Jane Rogers Interview
Posted on 25 November 2006. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
WriteWords talks to bestselling novelist Jane Rogers, author of Mr Wroe's Virgins
Tell us something about your background.
I'm a novelist and scriptwriter. I've published 7 novels, of which 3 have historical settings. The best known is probably Mr Wroe's Virgins, which is set in 19th century Lancashire. My current favourite is Island, which is set in the present on an island in the Hebrides, and is about a young woman who wants to murder her mother.
As a writer I am always fascinated by voice, and use intercut first person narrators in a number of the books. In terms of themes, it always seems to me that each book is about something completely different, but when I look back on them I can see that there are two overriding themes to which I often seem to return: one, motherhood and the parent-child relationship; and two, utopias/dystopias, in the form of characters who are interested in finding new and better ways of organising societies or individual lives (on a large scale, in Promised Lands, which tackles the colonisation of Australia in 1788, and on a smaller scale – one Nigerian village – in The Voyage Home). I find the power relationships between parents and children, colonisers and colonised, men and women, endlessly fascinating, and unpredictable in their playing out.
I also write screenplays; I adapted Mr Wroe's Virgins for BBC2 and have other TV scripts which, it grieves me to say, have not been made. I write regularly for radio, some original drama and some adaptations. See my website, http://www.janerogers.org for full list of titles of books and plays.
I edited the Oxford University Press Good Fiction Guide which was a monster work and nearly drove me insane, but I am happy that it exists (and happy that it is finished!) I updated it last year so I am now free of it for a while. It was good to share enthusiasms about books, and I love it when I meet Readers Groups who are finding the book valuable; but the administration of working with 60 contributors nearly finished me off.
I teach writing part- time on the MA at Sheffield Hallam university, where I am Professor of Writing. Teaching serious writing students is something I enjoy very much, both for the contact with other writers, and because it forces me to keep an open mind about the craft.
How did you start writing?
As a kid, writing stories. I have always written – for performance, rather than publication, when I was a student. My first published story appeared in Spare Rib magazine about 30 years ago.
Who are your favourite writers and why?
Faulkner was very important; he made me excited about the possibilities of using multiple voices. And I love the rhythms of his prose.
Other writers whose work I love: Dostoevsky, Virginia Woolf, Alice Munro, Anita Desai, Kazuo Ishigro, Doris Lessing, Christina Stead, Patrick White, Henry James, Coetzee, Chinua Achebe, William Trevor, Elizabeth Taylor, Updike . . . well, how long have you got? Every good book makes an impact, and favourites change as time goes by. My current favourite book is Roth's American Pastoral. But I also find that each novel I am working on calls upon work by other writers. I'm currently writing a novel set in the future, and have looked again at John Wyndham, whose The Chrysalids is a wonderful book, big ideas expressed in elegant simplicity.
How did you get your first agent/ commission?
I sent my first novel to 2 agents, one returned it and said it was nicely written but not commercial. The second sent it to Robert McCrum at Faber, who published it. It got great reviews but sadly, in the end, I have to admit the first agent was right: it was not commercial. My novels have not made anyone rich so far.
What's the worst thing about writing?
And the best?
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