An Interview with Jane Abbott, author of Elegy
Everyone has a ‘first novel’, even if many of them are a rough draft relegated to the bottom and back of your desk drawer (or your external harddrive!). Have you been able to reshape yours, or have you abandoned it for good?
Elegy was my first novel, and for this reason I consider it very close to my heart. And yes, it took many, many attempts to get it fit for publication.
Some authors are able to pump out a novel a year and still be filled with inspiration. Is this the case for you, or do you like to let an idea percolate for a couple of years in order to get a beautiful novel?
One thing I’ve learned is that there is no right way to write. You do what suits, and everyone’s different. I wrote two novels in the same year, so can only answer from that experience. In both cases I allowed the themes, plot and characters to percolate for a bit before sitting down and writing them out. The first drafts of Elegy and Watershed took eight and twelve weeks, respectively. Then the hard work began!
I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down and they could no longer write! Where do you find yourself writing most often, and on what medium (pen/paper or digital)?
That’s a really interesting question. I can’t write in a café, or anywhere noisy, or on a laptop. I need my proper keyboard and big screen on my messy desk, with the kettle close by! I think there may be some truth to the idea of a perfect writing place, an author’s good luck charm, as it were. But as I’ve left mine – we moved house last year – I’m rather hoping this isn’t the case.
Before going on to hire an editor, most authors use beta-readers. How do you recruit your beta-readers, and choose an editor? Are you lucky enough to have loving family members who can read and comment on your novel?
Actually, I did the reverse. About two thirds of the way through Watershed, I began to get cold feet. I wasn’t sure of some of the content, whether it would be deemed suitable or even publishable, so I contacted a wonderful freelance editor who agreed to read through what I had. She urged me to continue, and when I was done, I also sent her Elegy to read. She’s been a fantastic mentor and was the first to encourage me to submit Watershed to the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript (in my case, also unedited!) where it received a Commendation. Since then, I have relied on friends and family members to read and advise, but of course no one who really cares about you will ever tell you that you’ve written a load of rubbish. The best piece of advice I can give any emerging writer is to submit their work to competitions; you won’t get real feedback, but if you score any kind of recognition then you know you’re on the right track.
I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favourite bookshop? Or perhaps you are an e-reader fan… where do you source most of your material from?
I love the smell and feel of books too, and opening a new book is such a treat. I’m not a digital reader; I’m a bit old-fashioned, and I spend enough time staring at a screen, but I do think ebooks have opened up the market to so many who perhaps might not have read as much as they are doing now. I have two favourite bookshops, neither of them local, so going to one or the other is always a special treat. My eldest son was an avid reader, so we’d head off to the bookshop every week or so to stock up. When he left home, I donated most of his YA books to the local high school. I simply didn’t have room to keep them all.
I used to find myself buying books in only one genre (fantasy) before I started writing this blog. What is your favourite genre, and do you have a favourite author who sticks in your mind?
I have pretty eclectic tastes when it comes to novels; I’ll read anything as long as it interests me. But growing up, I was a fan of fantasy also. My all-time favourite from childhood was Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. In adolescence, it was A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula Le Guin. Later I switched to more contemporary (we’re talking 30 years ago), grittier books.: SE Hinton’s The Outsiders, and That Was Then, This Is Now. I also became a huge Stephen King fan. As an adult, two books that are real standouts for me are The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, and Christopher Wilson’s The Ballad of Lee Cotton.
Social media is a big thing, much to my disgust! I never have enough time myself to do what I feel is a good job. What are your thoughts?
I think social media is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it gives followers instant access to you and your work, on the other it can be a terrible distraction for writers. I have a Facebook profile, which I manage myself. But I do find it a bit of a timewaster – too many articles to read. I haven’t bothered to set up a Facebook page, although I’m sure it would be easy enough to manage if needed. I do use Twitter, though not as often as I used to.
Answering interview questions can often take a long time! Tell me, are you ever tempted to recycle your answers from one to the next?
As this is my first interview for Elegy, I can say, with all honesty, not yet! I suppose it’s inevitable that a few of the same questions are asked by interviewers, but I remember being surprised when doing radio interviews for Watershed, how diverse the questions were. I suppose everyone has a different take on a book, or warms to different characters. And I always came away from each interview feeling that a new facet of the novel had been opened up and explored. It was rewarding.