Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Q & A with Jane Bailey

1.    Did you always dream of being a writer?
Yes – or an artist.

2.    How did your writing career develop?
Slowly! I’ve always written, but I discovered the Arvon Foundation creative writing courses in the 1990s. One of my tutors there was Beryl Bainbridge who sent my first novel to an agent friend of hers. That was when I had my first break with a two-book deal, and I’ve been writing ever since. I’ve had three two-book deals now, all with different publishers, and there have been rejections in between. You do have to be driven.

3.    Your newest novel is calledLark Song,what is it about?
It’s about £4.99 from Amazon. (Sorry!) I always find this question hard. It’s loosely based on Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’, but instead of a young woman dealing with the memories of her husband’s amazing dead wife, here we have Duncan, trying to deal with his lover’s wonderful dead husband, Reuben. Instead of the evil housekeeper Mrs Danvers, we have the hostility of Freya’s three children and – worst of all - the dead husband’s mother.

4.    What was your inspiration for the book?
I’d recently married a widower and it got me thinking about how a deceased spouse can be loved legitimately, whereas no one would tolerate a lover who was not over an ex-partner. This brought to mind Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’, as I’ve mentioned, and I’ve always been fascinated by the impact a character can make who isn’t actually there. So I started playing with the idea of a modern version with a twist, where a hapless male divorcee is tormented by a larger-than-life dead rival. 

5.    Can you tell us more about the main character(s)?
The two main protagonists are Duncan and Freya. Duncan has insecurities which only gradually come to light and, in his determination not to be ‘second best’, he starts to delve obsessively into Reuben’s past, only to come across shocking secrets which present him with a terrible dilemma. Freya is stumbling through single motherhood after the death of her husband, but it is Duncan and her children who reveal the true nature of her marriage. In this respect I think the most important character is Sophie, the six-year-old daughter, who pulls out her eyelashes. She is the one who sees the truth before anyone else, and she is punishing herself for what she knows. I think it is often small children - who may appear to be odd or dysfunctional - who act as the emotional litmus paper in families. They’re usually just trying to work out how the truth fits with what is being presented.

6.    Where and when do you write your stories?
On the sofa. It’s terrible for posture, I know, but I love to be warm and comfy. Having said that, I can write anywhere: train stations, waiting rooms, hillsides, car parks. But my choice would be the sofa every time.

7.    What do you do and enjoy when you’re not writing?
I like to read, walk with my daughters and husband, draw and watch TV dramas. My husband and I often share a book and read aloud to each other. I have also been writer-in-residence for several years for First Story, a charity that promotes creative writing in schools serving low-income areas. Working with young people is very rewarding, and makes me think about the process of writing, which I wouldn’t normally do. 

8.    If you could switch places with a characters from a book, who would it be and why?
Well, I think every time we read we switch places with the characters, in that we put ourselves in their shoes for the duration of the book. I can’t think of any character I would like to switch places with for any longer than that, largely because we give our poor characters such obstacles to overcome all the time, in order to make the story work, and I don’t think I want any more obstacles!

9.    What books have influenced your life most? 
My mother was awarded ‘Pride and Prejudice’ as a school prize, and it was the only novel in our house when I was growing up. I was bowled over when I first read it. I can remember taking it everywhere with me and treasuring it. A novel I find perfectly formed is Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, which had quite an impact on me for its observations on prejudice at all levels, and for its wonderful child’s voice.

10.What are you working on at the moment?
I always feel it’s jinxed if I talk about a novel too early. Suffice to say it is about a very contemporary issue.

11.What do you enjoy most about writing?
It involves a lot of daydreaming and I’ve always loved daydreaming. I suppose what I like most is making some sort of sense out of chaos, trying to shape things. When things fall into place there is a huge sense of pleasure.

12.Pick three authors you want to have dinner with and tell us why.
Alice Munro for her metaphors, Michael Frayn for his humour and Ann Tyler for her compassion. Could Elizabeth Strout came along as well?

13.Imagine Lark Song  would be turned into a movie, who would you cast for the main characters?
Crumbs. Maybe someone like James McAvoy for Duncan. Maybe the actress Jessie Buckley, who I can just see in the role. Or perhaps Elizabeth Knowleden, who did a brilliant job on the audio for this book.

14.Last year you published What Was Rescued, can you tell us more about it?
I had been interested in evacuation ever since my third novel, ‘Tommy Glover’s Sketch of Heaven’, for which I interviewed so many people about their own wartime experiences. When I read the story of the sinking of the evacuee ship, The City of Benares, I thought it would make a wonderful setting for a story. So in What Was Rescued, four children meet on a train on their way to a ship which will take them to the safety of Canada. When the ship is struck by a German torpedo, one of the children makes a choice which will determine the rest of their lives. This character has a secret, and she thinks it went down with the ship. But as they grow up and a heart-rending love triangle develops, the secret is bound to come out.

15.How do your own experiences influence your writing?
I think I tend to draw far more on my own emotional experiences than on direct experiences. 

16.Coffee or tea? 
Tea (very weak and lots of it). I love hearing the kettle boil.

17.Paperback or e-reader? 

18.Mountains or the sea?
 Sea (but I couldn’t live without hills).

19.Summer or winter? 
Winter – for writing.

20.Sweet or salty?

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