The Booktopia Book Guru asks
author of Allison Hewitt Is Trapped
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I grew up in a small suburb in Minnesota, population: “tiny and some cows.” It was a great place to be a kid, lots of room for running around and getting into trouble, and I had two older brothers to keep me in line. I went to elementary and high school there and then I relocated to Wisconsin for college. Beloit College, is what it’s called, and I still live in the area. It also has a population “tiny and some cows,” but at least we have the benefit of amazing local beer and cheese. Wisconsin does magic things with hops and dairy products. I earned a double-degree in Theatre Arts and Creative Writing. In my household we call it majoring in poverty.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
When I was twelve I was convinced I was going to be an Egyptologist. I still am, actually, contrary to all logic and my marks in Archaeology. Eighteen was slightly more level-headed – by that time I realized I was no good at science or math(s? Your stubborn Australian Word document is insisting I spell like a drunk)(BBGuru: Do you mean ‘like an English speaker’?) and decided to pursue writing no matter how poor or angry it made me. I’m not thirty yet, but I suspect once I get there I’ll still be interested in writing. I’ve always had a passion for video games – I’d love to write for them someday.
I was absolutely convinced that I’d never do the children and marriage thing. I also thought I’d never touch a drink, so that should tell you a lot about what I was like then. I don’t have children and I’m not married, but I could see it happening eventually, if the stars align and I find someone with a suitable profusion of chest hair.
4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
When I read Vanity Fair for the first time I thought – this man Thackeray knows what he’s about. He’s clever. I like his style, the way he’s relentlessly interested in challenging his reader. He doesn’t play it safe with characters – one of the main fellows dies in about a sentence at the end of one chapter. Just boom, dead, face-down in the trenches. I’m still working up to that level of risk and confidence, but that sticks with me even now.
A.S. Byatt’s Possession is another big one. That book feels rather gradual and poetic, but there are some major punches in it, big, emotional overthrows that are handled with amazing skill. I’ve read that book over and over again. To me it’s awe-inspiring, very close to perfect. I wish it was easier to sum up why, but it’s all in the subtlety of the text and the way it builds and draws you in. I’d like to write as well as she does. It’s something to aspire to.
This is an obvious one, but Star Wars (the originals, don’t look at me like that). Princess Leia will always be my hero. She’s snarky, strong, sophisticated and she gets the scoundrel. Growing up on those movies gave me confidence as a young woman and an appreciation for female characters who don’t compromise their wit or sensuality to get what they want. You can be sexy and brilliant, fully-clothed and scorching hot… It’s about the words coming out of your mouth and the way you handle yourself. I like to think there’s a bit of Leia in Allison Hewitt.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
It’s the only thing I’m good at? No, really, it is. That and cooking, maybe, and I’m an excellent dancer when I’ve had a few beers. Seriously, it’s what I want to do. I wake up and I want to write. I go to bed and I can’t sleep because I want to write. It’s more of an obsession than a career, but I think that’s good. People should wake up excited to do their job and now I get to, so I’m extremely luck that way.
Allison Hewitt Is Trapped is about a young woman trying to survive the zombie apocalypse. She gets trapped with a bunch of her co-workers and they have to sort out how to eat, stay alive and carry on. It’s a zombie book, but to me it’s much more about the people. I chose to tell it in blog format because I think it’s natural now for us to reach out via the Internet. We’re much more invested in each other thanks to things like Facebook and blogging… To me, if I were trapped and afraid, I’d want that chance to reach out to people who weren’t just in my immediate situation. So it’s a unique take on survival horror – there’s the personal aspect, the fear aspect and the larger, global influence on what Allison sees and thinks. At the core of the story, she’s trying to survive and find her mother, and finding support in unlikely new friends along the way.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope they’re excited. I hope they pass along the book to a buddy and then sit down over coffee or a drink and discuss how they’d survive, who they would turn to, what they would do… Survival is part of all of us. I think we all nurture a secret fantasy about what a huge bad ass we would be in scary situations. Allison Hewitt embodies the not-so-heroic action hero… She starts out bumbling and afraid and slowly finds how to thrive. I think we can all see that potential in ourselves.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Ian McEwan made a deal with the Devil, I’m convinced. Nobody can tell me otherwise. He’s superhuman. His writing is fluid, hilarious and poignant. On Chesil Beach is some sort of unnatural achievement of higher intelligence. Atonement? It’s untouchable. There’s nobody like him. Well, Neil Gaiman is also in that same pantheon. I think they’ll ascend to a higher plane in the end.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
There are a lot of stories I’m dying to tell. Ultimately, I’d love to do a sweeping fantasy epic. I’d like to add a few initials to my name and be among the likes of JRR Tolkien and George RR Martin. I’d like to rub elbows with them, so to speak. I’d love to give the world a fantasy heroine that’s up there with Frodo and Aragorn and Jon Snow. I think there’s room for it, and a need.
I’d also love to add a few stories to the video game universe. In my mind, video games could straddle the gender line a bit more, try to make stories that are appealing because they’re well-executed, not because they appeal to a specific crowd. I think Allison would fit right in, but there’s a sorry lack of female heroines in video games.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Practice until your fingertips bleed, take a break and read some good books, and then practice some more. You’ll write five hundred pages of garbage and then a gem will show up. It’s not always fun, but it’s the most rewarding thing in the world.
Madeleine, thank you for playing.
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection.