Welcome to the hundred and seventh of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with multi-genre author Jeannie van Rompaey. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hello, Jeannie. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Jeannie: I have written stories for as long as I can remember. My mother called them “scribbles” and always thought I should be using my time more profitably. Well, here I am still scribbling. I decided quite early on that it was something that was important to me and, never mind what anyone else thinks I shall continue.
Morgen: Hopefully people are more behind you now? What do you write now you’re “all grown up”?
Jeannie: I generally write fiction – four or five novels and a plethora of short stories, but I have considered other genres – plays, poems and newspaper articles.
Morgen: Like me, a bit of everything. What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Jeannie: I am very bad at submitting my work.
Morgen: Oh, I’m really rubbish. I’ve written loads but it just sits there – I need to get more organised.
Jeannie: I never think it is finished.
Morgen: Ah, OK. I don’t have that problem. Three or four edits tops and I move on.
Jeannie: My novel, Life Drawing is published by Lulu.com. I have had poems and short stories published in various magazines and small presses. My short plays, Power Games and various other plays have been performed, but not all of them have been published.
Morgen: And I have one of your collections ‘Straight Talk’. That’s how we got in touch actually; the joy of Facebook and you having an unusual name. Speaking of (social) networking, how much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Jeannie: Almost nothing! But I know I should.
Morgen: I do think the onus is on the author these days the disadvantage of which is that it eats into our writing time but we do get to meet our readers. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Jeannie: I won the first prize in the Barry Hillman International New Play Competition in 1995 with a full-length play called Sunshine Skyway. This gave me confidence and I went on to write, produce and direct plays on the London Fringe. I came first in the H.E Bates short story competition with Afternoons on the Keyserlei…
Morgen: Yay, well done. I’m one of the first round judges on that competition but that would have been before my time.
Jeannie: …and second in the Anne Tibble poetry section with Bitter Spring. These two wins gave me a buzz, but I didn’t enter again as I became one of the judges in both competitions!
Morgen: How spooky – we have probably sat in the same seats.
Jeannie: I also came second in the Bridport short story competition.
Morgen: Oh wow. That is something for your CV. Stiff competition in that, er… competition.
Jeannie: These things were ages ago, but I am just beginning to enter competitions again in the hope that, if I could win, the kudos would help me to publish more pieces.
Morgen: I do think it all helps, just keeping plugging away. Do you write under a pseudonym? If so why and do you think it makes a difference?
Jeannie: No. I write under my married name of Jeannie van Rompaey because my husband is proud and supportive of what I do.
Morgen: That’s so important, especially when you have to steal time. And of course you’re not going to get anyone using the same name as you… as Jeffrey and Geoffrey Archer have. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Jeannie: I did have an agent. He was helpful and one novel got to the monthly meeting with Harper Collins, but it didn’t make the cut.
Morgen: Oh how frustrating.
Jeannie: I think an agent is an asset, but it is as difficult to get an agent as to get published.
Morgen: I’d say it is yet (I’ve stumbled at that hurdle too).
Jeannie: The way forward may be through a literary consultancy but I haven’t gone along this route yet.
Morgen: That is an option. Or you could try going it alone I guess. Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Jeannie: Yes, but haven’t earned much money from it yet. I do read ebooks.
Morgen: Oh dear (see aforementioned reference to “keep plugging”). What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Jeannie: My first acceptance was when I was still at school, a short story. Oh yes, it’s still a thrill having professionals value my work.
Morgen: Which again ads to the CV. Having been so prolific over the years, presumably you have had some rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Jeannie: I am quite philosophical about rejections and tell myself it’s only one person’s opinion.
Morgen: It is. It’s just a numbers game. You could have the best story in the world but if they’ve already bought something similar they won’t have room, or budget, for both. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Jeannie: I am honing and toning three novels to enter for a competition. Yes, three, because I haven’t done anything with them yet and they are not doing any good lying in a filing cabinet. One of them is about ex-pats on Gran Canaria so I’ll have to keep a low profile if that is successful.
Morgen: Especially if you’ve not changed their names.
Jeannie: I am also writing short pieces, poems, flash fiction, short stories which I intend to enter in competitions or send off to magazines. I am also preparing a play called GONE that had its first performance in a festival in Totton this year with a view to publication.
Morgen: Yay! You do sound ridiculously busy but wonderfully so. I’m so green. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Jeannie: Yes every day, something new or continued work as well as my honing and toning.
Morgen: I like that; ‘honing and toning’.
Jeannie: I don’t know how much I write in a day. I suppose I’m more interested in quality than quantity, but when I’m on a roll – about five thousand words. My husband has to tell me to remember to eat or go to bed.
Morgen: I’ve tried to get my dog to tell me that but apart from soppy looks (nothing new) it’s not working yet. What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Jeannie: Yes, I have been blocked, but a good walk by the sea can do the trick. Useless to sit at the computer and force ideas to come.
Morgen: “By the sea…”, oh how lovely. Now I really am green (sitting here in my landlocked house). Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Jeannie: I certainly do not plot every detail beforehand, chapter by chapter. I tried that once and felt trapped, as if there were no room for creativity, but if I run with the idea too haphazardly that can be a mistake too, because I can go a bit haywire.
Morgen: So a bit of both, sounds like a good… er, plan. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Jeannie: I think my characters evolve fairly naturally, but I do live with them for a while. I often brainstorm each person, looking at things such as background, gestures, habits, likes, dislikes, beliefs etc. but this is very much an exercise that I rarely refer to afterwards, but perhaps it remains in my psyche. Names are important – as far as age, period and character are concerned and should be distinct from other names in the story. I hate it when I’m reading and there are two characters with names beginning with the same letter for example, so names need to be reader-friendly.
Morgen: They do. I read a story once with Ray and Roy and got very confused. I think you could get away with something completely different like Philip and Peter but even so…, why complicate a story unnecessarily, unless of course the name confusion is part of the plot. Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Jeannie: Usually Tony, my husband, but he is not a critical reader as far as the nitty-gritty goes. He’s not a literature person. I do have several friends whose opinion I respect who I can call on.
Morgen: It’s so important to have someone and I really think unbiased is best (I’d a friend is more likely to be than a husband but it obviously depends on the people). Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Jeannie: I do a hell of a lot of editing. Too much maybe.
Morgen: If you’re redoing what you earlier undid then probably. What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Jeannie: I have a notebook full of ideas, some of which I use, some I don’t. I’m a bit like litmus paper, absorbing ideas from things around me, the media, dreams, people’s overheard conversations… A lot of things in my mind, but I do like to jot a few things down so that I remember them.
Morgen: Do you write (jot) on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Jeannie: Computer. Sometimes, I write things longhand first but I cannot find the right phrase until I’m sitting at the computer.
Morgen: That’s interesting, it’s funny how our minds work. What sort of music do you listen to when you write?
Jeannie: I prefer not to listen to music when I’m writing.
Morgen: I’m surprised how many interviewees have said that. I can do classical (Schubert’s on at the moment ) but word-packed music is a distraction). What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Jeannie: Depends what I’m writing. I find it easier to find the voice of the character when writing in the first person, but third person from one viewpoint is also useful. Changing viewpoint for each chapter, gives opportunity for irony without intrusive all-seeing omniscient narrator telling the reader what to think. I have tried second person, but only for short pieces. I think it might be tedious for a complete novel, but I may be wrong about that.
Morgen: I’ve got about a third of the way through Jay McInerney’s ‘Bright Lights, Big City’ and I’d agree with you but it’s rather a gritty story (although too slow for my liking) but I’ll keep going. I don’t think I’d write a novel in second pov but am planning an anthology of stories in it. Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Jeannie: I have used them but generally cut them because I have to learn to trust my reader.
Morgen: That’s interesting, I hadn’t thought of it like that. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Jeannie: Definitely. They should be put in the bin.
Morgen: Oh dear, that bad? What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Jeannie: Favourite: Finding exactly the right final line. Least favourite: Back ache.
Morgen: I get sciatica so sympathise completely. If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Jeannie: When the ideas that have been gestating begin to flow on the page and somehow you know it’s going to work.
Morgen: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Jeannie: Keep at it. Write every day.
Morgen: Absolutely, practice makes published (well, often). What do you like to read?
Jeannie: Very wide range – from Jane Austen to Margaret Atwood, Thomas Hardy to Kashuo Ishiguro and Ian McEwan. Also Rose Tremain, Jonathan Franzen, Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay, Elizabethan love poetry. I could go on for ever. Most important for me is the language used, story and plot less important. Theme important. I like psychological works. I also read history books and other non-fiction.
Morgen: You definitely sound as if you live and breathe writing; like me. Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Jeannie: Not really. I’m often disappointed. Maybe you could tell me some.
Morgen: Happy to. Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ has been the most recommended book here (I have it but am yet to read it) and http://jbwb.co.uk and http://womagwriter.blogspot.com are sites I often visit. I’ve been recommended http://duotrope.com a couple of times recently. In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Jeannie: Spain. Gran Canaria. It could be a hindrance, but with the internet it’s not impossible and I´m only four hours from London.
Morgen: Exactly. I think it’s now very easy to just operate from a computer although writers conferences, lit fests etc are a great excuse to ‘get out’. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Jeannie: No, but I’d like to be.
Morgen: I’d recommend the writing groups on http://linkedin.com (except for the one I was denied entry to … naming no names) or there are the likes of Twitter and Facebook (I know you’re on the latter). I couldn’t find you on Twitter but it looks as if ‘jeannierompaey’ is free. One of my writer friends recommends http://writewords.org.uk which I’m yet to get on to (that’s a good reminder actually). Where can we find out about you and your work?
Jeannie: Difficult because I haven’t got a website yet. I’m still waiting for my big break and then we’ll see. I really should do something about this. Too busy writing. Life Drawing is available from http://lulu.com or Amazon etc.
Morgen: I have the opposite problem, if you can call it that, I’m involved with so many things that the writing takes a back seat (forthcoming meetings with my editor, Rachel, is a great motivation!). You could try a WordPress blog – it’s quick and free. OK, I’m biased I know. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Jeannie: Lots of opportunities, online and there will always be books.
Morgen: I think there will be. Most people love ebooks but still hanker after pbooks; it’s just the convenience. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Jeannie: I used to run a creative writing group in Northampton at the University Centre, Nazareth House. I wondered if it’s the same group you’re connected with?
Morgen: Oh wow. It might have been in a former life? I started at Sally Spedding’s workshop group at the University of Leicester which I took over when she moved to Wales, and I also belong to Northampton Literature Group (who meet at the University of Northampton, the Park Campus) and Northampton Writers Group (who meet at the Quaker Meeting House – the home of the aforementioned H.E. Bates comp). Is there a question you’d like to ask me?
Jeannie: What is your next writing project and your plans for the future? What do you think of Literary Consultancies? Are they worth the money? Maybe we could meet one day when I come to England or you come to Gran Canaria. I think you could teach me a lot about internet opportunities.
Morgen: Ooh, great questions. Next main writing project is http://nanowrimo.org (50,000+ words in November) but I have lots of editing to do in the meantime of anthologies and novels to convert into novellas (removing the waffle in other words) so they can go to Rachel then out as eBooks. A couple of writing guides will be the first releases and they’re pretty much ready (woo hoo!).
I know a couple of people who have used literary consultants (rather than consultancies) with mixed results. I’d shop around as some will be better than others. Perhaps join LinkedIn or WriteWords (mentioned earlier) and have a chat with writers on the forums to see if there are some recommendations there. A writing group will give you great feedback but only a chunk per session, unless you join an online group where you share your work around. And there are sites like http://authonomy.com (Harper Collins’ slush pile) and http://youwriteon.com where you upload a chunk (10,000-15,000 words) and get feedback on it. This is time-consuming though as you have to read in order to be read. I’d love to meet up if you’re here, especially if you still have contacts here in Northampton… and an invitation to Gran Canaria… where did I put my passport? Happy to tell you what I know about internet opps. Just drop me an email and I’ll help where I can. In the meantime there’s a load of stuff on my http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/useful-info and http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/links pages. Finally, do you have some writing handy that you’d like to share?
Jeannie: I have a monologue…
Morgen: My favourite… right up there with second person.
Of course I believe you, darling. Mummy and I are both on your side. You know that. We’re your parents, for Christ’s sake. Whatever you decide is fine by us. No pressure. You’ve been hurt by this boy, physically and mentally. I understand that. I really do. It’s a terrible thing for him to have done. He’s a little shit. OK, a big shit. No doubt about it. But there are one or two things I think you should consider before making the decision to report the – er – incident to the police. The boy absolutely denies he did anything wrong. He admits he may have been a little too – passionate – but said lots of girls like it rough. I know you said he wouldn’t take no for an answer and wouldn’t stop when you asked him to, and yes, I can see that your arms and thighs are covered with scratches, which proves you fought him off. But the thing is, it will be your word against his and his father can afford top lawyers…. Oh, and something else. Whatever made you wear that low cut T-shirt and very short skirt to the party?
Morgen: Thank you Jeannie.
Jeannie has an MA in Modern Literature from the University of Leicester (1994) and has had a varied career as an English and Drama lecturer, a freelance theatre director, actress, performance poet and drama adjudicator, the latter as Jeannie Russell GODA. Now living in Gran Canaria with historian husband, Tony, apart from enjoying the climate, she writes novels, short stories, plays and poems, runs poetry evenings and a reading group. She and Tony also paint and have had several exhibitions. Novels:
Life Drawing, a tale of modern witchcraft and sibling jealousy, published by lulu.com
Maddy’s Last Dance, a black comedy about the thin line between life and theatre
Four Hours from London, about ex-pats on Gran Canaria
Gone, about the effect on the parents of their missing teenage children.
Her latest play, Gone, based on the novel, was performed in March 2011.
Update June 2012: Since you first interviewed me I have published quite a bit of work online:novels and short stories. See Smashwords or on Amazon if in UK. My latest novel, “After” about the effect on the marriage of the parents of teenage twins who disappear can be found on Amazon and another, “Devil Face” about a girl with a horrendous scar on her face has a touch of the supernatural about it and can be downloaded from Smashwords. My prize-winning short stories cover such themes as unlikely friendships, dysfunctional families, adoption, idealism and pragmatism and can be downloaded from either of the above sites. I am currently setting up my own website http://www.jeanniewriter.co.uk. The website will not only be a guide to my writing, but will also include photos of paintings by Tony van Rompaey and myself, book reviews and accounts of other activitiesI am involved in, including poetry slams and adjudications of drama festivals. In addition to publishing existing work, I am still busy writing in various genres so watch this space! I should just like to add that I admire the generous work you do for other writers, Morgen, and find your encouragement refreshing and inspiring.
Thank you very much, Jeannie… you’re all so welcome. The blog really wouldn’t be what it is without all of you.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
Alternatively, if you’d like a free Q&A-only interview, I now have http://morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com on which I’ve rerun the original interviews posted here then posted new interviews which I then reblog here. These interviews are Q&A only, so I don’t add in my comments but they do get exposure on both sites.
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The full details of the new online writing groups, and their associated Facebook groups, are:
- Morgen’s Online Novel Writing Group (http://novelwritinggroup.wordpress.com / http://www.facebook.com/groups/508696639153189)
- Morgen’s Online Poetry Writing Group (http://poetrywritinggroup.wordpress.com / http://www.facebook.com/groups/388850977875934)
- Morgen’s Online Script Writing Group (http://scriptwritinggroup.wordpress.com / http://www.facebook.com/groups/319941328108017)
- Morgen’s Online Short Story Writing Group (http://shortstorywritinggroup.wordpress.com / http://www.facebook.com/groups/544072635605445)
We look forward to reading your comments.