Writing from a child’s perspective

I recently had the opportunity to talk with writer and academic Luke Johnson about his story ‘Of rivers and blood’, which appears in the most recent issue of Overland.

In this story, you write from the perspective of an imaginative and sensitive seven-year-old boy. As a writer, what do you like about using a child’s perspective, as opposed to an adult’s?

Adopting the child’s perspective allowed me to do things I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to do, at both a narrative level and a personal level. The story is actually written in the third-person, though undoubtedly it’s heavily focalised through the character of the young boy and at times can seem almost first-person. I guess this approach meant the narrator could be conclusive and stylised when necessary, but then naive and awkward when the story called for such moments. Beyond the narrative and dramatic benefits, taking the perspective of the boy allowed me to recall some of the fond moments I shared with my own dad without seeming too sentimental or nostalgic. Or maybe it allowed me to be both terribly sentimental and nostalgic at once, but in a defensible sort of way.

Can you tell us a little bit about your approach to writing? How do you go about conceiving of and writing a short story like this?

By no means typifying my approach to writing, this particular story originated from a photograph and the memories attached to it. It’s a blurry shot of a spot on the Murrumbidgee where my dad and I used to go camping and fishing. I took it myself on one of the mornings we were packing up to leave. I was six or seven. There was one shot left on the roll of film and my dad said I could use it up. I went down to the river and aimed the camera at the fog and water and trees. I’ve not been back there since.

Which writers are the biggest influences on your work?

Philip Roth, Martin Amis, Gillian Mears, Ernest Hemingway, Bob Dylan, Larry David, Jerry Seinfeld, Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, Luce Irigaray, William Faulkner, Dante, Allen Ginsberg, Billie Corgan, Zadie Smith, Ricky Gervais and Steven Merchant, and Jonathan Franzen, whom I’ve only recently discovered. Though admittedly, there’s probably not a lot of Ricky or Jerry to be found in this particular story.

What are you working on now?

I’m in the final year of my PhD, so most of my time is spent working on my thesis. It’s a literary interpretation of Jacques Lacan’s mirror-stage theory. I’ve also got a novel manuscript which I’ve been polishing up in the hope of finding a publisher. It too is written from the focalised perspective of a young boy, and concerns itself with the uglier side of ‘race relations’ in this country.

Rachel Liebhaber

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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