Today I’m honoured to have my friend and fellow author Jennifer Young here to talk about writing and her latest release.
Welcome, Jennifer. It’s a pleasure to have you here today and congratulations on the release of your latest novel, Blank Space.
Can you tell us which book has influenced you the most?
I’m not conscious of being particularly influenced by any one book, but if I have to choose one, it’ll be Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow, by Peter Hoeg. The writing is extraordinarily strong and, although it’s years since I read it, I still have several lines from it stuck in my head. And the ending haunts me.
What’s the most beautiful book you possess?
Oh, oh, oh! I don’t have beautiful books: they’re all read to pieces. So I’m going to go for one with some beautiful photographs in it: a travel guide to Iceland.
What was your favourite book as a child?
I loved The Lord of the Rings, which is strange because I’m not at all a fan of fantasy novels. My mother read it to my sister and myself when we were too young to read it for ourselves, and I think the storytelling is very strong and the writing vivid. I’m also fascinated by the many influences in the book, particularly from the Norse sagas.
Can you describe your writing process?
I don’t really have a process, as such: it depends what I’m doing. Broadly speaking I do my chores in the morning and think about writing while I’m doing them, then try and make space to write for a few hours in the afternoon. In reality, there are periods when I don’t write at all, and if I’m feeling inspired I can sit down and write all day. It depends what’s in my head at the time.
What advice can you give to writers at the beginning of their journey?
It is a journey (though one that never ends), and you’ll make progress, though sometimes it’ll feel slow. Surround yourself with other writers, who make wonderful fellow travellers. And enjoy every step of the way.
What is the most moving book you have ever read?
I’m going to go back to Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow, for exactly the reason as I gave above. The ending will never leave me, and every time I’m walking on snow I find myself thinking of it.
If you could have dinner with any writer(s), living or dead, who would you choose and why?
I’d love to meet Beatrix Potter, especially if she could host me in Hill Top (her home in the Lake District). I love the Lakes just as she did. I sense that she inhabited her fictional world almost as she did the real one, and I’d love to talk to her about that. And her books show that she had a fine, gentle sense of fun.
Are you self-published or traditionally published?
I’m what I believe these days is known as a hybrid author. I’m traditionally published by Tirgearr, a small independent (principally ebook) publisher, but I’m branching out into self-publishing with my latest book, Blank Space. It isn’t that I’m unhappy having a publisher — far from it. I just wanted to see if I could do the whole thing myself.
Which genre do you write?
I write romance, mainly contemporary and romantic suspense, though I have trespassed into women’s fiction and I’d like to try pure suspense, or even change genre completely and move to literary fiction. I go where my mind takes me — and it can take me anywhere. I’m a bit of a jack of all trades, which probably isn’t a good thing!
Please tell us about your latest published work.
Blank Space is the first in a series of romantic suspense books set in Edinburgh, featuring the radically-minded Bronte O’Hara and undercover policeman Marcus Fleming. In Blank Space, they meet when she discovers him unconscious in her kitchen, and as the series goes in their relationships develop. Their backgrounds and politics divide them and yet they continue to be drawn together with each new adventure.
When Bronte O’Hara finds an injured man in her kitchen in the run-up to an international political summit in Edinburgh, a world she thought she’d left behind catches up with her. When the man makes his escape, the police seem less interested in finding out where he went and how he came to be there than they are in Bronte’s past – more specifically, her ex-boyfriend, Eden Mayhew. Eden’s an anarchist, up to his neck in any trouble around — and he’s missing. The police are keen to find him, certain that he’ll come back. Who can she trust – and what has Eden’s disappearance got to do with the handsome stranger?
My first thought, when I discovered the body on my kitchen floor, was that it was a criminal waste of an exceptionally handsome man. My second was that I’d seen him somewhere before. And even as I crossed myself, I realised. He wasn’t dead.
I dropped my bag, sending the ingredients for the evening’s supper spilling out across the floor, and fell to my knees beside him. He lay on his back, one arm thrown theatrically wide, the other clasped across the patch of scarlet which flooded his shirt. As I watched, the deep stain broadened, livid red seeping outwards from between his fingers. His thick, dark hair was glossy with blood from a separate wound to the back of his head. You didn’t need to be a doctor to see where that came from; the trickle of red on the edge of the kitchen unit gave it away. My mind raced. He’d fallen. How? Why? And what would happen next?
I must call an ambulance. Then the police. But first, I must be sure he was alive. Curiously unable to help myself, I reached out a tentative hand and touched his cheek, the almost-bloodless skin shadowed with stubble. It was warm. Under my touch, he responded, mumbled something, and opened his eyes.
To think that a near-dead face could contain eyes of such live, vigorous blue. Breathless in my alarm, I froze, my fingers still touching his cheek as we stared for a moment, each measuring the other up, each trying to make something rational from this suburban nightmare. Was he friend? Was he foe? Had I saved him or condemned him?
He decided first, in my favour. He smiled.
He didn’t fear me. That was enough to reassure me, tip my panic into irritation.
‘What the hell are you doing in my kitchen?’ I demanded, my voice breaking into the near-silence of the midsummer evening.
A breeze crept in through the open door from the back green. Next door’s cat, an incorrigibly curious tabby, poked a questioning whisker round the glass door, smelt blood, and bolted.
He tried to sit up, struggled, gave up. ‘Give me your phone,’ he said, in a voice that was stronger than it had any right to be under the circumstances. ‘I’ll call the police.’
I reached for my bag, keeping my eyes on his face as if it was possible that this pale and debilitated stranger could harm me. Though if he’d been well and strong, then yes, he could have done. If he’d wanted. ‘I’ll call them now.’
‘I’ll call,’ he contradicted me, a trace of impatience on his voice. ‘Don’t you have a first aid kit? Get a cloth or something. Stop the bleeding.’
I’d have argued but common sense prevailed, so I handed him my phone, stood up to fetch a clean tea towel, and dampened it under the tap. By the time I turned back, he’d manoeuvred himself into a sitting position; the grimace etched on his face showed it hadn’t been easy. He groped about on the floor, as if to see what had hurt him.
‘What happened?’ I dropped to my knees again, folding the damp tea towel between my fingers. Strange how calm you can be under pressure, but I’ve never been one to panic.
A shadow passed across those eyes, a frown across the face. ‘I don’t know.’
‘And what are you doing in my flat?’ Lifting his bloodstained shirt, I looked with care at the wound that scarred his well-muscled torso, and found that it was deep but clean. ‘I think you’ll live, but this might hurt.’
‘I can bear it,’ he muttered, but he winced as I sponged the blood away, pressing the damp cloth against his side
‘Answer my question.’ I took advantage of his pain to challenge him. ‘Who are you?’
‘Never mind.’ There was an edge to his voice, one that hadn’t been there before; the terse tone of a man who’d assessed his situation and found it more precarious than he’d first thought. He closed his left hand over my right one, a steel grip on my wrist. ‘All right, Florence Nightingale. That’s enough first aid. Where’s your car?’
‘It’s outside.’ Making the mistake of lifting my eyes from the wound, I understood then that he hadn’t called the police, or even intended to, and that he’d been reaching out for something entirely sinister. It wasn’t a big knife that I found myself staring at. It was one of the smaller ones from my set of Sabatier kitchen knives. But I knew from experience exactly how much damage that four-inch, tempered steel blade could do. ‘Don’t be stupid. You’re hurt. I could take that off you if I wanted.’
‘You could try,’ he agreed, after a second’s consideration, ‘but I wouldn’t advise it. There’s no need for a struggle, and I don’t want to hurt you.’
‘Then put it down.’ My voice dropped to a whisper. Outside, a child cried, a child that should have been in its bed. The cat meowed at next door’s window. I could call out, if I dared, and see if someone came. But I didn’t. ‘You’re hurt. You can’t go anywhere by yourself.’
‘Yes,’ he said, his voice still steady. ‘That’s true. But I can’t stay here. Because whoever did this might come back and finish me off.’
I waited a moment longer, my gaze locked onto his. I’d heard a noise when I came in, a door banging, and I’d thought nothing of it. I was too used to the interminable sounds of other people’s lives around me. Now it seemed all too possible that I hadn’t just stumbled on the outcome of a crime, but had blundered right into the middle of one and by so doing might have prevented a murder. His murder. As I stared into the eyes of this dangerous stranger, the thought that crystallised in my mind was a stark one. I didn’t want him to die.
I’m a writer. Is that enough?
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember; my first story was scribbled in pencil in a spiral bound notebook. It was called The Battle of the Black Watch and it began (something) like this: “I was woken in the early hours of the morning by my teddy bear, Thomasina, dancing a Highland fling on my tummy“.
I was eight, at most.
I read a lot when I was a child, but I wrote more. I wrote a spin-off of The Lord of the Rings, kind of prototype fan-fiction, complete with songs. I wrote about everything. In the days when you watched what was on telly because there was no choice, I watched rugby and skiing and wrote immature adventure stories about both. I went to university to study English but changed my course to do geography. At that point my stories became more heavily influenced by setting.
Then I grew up. I had to go to work, where I would jot down notes in meetings and look as if I was doing something economically sound. In fact I’d just thought of a plot point. Then I gave it all up to bring up the kids. I went to classes to keep my brain active. I went to writing classes. And someone said to me: “you should send that story off to The People’s Friend“.
I did. It was published.
I like short stories, as it happens; but my real love is novels. They allow you to develop characters and add more twists to the plot. So I moved on to writing novels. I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers Scheme (because aspiring writers need help). I submitted and was rejected. Submitted and was rejected. Repeat ad nauseam.
In August 2013 the cycle of rejection broke and my first novel, Thank You For The Music, was accepted by Tirgearr Publishing. They’ve since taken four more. Just for the experienceI’ve self-published, Quintet: Dark Tales With a Twist, a book of those short stories that grew from my writing class.
I’m still writing, novels and short stories. I’m still being rejected, more often than I like. But I’m still going. I blog. I write travel articles. I can’t help myself. Because writing is like life, a roller coaster ride.
Feel free to join me: