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a year of writing (and living) dangerously.

Wow, isn’t 2018 flying by?

So we are in June. And all I can see is my blog looking shockingly empty.

I have a good excuse, I swear! I have spent the first part of this year finishing my novel, LIKE, and hopefully, by the end of this month, I will have a complete first draft ready to edit.

“But Eleanor,” I hear you cry, “didn’t you already finish LIKE?”

Well yeah, I did, but after sending it to a few good friends and a few honest agents, I realised there were major issues with my plot (mainly, nothing much happened in the second half) and characters (mainly, the only interesting one was my main one).

It happens to us all. Although LIKE is not the first book I have written, it is the first literary book I have ever attempted, and also I was drawn into the whole, artsy, it’s okay not to plan or plot milieu. Which may work for some people, but definitely didn’t for me. At least for this book.

So I spent the first four months of this year embedding myself in theory and my characters, and now have a novel where something actually happens. Revolutionary, I know.

via GIPHY

Reaching this stage was only possible by switching off the social media and getting lost in my own thoughts, but now, I am ready to hit the real world again with a vengeance!

What else have I been up to?

At the beginning of this year, I quit my job to start freelancing full time, which was a big change! I am really enjoying the challenge of being my own boss.

The best thing about this change is it has allowed me to have loads of adventures such as moving home to Wales and learning loads of outdoor skills. I have even more planned for this summer, including walking the entire Beacons Way and volunteering at the Green Man festival.

So if anyone you know is looking for a content writer for their business, hit me up! You can find my business website and contact info here. I also release content and marketing specific posts on the blog there every week so if you are interested in that please do check it out.

What’s coming up?

So, a few posts coming up on this blog –

  • What’s up with Twitter these days? Making the most of the platform in 2018.
  • Pretty up your Instagram feed with tips for those who are better with words than white-balance.
  • Is Facebook as dead as everyone keeps telling you it is?

Also, there will be lots pretty pictures of Wales and much talk about what’s new in the industry.

2018 for the win! (Pleeease?!)

the whatsapp interviews – james glaholm

The WhatsApp Interviews are a series of chats between me and other writers. We talk about reading and writing habits and preferences and throw in a few quickfire questions. All on WhatsApp!

This week I am interviewing James Glaholm, a writer from Newcastle who has completed his first novel and is currently working on a mysterious second project.

What is your elevator pitch for your first novel?

James: Cool, quirky, southern teenager must adapt to life in her father’s native Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where some people are enticed by her and others are rather jealous.

Have you ever thought about which actors would play your main characters if your book was made into a movie/tv show?

James Glaholm: I have, I’d love Jennifer Lawrence to be involved but there is no character her age in the story. I think because the majority of characters are Geordie and,
a. There aren’t many Geordie actors.
b. A lot of the characters look like people I know, it’s hard to imagine any actors in it. Perhaps Shane Ritchie as Uncle Isaac, maybe the guy who plays Combo in This is England as Roger – I reckon he’d do a good Geordie accent! But a lot of my characters are quite young, so anyone acting as my characters would have to be fairly unknown just because of their age! But I always picture it as a bit of an indie film anyway!

How do you choose the names of your characters?

James Glaholm: Normally just random, sometimes I will have a character in my head I want to write about, but other times, when a protagonist encounters another character, I just think one at random and usually end up sticking with it. I think names that make for good nicknames are helpful too.

I know our protagonists have the same name! Sorry about that!

James Glaholm: You fucking should be 😝

Does writing energise or exhaust you?

James Glaholm: Usually energise, I always try to end at a point where I’m excited to write what happens next, so I’m eager to go back to it. But I try to write things I’d like to read so usually I enjoy it. I think that is why my descriptions of places aren’t the best.

What are your ambitions for your writing career?

James Glahom: I think to have a collection of books where each is different, very different from the others. I’d like to be known as a feminist writer. And a kind of ‘champion of domesticity’. I also think representing the north would be a big one for me.

What kind of research do you do, and do you do it before starting a novel?

James Glaholm: I don’t usually do research, I write what I know. But little things I research. One thing that irritates me is I never know about architecture. You know how Tessa Hadley will say like ‘Georgian houses’ and stuff? I’m like, how do you know that?!

Do you have any unfinished books or stories sitting on your computer?

James Glaholm: Yes. One that I am working on and a few lost causes.

Ooh, can I ask what you are working on or is it a secret?

James Glaholm: I’m calling it a ‘project’ because I’m not ready to commit to another novel. But the idea is something that happens over one night and most of it is the past but the start and end take place on one night.

Do you subscribe to any magazines or journals?

I don’t actually, I did buy the Writers & Artists Yearbook, I think you are the reason I got it.

What does your writing schedule look like?

James Glaholm: Ermm. At the moment it’s as and when. In the last few weeks I’ve moved and started a new job, but as things calm down I hope to get more of a routine.

Okay, we are going to move on to some reading questions. What is the first book that made you cry?

I have never cried at a book, but two that came close is a Tim O’Brien extract where a soldier in Vietnam kills a buffalo (I think it’s a buffalo) by shooting pieces of its body away slowly. And in Perks of Being a Wallflower where the teacher asks him whether he knows how great he is. Great scene.

Are there any authors or books you disliked at first but grew into?

James Glaholm: Wuthering Heights, that starts quite slowly. The Left Hand of Darkness.  American psycho. It’s usually old books.

What is your favourite under-appreciated novel?

I read a book called The Bricks that Built the Houses over summer and I think that deserves to be massive. I guess certain books make you wonder why books, in general, aren’t as famous as they should be.

James Glaholm: What is your favourite childhood book?

James Glaholm: I didn’t read much as a child so it’d have to be a Harry Potter. I read Submarine when I was 17/18 and that kind of opened my eyes to how books could be. It’s set in Wales and is brilliant!

What is the best piece of writing advice you have ever been given?

James Glaholm: It wasn’t given directly to me but I remember Fay Weldon saying ‘it’s not about being something, it’s about doing something’. And in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, there is the bit where he’s told to write the kind of thing he’d like to read. Which I might have mentioned earlier. I also think the classic ‘show, don’t tell’ has merit.

Okay, final question before we go into the quickfire round. So the first WhatsApp interview was with Jehan Nizar, and she gave me the following question to ask you.
If you had to pick one person off the course who is to be the Muse for your next novel, who would it be and why?

James Glaholm: There are so many inspirational people. Maybe Jehan herself for coming up with such a good question. And I think she’d make for excellent dialogue. And drama! But I think everyone was inspirational in their own way.

Quickfire! Don’t think, just answer! Tea or Coffee?

James Glaholm: Coffee

Planner or Spontaneous?

James Glaholm: Spontaneous

Series or Standalone?

James Glaholm: Standalone. Every time. Unless its Gerard Woodward.

Going Out or Staying In?

James Glaholm: Going out

Burger or Pizza?

James Glaholm: Pizza

Male or Female protagonist?

James Glaholm: Female

If you could time-travel, would you go to the Past or Future?

James Glaholm: Future

Morning or Night?

James Glaholm: Morning.

Introvert or Extrovert

James Glaholm: Introvert. Except on the page.

Cats or Dogs?

James Glaholm: Dogs.

Romance or Horror?

James Glaholm: Romance.

Twitter or Instagram?

James Glaholm: Instaaaa!

Finally: Can you give me a question for me to ask the next WhatsApp interviewee?

James Glaholm: Yeah sure. I’ll go with, ‘Tell me about the first time you realised to wanted to write something, not to write in general but about a specific thing that captured you’.

Ooh, what a fantastic question! Thank you so much for joining me for the Whatsapp interviews today James! You have been absolutely fantastic!

James Glaholm: Thank you. You are very welcome! It’s been fun.

If you would like to keep up with everything James is doing and writing, follow him on Twitter or Instagram.

dangerous wo(man) – a story prompt that requires a little precarious activity

This was a prompt that was first suggested to me by a tutor at Bath Spa, novelist, critic and journalist Philip Hensher. I used it so much I dubbed it Dangerous Woman.

A woman with red hair walking down a busy street with the overlay " dangerous woman - a story prompt that requires a little precarious activity

Please use at your own risk.

All you have to do is follow someone.

Try to follow them for as long as possible without them noticing you. If you think they are suspicious, follow them for one more road before turning off. Don’t get yourself into trouble, this creative prompt only works if the person is completely unsuspecting.

When you arrive at their destination, don’t stop and study the place, keep on walking. You don’t want to get arrested. Remember, if you use this prompt, the law is not on your side! It is definitely probably illegal.

Try to figure out what their clothes and the way they walk tell you about the sort of person they are. Where might they be going?

If it is early morning, perhaps they are walking to their office? What sort of job do they do? Are they high up in the company or just starting out? Are they relaxed or tense? Do they like their job?

If you are following them in the afternoon, maybe they are going home. Do they live in a flat or a detached house? Are they going home to a family or flatmates? Will they have a home-cooked meal when they get there?

If you are following someone at night? Maybe don’t do that! This is a creative prompt, not a death wish!

I call it Dangerous Woman for a reason – it could be dangerous!

If the person looks dangerous or like they could be up to no good, stop following them. Be aware at all times of your surroundings.

Be aware at all times of your surroundings.

Don’t take unnecessary risks.

Where do they end up?

One of the most interesting things is when someone surprises you and don’t go into the building you expected. Try to think if there was anything in their behaviour or something they were wearing that should have tipped you off to this.

Once you have finished following them, go straight to a table or bench and write the whole thing down as quickly as you can.

Once you are finished, try to imagine how this character will spend the rest of their day or even their week. What would it look like if something interrupted their schedule? How would they react? Write it down.

Some Tips

  • Choose someone who isn’t walking too fast for you. Hurrying down a street after a businessman speedwalking to a meeting is not my idea of a fun morning.
  • If they go into Marks and Spencers, give up the game. That place is a maze and always, in every store, there are at least three different exits. You have no chance.
  • If you have another friend who would understand, text them and let them know where you are and who you are following. Just in case.
  • Practice will help you get better at this. The first few times I tried it I either lost the person in a crowd or was scared I was making them suspicious. It took me a few goes to actually follow someone all the way to their office.

If you liked this, why not check out my double diamond method? It is a much safer story prompt!

The Friday56 342 – Hot Milk

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice, it involves sharing a small excerpt from the book you are currently reading every Friday and then posting a link to the linky hosted on her site. This week I chose Hot Milk by Deborah Levy.

Rules:

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your e-reader
(If you have to improvise, that’s ok.)
*Find any sentence, (or a few, just don’t spoil it)
*Post it.
*Add your (URL) post in Linky. Add the post URL, not your blog URL.
*It’s that simple.

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy

An image for Friday56 showing a girl in a bikini, the book cover, a medusa jellyfish and the quote, "When I looked under the table again, I saw a tiny prick of blood on her ankle. She had definitely felt that claw dig into her skin." I am just over halfway through Hot Milk and the whole book so far has made me feel like I have entered another person’s dream. It is disorientating and unfamiliar but I absolutely cannot put it down.

The novel is set in a beach town in Spain, the main character is half Greek and half English. It is a twisted coming of age tale, an exploration of truth and identity. The wandering prose and general oddness of the characters are unsettling and yet there’s somehow some familiarity, enough to like the main character, Sofia, and her angry relationship with seamstress Ingrid Bauer. Who incidentally has a partner called Matthew, but still stitches a shirt for Sofia that may or may not have the word beloved on it. Then there is the student that works in the medical hut, Juan, who Sofia might have feelings for. But if the feelings are there, they are confused and constantly undermined by Sofia’s mother, Rose’s wishes.

“When I looked under the table again, I saw a tiny prick of blood on her ankle. She had definitely felt that claw dig into her skin.”

The sentence I chose for Friday 56 sums up what the book seems to be about, at least up to the part I have read. Sofia and Rose are not on holiday in Spain, they are here to find a cure for Rose’s mysterious paralysis, that surely must be hypochondria developed to keep her daughter at her side. They are in Spain to find answers from the mysterious Mr Gomez who may be a Quack, with his strange questions and practices. He runs the clinic that is housed in a white marble dome and there is no mention of other patients.

There is an underlying tone of menace throughout the novel. The clinic walls are graffitied, but Gomez lies to Sofia about the words that were sprayed onto its white exterior. Ingrid seems to gather Sofia closer even as she pushes her away and the jellyfish, called Medusas in Spanish, provide a current of tension and pain throughout the book. I am excited to find out what happens to Sofia and the rest of the cast in this wonderfully opaque novel.

Check out my last Friday56 post!

words of the week – grief

I have had, let’s say a bad week, and as a result plan on hibernating for the rest of this month, saving up some moneys, reading all the books and finishing the first season of Outlander.

This week I have chosen words relating to grief.

The first word is

Bewail -to express great regret, sadness, or disappointment about (something)

The second word is

Dolour -a state of great sorrow or distress.

The third word is

Dirge – a lament for the dead, especially one forming part of a funeral rite.

Dirge – a mournful song, piece of music, or sound.

Dirge – a song or piece of music that is considered too slow, miserable, or boring.

I am not explaining my choice this week. But I like these words and feel they are appropriate.

how i find inspiration for stories using the double diamond method

The Double Diamond design process model was developed through in house research by the Design Council in 2005 as a simple way of describing the design process. It is a structured design approach to tackle challenges in four phases, Discovery, Definition, Development and Delivery.

This is a method I came across at the design agency I work at; it is the way they come up with ideas for campaigns. The Double Diamond encourages you to think wide before narrowing in on an option. I find it really useful when I am writing a story for a competition that has a narrow theme, it forces inspiration and helps me to beat the “blank-page” syndrome.
An image showing the four stages of the double diamond process, Discovery, Definition, Development and Delivery

I have tweaked this design tool a bit (a lot) to work for story writing so it goes a bit like this. Let’s start with an example. Here is a competition from a magazine I subscribe to. The theme is food, which is quite broad.


Discover:

Write down everything you can think of that relates to the theme of the story, even if it seems like it might be useless. If a word pops into your head, write it down. I find it useful to impose a five-minute time limit here. Lots of the things you write down will be personal; they will be objects that already have stories.

For example, in the page above, the words Sewen, Spaghetti Bolognese and Mince Pies might not mean much to other people. Why those foods? Well, Sewen is what the Welsh call sea trout and my Dad was a keen fisherman. I was brought up learning how to gut and prepare sea trout for dinner.

Spaghetti Bolognaise was what my mum cooked every time my cousins came over because she knew they liked it, but now they think a visit to my parents’ house isn’t complete without it.

And Mince Pies? Well, my best childhood friend and I would make them every year. I have tried to make them in recent years without her, but my crust is always too hard, or they burst, or just don’t taste right. I cannot make them properly without her.

All three foods bring back very specific memories of my childhood kitchen.

Define:

Start joining the words together, do any of them relate to each other? Can you see any stories begin to stem from them? Keep going until you have linked most of the words to at least one other word.

Now you can start crossing the words out but don’t rub them out, use a single line through the middle so you can still see what the word says.

Each of the lines I have here in different colours is a different memory or experience, the words fit together to remind me of something. Some of the words fit together in a way I would not have thought about before seeing them on the page, for example, the mince pies and the Welsh cakes my Nan used to make. I circled these in the same colour, as even though the two memories are not directly related, they are both memories from my childhood.

So you can see, this process has brought about many different points of inspiration, just from the second part. However, I can’t just write these experiences down. I need to further develop them.

Develop:

Choose two or three of the ideas and create characters that could live in these worlds. If the idea is a character, create a world that character could occupy. You should think about the conflict of the story at this stage.

For my first idea, I combined the mince pie story with the welsh cakes, as the welsh cakes open other memories, my Nan cooking them before we came over to her house, and when she had important guests she would sprinkle them with sugar.

Deliver:

Choose the most promising idea and write the first paragraph. If it feels right, finish the story. But it has to feel right after the first paragraph. You can’t give up after the second or third, once you commit, finish it. If you get stuck, go back to your original cloud of words and choose a word that didn’t connect with your original idea. Work this word into your story. Edit the story.

Result

This brainstorm session resulted in a story that I entered into the competition above. One of my ambitions for this year is to enter more short story competitions (not hard seeing as last year I didn’t enter a single one) so I am really pleased that this is my second competition entry. I am not expecting anything but I hope to enter at least six more by December.

I really like this other visual representation I found of the Double Diamond.

Note: I don’t use this method every time. Very often a story just happens, I start writing and the plot develops organically, but for a competition that has a very narrow theme, I find this method helps to broaden the story I want to write, keeping it fresh and interesting.

taffy is the new dating app that prioritises conversations over selfie skills

Taffy is a dating and friending mobile app that connects users to people around them, with one unique twist: profile pics are blurry until you start a conversation.
The graphic for the dating app Taffy, showing how the blurry images look with their catchy headlines.

The chat-first app lets you scroll through profiles with blurry pictures and catchy headlines. Images slowly reveal through actively chatting with a person. The more you say, the more you see.

An example of a chat where the image of the other user is slowly becoming clearer.
It currently takes ten chat exchanges to mutually reveal users’ selfies, but Taffy says their proprietary algorithm will soon account for the quality of the conversation.
There are six categories to choose from so you can decide whether you want to meet the love of your life, just a hookup, or are looking to make friends. You can even choose the category advice because asking advice from strangers on the internet is always a good idea.
The categories you can choose form in the dating app Taffy, which are, Love, Friends, Hookup, Advice, Chat and Whatever
Taffy is free and currently available for iOS, but the company plans to release a version for Android soon.
Is this a fantastic idea or really creepy and weird? Let me know in the comments below! Personally, I think this is great and would love to try it when it hits the UK.

swearing in books – why writers shouldn’t be afraid of swearing

I have written things in my life that have made a lot of people very angry, who have left comments letting me know how angry they are. But one thing that really gets on my nerves are comments about swearing. Here is an example.

“By the way, I would suggest that you try a little harder to avoid foul language if you have serious aspirations of becoming a professional writer. Resorting to profanities is both unbecoming and unnecessary.”

Apart from the obvious grasping at straws from this commenter, who couldn’t find a real reason to disagree with my post, I disagree with this sentiment. I feel that limiting our language and being unable to use words is restricting to us as writers and as such, swearing is wholly necessary. And so I decided to do a little more research into this and explore the world of swearing and writing.

A short disclaimer before you read any further. There’s a time and a place for swearing. In front of children, in a place of work or around people you know will find it offensive (my parents/grandparents come to mind) is not the time or place. The reasons we swear define us as individuals. If you swear only to cause unnecessary offence to people, that isn’t saying very much about you! Swear words are powerful, and we should use them when there are no other words to express our anger.

Some Interesting Facts About Swearing.

Swearing acts as a hypoalgesic. A study at Keele University found that swearing increased pain tolerance and decreased perceived pain compared with not swearing.

It makes you feel stronger. The same study found that swearing downplays people’s weaknesses to make them seem stronger than they are. Which could be interesting to read into, like, people who swear aren’t as strong as they seem…but let’s face it, when you are really scared or angry, sometimes hiding your weakness does do you some good!

Films with swearing are more engaging. A lecturer from the University of Sydney, Monika Bednarek, examined television hits in the US and realised that shows with more swearing got more hits.

People in the “rising middle class” use less profanity. Medieval literature expert Melissa Mohr explained that they typically swear the least because of the idea that you are in control of your language and your deportment, and therefore are aware of social rules.  The upper classes meanwhile have been shown to swear more as they have a secure position in society, so they can say whatever they want.

Obscene words weren’t such a big deal in the middle ages. Sexual and excremental words were not as charged as people lived in much closer quarters, often sharing the same beds and using toilets at the same time. They were far more open about their bodies and so the mention of them was less scandalous.

So should authors swear?

Well…that depends. Are you writing for children or young adults? Then definitely not! It won’t even get published. Are you writing literary fiction, or historical fiction? Again, might be best to stay clear, unless your character has a really good reason. Are you writing new adult, detective or war novels? Go for it! Swear and cuss.

Basically, what I’m saying, is do what is right for your audience, for your character and for your genre. But most importantly? Do what is right for you! I personally am a huge fan of swear words and I am writing a new adult book about a girl in her mid twenties who is a compulsive liar. She swears. A lot. But there are characters in the book who don’t swear at all, and as I am writing in third person limited, the only swearing is in dialogue. Otherwise, I write “Erica swore”.

How to swear in novels

  • Generally, I would advise you to limit swearing to dialogue. If you are writing in first person, you will have more leeway with this rule, as basically the whole book is a dialogue with the reader, the character has to come through with every word. But in third person, the narrator is another character, but really should be an invisible character. If the narrative is too colourful, it will jolt the reader out of the story and they will remember they are not in the book.
  • Stick to your guns. Lest you end up like poor Norman Mailer, who, on the advice of his editor, changed the word fuck to fug throughout his book, The Naked and the Dead. The book was about men at war, and so the word “fug” occurred a lot. This gave rise to the anecdote about the time Tallulah Bankhead met Mailer and said, “Oh, you’re the man who can’t spell that word.”  If you are going to include swear words, include swear words. Expect criticism, and then brush it off. If they don’t like the swearing, they probably won’t like other themes that a swearer is likely to have introduced in their novel. Write to please one person, not the whole world.
  • Don’t feel pressured into swearing. You must be true to yourself, if you dislike swearing, don’t use it, even if your main character is a street hardened drug dealer. It will come across as disingenuous, because swearing, my friend, is an art!

Some of my favourite quotes about swearing

“When angry, count four. When very angry, swear.”
Mark Twain

“How do people, like, not curse? How is it possible? There are these gaps in speech where you just have to put a “fuck.” I’ll tell you who the most admirable people in the world are: newscasters. If that was me, I’d be like, “And the motherfuckers flew the fucking plane right into the Twin Towers.” How could you not, if you’re a human being? Maybe they’re not so admirable. Maybe they’re robot zombies.”
Nick Hornby, A Long Way Down

“Life’s disappointments are harder to take when you don’t know any swear words.”
Bill Watterson

And my absolute favourite? From a children’s trilogy I thoroughly recommend-

“Charlie wanted to swear. ****, he thought, remembering how his father had told him that one reason you shouldn’t swear is because then when you really need a strong word to express a strong feeling you would have none strong enough left.”

Zizou Corder, Lionboy

Happy swearing everyone!

the whatsapp interviews – jehan nizar

The WhatsApp Interviews are a series of chats between me and other writers. We talk about reading and writing habits and preferences and throw in a few quickfire questions. All on WhatsApp!

This week I am interviewing Jehan Nizar, an Indian short story writer who lives in Dubai!

What is your elevator pitch for your work in progress?

Jehan: Wow! Now that’s a tough one … I always find it hard to summarise the premise of my entire book into a few succinct sentences but I’ll give it a go … My manuscript is basically a collection of short stories that would fall into the broad genre of diaspora fiction. It’s titled The Pool House and Other Stories and is about the lives and relationships of modern diasporic Indians like myself who constantly straddle two conflicting worlds – one westernised and the other tinged by an “Indianness” they often struggle to come to terms with.

Have you ever thought of which actors would play your main characters?

Jehan: You know it’s interesting you should ask that because although I’ve never thought of my stories in terms of the cast, I have been able to see them being translated into a visual medium. Here’s the thing, Indian actors in Hollywood have always seemed to me quite stereotyped and I sometimes cringe at the way they’re portrayed.

So to answer your question, no. I can’t think of an established name. I’d pick someone realistic. A young British Indian or American Indian … maybe even someone who’s never acted before. A living, breathing young person whose angst and feelings of alienation would actually translate into the role.

How do you choose the names of your characters?

Jehan: With some of my characters the names seem natural and I write the stories with these names in mind. Other times, it’s more of a struggle. I often write the whole story with an elusive she/ he or the infuriating Xxxx, believe it or not! Then I let the story breathe for a while and mull over a name … try them on in my head until they feel right. Do you remember how recently I was discussing a story with you and was excited because I had come up with a name for my female character and it just felt like she couldn’t be anybody else except a Fathima, short for Fatty.

Eleanor: Oh yeah, I can’t wait to read that story! It sounds fantastic!

Does writing energise or exhaust you?

Hard to give you a concrete answer. It sometimes feels like an infuriating love-hate relationship. But what I will tell you is that nothing comes close to the way you feel when you fill up the first empty page on a Word document. That invincible feeling of having sorted out this concrete jungle of botched up sentences in your head and then the beautiful alchemy of putting them all together, like the pieces of a puzzle.

Eleanor: Ooh yeah, I feel you!

Jehan: I’ve always said I was dyslexic with numbers, but I sometimes feel like writing is just like math. We, as writers, fix problems all the time.
Of our characters, their lives, and then the prose itself at a microscopic structural level.

Eleanor: I can really feel that when I read your writing! It takes you into the characters lives in such a microscopic way.

What are your ambitions for your writing career?

Jehan: I’m such a laid back person that sometimes I think I really need to be more self-driven. When I started the MA being published was not really something I had thought about. I joined the course to write for the sake of it and to hone my skill. Things have changed a lot now. When I turned in that 30,000 word complete manuscript in September it was the first time I was able to entertain the possibility of myself as a living, breathing “real” writer. Since I’ve only written short stories so far and that seems to be the form that comes most naturally to me I’d say I would LOVE LOVE to be published in The New Yorker and Granta first – as most of the people I look up to seem to have gone down that route too – and then have the full manuscript published. The dream, of course, is to have my first collection published in its entirety.

Leading on from that, What would literary success look like for you? Like what one thing would mean you had “made it”

Jehan: For starters, getting representation by an established literary agent who believed in my ultimate vision for my book. Baby steps.  🙂

What kind of research do you do, and do you do it before starting a story?

Jehan: So I’ve never been a very factual writer but two stories in my collection have involved a fair bit of research. One is called Dancing in the Dark and is set between London and a Kathakali dance school in Kerala. I read up about the dance form on the Internet and also watched a documentary or two to get insights into the subtle nuances and intricacies of Kathakali. I also had to do some basic research to nail the setting in London and make it feel authentic, which I hope comes across when I talk about a Sri Lankan restaurant in Wembley or the protagonist’s slightly grotty flat in Elephant and Castle.

The other story I had to do some homework for was one set against the backdrop of an atmospheric family-owned Parsi Cafe in Mumbai. It was important to nail the quirks of the Parsi community, and make it feel real right from the “colony” the protagonists live in to their pop culture references.

Okay, time to be honest! Do you have any unfinished books or stories sitting on your computer?

Jehan: Erghhh, can we skip this one, please! Okay, maybe just one. I’ve been terrible about writing since I’ve finished the MA. I want about 2 weeks off from life, in general, to just sit down and write.

Do you subscribe to any magazines or journals?

Jehan: I do not. The one thing I will commend myself for this year is being much better about reading. I’ve read heaps of quality stuff and I like to think of it all as “research”.

Eleanor: I know you read the New Yorker online because you have sent me short stories from it.

When you are actively working on something, what does your writing schedule look like?

Jehan: Mmmm. I think a couple of hours at a stretch with lots of mini breaks in between. I’ll write about five lines, feel mighty accomplished with myself and treat myself to a sandwich or do some other equally distracting thing. I like to believe it all balances out in the end.

Eleanor: Ha, yes! So it isn’t just me!

Jehan: Definitely not! I mean, we both know what our writing dates together were like!

Okay, we are gonna move on to some fun reading questions! What is the first book or story that made you cry? I said fun, right?

Jehan: Ha! A Walk to Remember I think, which is a very cringe-worthy confession. Let’s pretend I never said/read that.

Are there any authors or books you disliked at first but grew into?

Jehan: O m g, yes! The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. I think the first time I read it I was too young to appreciate it but then I reread it just before I joined the course and devoured it. More recently, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. Took me a good 100 pages to get fully stuck into but boy was it worth the read. NEVER before has a book made me feel all those emotions. It is a real modern literary masterpiece. Okay, I’m going to stop gushing now.

Eleanor: You can gush over Hanya anytime!

 

What is your favourite under-appreciated book?

Jehan: Well, I don’t know if it is actually under appreciated or I’ve just never heard anyone else talk about it. It’s a collection of short stories called Lucky Girls by Nell Freudenberger. It is a stunning and realistic depiction of life in India and south east Asia by an American writer.

What is your favourite childhood book?

Jehan: So many! Okay, if I have to choose, The Illustrated Mum by Jacqueline Wilson and The Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

What is the best piece of writing advice you have ever been given?

Jehan: Tessa Hadley was my manuscript tutor on the MA programme at Bath Spa and the two pieces of invaluable advice I’ve been given by her were to always plunge your readers right into the scene with some sort of vivid action – which sounds very basic and obvious but is really hard to perfect and secondly, to always think of every scene you’re writing as a scene on a film reel, so you’re kind of giving blow-by-descriptions and a scene-by scene breakdown.

Sometimes you have to take a step back from the scene and allow the readers to think and at other points, you zoom in and focus on the minutiae. These techniques have really defined my writing!

Okay, just a few quickfire questions! Don’t think, just answer!

Jehan: Shoot!

Tea or Coffee?

Jehan: Coffee.

Planner or Spontaneous?

Jehan: Ergh, planner, more, I think.

Series or Standalone?

Jehan: Standalone.

Going Out or Staying In?

Jehan: Both. I really can’t pick.

Male or Female protagonist?

Jehan: Girl power all the way 😃

If you could time-travel, would you go to the Past or Future?

Jehan: The past.

Morning or Night?

Jehan: Morning.

Introvert or Extrovert

Jehan: Extrovert.

Romance or Horror?

Jehan: Romance.

Twitter or Instagram?

Jehan: Insta.

Okay, the last thing, our next WhatsApp interviewee is James Glaholm, can you give me a question to ask him?

Jehan: If you had to pick one person off the course who is to be the Muse for your next novel, who would it be and why 😃 I CANNOT wait to hear what he says 😃

Eleanor: I love it. Perfect!

Thank you so much for joining me for the first ever WhatsApp interview today, Jehan! You’ve been a star!

Jehan: Thanks so much, Ellie! Had an absolute blast doing this.

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Read an extract of Jehan’s work

 

An extract of Jehan’s work.

The Friday56 335

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice, it involves sharing a small excerpt from the book you are currently reading every Friday and then posting a link to the linky hosted on her site. This week I chose Not Working by Lisa Owens.

Rules:

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your e-reader
(If you have to improvise, that’s ok.)
*Find any sentence, (or a few, just don’t spoil it)
*Post it.
*Add your (URL) post in Linky. Add the post URL, not your blog URL.
*It’s that simple.

Not Working by Lisa Owens

A quote from the book Not Working - "'What about teaching?' I ask. Luke is shaving at the sink; I'm perched on the edge of the bath, imagining myself - long skirt, low bun - reading from a huge storybook to spellbound children gathered on a sun-flooded carpet."

I have almost finished reading Not Working and overall I have really enjoyed it. A few things I found a little unrealistic, ( the main character Claire just happens to have bought a house in London with her brain surgeon boyfriend) but if you just accept that this girl is really lucky and has loads of savings, it is a really funny book. I also really appreciate that her boyfriend is a genuinely nice person! I was getting a bit fed up of reading about messed up relationships that seemed to fill the protagonist’s life. There is definitely love-life drama here, but it is all Claire’s fault, not lovely Luke’s! I would quite like to meet a Luke!

I can relate to a lot of what she says, and the quote I chose is one of those sentences that made me laugh, I have definitely been there! Trying to figure out what it is you are meant to be doing is so hard! When searching for a new career, we all tend to romanticise those things we have never done or imagined doing.

“‘What about teaching?’ I ask. Luke is shaving at the sink; I’m perched on the edge of the bath, imagining myself – long skirt, low bun – reading from a huge storybook to spellbound children gathered on a sun-flooded carpet.”

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