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.
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.
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.