An integral part of my twitter collective, I’ve watched T. James develop from a man puttering with a few words into an author with a novella under his belt. I had the honour of reading a few draft of “My Mirror Self, and I along the way, and I’m so pleased that it’s finally out where everyone can read it, too. By the end of this interview, hopefully you will be too!
Hiya TJ! What do you think of my new place? I, personally, think the wallpaper is fabulous, but the carpeting needs to go.
It’s stupendous dahling! I agree, I love the intestine print, but the zombie feet with verruca weave is completely hideous.
Why don’t we start with a bit of T. James Bio? Anything we should know about you?
We could have started with my bio, but I understand you are excited about your new website and wanted to talk about that first. Besides, by establishing the setting before exploring characterisation you provide a context for our dialogue and actions, giving our readers a greater sense of place and involvement in the scene.
Anything you should know? When asked that, the first answer that occurred to me was, “No, nothing.” Then I remembered this is an interview and that would probably not have been a very helpful answer. I have no criminal convictions and I do not feel I am a danger to myself, or others, if that helps.
I don’t know if you want to know, but I can resort to humour when I am stuck for anything profound or interesting to say. I am more comfortable being a writer as opposed to an actor, as I can let my characters speak through me while I meld with the background. I hope my writing is imaginative, but underneath I can be very analytical. I am approximately human shaped on the outside; inside is anyone’s guess.
[For an equally entertaining but different variation of TJ's bio, click here]
When we first started chatting, you hadn’t even made up your mind yet if you were a writer. What made you decide to go down this path of sleepless nights, endless post-its and neuroses?
I didn’t start out by deciding to ‘be’ a writer, it was more that I’d been searching for something new to try. After not writing anything fictional since school, I had the crazy idea that I could try stringing words together into stories.
I’m actually quite driven as a person and I decided that I would try it for a while to see if I actually had any skillz (I try and stay down with the kidz so I will be able to talk to my son in ten years when he’s a teenager). I’m generally not happy with anything I do unless I can achieve at least a competent standard, so getting some positive feedback from readers was important to me. There are writers and other creative types who do what they do entirely for their own enjoyment. For them, that’s wonderful. For me, art of any type has a communal element to it, and if I was wasting reader’s time with my writing then I figured I was wasting my time too. Fortunately, some people say they like what I do, which is good as I now enjoy writing so much I don’t want to stop. It took a while before I felt comfortable calling myself a writer, and after more than twelve months it can still feel a little strange.
FYI: My sleepless nights shall remain my own affair as I don’t see myself ever being that sort of writer. I don’t use post-its in my writing process as they aren’t cool. Also, I have absolutely no neuroses whatsoever. I am a completely emotionally stable, rational human being – if I say it enough times, I hope it will be true one day.
Considering how much effort you put in your latest project, you must be a person who perseveres to complete anything you put your mind to. If it’s not writing, what else have you tried?
I wish that were true! I tend to be selective about what I give my time to, and I like to think of myself as a reasonably objective person. If I think what I’m doing is worthwhile, then I’ll try to see it through to the end. I left a well-paid job as a trainee actuarial analyst (best described as a sort of pension scheme accountant) several *cough* years ago when I realised I wasn’t a round peg. The pay when you are qualified is great, but I wanted something more engaging and I left to do volunteer work for two years while I decided what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’d already taken a science degree and I combined this with the volunteering when I decided to train as a therapist. Until I started writing my creativity had been on-hold since I left school.
Let’s talk about “My Mirror Self, and I”, shall we? I’ll admit, I still can’t stop calling it “Cassie” It kinda stuck with me. A story about a woman with relationship issues fighting breast cancer. What inspired you to get into her head? It can’t have been easy.
MMSaI, or “Cassie”, was a story that wanted to be told. I imagine that anyone who has been writing for a while has had one of those: a story that just gets fixed in your mind. Despite how difficult it might be to write, irrespective of whether you think it will find an audience or fit into a particular genre, it takes hold of you and compels you as a writer to make the attempt. It came as a surprise to me because I’d never had anything take hold of me quite like that before.
The fact that it was going to be a real challenge to attempt appealed too. Up to that point I’d been tinkering with writing fantasy, but I wanted to find out if I had the ‘it’ thing that makes a decent writer. I wondered if I could do a convincing job of writing from a woman’s perspective, using an unfamiliar real-world setting, about topics that are extremely emotive and intensely personal. If readers liked what I’d done, then I felt I would’ve earned my first set of stripes so to speak.
I also have some experience working alongside those who are affected by depression and breast cancer, and avenues of research open to me so I had a shot at realistically representing what living with the implications of these conditions is like. It was a little of writing what you know, and a lot of thinking myself into a very different worldview; a challenge, but I learnt an incredible amount from doing it.
Was there any aspect to the story that was particularly difficult? Easy? Fun?
Getting into Cassie’s head wasn’t easy. I literally lost count of the number of re-writes I did: changing sub-plots, style, third to first person, character motivation, fact checking etc. Writing Cassie’s story, I went in deep enough that when I had finished it felt as though I was coming up for air. It was never fun, but it was frequently moving, especially during the research phase – the women’s own accounts were full of honesty, candour, courage, and finding hope in the face of potentially overwhelming obstacles. Unlike these women, as a writer I was able to walk away from the implications when I finished the final line. These women don’t have that freedom, and by the end I wanted to honour their courage by trying to make Cassie and her experiences as authentic as possible.
Honestly, I’m having a bit of trouble coming up with questions about the novella because all I really want to do is yell at you for the emotions it evoked and praise you for how much I loved it. Anything else you want to say about this project?
Thanks Krista, men aren’t supposed to blush… I just hope others are as moved reading it as I was writing it. Oh, to any potential readers: please buy it. J
Aside from the writing, what was the most challenging step of the publishing process for you?
The editing. I’m someone who likes to feel I am making progress, and I naively hope that what I write is going to make it unchanged into the final manuscript. I get frustrated when I have to go over the same ground again because something isn’t working or I’m correcting mistakes. However, I know that repeated editing is unavoidable if you want the finished piece to be any good, but that doesn’t stop me grumbling about having to do it.
Now that “My Mirror Self, and I” is finished and out there, what’s next on the agenda? Another writing project? Moving on to the next “can I”?
Yes to both. I still have a lot to learn about my limitations as a writer, and the only way to find the answers is to write. I’ve heard writing good comedy is hard and coming off the back of finishing Cassie I want to try something lighter. My next “can I” is a YA farce. I’m only a few thousand words in at the moment, and I’m still getting a feel for the setting and the characters. Whether it will be good enough to publish I won’t know until I’m much further into the project and some beta-readers have had chance to chew on it.
Any advice for other writers determined to get their books on the virtual shelves, or everything that comes after?
I’m only repeating advice that’s been given to me, but that I’ve found to be true from my (limited) experience:
Firstly, know what you want from a writing project. There were hundreds of things I could have tried that would have been easier to write, and with more commercial appeal than MMSaI. It will probably never make a best-seller list and divides reader opinion. I knew what I was getting into at the start, and writing MMSaI has taught me an incredible amount and given me a great feeling of satisfaction to complete.
Secondly, and it sounds obvious, but don’t submit anything less than your best, regardless of whether you are self-publishing or going the more traditional route. I was tempted on more than one occasion to just ‘go with what I’d got’, but none of the earlier versions of the piece were as well rounded or as strong as the version I finally released.
Oh, one more thing, remember to say, “Thank you,” to those who have helped you along the way, and given up their time and blog space. Thank you, Krista.
For more information about TJ and My Mirror Self, and I, click here