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INTERVIEW WITH DR. JO SKINNER: SPRING 2021 FLASH FICTION CONTEST RUNNER UP


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Jo’s Bio:
Jo is a Brisbane based general practitioner who has worked in urban, regional and rural Australia as well as Ireland. She is married with three teenagers, a dog and a cat. 

She did her first writing course in 2017 and her stories have been long listed, short listed and won competitions. In 2020, she coedited an anthology about people’s experiences of COVID which was published by the Queensland Writer’s Centre and can be found at the State Library of Queensland. Her essays about the impacts of COVID on domestic violence and the mental health have been published by MiNDFOOD. 

She is currently writing her third novel and exploring publishing options. 

When Jo is not working or writing she is running. She has completed forty-seven marathons and counting. 

Click through here to read Jo's story, "Magpie's Warble."  Then come back to learn about her writing process. 

----------interview by Sue Bradford Edwards----------
 
WOW: “Magpie’s Warble” is such a compelling piece. What was the inspiration behind it? 

Jo: Years ago, my best friend and I were both leaving relationships and she realised she was pregnant despite precautions. I still remember vividly her trauma around the decision about what to do. It is an area so fraught with consequences whichever path you take. Managing fertility, the when and whether to have babies, still falls disproportionately to women. 

I was reminded of this again when a patient presented after her husband left her. She found herself pregnant with a third unplanned child, torn about what to do. This prompted me to write "Magpie's Warble." 

WOW: It is a story that is far too real for many women. There is so much that you don’t tell us about Layla. We don’t know her age or her hopes and dreams. How did you decide which details to include in the story and what to leave out? 

Jo: I did not want to confine Layla. The decision about whether to have a child can affect any woman whether she is a teenager or in her forties. I just wanted to leave it open so that readers could imagine her to be twenty or forty. 

With flash, I like to focus on one issue and let the reader fill in the empty spaces. I suspect most of us have been in a relationship where we were reluctant to let go even though it is no longer working. I wanted a glimpse into a powerful moment in Layla's life, and how it gives her the courage to be brave, to take control. The chances are she will face difficulties and her hopes may or may not be realised but that moment of owning her decision, moving forward was important. 

WOW: And it is such a strong moment in the story.  Revision is such a vital part of the writing process. Please tell our readers how “Magpie’s Warble” changed between the first draft and the finished piece. 

Jo: Usually, I do multiple revisions and rewrite, edit and rewrite again. I think the shadow of this story had been in my imagination for so long, I did not have to change a lot. 

I have a writing friend and we read and give feedback on each others’ work. She made a couple of suggestions and I added some details and removed a line or two. I find getting another writer to give some feedback is a great way to do revision as they see your work with fresh eyes, notice things you miss. 

WOW: Your bio says that you took your first writing course in 2017. Why then? What inspired you to try something new and what compels you to keep at it? 

Jo: I think deep down I always wanted to write but didn’t think I was capable of it. I was sitting at an airport in 2017 and picked up Gretchen Rueben’s book, The Happiness Project. In chapter nine, she challenges you to write a book in a month. I gave myself three months and wrote a 54,000 word book. It was probably terrible but gave me the confidence to sign up to a writing course. 

The week the course started, we took the family on their first snow holiday, but I still committed an hour each day to doing the exercises and submitting my work. I absolutely loved it, would rush in every lunchtime to see if I had feedback. By the end of the six weeks I was addicted! 

I learnt that you just have to make time for the things that make you sing inside. Now, I can’t imagine not writing. I always have some writing project on the go (or two or three) and am part of a fabulous women’s writing group, Brisbane Scribes. Even if I am away, I still zoom into the monthly meeting. Why? It makes me happy. 

WOW: I suspect that a lot of our readers will be Googling The Happiness Project. As a writer, a physician, a marathoner, and the mother of three teens, you must be a pro at time management. What advice do you have for our readers who have trouble finding time for their writing? 

Jo: Life is short and it is important to focus on the things we love. I have learnt that time will never magically become available so I carve time into my day and treat writing like work. Not negotiable. 

I get up early and either run or write six days each week. I have had to let some things go and that gets easier. I have a repertoire of simple meals that are on the table in less than half an hour (and yes poached eggs on avocado toast is a meal!), I pay someone to clean the house once a week, I have enlisted the kids to do chores and I do my shopping online. It took me years, but I have learnt to say no. I treat my writing time on my day off or weekend with the same reverence I would treat other appointments. It has been immensely satisfying to prioritise something I love in this way.

WOW: Prioritize what makes us happy.  That is a lesson for all of us!  Thank you for taking time out of your writing to share this with us.

To find out more about Jo and her work, visit her website at www.johannaskinner.com and connect with her on Instagram @running.writing. 

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