Hi Jenna, firstly... where did you grow up, and does that still influences your writing now?
I grew up in a small seaside town along the Antrim coast in Northern Ireland. It wasn’t until I went to college that I realised just how sheltered my life had been in many respects. Growing up between the country and the coast was idyllic, it gave me pride to tell others where I was from when I later moved to England for university. I continue to incorporate incidents and memories of my younger years into my writing today, as they were quintessential in shaping the person I am today.
Can you remember writing at school?
Yes, my enjoyment for telling stories goes way back to my third year of primary school! I can remember being asked to write a story about my summer holiday, and around that time I was reading a lot at home, as my parents had always encouraged it. I found I enjoyed writing homework and was always creating stories and adventures, both in and out of the classroom. It wasn’t until I reached my teen years however that I began to attempt poetry and began to approach the idea of getting my work published. I would stay up for hours on a school night, just writing freehand about anything that came into my head, it is a habit that never left me. I then went on to study media production at college, where I enjoyed discovered a love for scriptwriting, but was busy writing a novel in my lunch breaks. Pen and paper were my closest friends, though that manuscript is long dust-ridden somewhere.
And how did University influence your writing?
Ah, that’s when I first truly opened my mind to genre and critique of my writing! I undertook my BA (Hons) Creative Writing & Publishing at Bath Spa University, as I quickly found I was just as interested in the creation of the physical product, as much as setting ink to the text within it. I enjoyed it so much I stayed on and am currently pursuing an MA in Travel & Nature Writing. Although there were admittedly pressures, I found university to be amongst of the best years of my life. I’ve met so many like-minded young people and many of my tutors continue to juggle creative and academic careers. Education aside, Bath is a wonderfully vibrant city with lots going on and as such have had the opportunity to get involved with a number of literary projects, which were not only useful but great fun!
So, is writing now your full-time job?
It’s not impossible! I can wish… No, the reality of writing professionally usually requires a ‘proper’ day-job alongside to get by. I am currently working as a part-time careers advisor at university level. Ironically, helping fellow creative graduates, like myself, find jobs.
Although, I have earned a temporary wage from literacy related projects, my writing currently remains an unpaid role, but one I continue to uphold with perseverance and great affection. Let’s be honest, if you weren’t passionate, why would writers even try?
Tell me about your very first writing engagement.
When I was in my second year of high school, my English teacher entered my poetry into the Young Writers Anthology. Not long after I sent off a couple of storylines to the story team of my favourite TV soap, Neighbours, which prompted a very kind letter of reply all the way from their offices in Melbourne, Australia. This inspired me to really attempt to shape my writing, an effort which led to several pieces being published simultaneously, one even earning a certificate of merit. The rest? Well, the real writer’s journey came after that…
Tell me about your Make a Book workshops?
During my final year of my undergraduate degree, I was offered the chance to volunteer with creative workshops, aimed to encourage children’s creativity. The ‘Make A Little Book, workshops would see young children come along and write or draw pages of their own story, which we would them help them bind into a book to take home.
Myself and fellow students brought the workshop idea to the Paper Cities (now Paper Nations) conference in Bath last spring. The Arts Council funded initiative, gave us a chance to showcase the positive impact of the project, which is running in its third consecutive year. The workshops gave me an opportunity to work with the public in a festival setting, as well as providing a taste of working with children, both avenues I am keen to pursue in future.
What really inspires you?
I would say that I’m inspired by the beauty and the tragedy in place and circumstance. Sometimes inspiration stems from the most unlikely places, often the most obvious. No surprise, personal experience has a tendency to weave its way into fictional plots and the two consolidate into one. Stark situations and raw emotions are commonplace, as is fanciful description, but the subject underneath, I couldn’t pinpoint for every piece.
Do you have a particular writing location?
When I had such a thing as free-time, I would often take myself and essential writing tools, to a particular local coffee shop, where I would gaze distantly through the glass. I’d think ‘this is how it all began for JK.Rowling’. But honestly, I write in busy places and in solitude, in the house and in town. I find it just depends on how I feel; sometimes I need distraction, other days I’ll recluse. One thing I do know, is that I can’t sit still for long, which perhaps explains my constant need for an alternate writing space.
Tell me about the projects you are currently working on.
There are admittedly quite a few, I’m terrible at focusing on one thing, so I always seem to have a handful of projects on the go. I’ve been re-drafting a children’s picture book, which I am hoping to self-publish later in the year. Then I have a travel blog, which I try to keep updated when I can. I have been writing travel articles for a variety of publications and continue to write poetry for a hobby more than anything. Though perhaps my biggest project, a slow burner, is a serial drama script, which I’m aiming to complete by the end of 2017.
What are your plans for the future?
Now half way through my Masters’ degree, I’m looking to what I’d like to do come the autumn and am going to endeavour to get into a publishing house, to work on the other side of books. Though I will always write in my spare time, I will still be freelancing and I’m just really excited to see what comes to fruition with regards to the projects I’m working on.
Name your THREE most favourite books and why.
Well two series of books immediately come to mind, both key fixtures of my childhood. They will appear obvious choices perhaps, but the first is The Famous Five series by Enid Blyton. The idyllic imagery and misadventures played out vivaciously in my young head, I longed to be one of the gang, investigating mysteries from Kirrin cottage. The second is the Harry Potter series, a generational fandom which I became embroiled in. Rowling’s world transfixed my imagination, how could one person come up with such a spellbinding cosmos. I couldn’t pick a third, for every book I’ve read has been engaging in its own manner. The above I believe however, made an impact on my desire to tell stories and consequently write, which is why I find them worthy of a mention here.
Lastly... what does writing MEAN to you?
I’d be lost without writing. Whilst I’d always enjoyed stories and creating my own adventures, writing also acted as an escapism for me throughout my teenage years and without it I can honestly say I think my life would have panned out rather different. Now I consider writing as a dear friend who refuses to leave my side. My mind continually creates scenarios, which are asking to be jotted down in words on a page, so that I might savour the idea for later. I can’t imagine a day when I don’t have that feeling often, if not daily.
For a little bit more info on JENNA, and to contact her, CLICK HERE.