Okay, okay, I effed up JA's interview. Well, not the interview, but her name! When you have 2 authors whose initials are JA, that can't be hard to do, right? I mean, I can't be the only one who mixes people up, can I?
Um...maybe you shouldn't answer that question!
Anyway, both the authors took the mix-up very graciously and with good cheer and humor...or it could be that they were being nice about so I'd get my head out of the oven...
Let's not go there.
I'm not totally over my shame and embarrasemet, but let's move on!
Welcome JA Clement, who is just as mah-velous as that "other JA".
1. If you could be any character from any novel for a day, who it would it be and why?
Oh, I’d love to be Jane Eyre; my all-time favourite book. Obviously the happy ending is a bonus, but her journey from being “little, poor and plain” to a fully confident and independent woman in her own right is such a joy to read and experience, especially if you consider the time in which it was written – full kudos to Charlotte Bronte, on several counts!
The poise and self-knowledge Jane has achieved by the end of the book is wonderful; she has been through a lot and discovered her own strength and self-worth in the journey, but has also kept her joy in people and her sense of what other people are worth. I wish it were possible to say the same for all of us! Oh, and I’d quite like to have some words with St John Rivers on the difference between priggish bad manners and what it means to be a good person. I’ve been itching to slap his self-righteous face since the age of seven.
2. Do you plot your novels in advance, or write by the seat of your pants?
Elements of both! I know the start and the end, and a couple of pertinent points in between, but the action has to evolve out of the characters or it doesn’t work for me. I can make them do things but then they go like puppets and all the life comes out of it. No good at all, that. After a while you have to let them do it their own way and sometimes they go somewhere else completely; so I know where I think the story is going to go – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is going to!
3. What is the first book you remember reading that totally took your breath away?
Jane Eyre, again – such vivid emotions and images! I couldn’t believe it. After that, maybe LOTR because I’d never read anything so long and all-engrossing. It wasn’t so gripping and vivid, but I loved the more formal storylines, and the landscapes, which seemed so familiar and like the hills of my childhood. Turns out that Tolkien’s son went to school really near where I grew up, so it’s not impossible that the hill my family refer to as The Lonely Mountain might actually have inspired The Lonely Mountain!! Though I’m not sure that The Hobbit wasn’t already written when the boys got to that school.
4. If your novels were adapted for the silver screen, who would you cast?
Hmmm, interesting. That’s difficult to answer because I don’t have full visuals of their faces in most cases. The characters are too much themselves for me to put someone else’s face on them, I think.
However, I do know where they would need to film.
Although Scarlock itself is a melange of many places, a bit of landscape from Cornwall, a street I saw in Hampshire, a pier and docks from the Yorkshire coast etc, the mood and the feel of it is based on a little fishing village in Northumbria where I’ve spent a bit of time. There’s this beautiful, bleak coast; some of the beaches are smooth white sand, and others dark, pocked pebbles. The village has a little curved harbour, built out of great blocks of stone and huge old beams of wood, all be-greened by the sea. The houses are long and low to the ground, grey limestone walls and roofs of dark purplish slate that shines like silk in the rain.
It’s a landscape of greys and blues and greens and purples, all cloud-colours and sea-colours and harsh grass on the sand-dunes. There’s one particular house whose garden gives onto the beach; when it’s sunny and warm, it’s so beautiful - but mostly it’s misty and a bit chilly and beautiful in an entirely different way. The beach curves round and at the far reach of it, a red stone castle is silhouetted against the silver of sunsparkling water, and there isn’t anything else for a couple of miles at least.
If I could pick up that house and that stretch of beach and the empty fields behind, the harebells on the sand-dunes and the little hardy ponies that wander along the shore; if I could pick all of that up and put it down somewhere less far from my family, that would be my ideal house. The writing I could do there! It would be wonderful...
But I would have to situate it so that the sea didn’t come into the kitchen in the winter storms – I guess that could get old fast!!
5. Nereia is a character who seems to speak to a lot of readers. Will she feature in future books?
Goodness yes! Nereia (pronounced Ner-RAY-a in case you were wondering!) is the pivot on which the whole series swings. She was the character who first came into my mind along with that initial emotion, and “On Dark Shores” is partly the story of her progress from hopelessness to her full potential. There are a lot of other stories going on at the same time, of course – many characters are making their own journey to a better or worse life – but primarily she is the kingpin.
In the first book of the series, “The Lady”, we see Nereia scrabbling to provide a living for herself and her lovely younger sister whilst paying a significant amount of what she earns to the ruthless Copeland, who dominates the entire town and beyond. Nereia’s life is hard and desperate, and Scarlock is in many ways a fairly merciless little town, so it’s all rather bleak and complex at the beginning.
Oddly, although I always knew that there would be a lot of characters and the action would range over a wide area, I never planned that this was going to be such a bleak little book; it was quite a lot darker than intended, by the final edit. The idea is that though Nereia has a long journey to undertake before she reaches fulfilment, that at each stage her circumstances will get a little better in one way or another, so I’m hopeful that future books will have more lighter parts than “On Dark Shores: The Lady”. There is one part in particular, which at the current rate of writing will probably be about Book 5, which will be moderately frothy in places, so I’ve a bit of work to do in order to graduate the mood so that that isn’t too sudden a transition!
But on the plus side, feedback so far is that though book 1 is bleak, it’s intense but not without hope or too dour to read, which is something of a relief!
6. Who is the “On Dark Shores” series written for?
I hope it will be accessible to everyone; but if I had to specify an audience, I’d say it’s written for people who have fairly wide tastes and read in a lot of genres but have never read any fantasy because they think it’s all elves and dragons and magic wands. I’ve tried to make it as gritty and “true” as possible, and I’m hoping that if these readers realise that there is a much wider range of tales in the genre and a much greater variety than basically fairy-tales for grown-ups (which seems to be the predominant stereotype), then maybe they’ll try some of the superb authors whose books are firmly on my shelves, and who have given me so many hours of happy reading.
The idea of introducing people to something new that they wouldn’t otherwise have tried really appeals to me – it’s like opening the door to a treasure-house and saying “Help yourself!” My Mum said for a long time that fantasy just wasn’t her thing. I was reading Robin Hobb’s “Assassin’s Apprentice”, and it was excellent – it felt so visceral and real, that I figured it might appeal to her. Mum agreed to read the first 30 pages, with the proviso that that if she didn’t like it, I wouldn’t be in the least offended if she then left it. Nine books later, she was on Amazon trying to find when the next one was due out, and since then has read and really enjoyed all sorts of stories that she would never have picked up before.
Though I make no claim to be as accomplished a writer as Robin Hobb, I’d love “On Dark Shores” to be one of those stories; and so far I’ve had some very pleasing feedback along those lines. A lot of people have said lovely things about it (and some have hated it, of course) but three or four of my reviewers have said that before they picked up mine they didn’t think they liked fantasy but that having enjoyed “On Dark Shores: The Lady” they are thinking of exploring that genre a little. If 3 people edge into new literary territory because of something I wrote, then I’m over the moon!
7. If you get stuck when writing, how do you get past the problem?
Firstly, sleep on it; you’d be surprised just how much the subconscious mind can sort out when you’re not getting in the way, angsting about not knowing what to do next. It may be a cliché but often I wake up thinking “Of course, the answer is [blah]”.
However, if that doesn’t work I’ll probably go and write something else, or cook something complicated or do some gardening or something of the sort; it has to be slightly complex and require concentration and creativity but not really be mentally taxing. If you go do something creative, it somehow frees up your mind a bit and when you go back to it, the problem will have sorted itself out while you weren’t looking.
Lastly, if it’s a real stinker of a problem and I’m truly stuck, I’ll sit down and discuss it with someone. Usually these are the “why would they do that” problems where a character has to do something which is a vital plot point but it just doesn’t quite chime correctly with their character. As the author it’s very easy to get fixated on the fact that it has to happen in just such a way, but you can’t make the character do something they just wouldn’t or the reader will throw the book across the room in disgust. Either there has to be some kind of human, understandable reason for it; or the plot point needs to go. I’ve had both of these happen. One time, my sister suddenly said “What if he was in this situation?” which then threw everything into a new light and solved the issue – I had to go back to the beginning and rewrite some sizeable chunks to insert that trait, but it enabled a whole new plot strand later on. The second time, I had to scrap the plot point and let the characters do their own thing, but that took it to a really interesting place too, so as long as you follow your instincts it seems to sort itself out and often the problem bits end up being the most fruitful, a little further down the line.
8. Do you write in any other genres?
Yes, I do. I write a lot of poetry, some short stories, and have ventured upon texts of varying lengths (and indeed varying readability) in sci-fi, modern fic and humour. I did try writing romance once but I really am no good at that – you have to be able to do the melodramatic bits without sniggering. In real life it’s the same; I have to make a real effort to not turn a romantic gesture into something a bit embarrassing by making some daft joke about it. Fortunately my partner has a very good sense of humour, so we laugh a lot together. I love that.
I do have several projects on the To Write list though; the next most likely one is fairly gentle village humour, though there’s going to be a lot of “On Dark Shores” to write before I reach the end of the storyline, so I shouldn’t hold your breath waiting for that one... Various odds and sods of my other stuff is up on my Wattpad page at http://www.wattpad.com/user/JAClement though, so if you can’t imagine me writing something less bleak and gritty, there is at least one humorous short on there. You’ll know which from the cover, I’d imagine! (There’s also a snippet of Chapter 2 of “On Dark Shores: The Lady” that you won’t find anywhere else, as it happens).
So check out JA, and applaud her for her good humor and graciousness for giving me a second chance to make things right!
Here are the links...except my "links" don't seem to be functioning today:
Link to Amazon is http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Shores-Lady-ebook/dp/B004S7JCYG
Link to Website: http://www.ondarkshores.com/