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Jane Elmor Interview

Posted on 01 July 2008. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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WriteWords talks to debut novelist Jane Elmor about her first book, My Vintage Summer, out now

Tell us all about your writing background- what you’ve written, what you’re currently writing

My Vintage Summer has just this month been published by Pan Macmillan, about adolescent girls, their friendships, a wild older sister who leads them astray, a girl band in the 1980s music scene, a woman married to a music biz guy who meets a young singer/songwriter and falls... It's my first novel so I'm still grinning like an idiot when I see it in the shops or get a good review. I've just (this minute, actually!) submitted my second, due for publication in 2009, about artists struggling with conflicting drives, creativity and failure, love and biology. There is, of course, a fabulous affair.

Other work besides writing; ie. Editing, dramaturgy, tutoring, and how it works for/against your own writing

I am a creative writing tutor and have recently been balancing that with my own writing. Having been used to collaborative work, mainly on music projects, I find the isolation of writing can send me stir crazy and I really enjoy the company of other writers in groups, entering all these fantasy worlds and talking about them as if they're real. It's good to know you're not the only one who spends their life with a cast of imaginary characters. Before that I did many, many different day jobs to keep the wolf from the door while working on more creative pursuits. I've basically followed a great career path for a loser or a writer...

How did you start writing?

As a kid my favourite thing to do was write stories and make them into books - but, like a lot of people I'm sure, as a young adult I pursued other 'careers' first. I started out writing songs and playing in bands and fantasising about being a rock star... then decided I was too old for rock and roll and went on to compose music for film and TV. I co-wrote a comedy musical in fringe theatre and had my first go at a novel, which although got some encouraging feedback from agents, I somehow never managed to finish. A few years later when my life went wonky, I finally decided if I was as serious about writing as I always joked I was, it was about time I stopped making excuses and put it first. I quit everything and went on a Creative Writing MA.

How did you get your first agent/commission/publication?

For novels you just have to get an agent first – for me it was a good old methodical trawl through the Writer's Yearbook, finding agents that were looking for my type of book. I sent mine to one that wanted 'contemporary women's fiction' and were keen to hear from new writers – not all of them are. A bit of research showed they were particularly encouraging and helpful to first timers. It was then my agent who got me my deal with my publisher. Writing courses can be really helpful in getting you 'in the know' about how to submit your work, and agents and editors often come and talk to students about what they're looking for and the business side of things.

Who are your favourite writers and why?

I like contemporary fiction, often American because of the musical lilt of the language, writing that makes deceptively easy reading but carries a depth and cleverness that doesn't necessarily show itself on the page. I don't particularly want to know what a smartypants the author is, I just want to fall in love with the characters and know what happens to them. Some of my faves are Lorrie Moore's Who Will Run The Frog Hospital, Willy Vlautin's The Motel Life, Ken Kesey's One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, of course (does everyone say that one if they haven't put To Kill A Mockingbird?) Recent favourite reads have been Tessa Hadley's The Master Bedroom and Patrick Gale's Notes From An Exhibition.

What's the worst thing about writing?

Self-discipline when you work on your own is always the killer. Making sure you get up and don't spend the day in a dressing gown, surfing the net or watching daytime TV. Talking to yourself and forgetting how to behave in polite society. The desire for wine at lunchtime and a snooze in the afternoon. The craving for a fag when you get stuck, even though you gave up years ago. The enormous mountain of unwritten words you have to face at the start of a novel. Knowing that there is the perfect word, phrase or metaphor out there somewhere for what you want to express and not being able to find it. Having to be ruthless during edits – it's painful slashing things out that you've spent ages crafting. (Save the amputated parts somewhere though – it makes it hurt less to think you could use them in something else some time.)

And the best?

Getting a brainwave, either as an idea for a story in the first place, or during a novel when something appears like magic in your mind that you hadn't planned. Coming up with an unusual twist – there's one in MVS that no-one's seen coming yet, as far as I'm aware (I know I didn't!) Getting a fresh metaphor when you've only been able to think in cliches for days. Re-reading something you've written that you'd forgotten about which actually makes you laugh out loud (at least, as long as it was meant to be funny.) Being on the downhill ride to the end. In fact, writing “The End” is always cause for celebration. I hate editing, but it's great when you do actually tighten things up and hone the story over the course of the editing process. And of course, it helps to free up the first draft because you know you can write any old thing as long as you get it down, knowing you'll go back over it and make it better.
There are many best moments on the way – an agent saying 'I love it!' (those three little words!), signing that publishing contract, seeing jacket designs for the first time that someone else has done (not your own ideas that you've mocked up on the computer), holding a proof copy – an actual book – in your sweaty palms for the first time.

Tell us what kind of responses you get from audiences\ readers.

A lot of people have said they can relate to My Vintage Summer, I think because it covers adolescence and youth (and the passing of it). I've been surprised that people of all ages have enjoyed it, and not only those that were young in the 70s / 80s! It's so exciting when someone says something you've written resonates with them. I love it when it's made someone laugh. I've had a few people say it made them cry, which I was worryingly thrilled about.
I really value readers' input on work in progress, and I think it's important to consider all criticism (however much it hurts) whether you ultimately revise what you've written because of it or not. It's all subjective, and you have to say what you want to say in your writing, but if several people all say something doesn't work for them, there's a good chance it doesn't. Sometimes it's the hardest thing, deciding what to keep and what to change.

A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

Comments by other Members

Cea at 22:41 on 01 July 2008  Report this post
Jane, are you me? This rang so many bells it was scary! Great interview and your book sounds fab and exactly the sort of thing I love. Good luck with your new career.

KathM at 03:13 on 19 August 2008  Report this post
This interview was a joy to read. Very honest and encouraging. I always suspected persistence was the key, so thanks for confirming that. And good luck with book 2.

Jane Elmor at 22:23 on 26 August 2008  Report this post
Thank you so much for your lovely comments! Now, if only I'd take my own advice, get out of my pyjamas (ohhh - too late, it's bedtime again), stop indulging my new Writewords addiction and PERSIST... I might actually get somewhere with my edits! Thanks for giving me renewed enthusiasm! All the best, Jane x

Dee at 08:44 on 23 November 2008  Report this post
Wonderful interview, Jane! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it because, like Cea, so much of it chimed with me. The only thing I would disagree with is the pyjamas - why go to all the trouble of taking them off if you're not going out? You'll only have to waste valuable writing time putting them on again at bedtime ;

Have you read Anne Tyler? I think you'd like her style.

Best wishes

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