Beezee Books Interviewing J.J. Anderson
Q. Who are your greatest support – who believes in you?
In life, my husband. In writing, one or two old friends ( friends for thirty years or more, they know me well ) in whom I confided my plans. I mentioned them both, with thanks, in the Acknowledgements for my first book ‘The Village; A Year in Twelve Tales’ which made them smile.
Also, my editors. Stuart Wakefield ( who edited ‘The Village’ early in its gestation ) has come to all my ‘events’ and been very supportive of my work on social media etc.. Roz Morris, my current editor ( Stuart is busy finishing his MA and writing a screenplay ) is always supportive too, coming up with lots of good ideas outside of her editing role.
Q. Where do you write from? e.g. Kitchen table? Study? Bedroom? Garden shed?
Usually at the desk in my study at home in south London, just about every day ( unless my husband is using it, when I move the laptop to the dining room table ). I also revise, re-write and proof sitting outside on the terrace of our flat in Jerez de la Frontera, Andalucia.
Q. Do you write at set times e.g. morning, afternoon, evening, very early morning?
I took early retirement from salaried employment, so, for four weekdays out of five I begin writing work at around 9.30 a.m. and work until about 6.30 p.m. ( with necessary breaks ). Depending upon what stage I am at with a work and how I am doing against deadlines, I often also write/blog/do publishing work on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Of course, I do other things connected with publishing, like go to meetings, visit fairs and exhibitions etc. But it’s pretty much full-time ( though not the sort of hours that I used to work when I was a senior civil servant ). I keep a notebook next to my bed too, to capture those night-time thoughts ( that sounds ridiculously over the top, I know, but I have good ideas at night ).
Q. What motivates you to write?
I have always written, usually by way of letters ( before e-mail ) or stories for friends and family. I wrote a lot in my work – reports, press releases, Ministerial briefings ( some might say the last two of those approached fiction on more than one occasion ).
Q. What are the biggest distractions to your writing time?
My own laziness. My husband, who has lots of excellent ideas of things we can do together. Life in general ( though that is also the fuel for writing ).
I also run The Story Bazaar web-site ( http://thestorybazaar.com ), which is great fun and has required me to gain lots of skills which I didn’t have before ( and don’t have now, I often think, when scratching my head over a technical problem ). This sometimes distracts me from the business of writing, although blogging is writing too! I’ve just published a compendium of Story Bazaar articles, by myself and guest bloggers, called ‘The Story Bazaar 2015’. I hope this will become an annual publication.
Q. What part of the world do you live in?
I live in Clapham, south London and Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, I love both and both feature heavily in my blog posts.
Q. Are you from there originally?
No. I was born and grew up in Worcestershire – a country girl. Though I left when I was eighteen and, aside from visiting family and friends, haven’t gone back for any length of time. I’ve subsequently lived in different parts of the world, temporarily, but my base has been London.
Q. Have you ever suffered from writers’ block?
Not in any significant way. I am sometimes at a loss for blog subjects, but I just sit and think and something usually springs to mind. Then, once I begin, the ideas come. I think it’s really important to get started.
If nothing emerges from my thoughts I go for a walk on the Common or visit a gallery or museum, or attend a lecture. It’s one of the benefits of living in London that I can’t get bored ( I’m with Dr Johnson on that ) and if I’m interested and my imagination gets into gear, there’s plenty to work with. The next stage is then sorting the wheat from the chaff.
Q. How do you overcome it?
See above. Also I read, pretty much constantly ( in the bath, on the tube etc. )
Q .Have you taken any writers’ courses and have they been worthwhile?
I did a degree in English and English Literature at university and I have taught creative writing since then, but I haven’t done any other formal traditional writing courses. I did an on-line course on blogging and turning a blog into a book. And I’ve done courses on aspects of publishing and self-publishing. I wrote a blog about writing and writing courses ( see http://www.thestorybazaar.com/help-self-help/ ). * Mike, please remove this if you don’t want to have links in the interview or you think this doesn’t fit and that goes for other inserts too.
Q.Have you ever belonged to a writers’ group? And what value did you gain from it?
Not until recently. Only a month ago another local writer and I set up the Clapham Writer’s Circle. We already have five members and plan to meet quarterly, with a view to helping solve problems, act as a sounding board for ideas and read each other’s work. It hasn’t really got underway yet, so I don’t know how useful it’ll be, but our first meeting went well just before Christmas.
Q.Is self-publishing satisfying enough for you or would you prefer to be traditionally published?
At the moment, I’m happy to self-publish and publish others. Writing is such an isolated activity that I deliberately wanted that other aspect, to take me out and get me talking. I guess if I never make any money I’ll want to find a publisher to do all that for me and let me concentrate on the writing, but, for now, I’m glad I’m doing both writing and publishing.
Q.Have you ever tried to find an agent?
Yes. Before I self-published, when I was in salaried employment, I started writing stories and submitting works to competitions and I tried to find an agent. I got long-listed for one or two national prizes and short listed for one of the smaller ones, but never got further. One or two agents ummed and ahhed, but didn’t take me on.
Q.What would you expect an agent could do for you that you can’t do for yourself?
At the time, when I was spending much of my time in salaried employment, I would have expected a agent to find me a publisher and promote my work. I guess I can do that myself now ( though probably less successfully and with fewer contacts, though I’m gradually building networks ).
Q.Do you think you can make a full-time career being an Indie writer?
I doubt I could make a lucrative career just out of writing books – very few people can, even those with publishers and agents. Most of them do other things too – teach, speak, literary criticism, blog etc. I know that some indies strike it lucky, but, I suspect, they are writing in those genres most likely to succeed. I’m not ( or not yet at any rate ).
Q.How long have you been writing?
Forever. My first ‘novel’ was written while still at school. My English teacher, bless her, read it all. It was appalling and fed the fire long ago.
Q.What drew you to want to write a book?
The arrogance of my imagination. I thought I had stories to tell that would engage people ( though I was about fourteen years old at the time ). Now I know that that isn’t all there is to it, but still want to do it. I want to exercise my imagination, but I also enjoy the word-smithing element too, of getting a phrase or a description just right.
Q.From where did you get the idea for this current story?
Currently I am working on ‘Reconquista’ an adventure story set in thirteenth century Spain. This began, ten or more years ago, as a serial story for my nephew and god-son, who was about to visit Jerez for the first time. A mathematically inclined child, I wanted to engage him in the history and romance of the place, so I wrote an adventure story for him, delivering ‘episodes’ on a gradual basis. He’s twenty one now and the story I wrote for him has changed out of all recognition.
We have a home in Jerez de la Frontera and it is a place full of history. At that time it was on the front line of the wars which eventually became known as the re-conquest, as the Christian northerners sought to expel the Muslim southerners ( though it wasn’t that clear cut, some of both religions fighting on each side and with cities and towns regularly swapping ‘sides’ ). It was a lawless time, but an exciting one. A lot of towns in that part of Spain have the title ‘de la Frontera’, or ‘on the frontier’ in their names because of what happened during this period.
It’s the first book in a series, which is rooted in place, though it moves forward in time. That area of southern Spain was also the springboard for the Age of Discovery ( Colombus, Pizarro, Cortez, all sailed from Cadiz or SanLucar, near to Jerez ) two centuries later and for the Inquisition. Lots of drama. Then, in the Napoleonic period, the first Spanish Parliament was formed in Cadiz and the period of the Spanish Civil War saw major upheaval ( the very first organised labour dispute in Spain took place in Jerez, but the countryside around has been owned by absentee aristocratic landlords for centuries, so there are polar opposites at play ). It’ll keep me going for quite some time, I suspect, though I will write other things in between, like a follow up to ‘The Village’, my first collection of short stories.
Q.How did you go about developing it?
It came out of my early tale for my nephew, so it didn’t have a structured beginning. When I start my next book I will do it properly and logically, I keep telling myself, with an outline at the beginning, rather than working ‘organically’ and just letting it flow. I’ve learned a lot about writing in the past eighteen months ( see http://www.thestorybazaar.com/how-not-to-write/ and http://www.thestorybazaar.com/how-not-to-write-again/ )
Q. What is your next project?
I plan to publish ‘Reconquista’ in March. Then The Story Bazaar is publishing two non-fiction books by writers other than myself, so I’ll be heavily engaged with those. The first, ‘The Life of Breath’ ( working title ) is by Barbara Pidgeon, an author who has previously published on yoga and India, about breathing and how learning about how one breathes can help transform your life. The second is the sailing memoir from Sue Pither, better known to Story Bazaar readers as suepsails, The Story Bazaar sailing guest-blogger, She is, even as I write, taking part, in BeeZee Books’ neck of the woods, in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. Her ‘My Journey to the Southern Ocean’ is planned for late 2016/early 2017. And, just because I have to write myself, I’ll be beginning the sequel to ‘Reconquista’. That should keep me busy. Then there’s the Literary Festival which I’m organising…….
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