Hamish Downie’s Five Questions with Jann Williams
Editor Note: Hamish has another in his series of Five Questions With…
Hamish came up with this idea because he was accumulating too much material for his Famous News Sushi column and asked if he could do these mini-interviews. Why would we say no?
Thank you Hamish for being such a trooper for us. We really appreciate all for your hard work.
Let us know what you think of these interviews in the comments below.
TGG: Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed! Could you introduce yourself to our readers?
JW: It is a pleasure to do so. My name is Jann Williams. I am an ecologist, writer, photographer and Professor who spends my time between Tasmania and Japan. Last year I was awarded the prestigious Gold Medal of the Ecological Society of Australia (ESA) for making significant contributions to ecology. This was a great honour, especially as my career has been far from mainstream. I am proud to have been the third woman to receive the award over its long history, and hope this achievement encourages young women to follow their dreams.
My Plenary Address at the ESA conference – titled ‘Woman on Fire: Insights from an elemental career’ – shares the highlights of my journey so far (up until the end of 2019), and introduces the people who have shaped it. The presentation emphasises the need to take immediate and large-scale action to address the environmental crisis that humans have created on Earth. For those who would like to learn more, the speech is reproduced in full on my blog ‘FireUpWaterDown’:
TGG: Wow! That sounds amazing! We met through WiK, could you share with our readers about WiK and your connection to Japan?
JW: Writers in Kyoto (WiK) is a group of published and self-published English-language authors working or living in the city, or those with a strong connection to it. Currently there are over 50 members who help each other by creating opportunities for promotion, book launches, readings, the exchange of information, and social events. It is a marvellous group that I feel privileged to belong to.
John Dougill founded WiK five years ago and I joined the group soon after. John and I had met through his blog Green Shinto – the best online resource available in English, then and now. My interest in Shinto arose through my exploration of the elements in Japan. The elements – both physical and philosophical – is the ‘lens’ I am using to delve into the relationship between nature and culture in the land of the rising sun. There is much to learn from a culture where the elements are deeply embedded in everyday life.
Until the coronavirus brought the world to a standstill, I had been spending several months a year in Japan with Kyoto as my base. From there I travelled the length and breadth of the country to experience the elements in their myriad forms. The people I have met along the way, including the members of WiK, are remarkable. My life has been enriched and irrevocably changed through the process.
TGG: As Ben and Keith call it, The Great Pause, has affected us all. And, I completely understand what you mean about the people I’ve met in Japan changing my life. So, could you tell us about the anthology, and what the selection process was like?
JW: Editing is a skill I have honed over many years, with numerous environment-related publications under my belt. Even so, I was slightly nervous taking on the role of the lead editor for the third WiK Anthology. Editing science-based works where you know the subject, style and authors well is one thing; editing prose and poetry by authors you are still getting to know, about a city and culture you are still learning about, is another.
Ian Josh Yates, who is based in Osaka, was my co-editor. We chose the theme ‘Encounters with Kyoto’ for the Anthology. All members of WiK were invited to make submissions and encouraged to provide photos and illustrations. As well as being the lead editor, I designed and published the Anthology in hard copy and digital form on Amazon. This aspect involved a steep learning curve, one that was worth it for the end result. The front cover was painted by a friend in Hobart, Tasmania – it is striking and something to be particularly proud of.
The third WiK Anthology was officially launched in Kyoto in June 2019. This special event celebrated the contributions of many, many people. As the lead editor, the opportunity to work with such a talented and supportive group of writers and illustrators is one that I will always treasure.
TGG: So, what’s next for you?
JW: The two big ticket items on my list are to publish a book/s on the elements in Japan and learn conversational Japanese. Both have been in the making for some time and are progressing well. I am also writing an essay for the next WiK Anthology (scheduled for publication in early 2021) and continue to write blogs on the elements. Like previous years my intention in 2020 was to spend around half the year in Japan and half in Tasmania. As it has not been possible to travel internationally I have been doing my best to work from home.
While the internet and social media help keep me connected, it is not the same as being in Japan. Some of my important references are located there and experiencing Japanese culture directly is essential for my soul. I deeply miss Japan and my friends and colleagues there. All I can do is wait until the travel restrictions are lifted and it is safe to jump on two planes and a train to return to my base in Kyoto.
TGG: Finally, how can we best support you?
JW: There are two main areas where support would be wonderful. Thank-you for the opportunity to share them.
Firstly, there are many ways people can engage with and support Writers in Kyoto (WiK):
buy the two WiK Anthologies available on Amazon:
WiK Anthology 2 (2017): ‘Echoes’, edited by John Dougill, Amy Chavez and Mark Richardson
WiK Anthology 3 (2019): ‘Encounters with Kyoto’, edited my myself and Ian Josh Yates
join the WiK Public Facebook page;
follow the WiK Instagram site;
Submit an entry to the WiK annual writing competition, open to anyone around the world (see the website below for details); and
For those with a passion for writing and Kyoto, become a member of WiK. New contributors are most welcome. Membership details can be found on the WiK website, as can a wealth of stimulating material supplied by WiK members.
Secondly, people with an interest in the connection between nature and culture in Japan can follow my blog ’Elemental Japan’.
Since May 2016 I have written 34 posts that explore many dimensions of this fascinating theme. The material is presented to encourage curiosity, comments and collaborations. Writing the posts help record and focus my ideas and has led to some marvellous friendships.
TGG: Thank you again for agreeing to be interviewed today! That was very interesting!
2 thoughts on “Hamish Downie’s Five Questions with Jann Williams”
Thanks very much for posting this interesting interview. What great questions. Do you change them with each interviewee or do you use the same ones?
Thanks for reading, Rebecca! The question are similar each time, but I adjust them based on the interviewee. I try to bring out the best in them.