Monday, July 7, 2014

My Guest Jenny Blackford Answers Four Writing Questions

I recently became part of a blog tour, answering four writerly questions, as a guest of Kelly Dunn. My friend Christina Pilz was my guest last week and I decided to continue the trend of guesting writers on my blog.

Jenny Blackford is my next guest. It's is really serendipitous that we recently connected, because she had already just participated in a blog-hop tour with a bunch of Australian writers answering the same exact four questions. I offered to post her answers here, and she loved the idea.

I had, earlier this year, read Jenny's wonderful short novel The Priestess and the Slave and kept meaning to review it on Amazon. (My review is now up. I highly recommend this book.)
Then I saw her announcement on the Strange Horizons group that the book had just come out in audio, and it reminded me all over again how much I enjoyed the book and that I needed to do a review. I don't know what made me look for Jenny's blog and website, but when I did I realized I had read her wonderful poetry before, one of which was quite memorable from an issue of Pedestal Magazine, "Their Cold Eyes Pierced My Skin." Click on that title and it will take you straight to the poem!

So now, here are Jenny's answers. Enjoy!

Jenny Blackford

What are you working on at the moment?
As usual, I'm working on a poem – this one based on a trip to the hairdresser last week. More about that later in the post...

I'm also putting the finishing touches on a review of Leigh Kennedy's short story collection Wind Angels, which I've owed to New York Review of Science Fiction for several years now. It's a delightful book, and I'm feeling guilty that the review has taken so long.

I'm helping to organise the Annual General Meeting of the Newcastle Writers Festival; I'm Secretary of the Committee, so it involves me in quite a bit of administration. I'm also thinking about some exciting panel topics for the festival next year – 20-22 March 2015 in sunny Newcastle. Next year's will be the third NWF, and it will be the best one ever!

And I'm excited about the new audiobook of my subversively-feminist historical novella The Priestess and the Slave (HRB, 2009), which (I'm honoured to say) Pamela Sargent called “elegant.” I have a few promo codes for free copies (!) to give away in exchange for an honest review (on Goodreads or elsewhere.) It's expertly narrated by the crisp, delicate voice of Hollie Jackson. Please email me if you're interested – jennyblackford [at] bigpond [dot] com.

How do you think your work differs from that of other writers in your genre?
My work has always been odd, and quirky. I'm interested in too many things. Since I was tiny, I wanted to study Greek and Latin, though I ended up as a computer networking specialist before I gave up my day job in 2001. But I'd happily have become an astronomer, or a marine biologist, or an anthropologist, or a landscape gardener, or a food historian.

The things I find fascinating are pretty wide-spread: stars and comets, the strangeness of the world through mirrors, peculiar byways of the human genome, the Aegean Bronze Age, waste disposal in Periclean Athens, sea anemones, the way the sea sloshes in and out over sand and rock, growing things that flower and fruit (or that just have gorgeous leaves, or excellent gnarled bark), knitting, the motion of light on water, women's clothing (and undies and shoes) over the millennia, caterpillars, things that go gurgle...scrape...creak in the night, wasps, the strange ways of cats, the stranger ways of people, and on and on ...

My writing reflects all those things, not just the Usual Things. Also, no car chases. I couldn't do a car chase to save my life.

Why do you write what you write?
I write what I can't help writing. It would be much easier for me to spend my days out in the garden or having an endless stream of long (gluten-free) lunches by the sea – but then my brain gets itchy with unwritten words. The people start talking in my head, and the words have to get out onto the page. Or else.

What’s your writing process, and how does it work?
The moment an idea (usually starting with a phrase, or a few disparate words) oozes into my brain, I take notes on whatever's available – the iPhone, the back of an envelope, blank pages in my diary, odd pieces of paper left on the dressing table – often in the middle of the night. I've learnt that if I don't write down the inspiration immediately, however obvious and unforgettable it might seem, it will evaporate. Then, as soon as I get a chance, I edit the result to within an inch of its life.

I mostly edit on paper, with a red pen. I also edit on-screen, but it's never the same. I print, red-pen, correct the document on-screen, then print, again and again and again. Then I give a printout to my husband Russell Blackford, who can be relied on for sensible scribbled edits. Then I do another layer of editing, until I'm happy.

I've been primarily drawn to poetry over the last few years, and I always seem to be fiddling with a poem – changing one word, changing it back, changing the line breaks...

The current poem-in-progress is based on stories my hairdressers were telling me last week – one's grandmother keeps huge chunks of family wedding cake, which are apparently never intended to be eaten, the other's mother keeps the dog's ashes in the living room in a stunningly-expensive box. It gets creepier from there! Perfect poem fodder. I dashed out an outline on my iPhone while I was sittting in the hairdresser's chair, and I've been printing it, editing it on paper, and re-editing all week.

PS. If you want, follow me (Jenny) on Twitter!

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