Q&A with Jalen Lyle-Holmes

A photo of contributor Jalen Lyle-Holmes against a light turquoise and yellow wave-pattern background. To the left are three images of the magazine’s cover in a column. Text above the photo reads “THE SUBURBAN REVIEW magazine, issue: #21, theme: SALT”. To the right of the photo is the contributor’s name. Along the bottom of the image the magazine’s website “thesuburbanreview.com” is repeated three times.

JALEN LYLE-HOLMES is a writer, performing artist, and computer science student based in Melbourne. His writing has been previously published in Voiceworks magazine, and his writing for theatre has been performed at La Mama, in MUDFest and in a little room above the Aegean Restaurant. He mainly wants to help save the world from AI, but also likes queer stories and mischief.

Our Associate Editor, L.B. Hazelthorn, talks to Jalen about his short story ‘Waves’, published in #21: Salt.

In ‘Waves’, dreams feature as clearly as the ocean does, lapping through the narrator’s mind and creating an amazing atmosphere. Were you inspired by the ocean as something symbolic and dream-like, or is there a particular beach somewhere that you had in mind while writing this story?

Hm, well I wasn’t doing either of those things intentionally, but maybe was doing them both subconsciously! The initial nugget for this story was the first sentence: “I dreamed I was a whale”. I’d been trying to write something inspired by the Alice Munro story ‘Axis’, for a story club I have with some friends, where each month we each write something inspired by the same piece. ‘Axis’ has a lot about dreams, actually, there’s this one particular disturbing dream that kind of hangs over the story and you’re unsure what it symbolises or means (or at least I was haha!), but you can feel it means something. So I guess that influenced me, and ‘Axis’ also has a lot about like rock formations and geology, that part of the natural world, so it’s interesting that this story ‘Waves’ kind of revolves around the ocean, as another kind of greater-than-human-scale part of the natural world. I’m actually only realising that parallel just now! 

So anyway yeah I was messing around writing little bits of text inspired by that Alice Munro story, trying to find what my story could be. I often don’t start a story from an overall idea or concept, it’s often more that some little chunk of language will grab me for some reason, and then I’ll expand out from there and slowly discover what the story is. So amongst the couple of pages of fragments I’d been writing inspired by this Munro story, most of what I’d written was just like boring me but there was this one sentence in there, “I dreamed I was a whale”, that I realised I liked for some reason. No idea why, but I could feel possibility and fun in it for some reason.

So I copy pasted that single sentence out, ditched everything else, and then just started writing from that sentence. So you asked about if I was inspired by the ocean being dreamlike, and I guess maybe my subconscious was? Or at least, by something about dreams and the ocean together–cos the ocean and dreams are both embedded in that first sentence that grabbed me! I don’t have something consciously in mind that I think the ocean symbolises though. 

And then I think I also did have a specific beach in mind as well when I was writing the parts about him at the beach. Or at least, a general area of beach haha, the beach down at St Kilda/Middle Park. Not a conscious choice, but that was the beach my brain decided to present to me as I wrote that, which then triggered a memory of falling asleep on the 112 tram that used to go down there, which then inspired other stuff in the story… 

As well as a writer, you’re also an actor. How do you think your experience with physical story-telling impacts the way you use words and voice on the page?

Ooooo interesting Q! Hm, I’m not sure… I wonder if it influences it… It must, right? I mean I guess one thing, I don’t know if it’s related, but I’ve also written for theatre and I feel like writing dialogue is the type of writing that feels most comfortable and easiest to me now, and I’ve noticed more recently that when I’m writing short stories I seem to often like writing stuff that’s in the first person with a narrator who has quite a distinctive voice and point of view. Which I guess is kind of like writing dialogue, or like, writing a monologue from this character, the first-person narrator.

And in theatre I often like stuff that’s quite interactive between the performers and audience, or where it feels like there’s a dialogue between the performers and the audience, and I guess some of the short stories I’ve been writing recently have had that type of voice that feels like the narrator is talking directly with the reader and almost chatting with them. Not so much in this story, ‘Waves’, but more in some other stories. 

What creative project are you passionate about at the moment?

Hm… I’m not in the midst of anything substantial at the moment, but I’m pretty keen to try out more memoir/creative nonfiction type stuff. I’ve noticed some of my fiction edging towards that lately, and just feel pretty excited especially to try out this idea of like interviewing random people and then writing up their stories, or stories based on their stories. Haven’t tried it yet, we’ll see what happens! Oh and a queer webseries that I wrote on, Low Frequency, is about to go into production for its second season so I’m pretty excited to see the results of that!