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Perito Prize 2020 – Transcript of Our Podcast Interview With Perito Prize 2020 Winner – Keshuan (Keshe) Chow

 

You can find the audio version of this excellent interview with Keshe on our podcast host https://www.buzzsprout.com/507109/6577582 and its available on all podcast sites like Apple and Spotify.

 

Perito:     Welcome to Episode 1 of the Perito Podcast 2020, a special Podcast series all about celebrating the writing and creativity of this year’s Perito prize and anthology.  In this episode we are pleased to be joined by the winner of the Perito Prize 2020 Keshe Chow. Keshe wrote the story ‘Every/ Other’ which can be found in the journal section of the Perito website and was selected by the judges as the winning short story for this year.  Hi Keshe and a very warm welcome to the Podcast and well what an incredible story you’ve created, a bit of a warm up question for you so what’s most important do you think ambition, talent or opportunity, we’ll put luck in brackets on that one as well what do you think?

Keshe:     Okay thanks so much for having me today James, first of all I think with this question it’s a bit of a difficult one because I really think it depends so much on the situation and I think depending on what situation you find yourself in different aspects of those three things would take precedence over the other.  I think if we’re sort of talking specifically about writing and publishing I think probably it’s a combination of all three, I think you definitely need to have the drive to just absolutely put your head down and do the work and get the words out and then obviously there’s an element of having the sort of innate ability to use words and just craft them in a certain way and definitely sort of like opportunity and luck is a big part of it as well because so often writing is so subjective, I think different people respond to different things and what one person enjoys a lot another person might find just too out there or too dry or too bland or too like upbeat or too depressing like it’s very, very subjective so I think it just depends so much on that kind of dual factors of the audience and the writer if that’s what we sort of talking about.

Perito:     (1.54) It’s an interesting point you make about subjectivity within the kind of books and writing, I think that is such an important thing, often people will not read outside of a certain subject matter.

Keshe:     Yes.

Perito:     (2.05) I only read Italian detective fiction blah, blah, blah, I only read American…

Keshe:     (laughter)

Perito:     …something or other and when it comes round to read other stuff there does seem to be a, oh I know blah, blah, I could possibly read short stories well might not, they’re micro stories, they’re really short you can eat them in bite size chunks and you get the satisfaction of the whole story in one, I think that’s what I’ve tried to do with this anthology certainly is put together a collection of stories which is as diverse as possible so everyone’s going to find something there but it’s such a difficult thing to get through and people realise that books are so important to people as well, that’s a good point.

Keshe:     Yeah story telling is just so important really and that’s just what part of what makes us human really, I think the ability to share stories and you know communicate ideas through words and things like that.

Perito:     (2.54) So thinking about kind of sharing your ideas out there. What made you enter the prize and how did you find out about it in the first place?

Keshe:     How I found out about it was probably through like a writing blog or something, to be honest I don’t really remember, I spend a lot of time late at night kind of just like when I can’t sleep and stuff (laughter), it’s like cruising around on the internet and I probably came across it at one stage and I had this already written because it was a very personal story so I had it kind of sitting there and I hadn’t really shown it to anyone and it was just kind of private and I thought it kind of feels the brief of that sort of inclusivity and exclusivity that you guys were trying to hit in the Perito prize and so I thought why not just send it in, I didn’t really expect much of it as I said to you when you first contacted me it was like completely unexpected that it sort of impacted on anyone really, cos to me it just was like this weird little story that I’d written late at night when I couldn’t sleep and yeah so that’s basically why I entered, I just did it on a whim.

Perito:     (4.00) Sometimes the best stories are done late at night where you’re plugging into the depth of creativity that you just might not…

Keshe:     (laughter)

Perito:     …that well is really deep and draw it out.

Keshe:     Sitting alone in the dark it definitely brings out some interesting ideas (laughter).

Perito:     (4.15) Actually you can kind of sense the whole sitting alone in your dark bit of the story actually that does come out.

Keshe:     (laughter) yeah, yeah.

Perito:     (4.22) So let’s think about the story then some people won’t have read it yet but one Judge described it as stunning and I think probably what I’ve just said there probably get the tone and the kind of the setting of the story.  Tell us what Every/Other is all about?

Keshe:     So basically it is a piece of fiction but it’s kind of loosely based on a lot of my experiences growing up as a person of colour in Australia so I’m Chinese Australian, I was actually born in Malaysia migrated to Australia when I was about 2 and a half so I don’t really remember much but grew up in quite a traditional Chinese family and sort of straggling those two cultures where you’re trying really hard to assimilate into like an Australian very white nominated culture which it was back in the 80’s when I grew up, you know it’s a long time ago now but yeah it basically was, it was difficult from an identity point of view because there always that element of having two sides of your lives, you know you’ve got the life that you have at home where you’ve got like really traditional Chinese values or whatever as a culture you identify with and then trying to sort of, yeah basically integrate into a greater society where some of those aspects might not be so easily accepted the general public.  So yeah that’s basically what it is about, it was just about sort of my experiences and that’s why it was so personal because there were difficulties obviously growing up in that sort of environment and fantastic things as well and I look back on it now and I think I’m so lucky to have that sort of rich cultural heritage and Australia is so multi-cultural but there were definitely aspects of it growing up that I found very difficult because everyone wants to be included and especially when you’re a kid you just want to be like everyone else, you don’t want to be the strange one or the odd one out and so having anything that sets you apart from others can be quite a difficult experience and I think it’s hard to know what that’s like unless you’ve experienced that.

Perito:     (6.29) So it sounds like that Every/Other has come from a place of not just social exclusion but certainly exclusion in general, it really drives that exclusion concept quite harder and makes a serious impact on the reader, was that only the place that you were coming from when you decided to write it or were there other elements outside of just the historical sense of social exclusion that you’d experienced?

Keshe:     I think I didn’t really have any specific agenda when I wrote it, I kind of just started and it just kind of came because I think it was from a such a deep place that it actually didn’t really take me very long to write, it kind of just flowed once I got the idea, so I don’t really know what exactly what things it encompasses because I’m close to the story I think but I think that it was really just trying to show that dichotomy of having two different aspects of your life and trying to kind of, I guess it kind of almost self-rejection and self-hatred that can come when you realise you are different from the majority and that can be really damaging and I think that’s what I was trying to get across that sort of, I guess it’s social exclusion from others can then lead to a kind of self-rejection and then that’s the real damaging thing when you sort of don’t accept yourself anymore because society at large is telling you that you’d be better off being different.  Yeah I don’t know, I mean like I experienced a really good childhood, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t like it was awful or you know, I was bullied or anything like that.

Perito:     Yeah.

Keshe:     It was just that there’s all little things and I guess being a marginalised person and this goes for any form of marginalisation is that you’re always questioning, you’re always second guessing, it’s always like, you know, if I miss out on this opportunity is it because I’m actually not good enough or was it because I’m different, it’s always having that thing in the back of your mind where you’re like people seeing me for me or are they seeing me because I’m a stereotype or a token of my culture, there’s so many different aspects and it’s very kind of complex growing up as a marginalised person and again I think it can be really hard to see that if you’re not from a marginalised community and I think it’s fantastic that there’s so much push nowadays to understand diverse voices and marginalised voices and that the culture overall is really trying to raise up those voices nowadays and like your anthology and the contest and everything it’s just such an important thing because historically a lot of the marginalised voices, and I’m not just talking about marginalised from a cultural point of view which is obviously what I was writing about but from any point of view, historically those voices haven’t really been heard and if it was written about it was written about from a viewpoint of, you know, the other side not from the person themselves so yeah it’s amazing that now there is that sort of really deep push to celebrate and raise up those voices, I think that’s just so fantastic.

Perito:     (9.31) You mentioned about self-hate and…

Keshe:     (laughter) yeah.

Perito:     …this actually came across from, was something that you wanted to write about or is that just coincidental that that came across?

Keshe:     I think it was probably a bit coincidental and that’s obviously really strong language, there were definitely a lot of times growing up where I felt like I wish I was just the one blue eyed person but overall I’ve really over my life come to like an acceptance but it is very hard to question whether you really like who you are and that has so many different aspects, I mean obviously as a child and as a teenager most people are kind of question that I think everyone kind of goes through, those of angsty, phases of trying to find out who you are and kind of rejecting each version of yourself and things like that, like I actually I have robust mental health so I think overall like I’ve been able to navigate those aspects quite well but it definitely, especially for people who are even more marginalised than myself I think that mental health is such a massive thing that we have to bear in mind that sort of the sort of lack of inclusion can really seriously impact on people’s mental health or just feeling stigmatised for whatever reason that may be.

Perito:     (10.51) That’s a good point. I found the sentences where you encouraged the reader to make sounds for themselves was particularly engaging and kind of the clips and clops as you brush your hair and things like that.

Keshe:     (laughter)

Perito:     (11.04) Was there any specific inspiration of this technique of writing that you encouraged or was, you’ve mentioned that you wrote this story quite quickly was it just like ah that’s, were you making these sounds, were you brushing hair and then you were like I’m just going to put that in because that feels the right thing to do.

Keshe:     I think that writing is such a rich sensory experience really, like often when you write and you write about all the senses, we’re not just using words we’re trying to evoke memories of sights and smells and sounds and things like that and it was just an extra way I think of kind of reaching out to the reader and having them kind of engage, I think one of the things is that I kind of want to, whoever read it, to really understand where the protagonist was coming from like actually sort of put themselves in her shoes, in this case and so that was just a way of kind of engaging someone whose just reading rather than them just reading words they’re actually kind of interacting with the material and it was experimental because I was kind of like oh this is kind of maybe a little bit too weird and I definitely had some readers who read it when I was like looking for feedback and they were like I didn’t like that bit (laughter) they were like that’s too strange and I think my parents will have said the same thing but again everything is so subjective I just thought it was like a device basically to engage someone and actually sort of get them just feeling like they could put themselves in the story rather than just reading it from a distance.

Perito:     (12.42) Well it worked, it definitely worked.

Keshe:     (laughter)

Perito:     (12.45) So as you know the Perito prize is about inclusion, access, inclusive environments it sounds like you’d already written the story before you came across the prize…

Keshe:     No.

Perito:     …but do you think other people or would you if you entered next year, would you find these sort of topics difficult to write about if you came up with things organically from scratch?

Keshe:     Yeah, so I think I already mentioned like I did really find this particular story very difficult to write, I mean it wasn’t difficult from a point of view of the time it took it came very quickly but once it was written I was kind of really shy about it. Like you know I mentioned to you before the Podcast started that I hadn’t shown my parents yet and I’ve shown very few people and actually once it was written I kind of sat on it for ages, kind of too afraid to let anyone read it because firstly I thought it was really weird and secondly it was so personal that I really felt as though it was like a piece of me and I kind felt that anyone reading it would know so much more about me than a lot of people do, so yeah it’s like kind of scary to be putting it out there but I think on the other hand it is an important topic to write about, I think writing what you know and writing about diversity and culture and inclusion and exclusion is really important especially in the current climate because like I said we are, and as a society as a whole I think we are really trying to hear from diverse voices which is a really good thing and I feel kind of like I can’t ignore that side of myself and be kind of true to myself anymore like I have up ‘til now so yeah it’s kind of a big thing, very scary to be putting myself out here like I am but I hope that it helps people understand what that sort of thing is like, yeah, but I’m not being very articulate at the moment but I think it’s just.

Perito:     (14.46) No I think it’s perfect.

Keshe:     and difficult to speak about.

Perito:     (14.50) I had a question about the hardest thing come up with the story for the competition, but I think you’ve answered that one quite clearly.  How long have you sat on the story before you decided to submit it?

Keshe:     I don’t actually remember, I don’t have a very good concept of time to be honest, as particularly a lot of my writing is done late at night when I can’t sleep so I kind of just, I either manically write really fast or like I sweat out individual lines over many, many months.  This one I wrote very quickly in the night but I think it was probably earlier this year and I was writing other things and getting feedback from readers about this and then the first person I actually showed at all was someone who put out a call on like a critic where it’s saying, “I have something really weird would anyone like to critic it” and I was like, “well I have something really weird as well do you want to read it as well” and I was kind of like sweating cos I was like, oh my goodness this is kind of scary to have anyone read something so personal but yeah like it was once it put it out there it kind of became easier to then decide that it was a story that needed to be told.

Perito:     (15.58) I think it’s important for you to understand that we had over 300 entries for the Perito prize this year.

Keshe:     Wow.

Perito:     (16.04) and so many of the stories have the same sort of impact, so you’re definitely not alone having written something that’s dynamic and unusual and that is entirely the point of the prize is to get people to think literally and laterally about all the themes of the competition as well and then ideally when people read these stories they will sit there and think, gosh I hadn’t viewed things from that perspective before, and because it’s bite size chunks it gives people the ability to understand the message in lots of different ways, so don’t ever feel that this is exactly what you should have done and I would say that the competition has been waiting for your story to come on in.

Keshe:     Thank you.

Perito:     (16.48) So the ending is quite specific, I was kind of in two minds we kind of, we ruin it a bit like a movie review on IMDB.

Keshe:     Yeah (laughter).

Perito:     (16.58) And as I read it, it’s what maybe you had in mind as a way of concluding this story did you add it later or did you, what did you learn about your story as you wrote it out, I guess that you can tell people about that journey that you went through I suppose in the dark room and how long it took you to write it through, but what was that bit where you hit that point in the story you just thought, you know what to hell with this bang I’m going to do it, or was it kind of much more calculated?

Keshe:     I spent a long time actually planning it in my head before I wrote it down, I think that’s why I can write it in such a short amount of time, it took a couple of hours to get all of the words out but I had been thinking about these concepts for a while and kind of formulating it in my head a little bit and I guess what I really wanted to get across with that ending was just that, that loss of identity can almost be as bad as death itself, like it’s just so tragic to really be yearning so much to be something different that you kind of lose yourself in the process so again like I don’t know whether I should be giving it away but it was very metaphorical I hadn’t like.

Perito:     (18.11) It’s your story Keshe so you tell it how it is.

Keshe:     So I mean I had one reader who completely, who thought it was literal and so kind of missed that point but most people kind of understood that it was like a metaphorical death and so yeah that was basically just it, I think while I was writing it I kind of, because I’m now at a place in my life where I can look back and think, no actually I really do accept myself and I accept my culture and I want to impart that onto my children that I am proud of my heritage and proud of my culture and that all of that sort of stuff that I struggled with growing up, you know that was so damaging and sort of maybe I didn’t see it at that the time that it was as damaging as it is so my parents probably will feel quite justifying or just they were always kind of like, you know you have to accept that side of yourself and things.  I think it was just kind of straggling my whole life journey up to now and so I think that it was a little learning process was just realising that I have come to accept myself so in this story the fact that the protagonist doesn’t accept herself as almost like a metaphorical death, if that makes any sense?

Perito:     (19.30) It does yes, yep, I’ll leave the listener to read or listen to it and make up their own minds but I think one of the things we’ve hit on here is getting feedback, now I know a lot of people who would be entering the prize or considering entering the prize will be either wary feedback, I personally as a writer I have (laughter) often had. I get quite agitated when it comes around to feedback cos either people are too slow, they don’t understand or they don’t want to do it and they say they will and they don’t and all these other things but it sounds like you’ve got some really good critical constructive feedback from various people.  How did that process work for you and are there any tips you can give listeners about how maybe they could get something similar going?

Keshe:     So I started creative writing again this year actually and so prior to this year I really had no concept as to how to get feedback or the need to get feedback and critics and I just joined like a heap of writers groups and critic groups online just kind of researching like I always kind of do, yeah so many people were just like it’s invaluable to get feedback because sometimes just so close to your work that you just can’t see when something doesn’t make sense or when something sounds a bit awkward or when things could be framed in a different way and sometimes it’s just really minor tweaks like swapping a word or just changing two sentences around in terms of their order, it can be just so minor but it can just make things so much more powerful and so one thing I found with critics is that, I mean I feel like, because I’m just starting out I feel like anyone offering to read my work is doing me like a huge favour so I feel it’s just they’re so generous with their time so I always kind of offer to reciprocate so it’s always, that’s one thing that I always do and yeah I guess like when I’ve had feedback, so sometimes like I said some readers don’t really get the point I’m trying to make or sometimes they are critical of what I’ve written I think, you know it can be really painful to hear that especially when you’ve written something very personal but just with anything because I think as a writer you always feel so sensitive and so much ownership and it’s kind of like your little baby that you’ve written and put out into the world that I think you can be really sensitive to anything negative but it’s important also to realise that when you’re writing your not really always writing for yourself, you’re really writing to get a message out there…

Perito:     Yeah totally.

Keshe:     …and the more people can hear that message then the more impactful it will be so it kind of serves a good purpose to make sure that you’re reaching as many people as you can with your message.  Yeah and so when I’ve been giving feedback I find it so helpful to try and really zero in on all of the positives as well, like I think it’s really easy to pick apart other people’s work but I think it’s just so important to raise everyone up and make sure everyone knows that everyone has good aspects to their work and there might be things that need tweaking but they’re keeping everything positive and being constructive is just so valuable.

Perito:     (22.54) That’s great advice.  So what was the most valuable thing about going through this writing process for you, sounds like you’ve had a lot of experience in the past but this is quite a recent return to writing, is there kind of something that’s really struck out and said, do you know what I feel better because I’m writing or I feel more creative or so and so forth?

Keshe:     Yeah from a personal point of view I mean I’ve always loved creative writing and I was saying to you before we started today that I had to take like a bit long break from any creative writing at all because I was very focussed on my academic career so that sort of took precedence for many years and so just being able to kind of stretch my brain in a different way is just so fantastic.  I think that having something as well, I mean obviously this year has been exceptionally stressful for virtually everyone in the world and for various areas and so just having something else to kind of focus on and nurture is just so nice, and it’s sort of like a personal journey because I’ve come back to it after such a long time away.

Perito:     (24.09) So has the prize made you think differently about how inclusion access and how accessible the world we live in actually is, was this something that was already plugged into you, with you before or do you look around the street and think, you know what that’s social exclusion, that’s someone’s feeling marginalised, someone can’t access, there’s a lack of inclusion here and there and everywhere?

Keshe:     Yeah, well I think that anytime you hear those words about inclusion and exclusion and accessibility it just puts the emphasis on it more and it just brings it to the forefront of your mind and one thing I particularly loved about the way that you guys framed your competition was that you made a point to say that it could, like the material could be submitted in a whole lot of different ways, like it didn’t necessarily have to be just pros on paper for people who might not find it easy to write because of various reasons or you know whether that’s like a physical reason or even just like you know a mental reason that there were other ways that they could submit work, I mean I just don’t see that very often, I think most of the time a lot of these things that you can participate in are very prescriptive and narrow in the way that you can participate and so I just thought it was so fantastic that you guys extended that and made it a point to say, you know we welcome everyone this isn’t gonna be like some de-ambitious, unreachable thing to take part in that only certain parts or some parts of society can take part in, it was like we welcome everyone, we want everyone to be included and we want to make it a positive thing, I think that’s really, that was likely to see that because obviously we read so much and a lot of it is so kind of rigid especially in the publishing world (laughter) yeah so that was real nice to see.

Perito:     (26.04) That is definitely, that is very right, yeah I found from previous writing and that’s why when we created this general experience it was all about trying to say to people and as a dyslexic myself grown up being called stupid at school it was very much a case of, if you can’t spell that well you can still be creative, everybody can be creative and everybody can express themselves in lots of different ways and I think we wanted to really draw out that by not creating barriers like for instance you have to be in South Australia and you have to be in this tiny part of South Australia and you have to pay 25 dollars and you have to be this and you have to be that.

Keshe:     Yes.

Perito:     (26.43) And I don’t think they’re setting out to be exclusive because they hate other people…

Keshe:     No, yes.

Perito:     …but it’s more the case they want to limit the opportunity to reward people in certain areas, certain things and I think we felt that wasn’t the right course of action it is building, I mean we can’t help everybody whole 100% of time but I’m glad that’s come across…

Keshe:     Yes.

Perito:     …and you felt like it was something that you wanted to get involved in that’s great.

Keshe:     Yeah for sure.

Perito:     (27.11) Finally then so any recommendations or tips for people entering next year?

Keshe:     I mean I don’t really feel like I’m experienced enough really to give out too many tips, I guess just like writing something (laughter) that’s probably the first step, I think so.

Perito:     That’s great advice.

Keshe:     After like it’s so easy to keep all of these stories kind of locked up in your brain and again like you alerted to in the last question there’s so many times where, like sometimes the barriers are external like we discussed but often they’re internal as well, often it’s kind of like, I’m not good enough for this, or like I can’t spell well so why bother entering or, there’s so many sort of like personal demons if you will but like you have to fight to sort of participate in something like this and also like I said when it’s something very personal and this topic and all of the sort of things that you sort of talk about they are very personal to people because you know a lot of these things and exclusivity or accessibility they can be sometimes painful things to write about from a lived experience so I think kind of just getting it down, and whether or not you even send that off or let anyone else see I think just getting it out there and knowing that your story is valuable and needed is probably the first step to overcome, that’s the only thing I can think of.

Perito:     (28.52) I think that’s a lovely piece of advice, I hadn’t thought about the number of stories that maybe have been written but never sent.

Keshe:     Yeah.

Perito:     (29.00) Well I’m really glad you sent in yours Every/Other was certainly a worthy winner amongst many this year.

Keshe:     Thank you.

Perito:     (29.08) So it’s been brilliant to find out more about you and your winning story but now it’s time to sign and tell listeners about the upcoming anthology that is available from Amazon around the world and the audio book which will feature Keshe’s work alongside a variety of other entries for the 2020 competition and will hopefully be available on Audible and other audio book sites as well.  Now thanks again to our special guest 2020 prize winner writer Keshe Chow, thanks Keshe.

Keshe:     Thank you.

Perito:     You’ve been tuning into the Perito Prize 2020 Podcast Special Edition, thanks for listening everyone, everywhere.

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