Hi everyone, just as I promised I have another brilliant author interview for you to read, this time round it’s with Johanna Nield, author of the New Beginnings series of books, which you may have seen that we were giving away here on the website.
Anyway, lets get get on with today’s interview with Johanna Nield.
What inspired you to write your first book?
I’m going to be cheeky by answering this twice!
My first book was inspired by ‘Brideshead Revisited’, and my sister’s death.
Watching Jeremy Irons in ‘Brideshead’ gave me an idea for the central character, Nick, because I was intrigued by the family dynamics that were hinted at in scenes with Charles Ryder and his father. My younger sister’s death in 1985 took the story in a new direction, which I’m still puzzling over. I started writing the book in November 1981, stopped working on it between July 1983 and July 1985, and finished it in March 1986. It’s all hand-written, in eight exercise books, and will probably never be published.
The first book in my ‘New Beginnings’ series was inspired by a song (“I’m Yours” by The Script), and various situations that friends were going through. The idea just bubbled up during my drive to work, and grew from there.
Do you have a specific writing style?
I think my style is continually evolving but I try to write in a simple, engaging way. My first novel was written from an omnipresent observer’s viewpoint, which gave the narrative a certain detachment, whereas the latest three are told from one person’s perspective and convey (hopefully!) her voice rather than mine.
How did you come up with your lead characters?
Jamie’s personality is loosely based on a family member. Physically, he’s based on David Tennant. I didn’t set out to do that, but it soon became fairly obvious to me that he was in there, but I then made a conscious effort not to make it too obvious! Tasha is the 30-something that I’d wanted to be at her age 😉
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I suppose the central theme is that life is a rollercoaster, and love isn’t all hearts and roses, it’s usually messy and complicated and often doesn’t work out how you’d hoped. To quote Dr Seuss: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened”
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Some incidents are based on a mix of events that happened to people I know, some are drawn from my own experiences, others are purely fictional.
What books have most influenced your life most?
I have to mention ‘Heidi’ as that was my first favourite book, but I think most books will influence or inspire you in one way or another.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I’d love Audrey Niffenegger to be my mentor: I love her style of storytelling.
What book are you reading now?
‘Hard Times’ by Charles Dickens. It’s a set book for my Open University course.
What are your current projects?
I’m frequently making notes and adding to the outlines for books four and five of the ‘New Beginnings’ saga, but I’m not writing per se at the moment.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
That’s a great question – I often think about that! I’m always thinking of something I could have done differently, but that’s not because I’m unhappy with the story: I think it’s more to do with my fear that my work isn’t good enough. When I have the time, I’d like to write a different ending – the one I’d originally planned.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I don’t remember a specific catalyst, but I was lucky to have brilliant teachers in primary school and I won two Creative Writing competitions in my last year there. By my first year in high school I was writing stories all the time; one was a very elaborate illustrated tale of orphans who lived in a German castle!
Can you share a little of your current work with us?
One doesn’t yet have a title, but it will be the ‘New Beginnings’ story from Jamie’s point of view. The other will carry on from book three, and is tentatively called ‘New Beginnings: A Fresh Start’
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
I get very emotionally involved with my characters, which can be exciting but draining, and it also means it’s difficult to let them go. Getting the voices right is also a challenge, particularly if there are local dialects involved – ensuring that they’re true to character without alienating a foreign audience can be incredibly tricky. Self-editing is my biggest challenge, though: when I’m in the zone, I can write for hours, but then I have to go back and chuck out everything that’s superfluous to the flow of the story. I’m still working on that skill!
Who is your favourite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Audrey Niffenegger. She spins such engaging tales, with very real characters, and her descriptive powers are breath-taking.
Who designed the covers?
I did. The original photograph was suggested by a friend, and I filtered it in slightly different ways for each of the three covers.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Knowing that I’d come to the end – I cried! I really didn’t want to let those people go, which is why I’m working on books four and five. Editing was difficult too, because I had to cut out some back-story sections and some things that make more sense of certain events; they’ll be included in book four.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Write! It may seem obvious, but I feel it’s essential to just write – it doesn’t matter what, where, when or how, just write.
Engage with your readers, and with other writers – learn what works and doesn’t work, ask for and listen to advice.
And read – reading is essential, especially if you want to understand your readership, and your competition.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Thank you for reading my books; I hope you enjoy them. Please get in touch! Whether you enjoy my books or not, I’d really love to know what works or doesn’t work, and why.
What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?
That’s another great question!
I enjoyed the research because I love reading and learning, but translating that knowledge without it coming across as a text-book extract was sometimes quite difficult. I’m still not sure if I succeeded with that, to be honest.
I’m always conscious of making sure I don’t channel other authors. I don’t want someone to read my books and think “This is like so-and-so’s novel”. It would be a huge compliment, of course, but I wouldn’t want anyone to think I was copying another author.
Psychologically, writing fiction can bring all manner of challenges because these people live inside your head for such a long time. I often found it difficult to switch off from them.
Logistically, I fitted it in when I could. I wrote at work during my lunch break, during the evenings and weekends, on train journeys – whenever the opportunity arose. I still work like that.