The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Lorraine Jenkin Again

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Lorraine Jenkin Again

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Summary: On a warm summer's day Sue sat in the garden and sank gratefully into Jam Tomorrow by Lorraine Jenkin. There were quite a few questions she wanted to ask Lorraine when she popped into Bookbag Towers.
Date: 16 July 2014
Interviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee

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On a warm summer's day Sue sat in the garden and sank gratefully into Jam Tomorrow by Lorraine Jenkin. There were quite a few questions she wanted to ask Lorraine when she popped into Bookbag Towers.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Lorraine Jenkin: I have this imaginary person sitting in front of me who I try and make sure my writing is good enough for. She's usually my age, but sometimes she's in her twenties and sometimes in her seventies, as I do have a lot of older readers. She's a bit bored of reading typical women's fiction as she's fed up of characters on diets or wanting to buy new shoes, yet she likes the light-hearted, easy-read of modern commercial fiction. She has a slightly quirky sense of humour and likes to burst into a snigger as she reads, or wipe a tear from her eye. She wants to be surprised and delighted by her book as she's invested a lot of time to read it, and for some reason that I know will do me no favours to admit to, she wears a big crocheted pale-pink jumper and pink socks, and sits curled up in a white leather armchair!

  • BB: (Actually, it's a cream leather armchair, Lorraine and I have a crocheted Afghan. The socks are a sort of fuschia colour. Other than that you have me spot on!)

What inspired you to write Jam Tomorrow? Did you have to do much research?

LJ: I used to go on walking holidays – the type where you turn up, meet the group you're going to spend the next fortnight with and set off walking, camping in a different place every night. I used to love the fact that the group dynamics always seemed to be the same. Everyone would start off being overly friendly and nice, but as the days wore on and the sleep wasn't so good or someone had eaten someone else's portion of stew, some of the guests would start to bicker… I wanted to write a story about that group dynamic, but make it even more fraught.

I live in Mid Wales, and the area was hit badly by the Foot and Mouth epidemic of 2001. I knew farmers who phoned the vet and within two hours the whole farm had a quarantine order placed upon it. Everyone – and I mean everyone - who happened to be on it at the time were told they were not allowed to leave, no matter what their circumstances. I interviewed a few people who'd been in that situation, and tried to find out what it was like to be stuck somewhere, when you've a hundred other things you need to do, you have no information about what might happen and you also see the vets and slaughtermen coming and going as they please whilst you're not allowed to. Add to this the strain of having your beloved animals facing slaughter, and the company of people that don't want to be there and you've a combustible mix!

  • BB: You have an obvious love for the mid-Wales countryside. Could you live anywhere else? What's a girl from Dorset doing in Wales?

LJ: I do love Mid Wales and especially the countryside around me. I can see the hills from most windows in our house and I feel very lucky to live here. I love the emptiness of the rural area and find the people very down-to-earth, amusing and resourceful, and I like that. I suppose what brought me here is what tends to bring lots of people to places they never meant to arrive at: in my case, an old boyfriend from college. He left, but I never did! I would never say I could never leave, as life's a journey and we don't know what's ahead, but I'm sure I could be happy here forever if I needed to be…

  • BB: Now, I probably shouldn't ask this question, but in the book there's a very, er, lively community in the local village. Is this your experience of living in mid-Wales?

LJ: I moved here never thinking I'd stay more than a year or so, but then I got to know a few people and that was it for me! I had a FANTASTIC social life. There was a big crowd of us that would head out walking or mountain biking in the hills by day and then we'd head for the pub and swig far too much beer for our own good by night, and it was hilarious. It would be a big mix of old and young in the pubs and it was rather lawless, so strange things would happen. However, the thing that probably sparked your question was something I saw in a bar in Peru: there, it was rather beautiful as it involved two gorgeous young hipsters. I decided it should go in the book, but felt it needed a Mid-Wales twist…

  • BB: With three young daughters, finding the time and space to write must be difficult. How do you manage it - and where do you write?

LJ: Time is the limiting factor in nearly everything I do – or don't do – in my life. It's very difficult, as there are simply not enough hours in the day and I don't care how unromantic it sounds, writing can never come before talking to my girls or feeding them: it simply doesn't work! I've tried in the past to type away whilst they are around, but actually I end up doing neither well – looking after them and the house, or writing. So I've now changed it so that I only do my writing in the time that is morally “my time”, as in if I get up early, or go to bed late. I can't justify doing it instead of my paid work, or preparing food etc, as things very quickly go wrong!

As for where do I write – ANYWHERE! Again, due to time pressures, there is no point in me being precious about waiting until I am sitting in a certain chair with my favorite pencil sharpened, I turn my laptop on as soon as I reach it and then carry it to wherever I'm going to work whilst it's booting up to save precious seconds. I work mainly in the kitchen, but am happy to do so in the park, in the hairdressers, in the car if I'm waiting for something – anywhere!

  • BB: What were your favourite books as a child - and do the same books appeal to your daughters?

LJ: I loved The Five Find-Outers and Dog, Laura Ingalls and things like Malory Towers. I read them over and over again, and still think that if I ever go on Mastermind, my specialist subject would be The Famous Five. I have read a couple of them to my daughters and they loved the adventure, but I had to doctor the sexism, racism and classism as I read, and so now although I'm sad, I'm steering them towards other things. My mum's just bought my girls the set of Laura Ingalls books, so I'm trying to get them enthused about those! However, if David Walliams and Jacqueline Wilson had been around when I was little, I'd have loved their books too…

  • BB: What are you reading now?

LJ: I feel rather ashamed of myself in that I'm not reading anything much. Again, it's a time thing. Before the children, I used to read every day; now I have the choice, either I read or I write, so I tend to write. Occasionally something grabs my attention and I have to read it and then I blast through it in a couple of days and let the everything else go to the dogs. The last one that did this for me was Faulk's Birdsong and I loved every page of it.

  • BB: If you weren't a writer, what would you be?

LJ: If I weren't a writer, I'd probably be more organised, a better cook, live in a tidier house and have my and my partner's accounts in on time. Although I have a part time job, I'm also a town planner by trade and have a planning consultancy; I'd probably be a more successful and prolific one of those!

  • BB: You've got one wish. What's it to be?

LJ: What I would LOVE is to make a success of my writing so that I can justify the time I spend on it and to be able to shift it up the household pecking order. At the moment in everyone else's eyes, it lurks below sweeping the kitchen floor, but possibly above mopping it. I would love to be successful at it in financial terms so that I can justify a work-space of my own and allocated time to do it in – ideally whilst I pay someone else to mop the floor.

  • BB: We'll keep our fingers crossed on that one, Lorraine! What's next for Lorraine Jenkin?

LJ: Well, I have a plan… I think writing can be one of those trades in which it's socially acceptable to do and not make a living at – no-one would dream of being a plumber for ten years and still only make £500 a year, yet for writers, that's quite a success! However, it's very difficult to get even that success. A plumber puts up enough cards in enough windows and sooner or later the phone will ring and then she will stand or fall on her reputation. For writers, it's very difficult to get exposure that works. I've been battling away for a while now and it's very frustrating for people to be stopping me in the street telling me they've been giggling away at my books, but to still not be selling them in any great number.

However, I have been studying marketing and have finally worked out a plan that I feel I can follow and it seems that the harder I work at it, the more success I could have, and that feels far better than aiming shots in the dark and possibly being a busy fool. I like lists to follow, things to tick off and I finally feel I have that now.

Time will tell whether my plan will work: watch this space…

  • BB: Thanks for chatting to us, Lorraine - it was fascinating! And we will definitely be watching this space.

You can read more about Lorraine Jenkin here.

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