Friday, 28 October 2011

Author Interview with Jessica Bell


Jessica Bell is a literary women's fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter who grew up in Melbourne, Australia, to two gothic rock musicians who had successful independent careers during the '80s and early '90s.

She spent much of her childhood travelling to and from Australia to Europe, experiencing two entirely different worlds, yet feeling equally at home in both environments. She currently lives in Athens, Greece and works as a freelance writer/editor for English Language Teaching publishers worldwide.

Jessica has published a book of poetry called Twisted Velvet Chains, and her debut novel String Bridge, will be available from 1st November, 2011.

A very warm welcome to you Jessica, and can I thank-you, for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us today. This is the first time that I have interviewed someone who is an author, poet, teacher and singer/songwriter at the ‘Secret Writer’ and I am starting to scratch my head a bit, as where to where we should start! 

 Thank you so much for having me, Calum. It’s a great pleasure!

For the benefit of our International readers can you tell us a bit about where you live and why you like living there?

Wow, what a time to ask me why I like living here. As you probably know, Greece is going to the dogs at the moment and I want to move abroad. So how about I tell you why I moved here in the first place? My step father is Greek. He’s been my father since I was one year old (though I have an equally good relationship with my biological father). Any how, my parents took me to Greece for vacation every two to three years from the age of two, so it really became like a second home to me. Just before I graduated from university, I decided I wanted an adventure and resolved to move to Greece for a year or two to teach English. (I completed the last semester of my degree via correspondence, because I was impatient.) I guess that year or two has now turned into ten. Funny that.

Can I ask what sort of books did you like reading as a child?

Well the first that come to mind are Enid Blyton’s books, such as The Faraway Tree. But to be honest, I wasn’t a huge reader as a child. I listened to a lot of music though. The very first album I bought with my “own money,” was Kylie Minogue’s self-titled release. Can you remember the song “I should be so lucky?” 

Do you think the books that you read as a child influenced your writing in any way?

No, not at all. As a teenager, yes, but not as a child. I didn’t know I wanted to write before I was about fourteen or fifteen. Music certainly influenced me though. Music has remained an inspiration from the very beginning.

How did you first get into the field of music as an artist?

Well I started writing songs when I was about eleven or twelve. My mother had decided to sell her twelve-string acoustic guitar to get a bit of extra cash. I saw it sitting by the front door. I think someone was coming over to take a look at it. I remember opening the case and thinking that it just looked so beautiful, and why would Mum want to get rid of it? I think she was in the music room at the time and I interrupted one of her recording sessions to ask about the guitar. When she told me she was selling it, I asked her whether I could have it. She said that I could if I learnt to play. From that day I had that guitar in my hands every single day until I moved to Greece in 2002. I taught myself how to play. The first song I ever wrote was played on one string and sung in a very high-pitched awful voice. I hope that cassette never gets dug up!

Is there a big difference between writing poetry, songs and novels?

Not really. I believe there is one overall “definite,” that a writer must keep in mind no matter what style of writing they are undertaking, and that is to utilize all the senses (including the 6th!).

Can you tell us a bit about your published poetry collection ‘Twisted Velvet Chains’?

Firstly, I’d like to point out that it’s NOT autobiographical. A lot of readers seem to be making this assumption. Of course, they are written very honestly, but they are not factual. If anyone would like to read a very in-depth article on TVC, I suggest they visit Jim Murdoch’s blog here: http://jim-murdoch.blogspot.com/2011/07/twisted-velvet-chains.html

Do you have a set routine when you are writing?

Not at all. I write whenever I feel like writing. I completely disagree with the ‘rule’ a lot of writers put out there, that you ‘must’ write every day in order to be a success. To be honest, I tend to write every day anyway, but that’s because I WANT to. So no, no routine. I go with the flow. Unless I have a deadline, then I have to set myself one. But it’s never a constant.

Where do you do your writing best?

In my office! I have a whole room to myself. Two walls are painted a dark turquoise blue, which is said to promote calm and keep bad spirits away, and two walls are painted a rich plum which is believed to represent royalty and spirituality. I have a large desk that fits every possible writing tool on it. Two large bookshelves are drilled into the wall and a gorgeous Dalmatian named Holly is perpetually attached to my feet.

What made you decide to change genres and write a novel?

To be honest, I never thought of poetry as something that I would ever publish, so I don’t think of it as changing genres. The first novel I wrote was a mess. I deleted it from my computer. Gone forever. Don’t regret it. I was about 22 when I wrote it. It’s only been the last couple of years that I considered publishing my poetry. Lyrics and poetry have always been something very private to me, so it never really occurred to me to put it out there until I received a lot of encouragement to do so from fellow poets. I guess that means the novel came first.

What was it that inspired you to write ‘String Bridge’?

I’m just going to quote from my website because I say it best there: “My ultimate goal is to break into the women's fiction market and steer it away from the stereotypically glorified woman that is most commonly portrayed today and replace with pure honesty instead. Not every woman in this world lives without regret, knows exactly what they want, and has the courage to put every essence of their being into achieving their dreams. Not every woman is inspirational to others. Not every woman can leave their comfort zone to better their future. But, so what? Does that mean a less strong-minded woman doesn't have an interesting story to tell? Definitely not.” 

How did you think of and develop the main characters’ in your book?

Well, that’s a very difficult question to answer because the final product doesn’t resemble the first draft one tiny bit. I originally used myself and people close to me to base my characters on (write what you know, right?), but by the 7th rewrite, the characters turned into complete strangers. This may sound a bit corny, but I think the characters’ voices ended up being more powerful than my own and therefore got their own way.

I think it is a fantastic idea to link a music album with your book. Can you tell us a bit about how you thought of this and also a bit about your album, which is scheduled for release at the same time as your new book, ‘String Bridge’?

Well the main character in String Bridge, Melody, writes her own music. I’m afraid I can’t say any thing else without spoiling the story. Let’s just say it was only natural that I do this.

What is your favourite book and why?

'Housekeeping', by Marilynne Robinson. This book is what triggered my desire to write in high school. I’ll never forget the teacher I had either. Her name was Connie Watson. I’ve actually tried to contact her to let her know how much she inspired me, but none of the emails I’ve written to various places trying to find her but have not received any responses.

Do you have any hobbies or interests that you enjoy in order to give you a break from your normal routine and your writing?

Reading, singing, watching movies and archaeological documentaries, drinking red wine on my balcony … *cough* watching trash reality TV on YouTube *cough*

Have you any other books in the making at the moment?

I certainly do. I have one currently being considered by agents, called 'BITTER LIKE ORANGE PEEL'. Here’s my blurb:

Kit is a twenty-five year old Australian archaeology undergraduate who doesn't like to get her hands dirty. She feels misplaced and comes to the conclusion that meeting her father, Roger, will make some sense of her life, despite him being worth the rotting orange rind in her backyard. Well, at least that's what she's been conditioned to think of him by the three women in her life: Ailish, her mother—an English literature professor who communicates in quotes and clich├ęs, and who still hasn't learnt how to express emotion on her face; Ivy, her half-sister—a depressed professional archaeologist, with a slight case of nymphomania, who fled to America after a divorce to become a waitress; and Eleanor, Ivy's mother—a pediatric surgeon who embellishes her feelings with medical jargon, and who named her daughter after Intravenous. Against all three women's wishes, Kit decides to find Roger, but in doing so, discovers that he is not the only rotten fruit.

With a blend of dry comedy and raw heartbreak, 'BITTER LIKE ORANGE PEEL' is a story about the fear of not being loved; of breaking through a self-built wall of protection and accepting judgment, not only for what others perceive, but for the secrets that maintain one's sanity while living in a skin tainted by regret.”

I also have one in progress with the working title, 'MUTED', which was inspired by a short story I wrote for an anthology called 'TINY DANCER'. Here’s my current blurb:

“It's illegal to wear clothes. In some streets, it's also illegal to sing without accompanying instruments. Concetta, a famous Italian a cappella singer from before “the change,” now living in Arles, France, breaks these laws. As punishment, her vocal chords are brutally slashed and her eardrums surgically perforated. Unable to cope living a life without song, she resolves to drown herself in the river clothed in a dress stained with performance memories. But Concetta's suicide attempt is cut short as someone grabs her by the throat and pulls her to the surface. Is it the busking harpist, who encouraged her to feel music through vibration, acting as savior? Or a street warden on the prowl for another offender to detain?”

I see that you are teaching on a Writing Course in Greece next year! Will this be new for you or have you done something like this before?

Running my own course is new, but teaching isn’t new. I’m very excited about it! If anyone is interested in attending The Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop, please go to: http://www.hwrw.blogspot.com

Do you believe in writing by the “rules”?

No. Learn the rules until you can recite them by heart. Then learn how to break them honestly and intelligently.

Jessica, I have been absolutely delighted and very honoured that you agreed to be interviewed for my literary site. I would also like to thank-you again for taking the time to speak to us today.

The pleasure is all mine, Calum. Thank you so much for having me!

If you would like to find out more about Jessica and her writing, the links to her websites are detailed below:

Website: http://www.jessicacbell.com/
String Bridge (a novel): http://www.stringbridge.com/ (this will be active in November when the soundtrack is available to purchase)
Retreat & workshop site: http://hwrw.blogspot.com/

4 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for this, Calum! It was such a pleasure being on your blog!

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  2. Jessica, there is so much here to comment on. But first, have I ever told you what an awesome name you have for your dog?

    I like how tactfully you say not every woman knows..., when the truth is it's MOST women. Very few make it though life without regrets or changing paths a few times.

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  3. Thank you for reading, Southpaw! :o)

    Yes, tactfully is the word, I guess. I suppose we do all KNOW, but not all of us have the confidence to take the steps toward achieving whatever it is we aspire to do. Which in the end, whether we regret that choice - to sit still and do nothing about it - depends on so many different factors. This certainly could make a whole other blog post. I might actually elaborate on this on my blog one day. Thanks again, Southpaw!

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  4. Thanks for calling by Jessica and for allowing us to gain an insight into your very interesting world as both a person and an author!
    I know that the followers of this blog really do appreciate and enjoy reading the contributions that are made by visiting author's and writer's here at 'The Secret Writer'. It's been pouring with rain here all day. I hope it is a bit dryer where you are this weekend! ;-)

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