Josa Young's second book, Sail Upon The Land, is out now. Today, Josa is speaking to Debs about her busy days and how she fits her writing into them.
Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
Wake at six from alarming dream about taking my finals in medieval German. Or not strictly ‘get up’ except to stagger down to the kitchen and make a cup of tea AND a pot of coffee. Return to bed, drag laptop onto knees and start – either writing or editing. Disappear into the story. Notice the time. Swear vividly while hoping no offspring is within earshot. Wash using 19th century technique involving flannel. Miss bus. Swear more. Arrive at work panting, wearing dress inside out, with one eye made up if you’re lucky.
Repeat in reverse at end of day ie crawling back into bed with tea and laptop and trying to remember I write fiction (and not content strategy and digital copy….) There was a long-ago five weeks when I went every day into the very drafty library of the old Royal Society of Literature in W2, and banged out up to 8000 words on an electric typewriter. You can tell how long from the technology – that was the first draft of One Apple Tasted – but life is very different now.
When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
Not as inspiration, no. But I did used to get my characters’ names from the death columns of the Daily Telegraph.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
I have a passion for mid-20th-century fiction and devoured the entire output of Virago when they republished forgotten masterpieces such as The Constant Nymph (huge favourite of mine which I read regularly), Our Spoons Came from Woolworths, Peking Picnic and Illyrian Spring. Depth and height of feeling, terrific characters, wonderful writing with satisfying stories and no artificial distinction between ‘genre’ and ‘literary’. I also adore Rosamund Lehmann’s Invitation to the Waltz, its sequel The Weather in the Streets, and Nancy Mitford’s later novels.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
There is something in my head, or someone, or a whole group of noisy creations, needing to escape. So they do, messily, noisily, jostling for words, sentences. The fact that once the things (they are not real, although there is absolutely nothing more fun than having a conversation during which the other person wants to discuss the characters as if they were) have escaped, they entertain other people, is a delightful side-effect for which I am grateful every day. Oh, and I edit and edit and edit, over and over again.
A very rocky road. I have always written bits of fiction but without trying to get it published. Then I went on an Arvon course, and Beryl Bainbridge was so encouraging, even recommending me to her agent, that I bashed out a first draft very quickly between two magazine contracts (see above). Unfortunately I did not go to her agent, but to a family friend who promised the earth. Many rejections later, I gave up and One Apple Tasted lay forgotten in a drawer (and on a floppy disc – luckily as it turned out).
Years and many drafts later, independent publisher Elliott & Thompson picked it up following a series of odd chances, and it was published in 2009 on their relaunch list. Shortly afterwards they went non-fiction only. But by that time I was already deep into Sail Upon the Land, encouraged at last to get going again by the whole publishing process.
A year or so went by. As a single mum and family breadwinner my desire to be a novelist was parked on that expedient back burner. Rejections led to that very British feeling of embarrassment that I had even tried to get people to read what I wrote. If the publishing industry thought it was not worth publishing, then that had to be the final verdict, didn’t it? I wasn’t sure what to do next, as what I did was not working. Yet there was a niggle in my mind. Readers, that audience out there, did seem to like what I do. But how to access them with dignity intact?