May 18, 2015

Interview with Jane

1.     When did you realize that you wanted to become a writer?There wasn’t any particular defining moment, more a process.  For many years I had been writing as a hobby, but never wrote for more than a couple of hours at a time.  During most of these years I had a paid job, but often only part-time, so time wasn’t really a limiting factor.  When we decided to move to France for three years, I reckoned I would write more.  Several months before we left Edinburgh, while on the treadmill at the gym, listening to Martha Reeves and the Vandellas singing Dancing in the Street, I found myself thinking, “I’ll have a go at becoming a serious writer”.  In France, I did write for longer chunks of time, and was productive in terms of finishing pieces of work, rewriting short stories and starting work on a new novel.

2.     Is being an author all you dreamed of, or did it just happen? The best and worst thing about it?
(see answer 1 for first part of this question).  The best part of being a writer is having a creative space to go to whenever I like, somewhere that isn’t dependent on colleagues, money or weather.  I can spend head time in an old town in the south of France when those around me are enduring yet another blustery, wet Edinburgh afternoon.

The worst thing is the isolation you can sometimes experience.  You don’t have colleagues on tap who can give you advice or feedback, you don’t have a line manager who says you’ve done a good job.  Equally difficult, is dealing with rejection from agents and publishers.  It really hurts, and you have to work hard at retaining your belief in the book.  Self-publishing, which I’m now doing, is one way of avoiding this!

To deal with the isolation, I like to meet regularly with writer friends.  I’m also lucky in that my partner takes a keen interest in my writing and encourages me any way he can.

3.   What was the very first thing you ever wrote?
Aged 10, I wrote a Sherlock Holmes story entitled The Missing Piece of Paper, not the
most exciting title, but I wish now that I’d kept the story.  I can’t remember how long
it was, but it was more than a short story.

4.     What made you create (your book)?  How did it come to you?
I liked the idea of a family reunion where all is not as it seems, and it developed from there. Interpersonal relationships fascinate me, particularly family ones: the superficial interactions and what's simmering away underneath.  I was also keen to try writing a book from multiple viewpoints.  In the first draft I told the story from six viewpoints, but after feedback, reduced it to four! (more than enough…)  The location, a Swiss lake, was probably inspired by Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac, although I wasn't aware of this initially.

5.     Who is your literary hero?
Don’t have one – sorry!

6.   How much of your characters are based on your traits or someone you know
One lead character has one of my personality traits – health anxieties.  She also has
insecurities about her body that I’ve seen in other people.  The other characters are
completely dreamed up.

7.  Describe your main character in six words.
The novel is an ensemble with four main characters, but I’ve selected one:
Portia - an intimidating woman with survival instincts

8. Describe the world you’ve created in six words.
Dramatic Swiss scenery, strong family tension

9. What scene was your favorite to write?
There were several, but I think top of the list is the aftermath of the disastrous family
celebration, in particular a lead character getting drunk and confronting her

10.  What scene was the hardest for you to write?
The opening one was tricky, trying to convey that tension between two
characters, without giving away the reason for this.

11. What are you working on now?
I’m at the final stages of editing my second novel, Chergui’s Child, and will be
publishing this soon.  Then I’ll return to working on what I describe as my ‘back
burner’ book, Christiana, the one I write when waiting for feedback on other
books.  This time I’m keen to actually finish and publish it!  I have a first draft, but
plan to tweak the plot and add a new character.  As a self-published author, I need to
spend loads of time promoting, which can be tedious if I’m feeling creative, but a
welcome relief, if I’m not.

12. Goals? Accomplishments? Improvements?
There’s always scope for improving writing, and I hope to improve mine by reading,
and by studying technical books on writing.  As for goals, last year I published a
guide to editing, which is based on my approach to my own editing. (Words’Worth: a
fiction writer’s guide to serious editing) If this ever gets to be on the reading list of
creative writing courses, I’d be delighted.

13. What is on your nightstand?
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole (Sue Townsend, and fantastic reading if you haven’t
laughed enough that day),  Will you please be quiet, please (Raymond Carver, short
stories); Family and friends (Anita Brookner), my kindle.

14. Are there any authors or books you recommend?
I enjoy reading American author, Anita Shreve.  I love her writing style, the stories
she devises and her ability to describe the setting.  My favourites are:  The Pilot’s
WifeStrange Fits of Passion and Fortune’s Rocks.   During the last year, I’ve started
reading  Clare Francis, and have particularly enjoyed A Dark Devotion and Deceit.  I
admire her for her storylines and characterisation.

15. What's your favorite thing to do when you're not writing?
Going to the movies, accompanied by a bar of chocolate!