I’m delighted to welcome author Jane Riddell to Bookaholic Confessions today. Jane released her latest novel, Daughters of the Lake in November 2014 and I am hugely looking forward to reading it (You can join me and get your copy here). As well as spilling the beans on her writing, Jane also explains what it was like living in France for three years, why she left her job working for the NHS to become a writer and introduces us to her three blogs…
Thank you, Holly, for interviewing me on Bookaholic Confessions – what a great name for a website.
I am a writer and can now say that without feeling fraudulent, but it wasn’t like that. For many years I worked as a dietitian before returning to university to do a degree in Health Studies. After that I switched to health promotion with the topic of smoking cessation. Life changed in 2006 when my family and I moved to France. Until then writing was a hobby. In France I had a lot more time to write and learned to regard myself as a writer!
When I returned to Edinburgh in 2009, I studied for a Masters in Creative Writing. Having intended to return to my health promotion job after the Masters, when the time came, I realised that what I really wanted to do was continue writing.
In 2011, I started up an editing business, Choice Words Editing which provides editing for a range of writing and runs workshops on strengthening writing.
Can you tell us a bit about your novel, Daughters of the Lake (released 28th November 2014)?
Madalena invites her four adult children to Switzerland to celebrate the 40th anniversary of her hotel. What she doesn’t know is that there are tensions and secrets among them, which will play out during their visit. As the day of the celebration approaches, confused emotions take hold and the event goes badly wrong.
As a travelphile I like to set my books in foreign countries. After I’d finished writing a novel based in the south of France, I thought about having an alpine setting for my next one. I love mountain and lake locations, so Switzerland came to mind. At that time, I had a short holiday on Brunnen, on Lake Luzern, where I’d spent a night on my first family holiday abroad as a child. It was only when I arrived there that I decided to make Brunnen the setting for Water’s Edge. I began writing the first draft there and the words poured out. It was a wonderful feeling.
Although you are based in Edinburgh you spent some time in France when you were on a career break. What was it like living over there? Would you like to go back?
The three years in France were a mixed experience. It was great living in such a beautiful part of the world. Although Grenoble itself isn’t a particularly attractive city, the surrounding countryside is hard to beat. There are many national parks, spectacular mountain ranges and the light constantly changes. It was also interesting meeting people from so many different countries, through joining cultural organisations. While there, my partner and I home schooled our son for a while which we hadn’t anticipated doing and taught us probably as much as it did him.
The downside, I think, was sometimes feeling isolated. We rented a cottage in a village for the first two years, and a house in the suburbs for the third. Both were too far away from the city for me to feel integrated. Until then I’d always lived in cities and I missed the buzz.
The language barrier was also an on-going problem. Despite working hard at French, which included attending two language exchanges, learning it with my son, and writing a guide to French and English grammar, I got no further than being able to construct reasonably grammatical sentences. My ear never tuned in properly so I couldn’t understand people’s responses. The answer, of course, is to become immersed in the language but if you are living with English-speaking people and working from home, there aren’t the opportunities for this. Contrastingly, our son, who attended two French-speaking schools, left France being bilingual.
At some stage I’d like to go back, but would prefer to be based in Lyon, (about an 80 minute drive from Grenoble) which is a lovely city. It’s not surrounded by mountains, but the countryside is attractive.
As well as being a writer you also run three blogs. Can you tell us a bit more about them?
Papillon (http://wwwbloggercom-janelilly.blogspot.co.uk) was created when I was studying for my MA in Creative Writing and we were being urged to start promoting ourselves, something I’ve always found difficult to do. Until then, I’d never thought about blogging, having no idea what to write and wondering who’d want to read what I’d written. Many of my posts are frothy, some of them are more serious, especially those about the writing process. I only blog when an idea comes into my head, I can’t just sit down and think “I need to blog, what will I write about?”
Letters from Bakhtin (http://lillias-bakhtin.blogspot.co.uk) resulted from having a difficult year academically whilst studying for the Masters. From the start I struggled hugely with literary theory, unable to make any connection with it and the craft of writing. I therefore devised a character, a Russian cat who comes to Edinburgh to study for his Masters and has a similar difficulty with understanding the link between French literary critics and writing. I got very attached to the other characters who appear in the blog, in particular, Neville, the precocious white mouse who shares a flat with Bakhtin, and Henri, a pretentious guinea pig who is more interested in developing recipes than grappling with literary theory, or anything else. I’ve neglected this blog over the last year because of time limitations but would like to keep it going.
Solas (http://janeriddellsphotography.blogspot.co.uk) features my photography as I enjoy combining travel with photography. However, since I set up my author’s website, Quiet Fiction, (http://www.quietfiction.com/index.html) I have put more energy into displaying my photos in it than adding them to Solas, something which may or may not change….
Before becoming a writer you worked as a dietician and health promoter for the NHS. What made you decide to move on from that career?
I had been writing for many years, but was never caught up enough in it to work on something for more than a couple of hours at a time. During most of these years I had a paid job, but often this was only for three days a week, so time wasn’t really a limiting factor. When we decided to move to France, things changed. I was unlikely to be able to work there because of my limited French, and reckoned that I would probably spend more time writing. Several months before we left Edinburgh, during a Saturday afternoon at the gym, I found myself on the treadmill, listening to Martha Reeves and the Vandellas singing Dancing in the Street, and thinking: I’ll give it a go at becoming a serious writer.
When we arrived in France, I found that I could write for longer chunks of time, and became quite productive in terms of finishing pieces of work, rewriting short stories and starting work on a new novel. I think that the beautiful countryside and the perceived sense of freedom from living in another country stimulated me to write.
What genre would you class your writing as?
I’d describe it as contemporary quiet fiction, aimed possibly more at women than men, although I’ve received good reviews from men on Daughters of the Lake. Readers hoping for blobby tentacled creatures, spaceships or high body counts will find my writing seriously disappointing.
What do you love most about being a writer?
I love telling stories, I love language. I’m intrigued by the challenge of composing edgy dialogue, and descriptions of locations. Interpersonal relationships fascinate me, especially those amongst families: the superficial interactions and what’s simmering away underneath. Writing provides a space where I have total control, independent as it is of weather, colleagues, money. In addition, I generally set my novels in other countries, allowing me the opportunity to spend an afternoon in the lakes and mountains of Switzerland while those around me are enduring yet another blustery, wet Scottish afternoon….
My laptop accompanies me everywhere. We’ve done huge amounts of travelling in our van and as soon as the scenery becomes dull, or darkness falls, I am writing or editing away on my laptop. I also occasionally multi-task when using my exercise bike, perching my laptop on the handlebars. A bit mad, and not brilliant for my back….
Who are your favourite authors and what kind of books do you enjoy reading?
My favourite authors are Anita Shreve, Ian McEwan and Claire Francis, all of whom have an enviable use of language and the ability to tell a good story. I enjoy reading realistic/quiet fiction rather than genre fiction.
And finally – can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on at the moment?
I am in the final stages of editing Chergui’s Child. It was actually written before Water’s Edge, but I have rewritten it as my writing style has changed a lot since I finished the first draft. It tells the story of Olivia who inherits a fortune after her aunt dies, at the same time learning something significant about her past that will send her on a life changing journey. I will be self-publishing it at the end of February, all being well….
A very big, bookish thank you to Jane for participating in this interview.♥
Click here to get your copy of Daughters of the Lake.