#LoveOzYA Author Q&A With Jason K Foster
Jason Foster is an author, poet, journalist and secondary school history teacher. He holds a Masters Degree in History and a Diploma in Languages (Spanish). He has taught in Australia, the United Kingdom, Spain and Argentina. He has been published in American History magazines, Australian travel magazines and poetry anthologies in the United Kingdom. He has published a number of successful books in the true crime, history and children’s genres including Hadamar: The House of Shudders, Seven Bones and The Dark Man.
Tell us about your new book.
Hadamar: The House of Shudders tells the story of Ingrid Marchand, a mixed race girl who is interned in the Hadamar Euthanasia Institute during Nazi Germany. However, while experiencing and seeing some of the worst horrors humanity has devised she must not just overcome this, but also issues that affect all teenagers as they grow: ideas of identity, love, beliefs and morals and finding one’s place in the world.
I decided on making this book a Young Adult novel because I want today’s young people to understand the importance of remembering history and the lessons we can learn from it. I believe that today’s youth are the catalyst for making a better world tomorrow. If they can learn the end result of racism, hatred and fear of difference and the reasons humanity can come to this then they can work to eliminate these things in the future.
Did you have a favourite OzYA book when you were growing up?
Given that I grew up in the closing stages of the Cold War then the nuclear arms race reached its peak, I remember being both shocked and fascinated by the Mad Max movies. It seemed like the world could come to an and at any moment I was intrigued by what a post-apocalyptic world would be like.
As such, one of my favourite YA books as a child was Taronga by Victor Kelleher. Not only was it this consideration of how a young adult would survive the apocalypse but because the story is set in Sydney it made it more realistic as this is my home town. At the end of the book the characters escape to the Blue Mountains, where I grew up, and the book made me wonder whether, should the worst happen, how and if I could survive.
Did you have anyone that encouraged your love of books, reading and writing when you were younger?
My mother read to me and encouraged me to read for myself from a very early age. I still remember the classic Golden Books, The Hungry Caterpillar, Boris Has a Cold and the Mr Men series. Everything my mother read to me she did with great enthusiasm, voice characterisations. She read them over and over to me every night before I went to bed. I loved the escapism of reading and this only intensified as a young man.
My second grade teacher, Mrs Brooks, like my mother was a brilliant story teller. I remember sitting down for story time and being entranced. She had such a poised delivery. I remember when she read Charlotte’s Web my heart broke. I still feel that moment to this day.
As I grew older I wanted to expand the difficulty of what I read. The Secret Garden played into my sense of escapism and I remember enjoying Playing Beattie Bow with its vivid descriptions of Sydney.
Moving into adolescence I wanted to challenge myself further and take on longer and more difficult books. My mother encouraged me to read The Hobbit. I loved it. On our bookshelf at home we had a copy of The Lord of the Rings – the cover of the Black Riders, the horses’ eyes a fiery red. I was always too scared to touch the book, let alone read it. However, I overcame my fears around the age of 14. I used to stay up to the wee hours of the morning reading and reading. I think I have read the series 8 or 9 times now.
When I was in Year 9 my English teacher set us a creative writing assignment. Like most young men, I left it to the last minute and was stressing myself silly the night before trying to come up with an idea. My sister was listening to Pink Floyd’s Learning to Fly – I slightly misinterpreted the lyrics and thought it was about Native Americans. I wrote my first attempt at YA there and then; composing a story about a young Native American boy who was considered incapable of passing his initiation into the tribe by hunting a buffalo on his own. The story traced his time out in the wilderness, his fear and trepidation at confronting an animal the size of a buffalo and his triumphant return to his village.
I handed it in the next day and thought no more of it, relieved I had my assignment out of the way. Unbeknownst to be, my teacher entered mine and other stories in to the Sydney Morning Herald Young Writer of the Year competition. I was awarded a Highly Commended certificate. I had never considered myself to be as good at English as the other people in my class so to stand next to them and receive my award was a moment of great pride.
That my teacher saw value in my work and took a chance on me was the start of my writing journey.
What do you think sets Australian YA stories apart from those set internationally? Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?
Australians are, as a nation of people, honest and straightforward. I think this comes through in the way Australian YA authors compose their works. Most Australian YA protagonists are resourceful, independent, brave and resilient: much like Australians themselves. That is not to say that international YA books do not have the same, take Katniss in The Hunger Games for example, but I think Australian stories and characters have a grit and honesty that international stories perhaps sometimes miss.
Dymocks Penrith – two reasons. Firstly, that have been extremely accommodating in promoting and highlighting my work and secondly, perhaps more importantly, they have always accommodated my requests to accept the students from my school who are interested in reading and writing as both work experience students and employees.
What was the last book you read and enjoyed?
Perhaps due to my reasoning behind using a strong female protagonist in my latest novel and perhaps due to my interest in the post-apocalyptic and dystopian ideas in Literature, the most recent book I have read was The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I think it is a well-crafted novel with well-constructed and believable characters. A disturbing insight into a world if extremist fundamentalism is allowed to run rampant.
Aside from writing, what else do you like to do to explore your creativity?
Given that I am a full-time History and English teacher as well as a full-time writer, it doesn’t leave a lot of time for much else. However, I do try and read a lot and I have been learning Spanish for a long time so I try to keep up with improving my language skills.
What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?
Show don’t tell. That was the key piece of advice given to me that allowed me to go from an aspiring author to a published one. In addition to this, though, I would also say don’t have too many characters because, firstly, characters are the lifeblood of any story and they need to be fully developed and, secondly, too many characters make the narrative extremely confusing for the reader.
As for worst piece of advice – you should reconsider writing as a career, your novel is bland and lacks development. The story is not very interesting and the characters do not come across as particularly believable.
That novel is still, by far, my bestselling book to date.
What do you love about OzYA?
As a school teacher I have noticed a decline in my students’ willingness to read. There are, and hopefully always will be, those students who dearly love to read but with the rise of social media I believe this is becoming less and less frequent. Additionally, with the Americanisation of world cultures, particularly through film and television, I see many of my students giving me Americanised stories in their own creative writing.
What I love about OzYA is that fact that it is not only encouraging Australian Young Adult titles and, in doing so, encouraging young Australians to read home grown works but also the fact that it is a celebration of Australian authors and works. It shows children and young adults that a) their reading desires and interests are taken seriously and cared about in the publishing world, b) that a new generation of young people are being introduced the joys of reading and c) that they too can become authors.
I love that there are people and organisations that recognise the importance of developing a love for reading (and the associated wisdom and intelligence that comes from it) in the future generations of this country.
Find out more about Jason and his writing by visiting his website.