'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Sunday 3 October 2010

Author Interview: J.E. Fison

Today, we're joined by Julie Fison, author of the newly released Hazard River series - books full of adventure and action. Read more about J.E. Fison's books at hazardriver.com.

Tell us a little about you: what’s your background, your story? Since graduating from Queensland University of Technology with a Communications Degree my career has taken me from Australia, to Hong Kong, London and back to Brisbane. I have worked as a television reporter and presenter, a travel writer, business journalist and marketing manager. And now I’m a children’s fiction writer!

I have been lucky enough to travel extensively as part of my job and for pleasure: from remote villages in Laos and Cambodia, to the great cities of Europe and the game reserves of Africa. Of all the places I have visited, one of the most memorable was the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre for orphaned orang utans. The Centre is located in Sabah, a Malaysian province on the island of Borneo.

When I visited, tourists could stroll into the jungle and take their chances with the wildlife. While I was there an orang utan grabbed my friend’s money belt and ate a wad of cash. I thought it was very funny until the orang utan grabbed me by the arm. It wouldn’t let go! It was some time before the young male found something more interesting and moved on.

Now I’m back in Brisbane, I’m busy exploring Australia. I’ve just been on a wonderful driving holiday around Central Australia. I also love to holiday in Noosa. The place has everything: beautiful beaches, a stunning river, bushland and plenty of places that most tourists don’t know about. The Noosa River is the inspiration for the Hazard River series. If you’ve ever been there, you’ll know: it’s hard not to be inspired.

How have you made the move from television to book-writing? It’s been a gradual progression from television news to fiction. I moved from television news into writing for newspapers and magazines because it fitted better with family life. From there it was an easy move into writing a book, then another book and another.

My biggest challenge has been story length. Coming from news, my natural inclination is to keep things short. Filling in the detail is the tricky bit for me. Travel writing was good practice for that, because I was forced to describe places and experiences.

Why did you choose to write fiction? I’ve been reporting facts in one way or another since 1986. That’s a lot of facts! I decided a few years ago to give fiction a try, because I wanted to have a go at setting the plot. But my stories are all firmly planted in the real world. I doubt you’ll ever see me writing fantasy. And I have to admit, I still let facts get in the way of a good piece of fiction! I can’t help it; I’m still a journalist at heart.

Do you remember the first fiction story you ever wrote? I’m sure I wrote lots of fiction at primary school. I was a very diligent student (not quite a nerd but definitely a teacher’s pet), but nothing memorable. Between primary school and four years ago, I didn’t write a word of fiction.

What genre do you now write in? The Hazard River series is all about adventure. There’s plenty of fun and action, but every story also has a serious side and a subtle message about the environment.

What other genres have you written in? I’ve written a couple of short stories for adults in the romantic comedy line. I also really enjoy that, so one day, I might write a novel for adults.

What do you love about writing for children? I really love to see my own children laughing out loud when they read one of my stories. My two sons are great inspiration and very astute critics. They don’t pull their punches when they think I’ve missed the mark, but they are very appreciative when I’ve written a good story.

How did the idea for the Hazard River series come about? The Hazard River series came out of a holiday on a quiet stretch of the Noosa River. Our two sons joined up with two other boys and spent a month fishing, swimming, riding their bikes on bush tracks, avoiding snakes, chasing cane toads, setting up camps, pulling down camps, setting up new camps and generally having a boys own adventure. I had to write about it!

The result is a series of fast-paced adventure stories about three boys and a girl who find themselves up against smugglers, nasty developers, rogue fishermen and all manner of baddies, during the summer holidays. There’s plenty of action and laughs to keep even reluctant readers turning the pages.

Tell us about your path to having your books published. I guess I have a typical story when it comes to having my books published: several disappointments eventually followed by a very welcome acceptance email.

It probably didn’t help that my first instinct is to send a story off the second I have typed the last full stop. I just can’t wait to get it off my desk and get it under someone’s nose. But I’ve learned that patience is part of being an author.

My early versions of Hazard River weren’t ready to be published, but I had some good feedback. I was told that I had a good idea, so I just kept rewriting the stories until I got them right. That coincided with meeting the head of Ford Street Publishing, Paul Collins, at a book launch. Paul obviously knows a good story when he sees one and was quick to make a decision on the series. Happily for me it was a positive one.

What are the greatest blocks or obstacles you have experienced on your book-writing journey? The road to a publishing deal was a lot longer than I would have liked, but it wasn’t an obstacle. I just kept writing so that when the right publisher came along (and I had the stories right) I had a series that was all ready to go, not just a planned series and a lot of promises.

What’s a typical writing day? I write when I’m on holidays. I’m a complete bore. If we’re in Noosa I get up early and write for a few hours, then go to the beach with the family, then I get back to my desk and write until late. My head is full of ideas all night and the next morning I can’t wait to get out of bed and write some more. I’m lucky to have a desk that overlooks the Noosa River, so I only have to look out of the window to be inspired.

I’m totally surrounded by the story when I’m with my family in Noosa. Every time I go for a bike ride with the children or go out in the boat, I get an idea to write about. While I’m writing, my sons are out exploring. They bring home even more adventure stories to write about.

What advice do you have on writing? Different things work for different people. I’ve heard that you should write every day. But for me, I like to write in a big solid lump. I like to disappear into a story and immerse myself completely. I like to live, eat and breathe it for a short period of time and then move onto something else.

I’m not a member of any formal writing group, but I think every writer also needs feedback and it’s a good idea to bounce ideas off a close friend or relative. They just might save you from a rejection letter!

What books did you read as a child? Text books! I told you I was studious!

What else do you like to do, other than write books? I really love holidays. I have a wonderful life every day, but I like a break from the regular routine. I love the chance to go somewhere new, experience an interesting city or explore some beautiful countryside with my family, friends or both.

What would be your perfect day? That’s a hard one! Can I have three? I would start the day with breakfast in a cafĂ© overlooking Lake Geneva, take a high speed train to Paris for lunch and a whirl around the Musee d’Osay, followed by a stroll in the Lakes District of England, then dinner and a coffee in Rome. If in Asia, I would start the day with breakfast at a hotel in Singapore, head to Cambodia to tour Angkor Wat, do a bit of trekking in the hills of Northern Thailand and stay for a massage and dinner at a well-appointed resort. If that’s not available, a day on the Noosa River is also perfect.

What’s next for J.E. Fison? I’ve written four stories so far in the Hazard River series, but there are plenty more adventures to come. I’m also working on a romance for teenage girls. There’ll be plenty of action but no vampires!

See our review of the first two books in J.E. Fison's Hazard River series