Interview with Dr. Jo Skinner, Summer 2021 Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Tuesday, February 15, 2022


Today I'm excited to interview Dr. Jo Skinner, runner up in the Summer 2021 Flash Fiction contest. Make sure you read her story Black Man Running then come on back for our interview.

First, a bit about Dr. Jo Skinner:

Jo is a Brisbane based general practitioner who has worked in urban and rural Australia as well as Ireland. She is married with three teenagers.

Her stories have been long listed, short listed, won competitions and been published. Last year, she coedited an anthology about people’s experiences of COVID which was published by the Queensland Writer’s Centre and can be also found at The State Library Queensland. She is currently writing a novel, A World of Silence, dealing with the theme of secrecy around domestic abuse.

When Jo is not working or writing she is running. She has completed forty-eight marathons and counting.

Visit her website at, and connect with her on Instagram @running.writing.

---- Interview by Nicole Pyles

WOW: First congratulations on winning runner-up! Your story roped me in immediately - it was both heartbreaking and riveting at the same time. What inspired you to write this story?

Dr. Jo: This story is based on a true incident. My husband, a social worker, was participating in a cultural awareness training programme. His colleague, a woman of European descent began to weep. She explained that her husband, an Indigenous Australian man, missed the birth of their first child. When the midwife called, he started running down the street and was arrested for behaving suspiciously.

WOW: How shocking! It's incredible how well you captured that moment too. So, how does being a practitioner shape and influence your writing? 

Dr. Jo: My work has an enormous influence on my writing. As a general practitioner, I am in the privileged position that people present and tell me their stories. It has taken me years to not direct the consultation but to just let patients talk and tell me about themselves before I ask questions about their symptoms or what they have come in for. Particularly during this pandemic, people have an urge to share, to spill their hearts. This is so illuminating and often helps me to form a diagnosis. I am still surprised how much people reveal in a fifteen-minute consultation, often confiding things they have not shared with anyone.

In March 2020, it prompted me to contact a friend of mine, Jane Connolly who is an editor and writer and together we collected stories from people in all walks of life and created an anthology about the early days of lockdown. It was published by the Queensland Writer’s Centre and is a great snapshot of those first months where the world as we knew it ceased.

So many of my stories have their origin in something a patient has said or experienced. In the past eighteen months I have written several essays and short stories prompted by the enormous impact of the pandemic on people’s lives. My work is a central part of my writing, helps me not only to decompress but to make sense of things that are otherwise too traumatic, too difficult to deal with. I think since writing regularly, I have become a better practitioner.

WOW: I think that's so profound you find that through writing you have become a better practitioner. I'm so impressed you have done 48 marathons! How does being a runner inspire you?

Dr. Jo: I completed my marathon number 49 last weekend, the final one for the year. I never set out to run marathons. In 2014, I set myself a challenge to run a marathon a month and raise money for twelve different charities. It was a crazy, tough year, but my husband and kids were so supportive, and I learnt so much. Distance running is a wonderful analogy for life, for overcoming difficulties, learning about yourself and what you are capable of. When you run a marathon, you spend an awful lot of time in your head. It is a rare opportunity to let your mind free range, to sort things out, escape a bad mood, muddle through writer’s block, reflect on the day ahead or just daydream. Starting is often hard, but I have never returned from a run and regretted it.

WOW: That type of free range thinking is so therapeutic. How do you know when a story is done?

Dr. Jo: That is such a challenging question. I am starting to wonder if a piece is ever finished. Everything you write has so many possibilities and I often use one story in lots of ways. Many of my stories start as flash fiction written in response to the prompts sent out by Furious Fiction each month, a competition organised by the Australian Writer’s Centre. Mostly, they don’t place but I use the kernel of the idea to write a longer story or reshape it for other competitions. Other times I will use a scene from a novel I am writing and play around with it, then submit it to a short story or flash fiction competition. Even when a story is ‘done,’ it can potentially be reshaped or reused. If a piece does place in a competition or is published, I will generally leave it and consider it ‘done.’

WOW: It's such a challenge to let a story go until we see it published, and even then, I'm sure we can find things to change. What are you currently working on that you can tell us a bit about?

Dr. Jo: I am currently doing the final edits to a novel, A World of Silence which explores the impacts of domestic abuse on women and how it is often invisible even to those closest to the victim. The book is told through the dual points of view of two women. The two main characters have secrets that are gradually unearthed as the story unfolds. I am hoping to submit it to a manuscript competition that closes in December.

WOW: I can't wait to see what you come out with next. Best of luck to you and congratulations again!


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