The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Lorraine Jenkin

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Lorraine Jenkin


Summary: For a long time Lorraine Jenkin has been one of Bookbag's favourite authors and we simply couldn't resist the opportunity to ask her a few questions.
Date: 10 October 2010
Interviewer: Trish Simpson-Davis
Reviewed by Trish Simpson-Davis

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For a long time Lorraine Jenkin has been one of Bookbag's favourite authors and we simply couldn't resist the opportunity to ask her a few questions.

* Bookbag: Who do you write for? What does your average reader look like?

Lorraine Jenkin: I don't write for a target group; I think you just have to write what you want to write and hope someone else enjoys it. Saying that, maybe my reader is perhaps like me in that they don't want anything too heavy, but are also tired of the traditional 'chick-lit' characters that tend to spend a lot of time worrying about their weight and blowing month's salaries on killer shoes: that's not my world (although those who see me waddling around the village in my pasty shoes may wish that it were…)

* BB: What with two young kids and a new baby, I wonder how you manage to squeeze a single written word into your day, let alone the sustained effort of a whole novel. So to encourage hassled young mums everywhere, when and how on earth do you find the time?

LJ: Time is the limiting factor on most of my life. I have four tiers of priorities: One is getting where we have to go, feeding people, washing up and sleep. Two is sorting washing and sort of cleaning the house. Three is writing and the business around it, Four is 'indulgent things for me' – swimming, going for a lone walk etc. In five years, I have never managed to reach four. I wrote Eating Blackbirds and Cold Enough to Freeze Cows between about 9 and 10 pm at night and let personal hygiene out of the window…

* BB: I'm amazed that you manage any house cleaning at all! So, what else do you get up to in a typical day?

LJ: It's very boring really: up earlier than I would like, shout at people until they are dressed, breakfasted and cleanish, walk to school, walk home, baby to sleep, wash up and general drudgery, try and fit a few emails in and perhaps an effort at marketing. The rest of the day is spent in a haze of putting the washing out and wandering aimlessly round the house trying to put more things away than are taken out. We try and fit a few stories in, a walk around the loop, tickle Baby Billi, tea, general shouting until bedtime, washing up. At about 8.30 – 9 my partner, Huw, and I finally sit down. We recently got rid of the telly and the peace is bliss! When I start writing my next book, this will be the time I will allocate to do it, until I crawl to bed. Not very exciting is it, when you see it written down?

* BB: Maybe not, but one day there'll be a chink of light at the end of the tunnel … The first draft of Chocolate Mousse and Two Spoons was written in South America, and I'd like to hear some more about that trip (maybe this is just a repeat of how on earth did you find the time!!!). For instance, was the writing a product of boredom, homesickness or obsessive writing syndrome (to coin a phrase)?

LJ: My trip to South America was the result of a moment of life clarity / early mid-life crisis in 2003. I woke up one morning with a hangover and another busy day ahead, thought, Enough! I want to be a writer! so I packed in my job, rented out my house and set off. Typically, about a week before I left, I got together with my (now) partner Huw and so flew to Argentina knowing that the bloke I'd left behind was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my days with. The writing was something I'd always wanted to do, but never had the time – in my pre-children days, I had a busy job and a hectic social life and writing was more of a romantic ideal, rather than something I actually did.

My trip was great and basically I walked from town to town across the South American deserts with a massive rucksack, camping behind scrubby bushes at night and writing my novel. This was amongst having fights with men with knives and chasing foxes and mice out of my tent. After eight months, when all my gear had been nibbled by various critters and I was beginning to look a bit wild, I returned home with my finished book to Huw and a hot bath. I sent my novel to Honno publishers and settled down with Huw to our happy ever after!

* BB: Aah, I do love happy endings. So, about your writing now. What biscuits do you munch/drinks/special rituals do you follow/equipment do you use while you're writing?

LJ: I'm not really bothered by rituals. I can write anywhere, anytime as long as I have 'inner-head peace'. I write by hand, ideally in an A4 notebook, but often on whatever is to hand – especially if I am sitting in the park writing whilst the girls play. The difficulty is not losing all the little scraps of paper, and continuity can be a problem! Having said this, a copious amount of tea does help any process in my life.

* BB: How do you go about the business of making up a plot? I'm wondering if it arrives almost complete or is it more or a meandering journey where characters lead the storyline?

LJ: So far, I have had the main plot lines in my head and I start writing knowing the main characters and what they will doing. As the plot develops, the other characters develop also and take on little lives of their own. However, Cold Enough to Freeze Cows was different somewhat as the planned plot changed and the main character became a side character when my own life changed – I became pregnant again and it seemed only fair that some of the things that were happening to me also happened to some of my characters.

* BB: I particularly loved Godfrey in Eating Blackbirds and Menna in Cold Enough to Freeze Cows. Who are your favourite characters?

LJ: I think my favourite ones to write about were Skinny, the hapless drunk in Chocolate Mousse and Two Spoons and his girlfriend - that he didn't realise was his girlfriend - Big Eve. It struck me during my final read-through of the manuscript that despite very heavy editing of the manuscript overall, the chapters with Skinny and Big Eve had only a few changes, so I must have got them exactly right first time. They are also the scenes that make me giggle the most when I think about them…

* BB: As a reader, those two grew on me by stealth. As so often with your writing, an immense humanity towards all your characters makes them lovable despite their shortcomings. Where did the inspiration for those characters come from?

LJ: My characters all have a bit of me about them and are usually inspired by someone I have met, albeit it very briefly. Big Eve, for example, was a woman I served with sausage and chips when I worked in a chippy, who had a very frank conversation with the stranger next to her about her addiction to food. Friends will sometimes say that Character A is obviously Bloke X down the road, but then others will say that Character A is obviously Bloke Y. I would never put a real person in, as firstly it would be immoral and secondly, I need to know what my characters are thinking, and you could never do that with a real person, even if you thought you knew them well.

* BB: Do your friends and relations read your books? What sort of reactions have you had when they recognise characters or events?

LJ: Yes they do and it can be a bit strange – I sometimes feel a bit exposed! People tend to think that I have done all of the things that happen in the books and I really haven't (well, not all of them). Although they are happy to believe that I have never mended a tractor, they can't quite manage to believe that I haven't romped with someone after a dance, in the headlights of a beaten-up Subaru! My mum is my proof-reader as her grammar is very good, and she has to read it before the editor throws out all the things that are too base, so I have lists in my mum's handwriting referring to the need for a comma after cat-sick, Lorraine.

*BB: Well done Lorraine's Mum, I haven't found any typos yet.

I'm struck by how well you understand human nature in character portrayals and in your Voice; I was really surprised to find out that you're only 40. Where does all that wisdom come from?

LJ: I have always (rather arrogantly) thought that I can see through people and see why they are doing what they are doing – I've always thought, rightly or wrongly, that I can tell when people are being disingenuous and in seeing that, I feel that I know their reasons for doing things. Or maybe it's because I'm a bit of a show-off – I've always thought I'd be happy to be stranded on a desert island - for years if need be – as long as I could escape at some point and tell the tale…

*BB: Chicklit castaway hmmm? What's been your best moment so far as a writer?

LJ: Being told that I was going to be published was fantastic, as was having all my friends and family at a massive launch party for Chocolate Mousse and Two Spoons, but I've also sat in a little mud room on an island in Peru, wrapped in blankets, writing by the light of a candle into a notebook I'd nicked from work: that is a feeling that is hard to beat!

*BB: Who has had most influence on you as a writer (or) what is your favourite all-time book?

LJ: I love Dickens as he has characters that are unique. I would love to create the moment for others that I had when I first read about Miss Haversham in Great Expectations – I had to go back and read the page again slowly to do it justice. Sadly, I put down Dickens the night before my first daughter was born and I haven't managed to read him since!

*BB: Have you acquired an electronic reader?

LJ: No – I'm not one for gadgets for the sake of them; physical books work for me so I'll probably stick with them. I think you read a screen differently than you do a paper copy of anything – less flowing somehow? Also, if I am honest, I am a technology laggard: I'll probably get one in twenty years time and then declare, Hey everyone, these things are great!

*BB: Have you had any formal writing training?

LJ: I had very inspiring English teachers and have read a lot, but no writing 'training'. I didn't start writing until I was 33 but before I started, I did read a few novels with an eye to seeing how they were constructed and I use those methods when I write today. I also have a fantastic editor at Honno who explains my mistakes, yet allows me to correct them.

*BB: Would you encourage other aspiring chick-litters to join an MA course?

LJ: Having not done a course, I can't know whether I am right or not, but my feeling is that courses just delay the actual starting of that novel. Procrastination seems to be a legitimate sport in writing and I read countless letters to writing magazines about how to start a book, should they do this or that first, before or after breakfast and I just want to scream, GET ON WITH IT! There are no right or wrong ways to write something – as long as it works for the reader. I don't think writing can be formulaic and therefore, aside from grammar, it is difficult to teach.

*BB: Do you have a web-site? Do you enjoy blogging?

LJ: I don't have a website yet, but do have plenty of web-presence – within Honno (publisher), Academi etc, so hopefully people can find me if they look. I did set up a blog, but I think that, as a writer, a blog is my shop window, so every blog must be well written and funny. I found the pressure of time too great; I can either think about and write a witty little blog, or I can get on with my next chapter and I think it's best to do the chapter. I do manage a Tweet about once a week. It's all in a list of Things To Do When I Have Some Time…

* BB: And last but not least, what's cooking for the next novel?

LJ: Ah, I am actually planning to start writing it tonight! After having the baby, I have been too tired and busy to do any good writing and I didn't want to start something for the sake of it, but now I have a little more sleep and am able to think a little clearer, I have my plan… I think it will be something to do with an unrelated group of people being thrown together when a vet discovers something of national importance (like swine flu, for example) and no-one is allowed to leave the base. I have been on a few walking holidays as a lone person in a mixed group and they all went the same way in that for the first few days everyone was jolly and friendly, then slowly but surely all these little rifts and couplings start to form…

* BB: Ssh, don't tell us any more! Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us here at The Bookbag. The new book sounds great and I'm already looking forward to another cracking read.