Video transcript
NSW Premier's Reading Challenge 2023 - SWF author interview (secondary) - 01. Jeremy Lachlan

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REENA: Hi. My name is Reena Son, and I'm a student from North Sydney Girls High School. I'm here today on Cammeraygal land at The Concourse in Chatswood as part of the Sydney Writers' Festival Secondary Schools Day, and I'm so excited to be interviewing Jeremy Lachlan, the fantastic author of 'The Jane Doe Chronicles' for the NSW Premier's Reading Challenge. Hi, Jeremy. How are you today?

JEREMY LACHLAN: Good, thanks, Reena. Thanks so much for having me.

REENA: Thanks. As a child, did you have any favourite books or specific characters that you admired? Are any of your characters in your novels inspired by them?

JEREMY LACHLAN: As a kid, I read a lot. I was also obsessed with TV shows and movies. But in terms of books, I read a lot of Enid Blyton. I remember loving 'Mr. Pink-Whistle' when I was a kid. But for me, in primary school, I really got into the R.L. Stine slashers. Not so much the-- what's that main series? The 'Goosebumps' ones. But the step above that, where it was very much teen drama slashers. I was obsessed with those. Lots of death and destruction and all of that.

None of the characters that I read, none of the books I read, had characters that influenced my writing in terms of the actual characters in my books. That was more through my own headspace. But I was very much influenced by my love of early adventure, early fantasy, like 'The Chronicles of Narnia'.

'The Lost World' by Michael Crichton was the first book that I read, adult book, that had a hard cover. It was a big, big, long adventure story. That was the first one that I read that really blew my mind open and influenced things in terms of my love for adventure, my love for action scenes and all of that. But the characters themselves don't find themselves in my books.

REENA: Was it your urge to write or your love of reading that got you into writing in the first place, or were you motivated by something or someone?

JEREMY LACHLAN: Good question. I think it was my love of story in general. Like I said, I was obsessed with books, but also with TV shows and movies. I was a big movie geek as a kid. Things like 'Jurassic Park', 'Star Wars', 'Indiana Jones'. I was absolutely obsessed. I'd watch TV shows and movies and read books, and when they'd finish, I wasn't ready for the stories to be over. So I'd go to my room and crack out my action figures and create big, elaborate stories around the house and garden for hours each day. So I found myself just immersed in story all the time.

And for many years, I actually wanted to be an actor, which is embarrassing to say. I joined an extras agency when I graduated from high school, because 'Star Wars' was being filmed at the time, 'Attack of the Clones'. I didn't get 'Star Wars'. I got 'Home and Away' and some American Olympic ad, just being an extra in the background, pretending to talk and drinking warm milk in the diner. It was terrible.

I realised what had been staring me in the face all along-- that I didn't want to be an actor. I wanted to be a storyteller. I wanted to be the one writing the stories. That was kind of the big moment where I realised I wanted to be a writer. So I then enrolled in University of Canberra's creative writing degree, and the rest is history.

REENA: I've heard that your novels 'The Jane Doe Chronicles' were inspired by-- you were lost in the Cairo Museum. How did this influence the characters and plot, and how did you come up with the title of each novel?

JEREMY LACHLAN: Yeah. I've always been obsessed with museums and forests and cave systems, because they all have that labyrinthine quality to them. I love getting lost in those environments, because that's when the what-if questions arise, the what-ifs that really drive me as a storyteller. 'What if I took a wrong turn? What if there was a cave-in? What if a velociraptor was chasing me through here?' There's often a dinosaur involved.

When I was in Cairo, I got lost. It's this big-- this is the old Cairo Museum. It's just a jumbled place, stuff everywhere. I got separated from my group, got a bit lost in there, and those what-if questions started to go through my mind again. A whole string of them, which would kind of change my life forever.

And those questions were, 'What if there was an infinite labyrinth between worlds? What if it had been known by an entire civilization of people? What if they'd been using it for thousands of years, to journey to these other worlds and return with tales to tell? But what if one day it stopped letting them inside? And what if it was because of a child?'

And that was immediately-- my imagination was just set on fire. I'm very much a plotter. I plot a story beforehand, before I sit down and start writing it. But I do it kind of all in my head. I see it as a game of dominoes, tripping. Like, bam, bam, bam. One thing leading to another, leading to another. And as I said, my imagination was set on fire, and the plot was just in my head so quickly from that.

REENA: Is there a moral or message you wanted to convey in 'The Jane Doe Chronicles'? I noticed a strong theme of close relationships, especially unexpected ones. Does this signify or relate to something?

JEREMY LACHLAN: Yeah, it's interesting. I'm always hesitant to tell people what I want, or tell readers what I want them to get out of it, because I like to leave that out for them. Going into it, my main goal was to just give them an incredible journey to experience and to go along this with this hero for every step of the journey.

But you're absolutely right. Friendships and relationships form a huge core of it. I love that you pick up on the idea that they come from unexpected places as well. Because for me, that's where the tension and drama can come from, particularly Jane and Hickory. They butt heads a lot in the story, and that's just so much fun to write that dynamic.

Yeah, it's interesting. I think escapism is one of the main things I strive for in my writing-- just giving someone an experience, a chance to get away from their ordinary life. Another theme that I didn't realise when I went into it, which would be common throughout, is the power, or the corrupting power, of grief and loss.

I've dealt with a lot of loss in my past. When I started to write the book, my dad was sick with a very rare form of cancer. He didn't live to see the first book finished, and I underestimated how much that experience would infiltrate and shape my journey, my author journey, to come.

I realised after book one had gone to print that each of my characters in book 2 have really experienced loss in some way, and some have been corrupted by it. Some have chosen the path of light. That was a big revelation to me as the author. I mean, I wrote these characters. I created this story. But I was still discovering how much my real-life events had impacted my creative world.

REENA: After you come up with an idea or are inspired by something, what is your process of creating a storyline and plot? What is your working space like?

JEREMY LACHLAN: My working space is just a desk in my room. I'd love to have a nice library that I went to. I actually write a lot at the State Library of NSW, which I love. It's such a lovely space. But yeah, I've just got a desk set up in my room.

As I said, I come up with story quite quickly in my head. It trips through my mind like dominoes, one thing leading to another, leading to another. For whatever reason, I can picture in my mind, so clearly, the entire epic story. It's like a movie in my mind.

The big journey for me, then, is actually putting it onto the page. That first draft thing is the most difficult stage of the process for me. So my process is, I've got this story in my mind, and then a lot of it is just the hard work of putting my butt in the chair at the desk each day and trying to get it onto the page.

I try not to think too large, because I've got this huge story in my head. It can get too overwhelming, and I can freeze sometimes. So I take it to, just think about this chapter. Think about this page. Think about this moment, and just see what happens. Playing on the page is a huge part of the process for me.

REENA: Have any of your personal experiences or aspects of your life influenced your novels, ideas in the storyline, or characters?

JEREMY LACHLAN: Yeah, definitely. As I mentioned, there was the experience of losing my dad while I was writing the first book, influenced the book in a huge way, and in some ways that I'm still uncovering to this day. I didn't realise until after I'd written it that Roth, the main villain, is actually the cancer that killed my dad. It went that deep into it.

And it's so obvious now, because he's this guy who's rotting from the inside. He doesn't have a jaw. His breath is kind of toxic. It's eaten away his jaw, and my dad's cancer was in his jaw, and it's so obvious now to say that. And Roth's presence inside the Manor is eating away at it. It's corroding it, just like the cancer did to my dad's body. So that was a huge thing.

And my friends knew it, my mum knew it, when they read the book. When I said to them, 'Oh, I just realised that Roth is the cancer that killed Dad,' there was this silence, and they said, 'Jem, we know.' They'd known as soon as they read it, but it took me a while to realise where it was actually coming from.

Also, aside from that, just a lot of the adventures I've had. I love writing action sequences. I've travelled a lot around the world. In book 3, 'Quill of All Tales', is set in a jungle. I very much drew from my experiences in Borneo, where I went on travelling through the deep jungles there. Leech-infested stuff. It was the kind of jungle that wants to kill you, kind of thing. So yeah, drawing from personal experience is such a great way to write a story, I think.

REENA: Do you have any other hobbies or interests out of writing?

JEREMY LACHLAN: I'm a big gamer. I love Nintendo and PlayStation. I know that some teachers and parents roll their eyes when I say that, because they're just trying to get their kids into books. But I'm talking about ones with actual-- games with actual stories. Not just like 'Fortnite', where it's just shoot-em-ups. But things like 'The Legend of Zelda', I absolutely adore. I'm playing 'Tears of the Kingdom' at the moment. I'm a little bit obsessed. I think I am Link. It's amazing. So yeah, I love to game.

But I also think it's important to keep active. My job is quite solitary, and for a lot of the time, I'm just sitting at a desk. So it's important to get-- I love to swim. I go to the gym. I go for bike rides, catching up with mates. Coffee and crosswords at a cafe. Perfect. Anything to keep the mind active.

REENA: Thank you so much for letting me interview you today, Jeremy. It's been amazing talking with you. This experience has widened my perspective of inspiring authors, and the process of creating such fantastic novels. I hope everyone watching out there enjoys reading your incredible novels as much as I did, while they work to complete the Premier's Reading Challenge.

JEREMY LACHLAN: Thank you so much, Reena. It's been absolutely fantastic, and happy reading, everyone.

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