Interview with Jen Black

Jen: Today, we welcome Jen Black to Book Talk. Jen, will you please share a short bio with us?
Jen Black: I’m an ex-library manager who lives in the Tyne valley, north east England, with my husband. I have three books published and I think that’s great since I came to writing late but I’m struggling to stay fit while I spend time sitting on my backside writing every day! I should have a dog – I’d love a dog – but my husband thinks they tie you down. One day I’ll just go out and come back with a dog and that will be that! Northumberland is wonderful for history lovers (and dog walkers!). Everyone knows about the Roman Wall, Vindolanda and all their wonderful finds, but it is equally amazing for castles, bastles, fortified farms and wonderful landscapes. The wall is barely five miles away from my home and we meet people of all nationalities walking there. Photography is one of my hobbies, and I take lots of pics and pop them on my blog.

Jen: Tell us about Far After Gold and where it’s available.
Jen Black: It is a romantic historical set in tenth century Scotland and follows the story of Emer, a young Christian girl purchased by a Viking warrior. Flane is supposed to marry the chief’s daughter, Katya, who takes an instant dislike to Emer and tries to make her life even more miserable than it is – but Emer is a fighter and does not give in easily. It’s available from Amazon and good bookshops in the UK. In America it should be available through Borders. Nicola Cornick was kind enough to review it:

“Emer is a wonderful heroine, sympathetic and engaging. Even when she is in desperate straits she displays dignity, strength and generosity of spirit. She draws others to her through her kindness and warmth. Flane is a hero to match her, courageous and strong. The chemistry between them is scorching hot and the love story both seductive and tender. Watching these two characters change and grow throughout the book is a delight. Well-drawn secondary characters also add depth and charm to a compelling love story. This book lived on in my imagination long after I had finished it.”

Jen: At what age did you discover writing and when were you first published? Tell us your call story.
Jen Black: Dreams of writing a book haunted my childhood, but receded as I grew older and realized what a task it would be in reality, so I put all my energies into reading. But the dream re-surfaced in my thirties and I started working on an idea. I began researching MacBeth, and slowly the story evolved into my version of a MacBeth-like character called Finlay mac Ruaidhri who finds his claim to the crown of Scotland thwarted and his love married off to someone else. Since I could never produce a typewritten sheet without a mistake I was constantly frustrated! Life is so much easier with a computer. Whatever rubbish I produce, it always looks immaculate! It was slow going back then, but eventually, BANNERS OF ALBA was finished, and in 2004 it was accepted by an e-publisher in the US. I was chuffed because NBI was the first publisher I’d approached, but the very day the book was scheduled for publication, the publisher declared bankruptcy. 2006 saw BANNERS published by a second company, Cambridge Books, along with the sister volume which isn’t really a sequel. It has a new heroine but two of the same characters take the ride to the Viking stronghold of Dublin. I still love these books. BANNERS is available as POD and e-format, DARK POOL only as e-format.

Jen: Are there any other writers, published or not, in your family?
Jen Black: None at all! And sadly both my parents died before I achieved publication. They would have been delighted. At least I don’t have to worry about my mother reading the sexy bits. She might have been a bit shocked.

Jen: Describe your writing in three words.
Jen Black: Um, well…vibrant, well researched and a damned good story. I’m not out to enlighten, but to entertain and because I want to enjoy what I write, I think I’m always going to have a happy ending. I may have a few tragedies and deaths along the way, but the ending will always be upbeat.

Jen: Do you have any “must haves” with you while you’re writing?
Jen Black: Not really. I particularly like silence, which is sometimes hard to come by in the school holidays when the kids in the next gardens are giving their all to cricket and football. Come Wimbledon the tennis rackets will come out for a week or two, then it’ll be back to football again. Apart from that, I suppose all I need is no interruptions and a working computer. I don’t play music as I never notice when it stops, so I can’t be listening, can I?

Jen: How many hours a day do you write?
Jen Black: It varies. Sometimes all day, sometimes only an hour or two. I try to get 1,000 words done per day but I’m pretty relaxed about it. At the moment I’m going over a completed story and changing it, so there’s less writing and more analysis of where I want to make changes. The story, as yet without a title, is set in the Regency period and getting the manners and speech patterns closer to 1803 than 2009 is much easier than I thought it would be. After that I’ve got a Victorian thriller-romance which needs a better motivated ending than I originally gave it, and then – then it will be time to start thinking of something completely new!

Jen: What’s the most challenging aspect of writing? Easiest?
Jen Black: Motivation, I think. The characters have to be real and have their reasons for doing things. Sometimes I find they do things because I want them to, but I haven’t given them the correct motivation and it reads as not quite believable. Then it’s back to the drawing board and a real struggle sometimes, to pinpoint where the motivation veered off at a tangent. Getting it down on paper without actually saying “Their motivation is…” can be tricky, too.

The easiest aspect is forging ahead and getting words down for a scene that you have in your mind, where you know what’s going to happen and it all seems so easy. Then the end of the scene arrives and the fingers stop and the brain thinks OK, what now? And nothing comes – that’s a real challenge!

Jen: What’s the most rewarding aspect?
Jen Black: I had my first paperback published in January (as opposed to e-published and POD) and I have to say that was rewarding. Far After Gold sat there in my hand and I felt a glow of achievement like nothing else. It was slow, unlike the excitement of passing exams or getting a job I’d wanted, for those are fast, heady excitements. But this one was slow and warm. I knew what was inside the book, I knew how the cover had been achieved, the reviews were good and I knew it inside out.

But I think the most rewarding part of writing has to be when you read the work back when it is still in the working stages, and you read over a particular passage and think Hey! That’s good, that’s really good. H’mmmm. I see now that all my rewards come after the writing stage…

Jen: Is there a genre that you’d like to write? Is there a genre you’ll probably stay away from and why?
Jen Black: I’ve started with historical, moved into romance as it’s the biggest market and I thought it would be easier to get published in it. I like the blend of the two genres so I’ll probably stick with it and have headaches about whether I write historical or historical romance. Somewhere in the middle, perhaps. I’ll probably never venture into sci fi because inventing new worlds is not my forte. I loved the early Dragons of Pern novels, especially the one about the white dragon, and some of Le Guin’s work was intriguing. But too much of new worlds and my memory starts to blur them all together – I’m much happier with history!

Jen: Do you have a favorite character or one that you identify most with?
Jen Black: I wonder if you mean my characters, or another writer’s character? Taking the chance that you mean the latter, I have to say Francis Crawford of Lymond and Sevigny. I identified with him immediately because he said what he thought and wasn’t afraid to lose his temper. He wasn’t prepared to placate people just to make them like him and – most annoying if you’re not him – he was always right! The character was so different to any other I’d read up to that point that he made a huge impression on me. I was young, too. The author was Dorothy Dunnett.

Jen: What has been your highlight of your career to this point?
Jen Black: As far as my writing career is concerned, it would be January this year when Far After Gold came out. Several local newspapers featured me, and neighbours noticed! It was a heady and somewhat embarrassing experience, but of course it was a one day wonder, all over in a flash. Now everything is back to normal, though people still ask me if I’m writing.

Jen: What do you do in your free time?
Jen Black: Walk the countryside, cycle, take photographs and put some of them up on my blog – http://jenblackauthor.blogspot.com Watch tv, anything to do with history or Jane Austen productions. Doc Martin has us in hoots of laughter, and I recently discovered Richard Armitage in a re-run of North and South by Mrs Gaskell. (Not the one by John Jakes). We’re off to France soon, to vegetate in the rural Dordogne. Come January we’ll go skiing in Zermatt and I’ll really have to get fitter for that or the kids will show me up no end. Oh, yes, I like gardening. I spent this morning weeding and protecting our crop of strawberries from hungry blackbirds. And this afternoon I’m watching the Tennis Open at Roland Garros and bemoaning the fact the Rafa is not playing after losing to Soderling on Sunday. These few weeks in the summer are the only times I watch tennis and I love it – Paris Open, Queens and then Wimbledon and that’s my fill for the year.

Jen: What’s next for you?
Jen Black: I have a historical set in Tudor times coming out in November. TILL THE DAY GO DOWN features Aydon Castle. It is a fortified farmhouse built in the late 1200s and almost unchanged today. It is not far from my home, and I love the walk up through the woods from Corbridge, panting up the steep trail and then suddenly the big, square stones of the walls loom above me. This website http://www.graeme-peacock.com/imagedetails.asp?id=920 will give you some ideas of the castle and the countryside around it. Harry, the hero, is a fictional descendant of Lord Thomas Wharton and the heroine is Alina Carnaby (again fictional) but Carnabys did live at Aydon in the sixteenth century and I’ve imagined the difficulties a romance might have to endure in those turbulent times along the Border between England and Scotland. Border Reivers make an appearance and I found I really loved introducing a comic element into this romance. Here’s a short extract:

Harry gripped the bars of the grill. It was time for honesty. “I swear,” he said, his voice strong and steady, “that I have done nothing and will do nothing that will bring hurt or harm to the people of Aydon.”

Matho shifted, trying to get a good look at Harry in the shaft of moonlight that struck one side of the stone entry. Harry moved further into the moonlight. He sensed that something good might come of this exchange.

The slow, deliberate voice cut in. “Aye, well. Tomorrow. There’s nowt as’ll change Carnaby’s mind once it’s made up. He hates the family Scott to the last wee de’il in it, and since ye were daft enough to say ye name was Scott, he’ll have ye tossed off the crag, ne doubt aboot it. But there’s summat…”

“What? What, man?” Hope rose in Harry’s chest like bubbles of air through water. He thumped his chest to be rid of the pressure they caused.

“A wee chance, maybe, if ye’re a lad wi ye wits about ye. The Master hasn’t noticed yet, but a tree came down a day or two back, an’ it lies fair across the gully below the crag. If ye were to hop onto it, like as not ye’d be able to shimmy down and get clean away.”

“How far down is it?”

“Ten feet, maybe.” A grin slid over the solid Northumberland features. “Figurins’ no my strong suit, y’knaw.”

“And below that?”

Matho looked him straight in the eye. “Nowt but the Ay burn.”

Jen: Where can you be found on the web?
Jen Black: My blog is at http://jenblackauthor.blogspot.com and lately I’ve come to rely on that rather than set up a website. I’ve tried a couple and they’re both kicking around somewhere on the internet but both are scheduled to close down soon, as is the Yahoo360 blog I set up a long time ago. It seems that websites and I are fated not to get on.

Jen: Is there anything you’d like to ask our readers?
Jen Black: A couple of things – Let me know via my blog if you can’t find my books and I’ll try and help! And since I’m offering an download copy of Dark Pool as a give away, I’d love it if the lucky reader let’s me know what they think of it. Finally, which period of history attracts you as a reader?

Jen: Thanks so much for being our guest today. Readers, to enter the drawing for the ebook, you first need to leave a comment on the post or excerpt. Secondly, you need to either leave your email address in your post or send an email to admin.bookblog@gmail.com with Jen Black as your subject to let me know you want to be entered in the contest. The winner will be chosen around 8:00 pm PST today (June 12).