Today I am happy to introduce author J.J. Anderson on my blog.
What genre(s) do you write in? Tell us about your books.
I don’t write in any particular genre. In fact I dislike being ‘categorised’ in that way ( although that’s the way Amazon and other on-line retail sites, and indeed, actual bookshops, are organised ).
My first book was a collection of short stories entitled ‘The Village; A Year in Twelve Tales’ published by The Story Bazaar (my own imprint) in April 2015 as a paperback and ‘e’ book. It chronicles the life of a modern English village over the course of one calendar year. The twelve, inter-linked stories portray a wide cast of disparate characters. At the centre of the book are four generations of the Marshall family, who negotiate the daily hazards of family life. Around them, babies are born, plots are hatched, matches are made and marriages founder and death, both anticipated and unlooked for, pays a call. As Thornton Wilder said, ‘The life of a village against the life of the stars’
What book are you promoting right now? What is it about?
Since then I’ve been working on a novel for young adults entitled ‘Reconquista’, set in 13th century Spain that is out now. This is a is an adventure story set in 13th century Al Andalus ( Spain ). I began to write it, ten or more years ago, as a serial story for my nephew and god-son. We have a home in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain and it is a place full of history. My nephew was about to visit there for the first time. I wanted to engage him in the history and romance of the place, so I write an adventure story, delivering ‘episodes’ on a gradual basis. He’s twenty one now and the story which I wrote for him has changed out of all recognition.
The book opens on 9th October 1264 as King Alfonso X of Castile & Leon is about to take the city of Jerez after a five month siege. Within the city, fourteen year old Nathan, his older cousin, Rebecca and their friend, Atta, don’t know what will become of them and their families. Everything they have always known is challenged and friends and family will be scattered far and wide. Each of them also has to grow up and learn some lessons about themselves before they can come together once again. There’s quite a lot of peril and jeopardy for them to manage their way through.
It’s a classic ‘journey’ story ( see http://www.thestorybazaar.com/story-of-a-journey/ )
How did you come up with the idea for your current story?
See above. It was an attempt to engage my nephew and god-son with a place. Place ad location are important to me as inspirations, as is history. I will be chairing a discussion at the Clapham Literary Festival in May on how location impacts upon writers and landscape effects the imagination.
Tell us about your writing process. How do you fuel your writing?
So far, I’ve been unfocussed in my writing process, but I’m learning that this is a convoluted and disorganized way to work. I wrote a couple of articles on my website about the lessons which I have learned about the process of writing (see http://www.thestorybazaar.com/how-not-to-write/ and http://www.thestorybazaar.com/how-not-to-write-again/ ) I could have saved myself a lot of time, effort and money if I had been more organized about writing when I began.
I don’t seem to have a problem with fuel for my writing, either with inspiration and ideas, or with the discipline needed to sit down and produce a certain number of words per day. I think it’s partly because I’m very ‘delivery’ oriented, setting myself goals and associated deadlines and then meeting them.
Tell us about your main character? What makes her/him so special?
‘Reconquista’ has a group of main characters, who all come from Jerez de la Frontera. I can’t have a favourite. There is Nathan, with whom the book opens, who is a curious, intelligent and faintly rebellious young man. He longs to see the world outside of his own city ( though he is very much a ‘child of the city’ in that he knows all its byways and scandals ). Nathan is really an example of how teenagers have to ‘find out’ who they are, what they want to do with their lives and who they want to be. His journey is one of self-definition.
His older cousin, Rebecca, is unusual in that, at fifteen, she is still unmarried. Life expectancy in the 13th century was much lower than today, so kids had to grow up much more quickly. Many of her contemporaries are married with children. It is the ongoing war which has meant that she’s still single. But she doesn’t want to marry, especially as her beau has left, with his family, before the siege of the city began. Her mental journey is about self-determination, having the courage to determine her own fate, if she can, not accepting what her family and society says she must be and do. Her physical journey is fraught with threats and peril, as she disguises herself as a boy to get what she wants.
Their friend, Atta, is the son of a Moorish surgeon. An only child, he adores his father and wants to follow in his footsteps and become a doctor, but the war has meant that he can’t study. He assists his father during the siege, however and is becoming a doctor by default. Atta and his father are forced to become refugees and, when his father is taken prisoner by bandits, Atta has to learn to become independent. He makes a dangerous journey to find his Uncle and get his help in a rescue mission. Atta is very idealistic, his lack of knowledge of the world and his innocence mean that he has some hard lessons to absorb. Some of them concern his own family.
There are two others, too, Ben and Miguel, who become rivals, but I could talk about my characters forever, so I’ll stop now.
What would you like readers to take away from your book?
A sense of having enjoyed a fulfilling read, empathy with the characters and a greater understanding of what life might be like for those in the less settled parts of the world.
Right now Europe is facing the largest migration of people since the Second World War, with refugees risking their lives to get here and putting strain on services and the social fabric when they do. People are fleeing from war and terrorism. The US also has a constant influx of people entering illegally from Latin America. I hope that readers of my book might look with some understanding on the pictures of weeping and frightened people waiting at Europe’s borders once they have read ‘Reconquista’.
The 13th century war was, ostensibly, a religious war, just as wars and terrorism are now and, while there are people of genuine faith on all sides, it is power and the desire for it and the riches which accompany it, which is the driving force – base motives, not fine ones. There are lots of parallels – though I didn’t set out or there to be when I started writing it ten years ago.
Oh, and I hope they are sufficiently ‘hooked’ to want to buy the next book!
What do you read? What are your favourite books and who are your favourite authors?
I read a lot and usually have a fiction book and a non-fiction book going at any one time. I read new books, of all kinds ( though not erotica or manga ) and I re-read favourites and classics. I have far too many ‘favourites’ to list here.
At the moment I am reading ‘Nightwalking’ by Matthew Beaumont and ‘I Can’t Begin to Tell You’ by Elizabeth Buchan, because I am being the ‘interlocutor’ in a discussion about landscape and the imagination to take place at a Literary festival which I am helping to organize in Clapham, South London, where I live.
Before then I was reading historical novels, because I have just finished writing one (see http://www.thestorybazaar.com/novels-historial/ ).
I read Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Trilogy – ‘Quicksilver’, ‘The Confusion’ and ‘The System of the World’. They are amusing and erudite books about late sixteenth and early seventeenth century England. I’ve also been dipping into the Aubrey/Maturin sea-faring historical novels by Patrick O’Brien, because part of ‘Reconquista’ is set on a ship (see http://thestorybazaar.com/naval-novels/ )
How do you get book reviews? Has this been successful?
I ask all my readers to write reviews, there is a request at the end of my books asking them to do so. I also seek reviews from book bloggers, like ‘Bookidote’, ‘A Cheeky Booklover’ etc.. and from Goodreads reviewers. I’ve had some success, but it’s by no means 100%. I won’t pay for reviews – that’s cheating in my view. But it’s hard. Without big budgets for publicity or the commercial relationships which the big publishers have with media and bookshops it’s very difficult to get your book in front of people. Reviews are one of the few ways to influence potential buyers/readers, yet many people don’t have time or the will to give you a review.
Who or what encouraged (or still encourages) you in your writing?
One or two old friends (friends for thirty years or more, they know me well in whom I confided my plans. I mentioned them both, with thanks, in the Acknowledgements for my first book ‘The Village; A Year in Twelve Tales’ which made them smile.
Also, my editors. Stuart Wakefield (who edited ‘The Village’ early in its gestation) has come to all my ‘events’ and been very supportive of my work on social media. He’s a best-selling author in his own right (the Orkadian Trilogy). Roz Morris, my current editor (Stuart is busy finishing his MA and writing a screenplay) is always supportive too, coming up with lots of good ideas outside of her editing role.
Other writers – I organise something called claphamwriters which is a loose association of professional writers, journalists, novelists, historians etc. who all live in Clapham, South London. We constantly give each other encouragement and sympathy.
And in life, as well as writing, my husband, who puts up with my disappearing into 13th century Spain and cooks me wonderful food.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
I publish (or plan to publish, it hasn’t happened yet) other people’s work. This year The Story Bazaar is publishing two non-fiction books by writers other than myself, so I’ll be heavily engaged with those. The first, ‘The Life of Breath’ (working title) is by Barbara Pidgeon, an author who has previously published on yoga and India, about breathing and how learning about how one breathes can help transform your life. She is a guest-blogger for The Story Bazaar as barbarapi. The second is the sailing memoir from Sue Pither, better known to Story Bazaar readers as suepsails, The Story Bazaar’s sailing guest-blogger, She is writing a memoir of her taking part in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. Her ‘My Journey to the Southern Ocean’ is planned for late 2016/early 2017. And, just because I have to write myself, I’ll be working on the sequel to ‘Reconquista’.
This is called ‘Convivencia’ which means ‘living together’ and is about what happens after our heroes’ home city is conquered. It is already mapped out. That should keep me busy.
I also organise claphamwriters and am currently helping to organise the Clapham Literary Festival.
Aside from all of that I enjoy the cultural delights of a capital city. My husband and I regularly go to the theatre, to art and historical exhibitions and generally like meeting our friends for a meal or an event in town.
Thank you J.J. for being here today and sharing your book with us.
Places you can connect with J.J. Anderson: