Read TWH author Linda Jones’s interview, which features how she felt when her debut novel was placed in her hands, and her advice for aspiring writers…
Q: After writing for many years, culminating in your debut novel, how did it feel when the first copy was put in your hands?
That first moment, when my publisher handed me the copy, was so exciting yet surreal. It’s hard to describe – It was a Friday, just before lunchtime, and the truth is, I felt numb…almost like it was happening to someone else.
Q: You acknowledge the help you received from Writing Yorkshire, Ray Hearne, and The Literacy Consultancy, etc.; exactly how did they help your progress?
There’s no way I would have accomplished what I have without the writing group in Doncaster. It was really hard to pluck up the nerve to join a writing group. That might sound a bit sad but it’s true. Four years ago, my self confidence was at an all time low. I’d spent months tapping away on a keyboard with little idea about whether what I was writing was any good at all. Health-wise, things weren’t great, so finding a group that met just once a month was perfect.
At home I was still struggling to write a novel, so in the group I decided to try something completely different…poetry – and it worked like a dream. Not that my early attempts were up to much, and I can’t ever see me being made poet laureate! Ray Hearne, the group facilitator, is an excellent poet (just listen to his songs!), and there was Mick Jenkinson, Margaret, Phil… loads of others for me to learn from. So, it wasn’t long before I began to hone my writing and find my own voice.
Weirdly, the poetry really helped with the story writing. My prose became sharper, tighter. In 2013 Ray encouraged me to enter the first couple of chapters of my children’s novel into the Writing Yorkshire mentoring scheme… and guess what, I got through! I couldn’t believe it. Normally, you pay a fortune to have your worked assessed. But the feedback I received was just what I needed. I could see where I was going wrong and learned so much about character development…
Another bonus was having formal mentoring sessions with Ray. I was determined to use the time to explore another avenue of writing; I learnt how to write a play, and it was so much fun. I even managed to write a fifteen-minute play for a script slam… What a buzz seeing it performed!
All the time I was working on my writing at home. I managed to pull together enough money to send off a few chapters to The Literacy Council, and again, gained some useful feedback.
Q: What advice particularly resonated with you, and still does?
That would be ‘show, not tell’, i.e.
(telling) Dave kicked the door hard and it thumped against the wall, making his mother jump.
(showing) Crash! The door flew open, ‘Dave!’ called his mother.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
1) Get used to taking feedback (otherwise known as constructive criticism!!); grow a thick skin…rhinoceros thickness is about right.
2) Don’t rely on your nearest and dearest for feedback because they’re nearly always biased. Find a writing group or pay an outside agency when you feel ready.
3) When you’ve written something, put it away for as long as you can bear then go back and re-read. In my case, that usually involves some re-writing but I enjoy that part.
4) Most importantly – keep writing and enjoy it!
Q: What’s your opinion of the perception that the Northern publishing industry is easily forgotten and sits in the shadow of the London publishing scene?
Well, I’ve a nice little bundle of rejection slips that I’m thinking of covering one of my walls with, and ninety-nine-percent of those were from southern based companies. When I was searching for a publisher I couldn’t believe how few there were in the north of England. So, yes, a definite north/south divide, which, given the diversity of art and culture in the north is ridiculous. As I see it, the larger publishing houses argue that they have a lot more invested – and therefore, a lot more to lose – in a ‘debut author’ and are far more likely to go with ‘safe’ options, i.e. writers who apparently ‘fit’ into the current trend. Yet these trends may not even be prevalent ‘Oop North’, or elsewhere in the UK. Such little diversity.
Q: Do you think the advent of self-publishing has enriched or devalued books as a whole?
That’s not a question with a simple answer…overall, I believe self-publishing is a good thing. It certainly challenges the more ‘institutional’ publishing houses to include a wider authorship. However, just because you can self-publish doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ensure the book is as good as it possibly can be. It goes back to that ‘thick skin’ and being prepared to take constructive criticism from an objective editor.
Q: What’s the best thing about being an author?
The warm glow I get every time I see the cover of my book, followed by a strange feeling that I’m dreaming…
Q: What reaction have you received from people who have read ‘A Fistful of Feathers’?
Gratifyingly positive, thank goodness. One of my friends came over and began talking about the book and characters. She was so animated I wanted to cry, she was so into it. Even better, it seems it’s going down well with everyone – adults and youngsters(Yeah!!)
Q: What are you working on next?
You mean, have I written the second book or not?! Well, some of you will know how it starts (the initial pages appear in ‘A Fistful of Feathers’), and I’m pleased to say the rest is pretty much finished…
Linda Jones’s debut novel, ‘A Fistful of Feathers’
is on sale now. Published by TWH Publishing Ltd, the tale is perfect for 9-12 year-olds. Here’s the ‘blurb’:
“It’s bad enough being thirteen. Not having a family, and never living anywhere longer than a few months…now, that’s pretty rough. But what really stinks is living with a massive lump on your neck that just keeps growing and growing.
Jo, part of an illegal experiment that could cost him his life, decides to go on the run, so the sinister Dr Bowden can’t perform the ‘final examination’. No one has ever survived that experience.
Jo finally finds safety and true friendship amongst a group of people who don’t see him as a freak.
But lurking in the shadows, Bowden’s men are ready to pounce. Jo has to make a choice: submit to Dr Bowden and be hauled back to the creepy clinic, or expose his secret to save them all, and risk losing the only friends he’s ever known…”