Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Jane Jazz A Question and Answer Session with the Author of Tantalus

I first became acquainted with the work of Jane Jazz when I read and posted on her wonderful debut novel Tantalus.

I am very pleased and honored that she has kindly consented to participate in a Q and A session.

Author supplied data

Hilary Mantel has spoken of ideas circling above her like aeroplanes waiting to land, but mine are silvery moths. They flutter round my head all day and wake me up at night. I have to capture them swiftly and pin them to the page before they dissolve. 

Over my writing career I have written newspaper articles, magazine features, advertising copy, short stories, poetry and songs. I even wrote greetings card verses for a time (I know) but although ludicrously lucrative, it had to stop. I was starting to think in rhyming couplets.

We recently relocated from wuthering moors to blue remembered hills and I love the gentle Shropshire landscape, but still miss dramatic Yorkshire hills and dales. Tantalus was written in our draughty old Yorkshire vicarage - one of a pair built for neighbouring artists in the late 1800s. The houses had adjacent studios and whenever I walked through our side voices would whisper at me. Loudly. A loud whisper can be hard to ignore, and they didn't give me any peace until I started to write their story.

I highly recommend following her consistently interesting blog, especially if you are into late Victorian or Edwardian Art or Literature.

I endorse without reservation Tantalus to all those who admired a well crafted work of literary fiction.  There is a lot to think about, a lot of great descriptions of the countryside around Yorkshire and of Tuscany, interesting long term life developments, and just a lot of fun to be found in Tantalus.  
Here is part of my reaction to Tantalus.

Tantalus by Jane Jazz is a deeply moving novel that is a perfect mix of Gothic, impossible romance, and psychological acuity combined with very believable people that we end up caring strongly about.  The author quotes from Jane Eyre in a chapter heading and has a profound fondness for Pre-Raphalite art, just throw in a little Edgar Alan Poe and a tiny dose of Montaque James and you maybe can begin to conjure up the wonder that is Tantalus.  (Remember as you read Tantalus that M R James, England's greatest writer of ghost stories, almost as good as Sheridan deLa Fanu, that his stories display a deep seated horror and attraction to human physical contact. It is with this in mind I invoke him.)  Jazz has clearly read deeply in the great Victorians and you can see, I think, an influence of this in her prose. Like many a central character in a Victorian novel, the lead character, Sylvia struggles to achieve psychological and personal independence from her family, hampered by the impact of childhood polio.  Her passion is painting.  She has had some success.  Sylvia has the opportunity to move into her own dwelling, not far from her parents house.  She also gives art lessons so she will make enough to survive.  

The place she occupies is a broken down old house, now divided into is two adjoining artist studios.    The time is May, 1975.  One night she hears strange disturbing sounds from next door and she for a moment begins to wish she were back home secure with her patents.  Now things begin to get strange.  Slyvia makes contact, not physical,  through the wall with something, maybe it is a man, maybe a spectral being or maybe the projection of the fantasies of a very lonely woman with quite a creative artistic temperment.  Her and Tom soon learn that they are living in different times, even though they are neighbors. Like her Tom is an artist, a sculptor.  Slyvia's life becomes increasingly bound up with Tom, she begins to doubt her sanity.  Tom travels to Tucany, escape world for many a Victorian, for his work, the best marble is found there.  Slyvia begins to arrange her life around his schedule.  I slowly began to accept Tom was real.  I certainly wanted him to be.  Of course this relationship blocks Slyvia from developing a bond with a partner from the same time era.  You have to wonder does her frustrated never to be realized in the flesh passion for Tom represent a deep fear of sexuality, a pre-Raphelite theme.  Tom is much older than her but somehow the time differential overrides this.  

There are lots of exciting plot twists and turns. Tantalus was always exciting and interesting.  The characters were beautifully rendered.

1.  I read your recent very well done blog post on Barcelona.  Not too long ago I saw a fascinating feature on the American TV series Sixty Minutes on Antoni Gaudi and the Church of La Sagrada.  The program suggested he was a genius way beyond his time.  Can you share with us a bit of your thoughts on seeing the cathedral. How does the experience compare with that of the great English cathedrals?  

It seems Gaudi was before his time, as his work fell out of favour in the years after his death, but his reputation has grown steadily since the 1950s and he is certainly held in high esteem today.

I found the Church of La Sagrada a fascinatingplace: while some elements, like the spires and stained glass windows,  find an echo in English cathedrals, others have a more surreal aspectThe harsh fretwork of scaffolding, army of booted builders and constant cacophony of machinery is in great contrast to the serene, contemplative atmosphere of cathedrals I have visited in England… though this serenity can sometimes be disturbed by an army of tourists!

2. Quoting from your blog  "I have been dreading the shortening, freezing days and the long, icy months before the earth begins to stir again. I envy the small creatures who can curl in warm burrows to sleep through the bleakness, but then I remember the mellow fruitfulness this season brings, the spicy soups and mulled wines, the rich, glowing colours autumn offers to offset the death of summer... and slowly autumn's misty gown begins to catch fire.

As temperatures start to fall, colours begin to heat up; even the names of autumn shades are warm and inviting: burnt orange, paprika, russet, chestnut, copper, gold…"

The above very evocative prose is from your blog.  I live where we have no rhythms of the seasons, no winter, Spring, summer, just hot pretty much all the time.  I wonder how this impacts the sensibilities of my three daughters.  Do you think the lack of this central metaphor of the human experience is part of the cause of the apparent much great literary and artistic productivity in the temperate zones of the planet versus the tropics.  A while ago I read and posted on a work by then editor of the Harvard Fiction Review in which she said the central metaphor of western literature is the story of Orpheus going into the underworld. Without seasons this seems to make no sense.  Do you think western literature depends heavily on seasonal metaphors of death and rebirth?

I think Western literature has always drawn inspiration from the seasons, and until recent times our lives were dictated by them. We are bound to reflect this in our writingsnot least because cold, grey, damp weather will keeppeople indoors and force them to focus on the inner being rather than the wider world.Metaphors of death and rebirth often appear in my work; as each ‘dead’ season finally gives up the ghost I feel I have earned the spring flowersand sunshine.

3.  How well formed in your mind did you have the plot of Tantalus before you began writing.

I had the skeleton formed before I began to write because the house I lived in was teeming with inspiration, but as I began to add flesh to the bones I often felt the story was coming throughme rather than from me, so I was guiding the flow of a stream, rather than turning a tap on and off.

4.  How rooted is your creative psyche in the evident beauty of Yorkshire?  

Although not born in Yorkshire, I lived there through many of my formative years and it is stitched into the fabric of my memoriesI really appreciate Shropshires gentle, verdant countryside but still miss the dramatic, wild moorland and dales of Yorkshire every day.

5.  Who are some of your favorite artists outside those on your blog.

I’ve probably mentioned most of my favourite (English spelling!) artists at some point on my blog, but in addition to many Pre-Raphaelites, IlikEvelyn de Morgan, Burne-Jones,WaterhouseER HughesJessie M KingEBLeightonGF WattsMargaret MacdonaldFBDickseeJA Grimshaw,  Bridget Riley, Laura Knight, and others too many to mention.

6.  Can you tell us a bit about your writing routine.  Do you typically set aside a certain period to write, always write in same place, do you listen to music while you write, do you need solitude?

I spent years as a freelance copywriter, so I’m used to writing all day. If I can’t be at my desk I write in my notebook and type it up later. I don’t have set word goals as the words usually come faster than I can type, but I do have a problem with stopping at a reasonable time to make sure I get enough sleep.

I usually write at my desk, overlooking  the tranquil Shropshire countryside. It’s a lovely, rural view but nothing much happens in it a lot less distracting than if I overlooked ever-changing city streets.

I would love to be able to listen to music as I write, but I have quite emotional responses to anymusic I might want to hear, and that would be fartoo distracting. I do need solitude for creative writing, but not for commercial work.

7.  If you could give your 18-year- old self one suggestion, what would it be?  

Focus: it’s later than you think.

8. "in the name of a humanism hypocritically turned champion of the reader’s rights. Classic criticism has never paid any attention to the reader; for it, the writer is the only person in literature. We are now beginning to let ourselves be fooled no longer by the arrogantantiphrastical recriminations of good society in favour of the very thing it sets aside, ignores, smothers, or destroys; we know that to give writing its future, it is necessary to overthrow the myth: the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author."

What is your reaction to these very famous lines from "The Death of the Author" by Roland Barthes?  

Literary perception has always been two-pronged, and as Barthes’ essay suggests, the balance between author and reader shifts according to the values of the time, but I tend togo along with Margaret Atwood’s comment thatif the Death of the Author’ theory becomes prevalent, then writers are all in trouble!

9. "It is the habit of approaching works of art in order to interpret them that sustains the fancy that there really is such a thing as the content of a work of art" - from  "Against Interpretation" by Susan Sontag.

As a writer, how do you feel when people Interpret your work, attribute meaning to it, see things in it you never thought about?

Once a piece of writing is complete, the authorhas to let it sail away, and watch its journey fromthe shoreReaders cannot help but imprint their own values and experiences on what they read,but these theories may say more about their ownpsyche than the authors they seek to interpret and analyze.

10. Who is your ideal reader?  

My ideal reader is uncannily like me. I write what I would like to read, and hope I’m not in an exclusive club of one!


11.  How important is seeing different parts of the world to you in terms of stimulating your creativity?

I have drawn on many inspirations from different parts of the world. In my novel Tantalus I was hugely inspired by the trompe l'oeil of the marble mountains of Carrara, in Tuscany, after visiting the area and being fooled into thinking I saw snow in the height of summerbut I was equally inspired by the local Yorkshire hills I walked through every day.

Writers can research places they have never visited, and use imagination as a magic carpet to transport themselves and their readers thereI loved Stef Penney’s novel, The Tenderness of Wolves, and it didn’t worry me that she had written this while suffering from agoraphobia and had never set foot in Canada. Similarly, Lynne Truss confessed she had never been on the London Eye, yet chose to set a key scene there in one of her books, and commentedI also once wrote a comic novel about a number of characters converging farcically on the town of Honiton, in Devon, without ever having been there; and, heavens, I once wrote a whole novel set in the1860s without bothering to do any exploratory time-travelling.

12.  Where can we find you online?


Twitter @JaneJazzWriter

Amazon UK

Amazon USA


13.  Besides reading and writing, what are some of your hobbies or interests?

started singing in folk clubs in my teens, and still sing, play guitar and compose songs whenever I can.



14.  How and when did you begin to write?

I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t write, and I still have a tattered cardboard box full of all the little stories and poems I penned as a child. My family moved around a lot through my childhood, so I was quite a lonely little girlwho spent a lot of time reading. It just seemed natural to start telling stories as soon as I could scribble.

15Who are some of your favorite contemporary short story writers, poets or novelists?

I like individual works by different writers and there are far too many to list, so I’ve just plucked a few names from my bookshelvesA S Byatt, Khaled Hosseini, Hilary Mantel, Julian Barnes,Margaret Drabble, Kazuo Ishiguro, Doris Lessing, Lorrie MooreMargaret Atwood, Simon Armitage, Carol Ann Duffy, Ruth Padel, John Betjeman, Seamus Heaney, Sharon Olds.

16. What classic writers do you find yourself drawn to reread.

often turn to old favourites like Dickens, Jane Austen, Jean-Paul SartreHomer, C. S. Lewis,Tolstoy, Virginia Woolfand Daphne Du Maurier; I suppose it’s a bit like a mountaineer returning to base camp.

17.  When you write, do you picture an audience or do you just write?  

I try not to picture an audience as that would becounter-productive for me. I write the story that is bursting to get out, the story I’m dying to know, and if it moves me I hope others will besimilarly affected.

18Assuming this applies to you, how do you get past creative ‘dry spells, periods when you have a hard time coming up with ideas or when things seem futile?

I don’t really have dry spells’ as such; I usually have too many ideas scribbled in my notebooks and not enough time to execute them. Things do seem futile at times; I’ve learned that all you can do is hang on by the skin of your teeth and wait for the darkness to pass. It always has done, so far…

19.  If someone says to you, "I prefer to live life, not just read about it " what is your reaction inside?  (Besides cringing!)

I know they could live even more life by reading,experiencing not just their own life, but many other, more gripping and exciting lives in parallel.

20.  What are the last three novels you read?  

Remember Me, Melvyn Bragg; The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and DisappearedJonas JonassonThe Goldfinch,Donna Tartt.

21Last three movies?  Captain Phillips; Shawshank Redemption (again!); Before Midnight.

22Do you have any favorite TV shows?

The Great British Bake Off; Imagine (the arts series from Alan Yentob)The Big Bang Theory.

23Are there literary works you find reverberate in your mind in happy or in dark times?

The works I turn to in both happy and dark times are Alice in Wonderland: Lewis Carroll; The Secret Garden: Frances Hodgson Burnett; and Winnie the Pooh: A A Milne. Interestingly, these are all children’s books!


My great thanks to Jane Jazz for taking the time to provide us with such interesting and very well considered answers.  I hope to read much more of her work. 

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