Something rarely addressed is the complex relationships between adolescent boys, the fear of showing emotion and love due to a toxic masculine society. Why did you feel it was important to showcase this bond between the two characters Max and Fletch?

Adolescence is such an interesting time, and male relationships during those years (contrary to popular belief) can be quite layered and multifaceted. Beyond all the universal animalistic aspects, like figuring out hierarchy, competition, threats and attraction, a deep tenderness can be found. Unfortunately, dangerous gender norms and societal ideals of masculinity, render any emotions, vulnerability, or any form of love shown towards members of the same gender impossible to be expressed. How difficult, considering that during these years, the people who you spend the most time with, feel the most connected to, are likely to be your friends. How strange, to not be able to share that. There are also a lot of complex feelings that can feel like jealously, love, attraction, competition, but they are tucked away and when things remain hidden, they often erupt. It was important for me to explore this intricate and confusing dynamic between Max and Fletch, to explore it, tease it out, and write about what can happen when this tenderness is hidden, and what can happen when it is shared.

Did any part of the character Max come from an autobiographical perspective, as in your own experience of adolescence?

I tend to start a writing project with a question I have, or something I want to chew on, wrestle with, and organise on the page. Max came as a hybrid of my own experiences as a teenager, with examples of those I’ve seen as I have taught, and of course a character takes on their own life as the story develops. They seemed to come together in this universal need to belong, which sometimes can feel in contrast to our authentic selves. At that age it can feel impossible. I’ve drawn on my own experiences and those of my students, but Max took the story on and ultimately made it his own.

Uncertainty seems to be a ubiquitous theme in the book, do you think there is a beauty in the indecisive and hesitancy of adolescence?

Uncertainty can be scary as a young person. In my experience, and what I’ve learned in both parenting and teaching, is that young people tend to feel safe when they have rules, routines and expectations around them. To be uncertain can be an anxious place to reside for young people who crave answers around what is expected of them. It is something we learn to appreciate as one of the beautiful and unpredictable parts of living. Perhaps something we can only feel nostalgic for. Occupying the grey spaces can be terrifying, but when a different lens is applied, it can be a beautiful thing. There is something wonderful about trying on different versions of yourself. Being uncertain can open you up to experiences you wouldn’t have if you were so certain about who you are. As our sense of identity starts to become more concrete, I think we can appreciate how beautiful and fleeting the insecurity and naiveté selves we were.

Did your time on Survivor New Zealand change your perspective on human connection especially when the show is rooted in a deceitful and competitive nature?

Before survivor, I was a trip leader, taking groups of teens on overseas expeditions. Some of these trips were three months long. We were trained in navigating complex relationships, moving through conflict with calm, open honesty and vulnerability, group building activities, and various other exercises in effective relationship building and empathetic communication. I sometimes had to stifle my eye roll response at these literal campfire trainings, but on Survivor, I employed all those skills and I think I won because of them. I wasn’t deceitful, I made connections. They weren’t made in the name of winning, but they won it for me. I wasn’t the strongest player or the most strategic, but it made me understand the power of creating authentic, honest and vulnerable relationships with people.

As a teacher you must come across some fantastic and important texts. Do you have a favourite text you're passionate about teaching?

I try to teach contemporary Māori and Pasifika texts, and I do. I’m ashamed to say that the best novel I’ve taught is Lord of the Flies. It’s the novel that our parents, and their parents have been taught…I am very aware of repeating novels that have been trotted out over decades… but I haven’t seen a student response quite like it in teaching another text. Once, in a particularly lively class (still to this day my favourite) a student upturned a desk and threw it across the room when Piggy died.

  • About the Author

    Avi Duckor-Jones trained as a lawyer before gaining his MA in creative writing from Victoria University's International Institute of Modern Letters in 2013. His travel writing has been published with BBC Travel, the New Zealand Listener and Lonely Planet, among others. Avi has worked as a writing instructor and trip leader for National Geographic, directed a school in Ghana, and is the winner of the reality television competition Survivor New Zealand. His first book, Swim, won the 2018 Viva la Novella award. He currently lives on Waiheke Island with his wife and two children, where he enjoys open-water distance swimming and works as an English teacher at Waiheke High School.

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