If you have ever been anywhere near a writing group or book festival of any kind, you will know that writers come in all shapes and sizes, from big robust circles, to tiny stabby stars. They come in different flavours too, from cool, classic vanilla, to eyeball-exploding, triple-hot chilli sauce.
Thrillers With Attitude is on a mission to find out what makes these weirdly-shaped and strangely-flavoured writers tick.
My guest this week is multi-talented author Jessica Bell.
Hi Jessica, thank you for agreeing to take part in the Literary Smorgasbord. Please tell me a little bit about yourself.
I’m an Australian writing and publishing coach, novelist, poet, and singer/songwriter/guitarist who lives in Athens, Greece. In addition to my novels, my poetry collections (including Fabric, which was nominated for the Goodreads Readers Choice Awards in 2012), and my bestselling pocket writing guides (Writing in a Nutshell series), I have published a variety of works online and in literary journals and anthologies, including Writer’s Digest and Australia’s Cordite Review. Additionally, I am the Co-Founder and Publisher of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and coordinate a variety of writing workshops worldwide.
Where did you grow up?
Melbourne, Australia. But I also spent a lot of time on an Ionian island called Ithaca in Greece as I have a lot of family there from my step father’s side.
What were you like at school?
Shy and quite eccentric, until I hit my mid teens. By then I was no longer shy (mostly by pretense), but still quite an outcast. I seemed to have accepted that, though, and was proud to be different. I was bullied a lot. Especially in primary school. I remember very clearly one ‘out of uniform day,’ I was wearing a funky pair of stockings covered in an exotic fruit pattern. The kids called me ‘fruit loop’ (which is a cereal), then somehow invited me to play hide and seek. Of course, I was ‘it’ which resulted in me shutting my eyes, counting, hearing lots of giggles, and discovering that everyone had run off and left me. In my first year of high school, everyone called me ‘Mum’, and flicked their hand forward. Apparently I made such a gesture when I talked. I’d never noticed it, to be honest, but it became a really big thing that I was teased about incessantly. Of course, I made an effort to never make that gesture again. Now in my adulthood I’m often told I’m not very ‘feminine’. Haha!
On your website you ask, which Me would you like to meet – writing and publishing coach, novelist, poetry and short story writer, musician, book cover designer? Who is the real Jessica Bell?
Haha! I’m just a woman who loves to be creative, loves to help the underdog, and like most creative types, often experiences Imposter Syndrome. I also feel weird calling myself a ‘woman’. I’m 35 years old and I still feel like a shy little girl who doesn’t really fit in anywhere.
Have you ever experienced an identity crisis?
Oh yes. I’m going through one right now to be honest. I’m not sure what I want from my career from this point onward. As much as I adore my work and creative endeavors (it really does bring me great happiness to accomplish all the things I do), I often fantasise about packing everything in, buying a campervan, and travelling the world. But it’s ME we’re talking about here (I’m a terrible workaholic), so what will most likely happen is, I’ll continue to do all the things I do WHILE travelling the world in a campervan. I guess I’m going through a pre-midlife crisis. Questioning what it is in life that truly matters the most. Not a bad thing to be pondering, I’m sure.
Do you have a preference for one kind of writing over another?
Not at all. My mood dictates what I write.
How has your writing evolved?
I started writing poetry, so I think over the years I’ve really learned how to master ‘plot’ and not overwrite, which I think poets tend to do.
Are you inspired by any writers in particular?
Marilynne Robinson, Rebecca Miller, Margaret Atwood, Anne Lamott, Raymond Carver, Milan Kundera, to name a few.
What are you working on right now?
Speculative fiction with the tentative title, Anima.
What is it about?
Here is a piece of logline I’ve been playing with. It’s not perfect, but it’s something of a teaser, I guess: Icasia must find the way to ‘die happy’ so that the deceased can live happily ever after.
How much research do you do?
Pretty much nothing until I write about something I know nothing about. Then I’ll make a note of it in my manuscript and get the facts straight during the second draft.
How long does it take you to write a book?
There is no simple answer to that. Sometimes more than a year, sometimes less than a week. Depends on my stamina!
Best writing moment so far.
When I was possessed with the idea for The Book, I called in sick at work, and wrote the entire first draft in three days without taking a breath. Was the most amazing experience I’ve ever had, and I very much doubt that will happen again as I’m usually a very very slow writer. I have never had words pour from my fingertips like that. I was almost like an out of body experience.
What are your ambitions, writing wise?
Back to my identity crisis. I’ve reached my writing goals and I now need a new one. Worldwide fame? Is that possible? More realistically, though, I’d love to win a legitimate award. It would give me a much-needed confidence boost. I just found out today (Sept 1) that White Lady is a Finalist in the Kindle Book Awards. Very exciting. I’d also love to be able to write full time. Isn’t that what we all say?
What is your writing routine – do you have a favourite time of day for writing?
I have no standard schedule, but I often set myself a schedule for each project. And it changes all the time. I’m a freelancer and so I need to be flexible with my hours. If I’m desperate to get something finished, I’ll usually challenge myself to finish something within a particular time frame, which results in me writing something every day until I’m done, no matter what time of day I do it.
Favourite time of day? Spare time? (Wishful thinking.)
Do you have a set amount of writing to do each day – if so, how is it measured – pages, words, lines, time…?
As I said above, there is nothing set. But when I challenge myself, I usually measure by word count to be sure I fulfill my self-inflicted deadline.
How do you manage your time – are you ultra-organised, or do you take it to the wire?
Super-duper organized. I juggle a lot of things: my own writing, book cover designing, my day job (editor for Education First), Vine Leaves Literary Journal, music …
I have a whiteboard and a diary. I usually write things on my whiteboard that I need to be reminded about every day, otherwise I’m likely to forget. This interview was one such thing!
Do you have any particular writing habits?
What inspires you to write?
If I haven’t written anything in a few weeks, that will usually flick the guilt switch. I don’t get inspired by nice scenery, etc. When I’m in a nice place, I don’t want to be inside writing! Music often inspires me. Reading a brilliant book by a brilliant wordsmith. Boredom. There’s nothing like boredom to make me pull out my notebook.
Any advice for aspiring authors?
Stop trying to do this quickly and enjoy the writing process.
Learn the rules, then break them intelligently.
Find something else that you love to do instead of writing. At some point you’re likely to burn out and you’re going to need something to turn to that stimulates your brain in a different way. If there’s anything I’ve learned over the years, it’s that relaxing and doing nothing does not rid a creative mind of woes. Our minds need distraction to get a decent break. It’s when we stop thinking about writing, that the biggest breakthroughs occur.
What are you reading right now?
Dear Life, by Alice Monroe.
Is there any one book you would like to have written?
Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson.
A few quick questions to finish with. Favourite book?
Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson, Jacob’s Folly, by Rebecca Miller
Marilyn Robinson, Rebecca Miller
Strawberry smoothie, Margarita
Anything vegetarian (though I am not one)
The Hours, The Shawshank Redemption
Fringe, Dexter, Grey’s Anatomy
That still exists? 😀
Anything by PJ Harvey
Where can readers find out more about you?
You can Sign up to my newsletter and receive Book #1 of the Writing in a Nutshell series, Show & Tell in a Nutshell, or Muted: A Short Story in Verse, for free.
Thanks for taking part in the Literary Smorgasbord, Jessica.