Interview with Jeff Dowsing

What was the inspiration to write Undercurrents?
A few years ago I penned a satirical blog on my suburb that to my surprise went viral. Then there was my curiosity for the novel writing process, combined with having lost motivation for writing sport (but not for writing). Figuring I had an interesting location overdue for a story, all that was left was the small matter of devising the plot!

Initial influences included two memoirs - Anson Cameron's 'Boyhoodlum' and Jimmy Barnes' Working Class Boy. Both are filled with anecdotes either too hilarious or too horrendous not to be true, vividly painted in distinctly Australian colours. However, as a fictitious storyline, Undercurrents allowed me the freedom to weave versions of experiences and develop characters in a way that facilitated a broad range of issues and emotions.
Why is the story set so specifically in the early months of 1988?
On reflection, this was a fascinating period to be growing up - a time where optimism competed with fear. The threat of nuclear war had been usurped by the threat of AIDS. Meanwhile, Australia was basking in the glow of the Bicentenary celebrations and there was a sense of being on the cusp of some futuristic world. Yet in suburbia nothing much had changed since the 1950's. There had been technological advancements but relatively benign compared to today. And there was more freedom - for better or worse people were left to their own vices. Nowadays there's a day or a week for every disadvantage and disadvantaged group, there's no stone left unturned in this quest for a Utopian society. Notwithstanding, and maybe this is nostalgia talking, people seemed generally happier despite the political incorrectness and denial and lack of support for their traumas and addictions and mental illnesses and discrimination.
Where exactly is the novel set?
Yes, I was deliberately cagey on this point. I've only referred to 'Melbourne's northern suburbs' however anyone who's lived in the location should click. The book is littered with clues, from street names, character names and many other references. This is my secret to share with those in the know.
Who is your target market?
Given the story is set in the late 'Eighties Gen X'ers would most naturally identify with Undercurrents. I'd also contend Millennials and Gen Y's would associate with the teen angst issues covered and find interesting how their predecessors dealt with problems in a less enlightened fashion. Ultimately, my hope is anyone who likes a down-to-Earth yarn that embraces the gamut of the human condition will enjoy Undercurrents.
Were there scenes you found particularly enjoyable to write?
Where there is extended dialogue I enjoyed composing banter which afforded licence to inject some larrikin humour into proceedings, in between more subtle, poignant observations. I also enjoyed scenes where Jack is finding his way with Katrina and his peer group.
What were the hardest aspects of producing the book?
Deciding when the manuscript was 'finished' after numerous full book edits was tough. The title was really hard to settle on and for similar reasons writing intros and summaries was like pinning down a live butterfly. I also took a few goes at the cover image. It was another war between communicating a strong sense of the story yet maintaining a semblance of ambiguity which invites curiosity.

The actual process of publishing an ebook via Smashwords though (once you've completed all the pesky tax forms and so on) is very easy.
What have you learnt in the process of writing your first novel?
Whatever happens to your e-book I guarantee you will become a better writer for going through the aching, joyous, frustrating, rewarding process. Pacing and determining how much to reveal and when are key skills. As is writing concisely but with flair... Write what you enjoy but it has to be enjoyable to read. Take the reader on a journey with twists and turns but try not to lose them along the way. And you don't have to resolve every plotline, give your readers scope to speculate (and yourself scope to write a sequel!).
Published 2018-01-18.
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