holly is a character who knows her own mind. She’s brave and tough, but stronger mentally, and that’s what gets her through"

How could you do that to Chloe?!

“I guess I don’t write happy books. Sorry! I think you need a bit of “grit” to make the reader want to go on and see how it’s all going to work itself through by the end.

There is a positive side to it. As Elijah tells Sixpence in the book, you can’t have one without the other, so with darkness you also have light. And that light is the positive effect on the other characters, helping them to break free of their own dark worlds.

How do you pitch a book like this to publishers?

I didn’t have to pitch too hard for this one. I was fortunate in that I was with an editor who was willing to trust me. I only told her the basic idea for Encounters, and, luckily, she had faith in my enthusiasm and told me to “just go and write it”.

There is no secret formula for a good book. Sometimes it’s luck, but you need to be – above all – original. And true to yourself. Everyone says they want the next Harry Potter, but they don’t mean that: if anyone tried to pitch an idea about a school for young wizards they’d get rejected instantly because it’s been done now.

My advice: tell a story you want to tell, and tell it as well as you can. As a writer, you can’t do much more."

How do you turn your thoughts and ideas into a novel?

“It’s not a conscious choice. It just happens, I can’t help it. When I think of an idea for a book, it falls into shape very quickly in my head. I have a natural filter for working out what will work and what won’t. I’m very lucky!”

What’s the most tedious part of writing a novel?

“I used to write with a pen and paper, and I really hated typing everything up. SO boring. (But it helped me edit, so it was also important.) However, now I work on my iPad, which makes life much easier.

Writing isn’t easy, though. Far from it. And I guess the hardest part is remembering it takes time. I wish I could get the whole lot down in a day, but it can never work that way. It takes months and months of writing, thinking, more writing, more thinking, re-writing and thinking some more. Then, when you think you’re on the right track, you have to go back and change things that don’t actually work that well. There are STILL things in Encounters I wish I could go back and change.

It’s an extremely lengthy job to write a book. But the rewards of seeing your hard work in print are well worth it… especially if other people tell you they like it!"

Was there a particular book or author that made you want to be a writer?

“I can’t remember any one specific book, but there were many I liked and made me think, “I could do that”. I was particularly into the likes of Stephen King and James Herbert when I was a teenager.

But I think it all started when I was younger than that. I loved creating stories of my own in my head.

Read everything. Read anything. Even if you don’t like it, it’ll fuel your imagination and help you work out what it is you want to say."