When I approached Andrew Levett to be a guest writer for Readers in Their Element I was intrigued to learn about the amazing range of genres he read as a child and currently explores in his writing. Amongst other points of interest, he highlights that variety is sometimes a key to engaging young children in reading. I am pleased to bring you his Storytelling Journey.
Andrew is an emerging Western Australian writer of poetry, short-stories, novel-length fiction, and screenplays. He has been short-listed for several awards, including the 2016 Glen Phillips Poetry Prize. His work spans a variety of genres, from literary fiction to fantasy-fiction. He is currently undertaking a PhD at Curtin University.
Storytelling in many of its myriad of forms has always been a big part of my life. I don’t think anyone who wants to write and publish a novel can be otherwise. As humans and as a society, storytelling informs us and gives us an identity through the stories we’ll tell about ourselves and each other. It is who we are and how we express ourselves.
As long as I can remember, I’ve had a vivid imagination and an urge to tell stories. Just staring at shapes in clouds or in curtain patterns was enough to stir my imagination into creating a story in my head or acting it out through one of my childhood games.
I grew up in Perth’s burgeoning northern suburbs in the 1980s and my mother used to read to me as a child. I can’t recall which books she read, although I have vague recollections of owning or borrowing titles like Grug and the Little Golden Book series.
Once I learned to read and write, I began to write and illustrate my own children’s stories called ‘Robo Dog’. This series drew on the adventure and fantasy of books such as Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series and L. Frank Baums’ The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the heroics of my favourite cartoons: Inspector Gadget, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Thundercats. I would sit in front of the TV habitually watching reruns, unconsciously absorbing how these stories worked.
As I grew older and my split family moved onto my grandparents’ poultry farm in Middle Swan in the early 1990s, I progressed to reading comics such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures and various X-Men titles. What I loved about the comics medium was the way the great artists were able to convey emotion, action and even subtlety in just a few panels. One of my favourite comics was an issue of Wolverine vol.2 because while the visuals told one story and the text told another, they were linked thematically, which demonstrated the power of the medium and storytelling in general. Inspired by my love for comics, I wrote and drew my own comic series, evolving my book series into ‘Robo-Dog Adventures’. During this time, my grandmother and aunt worked in then purchased the Midland Centrepoint Book Exchange, which created my love for book exchanges.
In my teens, I read a lot of fantasy and horror. My first fantasy novel was R. A. Salvatore’s Exile and I came to love his series of tales about outcast dark-elf Drizzt and his companions. I also read a lot of Stephen King, who initially scared me out of my mind with his terrifying imaginings. I still admire King (even if my lecturers at university tried to steer me away from him) because he has a great knack for getting into a character’s head and making unrealistic situations believable. During a recent bout of writer’s block, I reread some of my favourites King novels, such as Carrie, The Shining, Pet Semetary, Misery, and the Dark Tower series. Their authenticity and vividness reinvigorated my passion for storytelling.
During my teens I also read a lot of Richard Laymon, another horror author who wrote movie-like novels. Laymon had a knack for writing tense, suspenseful scenes and his dialogue was really strong too. I believe these elements dramatically influenced my writing style.
In my early twenties, I succumbed to depression and lost my interest in storytelling. Yet, somewhere along the way, I read James Redfield’s The Celestine Prophecy and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. This authentic spiritual adventure and action-driven twist on religious concepts, respectively, inspired me to follow my dreams to become an author and develop spiritual concepts in my stories.
In my late twenties, I enrolled in a creative writing degree at Edith Cowan University where I excelled and achieved a first-class honours result. One of the best things I learnt during my degree was to read widely. So while I still indulged in the occasional Stephen King novel, I took it upon myself to read authors such as Tim Winton. Winton’s writing style blew my mind. Like Richard Laymon, it was immediate, but Winton took it to a whole other level and did so with such authenticity and realism that most of his books are my still some of my favourites. I just reread Cloudstreet for my Mapping Your Story 12-week course and fell in love with the Lambs and Pickleses all over again.
Another important thing I gained from my undergraduate degree was that writing could be therapeutic. Indeed, looking back, it is evident to me that writing helped me out of several depressions and allowed me to cope as a child. The research on the therapeutic effects of writing inspired me to undertake a creative writing PhD at Curtin University where I am currently researching the therapeutic benefits of writing fantasy-fiction as well as writing my first fantasy-fiction novel, ‘The Rebels’.
In writing ‘The Rebels’, I dove back into the fantasy-fiction genre and found some inspiring new authors. Juliet Marillier’s Blade of Fortriu, Wildwood Dancing, and Cybele’s Secret are some of my favourites because Marillier creates authentic fictional world by drawing on Celtic history and focuses on developing rich relationship between her characters. Of course, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series has been a big inspiration, especially from book three onwards. George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series is a wonderful sprawling epic, although the side story, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, is my favourite so far. And Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series, like many of his books, develops a brilliant fantasy world and magic system.
Although I love the fantasy and horror genres, I also love reading memoir because when written well, it conveys authentic life experience and the power of the human spirit to overcome trauma. Some of my favourite memoirs are Margo Orum’s Fairytales in Reality, an intense insight into the life of someone with manic depression, and Kate Holden’s In My Skin, a very vivid memoir about prostitution and drug abuse. In fact, I’m writing a series of memoir vignettes that have been well received, which I hope to put into a collection one day.
My passion for storytelling stems from an innate urge to not only engage with other authors’ stories but also tell my own to express myself. Indeed, I’ve turned my passion and experience into a business, The Story Mentor (www.thestorymentor.com.au), through which I mentor budding and emerging writers and their stories through regular mentoring sessions, manuscript assessments, and editing services. I also teach creative writing workshops and courses, such as the Mapping Your Novel 12-week course I am currently running at the Fellowship of Australian Writers Western Australia in Swanbourne until December. And I have a portfolio of writing, which can be read on my author website: www.arlevett.weebly.com
I’ve always been a slow reader, but I believe that allows me to deeply immerse myself in the stories, which has allowed me not only to learn how to write my own takes, but also help other authors get the best out of their tales.
You are welcome to submit an article for publication as a reader indulging in your favourites books and reading places and how your reading has influenced you. Please feel free to contact me via email.