Lee Jackson Interview
Posted on 30 December 2009. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
WriteWords talks to Lee Jackson
Tell us something about your background.
I’ve written seven Victorian crime/mystery/detective novels (plus a large number of first chapters, which never amounted to much) published in the UK and France. Also a couple of non-fiction books relating to Victorian London and the very occasional piece of journalism. The 19th century – London in particular – is my personal obsession. Hence my compendious website www.victorianlondon.org, which not only serves as my electronic brain but is frequently credited by other authors (often more successful authors, too – darn them!). I’m currently working on something about ‘feral youth’ in the 1890s.
Other work besides writing; and how it works/worked for/against your own writing
My day job is two days a week, running a portion of a university website. The benefits are financial (and possibly social – it means I’m obliged to talk to at least one or two other people in a week, apart from my family and the newsagent). The down-side is losing track of the flow of the novel you’re working on, and each week having to re-read to get back into the swing of things … real world responsibilities mean that I have about two or three clear days a week to write, which isn’t ideal (although, equally, hardly something to complain about).
How did you start writing?
When I accepted that I would never be a pop star and the first line of a song became the first line of a first novel.
Who are your favourite writers and why?
On the Victorian side of things, I’d have to say Dickens (hard to ignore), Peter Ackroyd’s biography of Dickens (best book ever, in my estimation), Wilkie Collins (read Armadale, if you’ve read his other more famous books) and George Gissing (eg. The Netherworld, In the Year of Jubilee). Gissing is a greatly under-rated writer, I think, partly because of his bleak view of human nature. In modern fiction, I’ve always loved Angela Carter and Paul Auster – neither of whom pay much attention to plot, or even, arguably, character, but just seem to explore entirely different universes, that most of us hardly ever glimpse. I think that a lot of what draws one to a writer is a the way they write, rather than precisely what they are saying. I also have to credit Sarah Waters, whose first book was a major inspiration for me writing ‘neo-Victorian’ fiction (terrible term) … I think she was rather non-plussed when I emailed her to thank her for it.
How did you get your first agent/ commission?
I just sent my book to some agents. I think I got a list of ones interested in historical fiction, from something online by the Historical Novels Society. As for the journey, I’m currently without a UK publisher but doing much better in France. This means, bizarrely, that my current book, The Diary of a Murder, will be translated into French in a year or so, but not available to buy anywhere in English. This is one of the reasons I’ve just made it available on the web. See http://www.victorianlondon.org/diary.htm Of course, the conventional wisdom is that an unpublished book should be shelved, perhaps to resurface in print when (hopefully) one gets another deal. But I remain proud of this book, and I don’t want it to languish in complete obscurity. Time will tell whether I’m brave or foolhardy to do such a thing. To be honest, my impression is that it’s just a bad time to get ahead in publishing at present – all the authors I know have lost deals or accepted serious reductions in their advances. Perhaps I don’t know the right authors …
What's the worst thing about writing?
The process of writing – sitting alone in a room at a keyboard and typing – is a repetitive and mundane one, no matter how creatively satisfying the results. But I can’t quite see any other way of doing it. The rewards, too, are rather peculiar. The ultimate result – the finished book – is a massively deferred pleasure (about nine months in my case). You have to be rather stubborn or obsessive to stick at it – a sensible person just would not bother.
And the best?
Hearing from readers. Ideally positive things, but even serious negative criticism is good, if you think someone has given your book a good deal of time and thought.
Tell us what kind of responses you get from audiences\ readers.
Rarely letters, generally emails, mostly positive. Not millions of them, but a pleasing trickle. People also write to complain about mistakes in books – things that proof-readers have missed. For example, in two of my books, towards the end, the wrong character is speaking a line of dialogue … I should have made it my trade-mark artistic flourish! Any feedback, as I’ve suggested above, stimulates you and makes you want to write more.
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