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 aspect. The 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 writings, not 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 memories. I really appreciate Shropshire’s 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, Ilike Evelyn de Morgan, Burne-Jones,Waterhouse, ER Hughes, Jessie M King, EBLeighton, GF Watts, Margaret Macdonald, FBDicksee, JA 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 shore. Readers 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 summer; but 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 there. I 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 commented, “I 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?
Amazon USA http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00I9E6ANU
13. Besides reading and writing, what are some of your hobbies or interests?
I 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.
15. Who 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 bookshelves: A S Byatt, Khaled Hosseini, Hilary Mantel, Julian Barnes,Margaret Drabble, Kazuo Ishiguro, Doris Lessing, Lorrie Moore, Margaret 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.
I often turn to old favourites like Dickens, Jane Austen, Jean-Paul Sartre, Homer, C. S. Lewis,Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf, and 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.
18. Assuming 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 Disappeared, Jonas Jonasson; The Goldfinch,Donna Tartt.
21. Last three movies? Captain Phillips; Shawshank Redemption (again!); Before Midnight.
22. Do you have any favorite TV shows?
The Great British Bake Off; Imagine (the arts series from Alan Yentob); The Big Bang Theory.
23. Are 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.