Today on the blog we have an interview with the lovely Jane Riddell! Those of you that follow the blog will know that I reviewed her book, Daughters of the Lake, a few weeks ago. Jane has taken the time to answer some of my questions and I hope you find her answers as interesting as I did!
Jane is a well-travelled author who currently resides in Edinburgh. You can find her website, with links to her blogs, here: http://www.quietfiction.com/
1. One of the things that I love about your writing is the way that the landscape almost becomes a character. Can you tell us about how your surroundings influence your work, especially in relation to Switzerland, where Daughters of the Lake is set, and Edinburgh where you live?
I’m not sure that Edinburgh, beautiful as it is, particularly inspires my writing. When I’m immersed, I escape to the location of my novel, which is why I choose other countries as a setting. I may physically be in Edinburgh, but my head is in Switzerland, beside lakes and mountains, or in the south of Italy, by the sea. I started writing Daughters of the Lake during a short holiday in Brunnen, Switzerland (where the novel is set). The words poured out – it was exhilarating. Even after returning to Grenoble (France) where we were living at the time, I’m sure that the mountains and glorious hazy light there continued to inspire me.
2. You have a unique way of exploring the human condition, particularly in relation to the emotional instability of your characters. Is this exploration something that comes naturally to you and is the human psyche something that you’re interested in generally?
Interpersonal relationships fascinate me, especially those of families: the superficial interactions and all the stuff that’s simmering away underneath. I am always curious to know how family members accept the unacceptable in each other. Likewise with friends. I believe that emotional health is a continuum, along which most of us move backwards and forwards on a daily or more frequent basis. For some reason, I seem to connect better with people who experience bumps in life rather than whizzing through it.
3. You’re a keen photographer and use your photographs for inspiration. Do you think this side of your creativity links in with your writing? And do you have any insight into how those visual images inspire you to write?
The happier I am, the keener I am to write. Lovely photos, whether mine or someone else’s, make my spirits and emotions soar, which usually triggers the desire to communicate ‘on paper’. A sort of de-corsetting. I find the same thing with music.
4. You’ve done an awful lot of travelling. What’s your favourite place to have visited so far and why?
We did a wonderful two month housesit in Vancouver last summer. I’m a sea, lakes and mountains person and the countryside round about Vancouver provides all of these. We did a lot of ferry trips and kayaking. I also visited Nepal many years ago and was captivated by it, in particular Kathmandu and Pokhara. When it was recently damaged by earthquakes, I experienced a stronger reaction than I normally would do to a natural disaster.
5. Is there anywhere you haven’t been that you would love to visit?
New York city. We nearly made it there once but the weather was too hot, so we headed upstate. I find myself watching movies that I’m sure I wouldn’t otherwise watch if they weren’t set in New York – yellow cabs, central park, the river etc. Doubtless a romantic idea of the city, but hey ho…
6. How did you come to be published – did you go the traditional route or are you independently published? Do you see advantages/disadvantages to either type of publishing?
Initially I followed the traditional route, being published by a small company. However, we parted company after a year or so, and since then I’ve self-published. I see advantages and disadvantages with both types. Being taken on by a publisher provides external validation which feels great. You’ll also have an editor and cover designer assigned to your book, free of charge. After that, the benefits depend on how much, if any, marketing or promotion that publisher will do for you. Being self-published, on the other hand, while less prestigious, has the advantages of getting your book out there on Amazon, or Barnes and Noble, almost immediately it’s finished. You can set your own price, receive a larger proportion of it because there’s no middle person. You decide when you want to have a promotion on your book. You decide who distributes it. However you have to do all your own promoting, and some reviewers won’t accept self-published books, understandable when the quality of writing is so variable.
Having experienced both types of publishing, I am content for the moment to stick to independent publishing. That said, if I were approached by a reputable publisher, I would consider their offer. My first question would be: how much marketing of my book would you do?
7. You provide editing services. Is this a natural extension of writing, or do you see the two skills as separate entities?
Editing is a natural and essential part of my writing process. I liken it to sculpting. You have your rough outline which you continue to refine until you’re happy with it. Unlike sculpting, however, you can reinstate something you’ve removed. The more I edit my own writing, the more I feel competent to work on some else’s and vice versa. In my business life, I’ve provided editing for non-native English speakers, which is both interesting and challenging, for example, in Russia, writing long sentences is supposed to indicate a high standard of education. Whereas my goal in editing is to make language clear and accessible, and this may mean dividing a long sentence into two shorter ones.
8. What are you currently working on and which projects do you have in mind for the future?
I am turning my Letters from Bakhtin blog into a novella, hopefully with some beautiful illustrations (drawn by someone else). I’m also about to revisit my back burner novel, Cristiana, which I’ve worked on intermittently over the years. It has undergone several drafts, goodness knows how many changes of title and protagonist’s name. This time I will finish it. Definitely.
9. I’m always fascinated by what other authors like to read. Can you give us a few of your favourite authors and/or books, or specify a genre that you like to read for pleasure?
I enjoy reading realistic fiction. My favourite authors are Anita Shreve, Ian McEwan and Clare Francis, all for their storytelling, great sense of place and use of language. Particular books include Anita Shreve’s The Pilot’s Wife, Strange Fits of Passion and The Weight of Water, Ian McEwan’s Atonement and Enduring Love and Clare Francis’s Deceit and A Dark Devotion.
Occasionally I read humour: Both Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary and Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13 and ¾ had me laughing so much that I almost dislocated my jaw.
10. What on earth is a “benign crocodile”?!
Good question! No dictionary definition, I’m afraid. It’s an expression my partner and I came up with to describe me. My understanding is that it means someone who can appear to be scary but underneath is quite soft. Contrastingly, my partner’s definition is: cuddly, but with a massive bite, liable to leap out at you when least expected…moves surprisingly fast on land…likes sleeping.
11. I’m aware from following you on Twitter that you’re interested in feminist issues and global aid organisations. Do these interests influence your work in any way?
Not consciously. I read about things that frighten or anger me, sometimes retweeting, signing campaigns, donating. After that I tend to switch off, accepting that there’s nothing big I can do.
12. You’re an avid blogger, something I’m in awe of! Do you view this as creative writing? And do you write in other arenas, as well as blogging and noveling?
Blogging is definitely creative writing for me, regardless of how frothy or serious the topic, but I must be inspired – I can’t sit down and think: I want/need to blog today. Blogging takes time, though. Although I can dash off the first draft quickly, by the time I’ve refined it and chosen images, perhaps an hour or two have gone past.
I enjoy life writing, too, and, interestingly enough, the best assignment I did for my Masters in Creative Writing, was an article about our three years in France.
13. Please talk us through your writing process – are you a plotter or a pantser? Where do you like to write? Do you listen to music? How do you approach editing?
I’m a mixture of plotter and pantser. I need to know where the book is going and how it will get there, so I keep a chapter plan. That said, my characters sometimes take me off on side routes which may or may not lead back to the original destination. I can write anywhere: at home on a desk in our sitting room; at the Melting Pot in Edinburgh (where I rent desk space); in the back of our van if the scenery is boring or it’s dark; even on my exercise bike, with my laptop perched on the handlebars. I often listen to music – except if I’m trying to work out something complicated e.g. Daughters of the Lake is written in four viewpoints, and at times I became muddled about who was doing what when. Then I needed silence, while I de-muddled.
As for editing, I tend to wait until I’ve finished a draft before tackling this. Essentially I have two large checklists, one for the overview aspects of editing (plot, structure etc.) and another for line-to-line editing. It’s time consuming and often tedious, but thorough, and it guarantees an improved text. I have just finished updating a guide I wrote about editing. This will soon be available from Amazon, and is entitled: Words’Worth: a fiction writer’s guide to serious editing.
14. If you could offer advice to other authors who are starting out, what would it be?
Read the ‘how to’ books on writing. You may not agree with everything they say, but even if you become clearer about two aspects of writing, the investment in the book will have been helpful. Read a lot and analyse the techniques used. Get feedback on your work but choose your reader carefully – ideally someone who likes the genre you are writing in. Allow yourself to ignore some of the feedback you receive, but if several readers say the same thing, then the chances are it’s valid. Keep notes about your work: chapter plans, characterisations, voices, timescales. You may think you’ll remember all this info in your head. But unless your memory is exceptional, it’s easy to become confused. The best example I’ve heard of a mistake in timescale was a character who’d been pregnant for 18 months! Joining a writing class or participating in a regular writer’s workshop can be helpful in terms of energising you and allowing you to give and receive feedback.
15. Finally, I ask the same question of everyone I interview – if you were a type of cake, what would you be and why?
I would be a Swiss lemon cheesecake (the French translation Gateau Suisse au Citron sounds more beguiling). In my experience, it’s hard to find a good cheesecake. This one is worth dying for, and any cardiologist viewing its ingredients would weep in despair. It’s deliciously light, unlike some I have tasted, and not too sweet or lemony. And yes, I do make it from time to time. It takes just over an hour to prepare and a further two hours to do the dishes. There’s always a moment of angst when I check to see if the gelatine has worked properly and the mixture is neither runny nor lumpy. The problem is that having built up its reputation so much, any guests have high expectations.
For health-conscious readers, I did once make a low fat version and it was a spectacular failure.
Thank you so much for your time and thoughtful answers, Jane. It’s much appreciated!