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All Our Secrets: talking with Jennifer Lane.

Meet Wellington author Jennifer Lane. Her entertaining blog outlines the coming-into-being of her novel All Our Secrets, which Rosa Mira Books is to publish next month, in both hard copy and digital formats. It’s a mystery-cum-crime story wrapped in a moving family and small-town drama as it unfolds before Gracie, 11 going on 12. The story is fresh and quirky and un-put-downable.

Photo by Annabelle Court

Jennifer talked recently with Rosa Mira Books about writing, running a long way, and mothers.

Can you tell us the genesis for All Our Secrets

All Our Secrets started as a short story about the narrator’s (Gracie’s) birth. After her mum (Nell) went into labour in Woolies, a whole raft of characters rocked up at the hospital to cheer her on, as if she was playing a game of rugby, not giving birth.

Gracie’s grandma was there, as were the ambulance men who’d come to Nell’s rescue, the nosey woman from the post office who’d accompanied her in the ambulance (she was later made Gracie’s godmother for her starring role in the event), and others who just happened to be shopping at Woolies at the moment Nell’s waters broke (one woman was still clutching a broccoli when Gracie finally made her entrance several hours later). Practically everyone in the town crowded the hospital’s corridors, except for Gracie’s dad who was busy elsewhere, presumably with a woman…

I soon realised there were far too many characters to squash into 3,000 words. So instead of starting a new story for my writing group meeting the following month, I began Chapter 2 …

That’s so funny, but I dare say it’s not the first novel to hatch from a short story that wanted to be a long one. Has its shape changed much over the course of its writing?

The shape has changed a lot – although the birth scene is alluded to, it was culled some time ago – probably because I didn’t follow a chapter plan or plot outline. I prefer to make a story up as I write, as impractical and time-consuming as that is.

I’ve lost count of the number of drafts I subjected the story to. At one stage, I was asked by an agent to rewrite it as a YA novel, which I did. But because of some of the themes and the narrator’s age (11-12), which I refused to change, YA publishers felt it wasn’t quite YA. I don’t regret the rewrite, though. It helped me give more insight into Gracie and I believe the novel is stronger as a result.

It is a strong novel, which would work well for capable teen readers, but adults will appreciate the deft humour and the memory hit they get hearing Gracie talk about the angst and banal (and not so banal) traumas of everyday home and school life for a pubescent girl.

How was it to go from writing short stories to writing a novel? 

 In some ways writing the novel was easier. Following one (main) storyline and one set of characters is simpler than reinventing a whole different world every couple of weeks or so.

I also find endings really difficult – the story takes off, the characters come to life, and then you need to draw everything to a close in a satisfactory way – so the fewer endings I need to write the better!

On the other hand, you can write a story really quickly and it’s obviously much less of an investment. I’ve occasionally started writing a novel but have been too impatient to finish it, so turned it into a short story instead. I also need to be thoroughly engrossed in a story to stick with it for a long time.

 I know you’re a long-distance runner, recently seen with mud-spattered legs after a deep-winter marathon. Comparisons might be made between the long haul of writing a novel and running … would you care to elaborate?

 Yes, I can see the similarities. Both are obviously very solitary (although I also enjoy running with others – and, of course, writing is something I also like sharing with others. I’m a member of a running group as well as a writing group!). I probably approach them in a similar way, too – with a great deal of patience and a belief that if I just keep going, I’ll eventually get somewhere.

I’d love to say that my running complements my writing, that I get lots of ideas while trudging over muddy hills. But the kinds of thoughts that enter my head are far more practical – oops, cow poo! – than creative.

For me, writing and running are also enjoyable, therapeutic and addictive – so I feel bad (as well as guilty) if I don’t get my fix. Both also suck up hours and hours of my spare time to the detriment of my household duties. But that’s just a coincidence, and not what attracted me to them (honestly!).

Gracie is such a funny, insightful girl who feels dorky but is really likeable. Her ingenuous commentary brings wry humour and flashes of light to what becomes a pretty grim scenario. How did she first appear to you? 

I started by trying to make Gracie as unlike me as possible. I even considered making her a boy, so desperate was I to distance my main character from me. Even so, as Gracie evolved I’m sure a few of my own thoughts infiltrated hers.

 And the family, whose dynamics are so true-to-life — chaotic, no-frills, culturally slim-pickings, but deeply loving … is this a family you know?

The family is totally fictional.  My mum worries about the mums in my stories, that they might reflect her in someway. But I deliberately make them so unlike her that no one who knows her could possible make a comparison. Also, when it comes to literature, the more dysfunctional the families, the more gripping the story (in my opinion). My own one is boring by comparison.

Some of the other characters, though, borrow traits from people I’ve known, and the town I grew up in had its very own cult, which most fascinated and scared me, so I definitely drew on that.

 What are you writing currently?

 My writing time has been squeezed lately (marathon training doesn’t help), but I’ve promised myself to make it a higher priority. Since finishing All Our Secrets, I’ve written a few short stories and another novel called Miracle. I’m looking forward to revisiting those. But most of all I’m looking forward to starting something new.

 

All Our Secrets, exposed

What do you know? The rat’s back. Or partly. He’s turned up to usher into the world Jennifer Lane’s novel, All Our Secrets. He has the sample copy, hot off the press and hanging out to dry. While he waits, Ratty will have a cuppa and chew on the blue-iced ‘Virgin Mary bun’ waiting on the rock.

I’ll be talking here with Jennifer very soon. Meanwhile, enjoy a crumb from All Our Secrets:

“From every telegraph pole on Main Road, Nigel’s face looked down at us. His brown hair was bleached by the November sun and the sticky-taped ‘Missing’ posters were crinkled and curling. Sometimes, when I was on my own, I’d whisper hello to him. I’d stare into the little grey dots that made up his eyes, as if the harder I looked, the better I’d understand what was behind them. I thought it was sad that he was much more popular now that he was missing, but I knew why. Up there on the telegraph pole, Nigel was elevated to a new status. He was no longer part of our ordinary world.”

Twister on its way

Books launches, like weddings, are almost inevitably fun. All the hard work is over and forgotten; guests are benevolent and effervescing; the author is aglow despite the cramp in her hand from signing, signing, signing books, which fly off the counter.

Most of these photos are by Claire Beynon, one is by Raymond Huber.

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Lovely Bronwyn of Otago UBS hosts her 70th launch this year.
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Digital publisher Penelope Todd of Rosa Mira Books and author Jane Woodham with hard copy produced by Mākaro Press
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Author rests her hand after signing so many books
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Publisher works her way through her speech
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The end

Twister: buy it here.

Books and rumours of books

Phew, are we nearing the end of the year, or what? We’re having to screw our thoughts to the sticking place in order to complete one job at a time of the fifty waiting. We’ve moved house but the books are waiting in boxes for shelves. The beds are waiting for legs, the garden for compost, the cooking device for an electrician. And while we wait, there are books to be launched and authors applauded.

Twister Book Cover

On Thursday evening, Jane Woodham’s Twister will be set loose on the world, starting at the Otago University Bookshop with the hard copy Mākaro Press have so beautifully put together (am expecting one to arrive in the mailbox any minute), with the ebook (and info and excerpts) available here. It’s a mystery/crime/love/LGBT genre-buster set in Dunedin. Here’s the interview with Jane, who’s very sensibly gone surfing this week.

Daughters-of-Messene-front-cover

We’re testing out RMB’s ability to manage ‘pre-ordering’ as we wait for the ebook of Maggie Rainey-Smith’s delectable Daughters of Messene to be prepared. If you buy one now, you’ll pay $1.50 less than the eventual NZ $12.

The Linen Way cover

In other RMB author news, Melissa Green recently went to St Lucia in the West Indies to visit and read poetry with her old friend and mentor Derek Walcott. Fantastic. Anyone who’s read her spellbinding memoir The Linen Way will know just how fantastic. I read this interview with her yesterday, marvelling at the intricacy of her poetry writing process, the way she handles each word and collection of words as though each were a living creature … which is, of course, the case.

Jane Woodham and Ratty go swimming

It’s not an easy time for an author, the run-up to publication. The birth analogy is apt. Things don’t ease off just because you’ve been carrying this creature for so long already. Added to the usual pre-pub twists and turns, Jane Woodham and I have been working alongside Mary of Mākaro Press so she can produce a hard copy of Twister on the 3rd December, along with the Rosa Mira ebook.

Nevertheless, Jane found time to talk with RMB about how it’s going, how it went, and who’s in the (St Clair Hot Salt Water) swimming pool these days.

Ratage

Jane, it’s only three weeks until Twister is published. How’s it feeling at this stage? Any glitches or gulps you’d care to mention?

Well, Penelope, being published by two different houses, with different house styles, was, in the last hour, challenging. A case of you say tomarto, I say tomayto. But we survived. Probably best to call it a learning curve.

Yes, it’s always that. Has your sense of the book changed with publication so imminent?

My sense of Twister has been as changeable as our Dunedin weather. Originally I described it as a hybrid, and thought that was a good thing. Then I wondered if that was too oddball to satisfy anyone. Recently friends, having proofread it, said they had to stop themselves from just ripping on through it. So, I don’t know. It is what it is and it’s the best I can write, just now. The more I see images of it, on the internet, or on flyers, the more it seems a separate entity, about to take on a life of its own.

And so it will. Tell us about one of the characters: how they appeared in your mind’s eye or in the story. Did any of the scenes come about unexpectedly?

When I was being mentored by Paddy Richardson, she kept urging me to increase the drama. I’d written an emotional scene between Judd and his wife, Kate, where she told him she was leaving, but it wasn’t really working. Then I thought, ooh, what if I get Kate to tell Judd the truth about the day Beth disappeared?!! She’s about to leave him, what if she wants to get it out of her system? I emailed a friend. OMG, Kate’s decided to tell Judd what she was really doing the afternoon Beth ran off!

My friend, who had already confessed to being a little in love with Leo Judd, replied immediately: The bitch. Why doesn’t she leave the poor man alone. She’s just doing it to ease her conscience!

What a fantastic response. I knew then I had to write it.

 Yes, it’s a terrible dilemma of Kate’s. You handle it well. Now, you say you swam in the same lane as Judd the other day. How was his style? Splashy?

No, he’s not Mr Splashy… Judd likes to dive in, which does cause a bit of a tidal wave, but after that it’s minimum effort, maximum result. Some evenings, perhaps after a hard day, he turns onto his back and swims swinging both arms up and over his head simultaneously. It’s not terribly strenuous. I suspect he’s cloud-spotting.

But only briefly. I happen to know that, like DSS Judd, you’re incredibly diligent.I noticed you had a huge timeline chart to help you keep events in the story on track. Did you feel constrained by that, or more reassured?

Both. It’s impossible to write a ’crime’ novel and be vague. It’s like a stage set, everyone has to be in the right place at the right time. Even the weather has toe the line. But yes, it was constraining too. Reality kept pulling me up. I’d be charging ahead then find myself with a wedding on a Sunday, or an open home on a Friday. Reality is over-rated.

 Talking of launches, I saw you at Diane Brown’s the other night. How did you feel imagining yourself reading to us from Twister at your own launch in UBS on 3rd December?

I’d been worrying about which piece to read, then I got home that night and there on facebook was an article about public readings suggesting that, as the audience had already had a tough day, the writer should be kind, keep away from sad subjects and opt, instead, for laughter. Send your customer home happy. Now I know exactly which piece to read.

Great, thanks, Jane, and all the best for the delivery. And while I think of it, next time we chat I’ll ask you to hand over the recipe (please) for that scrumptious Editorial Tea Loaf.

 

 

 

 

 

Culminations

It’s all hands to the pump as details are finalised for the publication of Twister early in December. Mākaro Press is producing a hard-copy edition. Yesterday author Jane Woodham and I met with Caroline Davies who puts out the generous, celebratory Dunedin ezine Down in Edin, to discuss the photo/stories we might tell about this mystery set in the city; about the curious path Jane’s followed to arrive at writing in general and Twister in particular; and about this publisher currently nestling back into the newest Unesco City of Literature.

Meanwhile I decided it’s time to put my memoir Digging for Spain back into circulation. I’m selling it for NZD 8. I have a few hard copies available too.

Feeling a bit twisted myself this morning, fixing a gazillion small things, I decided to see if the rat was around …

Rat twister

Twister forecast

Just when you’d be entitled to think that our PR rat had shuffled on to greener pastures, I find recent evidence of his continued existence. Hard to tell where he is exactly but  I feel sure he’s warbling merrily about the soon-to-be-published novel set in Dunedin one sultry late summer when sinister events are heralded and underscored by a tornado ripping through the city. (All too likely in the current weather weirdness.)

Rat sarongHere’s a little piece of the cover image. More will be unveiled in the coming weeks, along with the facts. For now, title: Twister. Author, Jane Woodham of Dunedin. Genre: multiple. Calling it ‘a mystery’ covers several bases. Available: from November.

Twister morsel
Cover art by Rob West, design by Caroline Pope

In the near future we’ll introduce you to Jane, find out about the writing of Twister, and see what else she gets up to. Meanwhile, you can read entertaining accounts of her trek through the editing process here.

The Year of Falling: Q & A with Janis Freegard

Rosa Mira Books announces the launch today of the ebook edition of Janis Freegard’s smart and touching novel, The Year of Falling, published recently by Mākaro Press. Here Janis talks about its genesis and her writing in general.

Would you say a little about writing The Year of Falling? — how it came about, any places/people/anecdotes associated?

I started writing The Year of Falling about six years ago. Smith, the older sister, was a character I’d written about many years ago when I was trying to write a novel, but unfortunately I didn’t make it past chapter 3. I really liked her as a character, though, so I put her into The Year of Falling.

Year of falling front copy

I’ve always wanted to write a novel. I had several false starts before taking Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel-writing class at the IIML at Victoria University of Wellington in 2007 — a six-week, two-mornings-a-week class, that really helped me to keep up the momentum and finally finish something. When I couldn’t find a publisher for that first novel, I started on the next, which became The Year of Falling.

I wrote TYOF like a patchwork quilt — I’d write a few sections at the start, then I’d do a bit towards the end, then something in the middle. It emerged gradually and there was a lot of rewriting — informed by helpful advice from Norman Bilbrough (my mentor through the New Zealand Society of Authors) and the writing group I belong to. Several characters and  plot-lines and an entire lyrical sequence involving Norse mythology didn’t make it into the draft I eventually sent to Mākaro Press. They were the first and only publisher I sent it to and I was delighted when Mary phoned to say she’d like to take it on.

Selina’s flat is based on a flat I used to live in, although in my case I had the downstairs flat of a two-storey house rather than a stand-alone place at the bottom of a long garden. And there was no absinthe-sipping elderly landlady who used to be a magician’s assistant.

A number of the details are real — the ostrich performing his territorial dance is a real ostrich who lives in the hills of Brooklyn and some of the sections set in Iceland and the UK draw on holidays I’ve taken with Peter (my partner). We both loved Iceland and some of our experiences — staying at Hotel Vik, the ferry trip to Viðey Island, the visit to an ice lagoon — I used for the novel. We also visited the remarkable Barter Books in Alnwick (in England) which also made its way in, and a friend recognised her mum’s house in Holloway Road from the description in the book. So places are often real, but characters and events are imaginary.internet res-8540

Are there writers whose work or way-of-being you draw/have drawn on recently for encouragement or inspiration?

I’m inspired by anyone who manages to write a book! One of my favourite writers is Jean Watson, who died late last year. I remember, back in the eighties, reading one of her books outside the public library and thinking I’d like to be like her.

Reading books by writer friends I’ve met through courses or writing groups is also inspiring — like Bianca Zander’s The Predictions, Sarah Laing’s The Fall of Light, Anna Jackson’s I Clodia and Mary Cresswell’s Fish Stories. I also find poet/novelists inspiring, like the wonderful Anne Kennedy.

What are your current writing challenges?

I generally work on poetry and fiction at the same time, switching between the two. I’m currently working on another novel (again, it’s contemporary New Zealand fiction) and two long poem sequences that, together, could form a book. I have every second Friday off work as my writing day, so I use that (and usually part of the weekend) to keep chipping away at my writing projects.

nick's bday

 

Fits and starts

I suppose as long as the blog keeps having them (fits and starts, especially starts) all is well, even if they arrive weeks apart. Next week (probably) I’ll add the digital version of Peace Warriors to Rosa Mira’s bookshelf-shop. One day last summer, while the author Raymond Huber was galloping around the lawn with grandson and super-soaker, my brother Hugh was inspired to snatch up his drawing pen …

Raymond: peace warrior
Peace Warrior

The lower limbs are uncannily ‘correct’ and have been replicated in miniature on the latest grandson. And of course the ‘super-soaker’ is a replica in miniature of the one that was applied to Dunedin this week.

Meanwhile, ‘What a valuable little book!’ a recent reader exclaimed.

More soon.

 

A bit of a family affair

I launched this new version of the Rosa Mira Books site while off in the Blue Mountains — with the help of my brother Hugh Todd, who also designed the new header. Then I went pretty much offline, without telling you what’s (almost) up. As soon as the author is back in his home town, we’ll launch the digital version of Peace Warriors. My mother read it last week. ‘I wish we’d had a book like this when I was young,’ she said, reflecting that little was said in her school or household about fighting or its alternatives, even though her father fought in the Somme and came to hate war. It’ll be a terrific resource in schools and adults I know who’ve read it have been moved (some to tears) by the potent accounts of those who’ve gone against the grain of their cultures and waged peace.

At the risk of turning this into Family Pages (yes, I did marry the abovementioned author, too), below is a representation of Can Serrat in Catalonia by our daughter Alex Huber, which is being worked into the cover image for a digital reprint of my memoir Digging for Spain, a writer’s journey,  for which I’ve had many grateful responses over the years. (Hard copies are still available via the link above.)

IMG

I like to think there’s a story already sealed within each of us. Some of us take a long time to uncover, decipher and assent to it. We start our search when we find that the stories we’ve attached ourselves to prove no longer accurate, their themes too limited … I’m talking about the midlife  quest we’re invited on when all we’ve abandoned or ignored of our earlier impulses towards life begin to clamour for attention. … I knew I was in some kind of trouble the day my finger started jumping.

But honestly, (almost) all the other books published this year by Rosa Mira will be extrafamilial.