Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Interview with Editor and Author @JaneRiddell

Jane writes contemporary fiction, and is a keen blogger, including penning letters from a Russian cat. Jane holds a Masters in Creative Writing. In 2011 she started a small editing business, Choice Words Editing. Her debut novel, Water's Edge, is published by ThornBerry Publishing and is available in paperback and Kindle from Amazon.  Jane currently lives in Edinburgh.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
There wasn’t any particular defining moment, more a process.  I had been writing as a hobby for many years, but was never caught up enough in it to work on something for more than a couple of hours at a time.  During most of these years I had a paid job, but often this was only for three days a week, so time wasn’t really a limiting factor.  When we decided to move to France for three years, things changed.  I was unlikely to be able to work there because of my limited French, and reckoned that I would probably spend more time writing.  Several months before we left Edinburgh, during a Saturday afternoon at the gym, I found myself on the treadmill, listening to Martha Reeves and the Vandellas singing Dancing in the Street, and thinking:  I’ll have a go at becoming a serious writer.
When we arrived in France, I found that I could write for longer chunks of time, and became quite productive in terms of finishing pieces of work, rewriting short stories and starting work on a new novel.
As a writer, and the owner of Choice Words Editing, do you find that switching back and forwards from your own work to someone else’s works?

Definitely.  When I don’t feel I have a creative cell in my head, it’s a pleasure to immerse myself in improving a piece of fiction or non-fiction written by someone else.  Often by the time I’ve finished doing this I am itching to return to my writing.  There’s enough of a commonality of required skills to be able to combine editing and writing, such as logical flow, precision of language, although the latter can be quite challenging when working for a non-native English speaker, where you sometimes have to guess at the client’s intended meaning.

I see that you currently have two books available from Amazon. One is contemporary women’s fiction while the other is non-fiction. Which book did you find to be the biggest challenge to complete, and why?

Water’s Edge was more time-consuming as it underwent several drafts and finally quite a significant rewrite where one viewpoint character was axed, another character relegated to a lesser role and the structure of the telling changed.  Between the first two drafts and the second two I studied for a Masters in Creative Writing, which influenced my ideas about how to tell a story. Immediately after the course I had the privilege of working with a mentor for a year and she taught me loads about the craft, which resulted in further revision.  Perhaps the biggest challenge of this book was experiencing a bit of writer’s block.  At the time, one of my relatives was unwell and this took its toll on my writing – although I didn’t realize it at the time.  For months I spent my ‘working’ life reading technical books about writing, and blogging.  Whenever I looked at my manuscript, I’d think: so what?  Fortunately, the energy and enthusiasm to revise it returned.

As for Words’Worth: a fiction writer’s guide to serious editing, it was never going to be a full-size book:  I didn’t kid myself that I had the knowledge, experience or skills to write a comprehensive tome about editing/revising.  What I did know was that I had developed a simple, if laborious, technique to make my own editing more manageable, and, aware of a ‘burning’ desire to share this with any writer who’d listen, eventually decided to make it into a small book.  The main challenge was confining the explanations for aspects of writing to check when editing.  If I’d written what I could about each of these I would have effectively been writing a grammar book, which wasn’t the aim.

Perhaps the biggest stress in the process was realizing shortly before publication date that I needed to make more changes for clarification: in other words, my editing guide required further editing.  Needless to say, this caused a rumpus, but because of the nature of the guide, it felt essential to get it right, even if the publication was delayed.

So, in answer to your question, probably both equally challenging, but in different ways and circumstances.

From looking at the reviews for WATER’S EDGE--you’re getting excellent ones by the way--a common theme is presented. The book is strongly focused on family relationships. Did you draw from your personal experience, or is there much in the way of comparison?

No, I didn’t draw from my personal experience of family life. The only similarity in my upbringing and adulthood to the characters in Water’s Edge is that I did spend four (unhappy) years at a boarding school and this undoubtedly left scars, probably greater than the ones any of the WE characters suffered!

I believe that no one can truly understand someone else’s childhood and that although there are families who appear to be enviously close, there will always be some competing, some nastiness around, even if this is very much subtext rather than face-to-face confrontation.

It can be a review, an email, or verbal praise, but what is the best compliment you’ve ever received about your writing?

Two comments tie for first place: a reader whom I’d asked to provide a critique at the final stages of writing Water’s Edge, told me she had to wrench herself away from it several times, even during a second reading.  Another published writer told me she looked forward to reading it every evening and felt quite bereft after finishing it.  I couldn’t stop smiling for days after hearing these comments.  They still make my heart sing.

Without giving away spoilers, what can readers expect when they open WATER’S EDGE, besides what is noted in the book overview?

This is a searching question, and being the author, I wonder if I’m too close to answer it, but I’ll have a go.  The story is told in four viewpoints so readers spend time inside those four heads.  I think they can expect to become caught up in the different but connected stories of those viewpoint characters and feel, perhaps empathize with, their various anxieties and regrets.  Several reviewers have commented positively on the location – Lake Luzern – either because it reminds them of time spent near there, or they like the descriptions of it: I spent a holiday in Brunnen and the scenery is stunning.

If you were to describe the main character, Madalana, using one word, what would that be and why?

One word only – oh dear!   Self-contained, I suppose.  I wish you’d allowed me eight….

Characters and plot, equally contribute toward an engaging read. If you were to tip the scale in one direction, or the other, which would it be?

Characters, but providing there is a storyline.  I am fascinated by how people relate to each other – the superficial interactions and all the stuff that’s simmering away underneath, so will favor a book which explores this rather than a pacey story located in a submarine or spaceship.
It sounds like there is a lot of secrecy in the book--family members keeping things from one another--that right there sounds like real life. What measures did you to go to ensure your characters were realistic, as I like to put it “characters you’re able to pinch”?

I’m not conscious of having tried particularly hard to make the characters realistic.  However, I was aware of trying not to characterize Lucy too much as a stereotypical teenager, whilst making her behavior plausible.

As writers appreciate, you get to know your characters as the story unfolds and often they can do something which you, the writer, hadn’t planned.  I know this sounds a bit Harry Potteresque, as if the keys of the computer have a mind of their own, but I have found myself typing pieces of dialogue which I hadn’t thought out in advance.  I don’t relate especially to any of the characters but sometimes I have injected my own reactions to a situation into a character, for example, Vienne’s health anxieties. 

I did receive some feedback on characterization from a male reader and made further changes as a response to these. Another reader pointed out a few implausibilities in the plot which had implications for characterization. I have several other novels in various stages of completion, but the characters in Water’s Edge are the ones I have known best. 

Where can readers find your books online?

Amazon in print and for Kindle for Water's Edge

Where can readers connect with you?

At my author’s website:
At my editing website: