Q&A with Jade Peters

A square photograph of Jade Peters is set against a purple banner featuring insects and quotation marks in varying shades of purple. Jade is standing, smiling and wearing a green shirt, rucksack and smaller bag. She has brown hair. Behind her are green hills, some water and a pale blue sky. To the right of the photograph is written 'Itch, an interview with Jade Peters'.

Jade Peters is an emerging writer. She reads and writes stories around her day job in public policy. Her writing tends to explore relationships and notions of work and/or death using elements of dread, absurdity, and the Gothic. She grew up on unceded Dharawal land and now lives in Narrm.

Intern Sarah Pearce talks to Jade about their work, ‘Velvet’, published in #29: ITCH.

The way ‘Velvet’ depicts a child’s incisive understanding and lack of understanding of the world around them is utterly heartbreaking and so spot-on. I wonder if you could speak a little about the process of creating Velvet’s narrative voice, including how you showed her to be extremely perceptive and wise, and naive and childlike, all at once?!

Thanks for these very thoughtful questions! 

Velvet’s narrative voice was actually quite a surprise to me. I think it floated into my mind on its own on a bus, the first opening of the story at least, which I wrote out quite soon after. Then, I came up with the set of almost thoughtless or generic questions that adults often ask children, and then used the answers as a twofold device: both as submissive and resistant actions. This really helped me to understand how the narrative voice might drive plot and to think through the kind of emotional world Velvet inhabits and how she relates to it.

When I read this piece, I was struck perhaps most of all by how unique it is. I’d be fascinated to know if there were any particular writers, artists, works, or anything else that inspired it?

I love a good story that features a memorable child or young narrator, particularly if it has a spooky or unnerving setting. I think I read Shirley Jackson’s short story Afternoon in Linen (1943) around the time, and the character Harriet stayed with me, for her general attitude and tiny acts of power in the story. I also love Jesse Ball’s novel How to Set a Fire and Why (2016), which has an amazing protagonist in aspiring arsonist Lucia. Yiyun Li’s The Book of Goose (2022) is a more recent example that I read after writing ‘Velvet’ but inspires me in the same way. 

The contrast between your incredibly simple, beautiful prose and the huge issues with which ‘Velvet’ grapples is stark; the piece operates on multiple, radically different levels. The narrative is also quite liminal; it operates somewhere between—slipping between—realism and something a little more uncanny or magical. I wonder if you could comment on the significance of oppositions, incongruity, liminality, or boundary-breaking to this work (and/or your other work, and/or other work you love to read)?

It’s definitely something I’m grappling with at the moment. I tend to always find myself writing a story that is not completely realist and not completely speculative or surreal. As you say, operating somewhere between. I get really excited by writing and reading stories like that. For me, hovering in this space pushes my imagination to create alternate possibilities or revelations that may otherwise be diluted in a strictly realist or speculative narrative.

For example, in ‘Velvet’, the magical or surreal elements and imagery of the natural environment enabled me to reflect or amplify certain ideas, like general contradictions (e.g. both fearing and revering the natural environment), and accepted attitudes about meaning and structures that govern our behaviours. I also wanted to show how we might suppress the subtle (and overt) horrors of our daily lives through general platitudes or performance of respectable, acceptable emotion. The ways in which we perform to protect ourselves and others from discomfort, or to cope. In that sense, I found that skewing the natural environment and narrative voice and generally confusing the sense of reality helped to accentuate, rather than distort, what might lurk under the surface.