Leigh Swinbourne is a Tasmanian author and playwright. His short stories and articles have been published in a variety of journals and anthologies, and he is a recipient of grants through Arts Tasmania and Varuna. Arianne recently chatted with Leigh about his novel Shadow in the Forest, which was shortlisted for the University of Tasmania Prize for an unpublished novel and subsequently published by Ginninderra Press in 2019.
What got you into writing?
I have always loved literature and the theatre, and at some point I thought I should have a go at trying to produce a thing or two that might convey to others something of the pleasure and value that I have received down the years.
Where did the ideas for Shadow in the Forest come from? Do you remember the time and place you were when the first inkling of an idea came to you?
At a particular time in my life I felt I needed a vehicle to articulate certain mental issues I was having, to try and get a handle on them. The clue for the story came from a Balzac tale: ‘A Passion in the Desert’. I saw a possible way I could imaginatively describe how an individual might ‘objectify’ an obsession to the point of losing their bearings completely.
What do you think are the most essential ingredients for a compelling character?
Personal complexity, and energy allied to will.
I think combining supernatural elements with realism can be such a powerful tool. Did you always plan to do this in Shadow in the Forest, or was it something that grew out of the writing process?
The whole concept was pretty much in my head before I put finger to keyboard. I don’t really have the confidence to work it out as I go along although this is the way most writers work.
Who are some authors who inspire you?
Many great authors inspire me. For whatever I’m specifically working on, I always try and reference writers who have successfully done similar things, observe how they’ve done it. At the time of writing Shadow I was reading a lot of Conrad, and later when I came to revise the work, I needed to de-Conradise it!
Do you have a background in Psychology?
No, the psychological developments in Shadow were worked from my own imagination and personal experience.
What techniques do you use to go about capturing the mood of a place in your books?
In Shadow I made extensive use of the ‘pathetic fallacy’. Description of landscape was a vital tool in rendering mood and atmosphere, and particularly in conveying psychological states. It is why I set the story in the wilderness. So, I went out into the wilderness and took a lot of notes!
Can you tell me about your writing process, are you a plotter or a panster?
As I said above, due to time constraints and confidence reasons, I usually work out a play, story, or even a novel as completely as I can before committing to writing. Some of my stories, and many passages in Forest were ‘word complete’ before writing.
Describe your writing space.
I have a beautiful airy room in the roof of my house with views of the river and mountain.
Do you have a favourite food or beverage you must have while you write?
Not really. Strong black coffee is always a good starter.
Can you tell me about the publication process for Shadow in the Forest?
After knocking around a bit, it was picked up by a small independent press, ‘Guillotine Press’. The MS went through an extensive editorial process, then layout, cover design etc. and then just prior to printing, the owner was diagnosed with cancer and closed the business down. Not having the heart to do the rounds again, I approached the publisher of my short story collections, Ginninderra Press, who normally only publish poetry and short stories. Fortunately, possibly because the package was complete, they were happy to go ahead with it.
What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
A sense of wonder at the Tasmanian wilderness, and the importance of maintaining some sustainable ‘dialogue’ with the ‘nature’ of which we are part.
What are you writing at the moment?
I’m avoiding finalising a second novel. To get it right, I need to go out into the community to speak to certain people about specific experiences and this rubs against the grain. I’m also considering revising some of the plays I’ve got listed with Australian Plays that have been lying fallow for a while.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
If you think you have something of value, keep working it and keep presenting it. This is a paraphrase of something Christos Tsiolkas said.
TasWriters thanks Leigh for taking the time to answer our questions. You can purchase or order a copy of Shadow in the Forest from your local bookstore, or order from Ginninderra Press or Leigh’s website: leighswinbourne.com.au.