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Friday, 20 February 2015

Author Interview with Jenny Harrison

The first in our series of Author Interviews where NZ Indie writers explain their writing lives.

What inspires you to get out of bed each day? Coffee! No, really. The rich aroma of good coffee and I’m out of bed in a flash. Otherwise I tend to drift on in a dreamy state doing nothing, thinking nothing. In any event I’m pretty dozy until about 10 o’clock. But coffee helps.

What is your favourite book from childhood? Tell me about it. My favourite children’s book has to be Wind in the Willows. Such a tender book filled with gentle stories of friendship and adventure. Written by Kenneth Grahame, illustrated by E H Shepard and published in 1908, this book is timeless, a long-gone pastoral England with characters one comes to love; Mole, Rat and the irrepressible, conceited Mr Toad.

What are you currently reading? Tell me about it.
I’m not a book snob. I haven’t read The Luminaries and probably won’t. My research at the moment is sombre; the Holocaust, so I need light reading to centre me. I have belatedly found Susan Hill’s crime novels, a nice balance of whodunit with complex inviting characters. Her ghost stories are excellent too and, I suspect, will become the inspiration for my own paranormal stories. There are no vampires or zombies. No one’s scared of those! They don’t make you look over your shoulder or double-lock your door at night. But a subtle story; a ghostly hand clutching yours, an indent on the bed when you know you’re alone, a shadow across the windowsill – now that’s the stuff of real fear.

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote? Why does it stick in your memory? The first story I wrote was a book, Debbie’s Story. It was a bestseller and that’s probably why I remember it. It was a biography of childhood sexual abuse and it came out at just the right time and right place for a dialogue to begin about what some children are put through by evil adults. Radio, television, magazine and newspaper reviews – all heady stuff. I wondered if writing and publishing was always going to be that easy. I came down with a crash.

What’s the best thing about being a writer? Ian Rankin said; ‘I think most writers are just kids who refuse to grow up. We’re still playing imaginary games with our imaginary friends’.
Bam! Kerplat! Take that, you scoundrel! Saddle up, Tonto, we’re outta here!  It’s wonderful to create characters and to live with them for as long as it takes to complete the book. There is a kind of childlike pretension about writing and about slipping into the ‘skin’ of someone else, even if that someone is made up.

What is your writing process? I try to write for at least an hour a day and I keep a record of the number of words I manage in a writing session. Sometimes it’s a thousand and that feels very good. Sometimes it’s only a page – not so good. I don’t have any superstitions about writing, although if have a little stuffed frog on the computer whose black eyes stare at me and remind me to ‘get going, already’.

When you're not writing, how do you spend your time? I read a lot and I play classical guitar. I’m not only a double dipper (two books going at a time), I usually triple-dip, meaning that I will have one non-fiction book I’m reading for research and then two, at least two, novels. I might even have a ‘how-to’ book on the sidelines, something like Solutions for Writers by Sol Stein or Plot by Ansen Dibell, two oldies but greaties. When I get stuck those sorts of books become my butt-kickers.

What are you currently working on? Explain. At the moment I’m researching a book on the Holocaust. Jewish friends of mine lost their entire family, except one, in the Holocaust. All they had was a bunch of letters written in Polish. A good friend translated the letters and slowly a tragic picture is emerging. I’m hoping to have a first draft by the middle of the year (2015 that is!). We would like to call it Out of Poland : when surviving is the best revenge.

Do you belong to a group? About thirteen years ago I joined a fabulous group of writers. The Mariangi Writers Group in Auckland has been going for about thirty-five years and is a powerhouse of inspiration and encouragement. Every writer needs a group where they can throw ideas around, get good critique and have understanding friends. MWG has been that for me.

List of Books by this author:
Debbie’s Story
A New Life in New Zealand
To the Child Unborn
The Lives of Alice Pothron
The Falling of Shadows
The Indigo Kid
Accidental Hero
Rusty and Slasher’s Guide to Crime
Rusty and Slasher and the Circus from Hell
Links to books:

Contact: Email:
Thanks Jenny for kicking off our introduction to the members of Mairangi Writers - such a varied bunch!

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