The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Jenny Valentine

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The Interview: Bookbag talks to Jenny Valentine

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Summary: Jenny Valentine's third novel The Ant Colony is a deeply humane and heartwarming story of mistakes and regrets and how to put them right. It's witty, wise and full of unforgettable characters. We think Jenny Valentine just gets better and better, so we jumped at the chance to talk to her.
Date: 25 February 2009
Interviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy

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Jenny Valentine's third novel The Ant Colony is a deeply humane and heartwarming story of mistakes and regrets and how to put them right. It's witty, wise and full of unforgettable characters. We think Jenny Valentine just gets better and better, so we jumped at the chance to talk to her.

  • Bookbag: Hi Jenny! We always begin interviews by asking authors how they imagine their readers. You have so many larger than life characters in your novels, it seems even more interesting to ask you how you see the people reading about them! So, when you close your eyes and imagine your readers, what do you see?

Jenny Valentine: Well I try not to imagine ANY readers when I'm writing a story, because I don't want to remember it's not real. Sometimes I wish I could see someone reading my book, on the tube or something. But I don't ever really imagine them.

  • BB: The characters in your books are all very real and recognisable at heart, but they are also often quirky and slightly eccentric. Is it difficult to find a balance?

JV: Not so far. I think most people are a bit like that. Everybody has an odd side, I think.

  • BB: We loved The Ant Colony and we thought Sam and Bo made a wonderfully unlikely duo. Oddball friendships can be some of the best friendships. Have you ever been friends with someone completely unlikely?

JV: When you're friends with someone you never look at them as unlikely.

  • BB: A major theme for Bo and Sam is that things can always get better. Mistakes, unlike puppies, aren't necessarily for life. Is that something you believe in very strongly?

JV: Of course! Mistakes are how you learn stuff. And there's no point in looking back and wishing you could change things because you can't.

  • BB: Bookbag is a big fan of River Cottage and especially its new series of handbooks. We're currently working our way through its bread recipes. We know you sold an awful lot of bread, but do you also bake it? And what is the world's best sandwich filling?

JV: I've tried to bake bread but I'm not a natural. So much effort for something so tasteless. We sell such good bread that I don't really need to keep trying any more. Sandwich filling... when I was younger it was cream cheese peanut butter and celery. Now I think it's probably houmous, rocket and olives, maybe avocado with Marmite...

  • BB: Marmite rocks! When we're reviewing teen and young adult fiction, we often wonder why adults bother with adult books at all. They take so long to get to the point, and there's so much decoration. Children's books seem to get straight to the heart of the matter, but they have equal depth and quality. What made you want to write for this age group?

JV: I agree! I think I wanted to write about teenagers because it's an age I remember so acutely. And I can't do flowery because it's not my style, so I fit right in.

  • BB: And we have to ask: what gave you the idea to write about a teenager and an old lady's ashes? Lucas and Violet in Finding Violet Park are an even more unlikely pairing than Bo and Sam, but we think it was absolutely inspired.

JV: Ah, well I knew a lady called Eileen when I was nineteen and she was about eighty. She was the first disgracefully behaved old lady I had ever met and I thought she was brilliant. When she died she was cremated and her ashes were left on a shelf - not a mini cab office - but somewhere very odd. The difference is I don't think Eileen minded, but Violet does.

  • BB: What are you reading now?

JV: What are you reading now? Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, about how genius is more to do with luck and hard work than you'd think. So The Wind Won't Blow It All Away by Richard Brautigan (again). Over the Edge of the World by Laurence Bergreen, about the first time anybody sailed all the way round the world. Holes by Louis Sachar, because it's perfect, and because I'm reading it to my daughter.

  • BB: What's next for Jenny Valentine

JV: Well, The Ant Colony is out on the 9th of March. And I've written something called Ten Station which is a little story about Lucas and Mercy and Jed and their Grandad (from Finding Violet Park). You can get that with the World Book Day tokens for £1. And I've written some stories for younger readers, called Iggy and Me. They are coming out in September (and I'm hoping they're as funny as I think they are). And I'm starting to lie awake at night thinking about the next book...

  • BB: Marmite and Richard Brautigan definitely rock. And we are sure Iggy and Me will be hilarious. Thanks Jenny, and good luck with all your projects.


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