Interview with Jamie Ford - New York Times Best-Selling Author and Great Chap

You clearly did a lot of research for Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Was the plot well defined before you began your research or did you find the research shaped the plot?

Ah, research––I love it so. It’s really strange to say that isn’t it? It’s akin to saying, “I love doing my taxes,” but there it is.

In this case, a lot of the research had been done vicariously, as I’d been investigating the geography and time period for another book. But along the way I wrote a short story set in that time period and that short story later became the novel.

Did the initial idea for the story come to you as a ‘Eureka’ moment or was it more of a slow-burner?

Both, perhaps? I’d been splashing around in that time period for a while when I attended a Literary Boot Camp run by author Orson Scott Card. He talked about the concept of a “noble romantic tragedy” and suddenly the clouds parted. I had the characters, I had the setting, the plot suddenly seemed obvious. I felt like I’d been given permission to write something I’d been kicking around internally for a very long time.

In your author’s note at the end of the book, you say that you have attempted to create an historic landscape ‘without judging the good or bad intentions of those involved at the time.’ The novel deals with highly emotive subjects about which you must have had very strong feelings whilst writing the book. Was it difficult to keep your own voice out of the characters’ mouths? Did you struggle with that and if so, did you have a strategy for removing your own voice from the world of the novel?

In general, I don’t think it’s very productive to take the social mores of today and try and wrap them around the way people behaved in the past. You can make relative comparisons, but to convict yesterday by today’s standards seems a tad unfair.

With that in mind, I tried to portray historical events as they’d be seen by a person living in that time period. With reactions negative, positive or ambivalent, that matched the sentiment of the time. A lot of potholes in our history don’t really need added opinions or embellishments—they resonate just fine in their own context.

If a little bit of my own voice seeped through, it was probably in Henry’s reactions, which mirrored my own sadness and disbelief as I did my research.

As you know, I’m still struggling away trying to find an agent. It can be tempting to think that once an agent and publisher come along for a writer, the future is all Disney music and rose petals. I’m sure I’m not the only author-in-waiting curious to know: is this true or is the next bit even more grueling? Tell me about the transition between being a writer-to-be and being a writer.

I’ve heard other authors describe the process as actually rather anticlimactic—and there’s some truth to that. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all quite lovely, but the process is really an unending journey of small steps: Finding an agent, making revisions, selling the manuscript, more edits, cover designs, pre-launch publicity, blurbs, galleys, copy edits, it goes on and on.

Ultimately you do get to walk into a local bookery and see your handiwork on the shelf, and that is a surreal moment, but then it’s back to work—post launch publicity, guest editorials, interviews like these!

The characters in your novel are so well painted. I know I will miss them now I’ve finished reading the book. Did the characters come to you at the same time as the plot? My characters tend to arrive in a hurry but I’ve read for other writers characters can take quite a while to come into view. How did it work for you?

The characters came on stage as needed. Especially supporting characters like Sheldon, Mrs. Beatty, Mr. Okabe, etc. And I tend to render them minimally, as far as physical description, while letting their actions define who they are.

As far as character depth, per se, I don’t create character profiles or write lengthy backstories or anything. I prefer to let them wander on stage and bump into things.

You have a huge family. This makes me wonder about two things: first, how do you find the time/space/quiet to write? and second, given that your work at the moment involves a lot of moving around, how do you handle the disruption to family life?

My house is like the Brady Bunch. But they’re all older now, my youngest is 10, so it’s not like John & Kate Plus Eight or anything (a notoriously bad reality show we have in the States).

And of course it helps to have a home office that’s a bit sequestered from the rest of the family—no trap doors or secret passages a la the Batcave, but that’s not a bad idea, now that I think about it.

In general, my writing time fluctuates. During the school year my productivity soars when the school bus leaves and crashes when it returns. In the summer, I tend to write late at night, starting around 9ish and writing until 1-2 in the morning.

As far as travel, it does deplete my family time a bit, but even when I was on book tour for weeks on end, I made it home every weekend.

I know you’re writing at the moment – can you tell me anything about your next book?

Ah, the next book. It’s tentatively titled WHISPERS OF A THUNDER GOD and about a former kamikaze pilot, now in his 70s, who is still searching for a noble death, one that will allow his spirit to be enshrined with that of his late wife. It’s another historical love story.

My agent and editor are in contract negotiations right now. It’s like watching your parents fight, but politely, via email.

I’m also working on a collection of short stories with all the supporting characters in HOTEL: Sheldon, Mrs. Beatty, Mr. Okabe, Henry’s mother. Not sure if it’s a viable project, but I’m thoroughly enjoying the writing process.

And finally...any advice for struggling authors-in-waiting?

Can I answer that question with a question? One posed to me years ago by an uber-famous author. He asked, “Which do you like more, writing, or the idea of being a writer?”

(Pausing while you mull it over. Ready?)

If you like the actual writing more, you’re probably on your way.

Enjoy the struggle. Don’t be discouraged––it’s part of the process of growing as a writer. I have an unpublished novel that I re-wrote four times. Those were not wasted words. It was great practice and along the way I found my love of writing.

Thank you Jamie. Great advice for authors-in-waiting. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an amazing novel and I can't wait to read Whispers of a Thunder God.

Interview by Rebecca Woodhead. If you quote, please link back.



Writers! Exercise your Bragging Rights. Final Booktrust Blog is all About You!

My Thanks to All. You have Bragging Rights!

Can't believe what they wrote about my guest blogs. Such an honour to be asked to blog by Booktrust and their comments were the icing on the twittery pudding. This post is my last for them and it'll only be up a few days so please take the chance to exercise your bragging rights. This one's for you if you even voted once for me in Ms Twitter or if you follow or have supported me in any way through this. Get your comments up on their site and be seen. Say how you feel about the 11 issues you voted for (on the Word Nerd Army site). Let them know how much you care about books, literacy, libraries and words. Tell the world what you put into this campaign. It's not all about me. This is about you.

You've earned it.

Rebecca x
(If you haven't read the 1st one yet, read the one beneath first when you reach Booktrust's blog)


Booktrust Guest Blog is Up!

Words about me from Booktrust...

Our Twitter page has put us in contact with diverse parts of the publishing industry, from publishers to writers to book bloggers to parents and carers who benefit from our bookgifting. One of the more interesting personalities on our Twitter feed has been aspiring author Rebecca Woodhead. Author of two books and unpublished, she has been using the internet to her advantage, to build up a loyal following of visitors to her blog and writings. Then she was nominated for Ms Twitter UK, a Twitter competition pitting her against celebrities like Lily Allen and Fearne Cotton and their extensive fanbases. Mobilising her band of followers, cutely named the Word Nerd Army, and rallying publishers, agents and literary types alike (including Twitter god Stephen Fry), Rebecca won Ms Twitter UK, with the motto 'the pen is mightier than the pin-up', promising to help promote literature and reading and aspiring authors and libraries, all issues close to the heart of Booktrust. Now with a land of opportunities awaiting her following her victory, Rebecca has written two blogs for us, this week on how she came to write her novel and use the internet to help promote it and in the next blog on how she won Ms Twitter UK and what it means and how other writers can follow in her example of using the internet to pursue their dream of being published....

To read my article, click the bus at the top or click here...



Now Officially Ms Twitter UK!

Finally the Tweeterwall of Fame is up and I no longer have to say 'no - I am Ms Twitter - honest.'

There has been much interest in the blog I set up to fulfil my Ms Twitter promises. I have sent in two of the articles I was asked to write. One - a guest blog - goes up on a very exciting site at the start of next week. The Word Nerd Army blog will have its first influx of new observers. I wonder what they will make of the issues and comments.

Look forward to reading all your comments. :)



Rebecca Woodhead is Ms Twitter UK thanks to Word Nerd Army!

We did it!! Thanks to all the wonderful word-people who've supported me. My own personal goals aside, the random collection of supporters who became known as my Word Nerd Army have taught me so much about the industry over the last few weeks.

From people who work in libraries to people who advise the government on library policy to publishers, teachers, readers and retailers, I've been able to pull together different stories of the book community and come up with a list of ideas that we broadly agree upon. If anything comes out of my being Ms Twitter, I hope it will be that bloggers will pick whichever of these inspire them and will blog and tweet them into the limelight. These are the issues that matter to the people who helped me to become Ms Twitter UK:
  1. Millions of people don't read, because they can't read. More money needs to go into schemes to give word skills and confidence.
  2. Millions of people don't read, because they are not inclined to read. Being a 'word nerd' needs to be seen as a good thing.
  3. Libraries are variously under-funded or under-attended. More effort needs to go into reconnecting societies with libraries.
  4. Many people are not aware of the benefits of using libraries during a recession. Free books, cheap DVDs & music, free net access etc.
  5. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a pin-up. There is everything wrong with thinking that is your only option. Choice is crucial.
  6. Men and women can work together towards a common goal - as can different cultures - on twitter. Twitter has a positive part to play.
  7. The online book community is very motivated & incredibly supportive of new & established talent. Reading and writing are solitary activities. Twitter brings in a social element regardless of location or physical mobility.
  8. Illness, bad fortune and/or poverty need not be a significant barrier to success. Web 2.0 can re-enable people facing hardship.
  9. Books give you access to great minds.
  10. Stories are important.
  11. A large number of people in UK prisons (around 3 in 5 according to one prison librarian) have reading problems or dyslexia. There needs to be research into the connection between difficulties with literacy and eventual crime to help people before they resort to crime. Access to good help with reading and communication difficulties needs to be a priority. Wouldn't it be great if by addressing this issue, we could build more libraries and fewer prisons?

Point 11 is a big issue and we, as a group, didn't have the necessary information to suggest anything. It may be coincidence but it's got to be worth a look.

Sorry about the third-person-ness of the heading - I'm not being a diva, I'm just aware google likes it and want people to see the points above.

Thanks again everyone. So glad it's over. If anyone's scratching their head and thinking 'but you're in the Europe contest representing the UK next' read the previous post. I'm hanging up my sash after this.

Rebecca - Ms Twitter UK (*hee hee*)



Miss Nobody, The Randomer... A Writer by Any Other Name Would Still Win Ms Twitter UK

I'm back! May relative obscurity wrap me in its fluffy arms and say 'welcome home.'

In 21 hours, 7 minutes and 20 seconds Ms Twitter UK comes to an end. I'm 1048 in the lead so it's pretty likely that I will win. My long-standing online chums know there's always some method behind my mad schemes. This one has certainly been madder than most but I'm uber chuffed about how well it has gone.

As I've said before, my sense of self worth has never been bound up in this contest: my bid for the Ms Twitter UK crown was a cheeky attempt at subverting a cultural milieu that prizes youth and beauty over age and experience. It was always a bit tongue-in-cheek. Beauty and popularity contests have never been my thing. When I was the age of the celebrity in second place, I was deep in books on legislation, psychology, politics and sociology. I shook my fists at inequality and hated the fact that I had the kind of looks that made people say 'oh, isn't she sweet when she's angry?' when I laid into them about equal pay. This contest, for me and my book-loving followers, has been a fun way to promote the idea that the pen is mightier than the pin-up.

Miss Nobody - The Randomer

One thing I hadn't prepared myself for when I embarked upon this cheeky jaunt into Twitter stardom was how very seriously other people would take it. The best example of this is the endless abuse I have suffered from fans of The Saturdays - a UK pop group. The person in second place is 'Vanessa from The Saturdays' and evidently a large number of teenagers were heavily invested in her winning this contest. On The Saturdays' official website were calls for votes and much celebration when she finally 'won'...except she hadn't won. I came out of nowhere and beat her. This went down very badly indeed.

The first wave of attacks came on Twitter. Two fans of The Saturdays launched missive-missiles at me and my followers. I found it quite amusing and adopted the title 'Miss Nobody' they had given me with some pride. I was perturbed to have lost my crown polish but otherwise was entertained by the exchange. My followers were of a different mind and retaliated. Who knew publishers, editors and librarians were such 'bad-asses'?! In the end, I chatted with the girls who agreed I wasn't 'that bad' and asked me to call off my followers. It all ended well enough and I thought that was the end of it.

When I noticed that the vitriol was continuing elsewhere, I blocked them and got on with my life. Days passed. I googled my name to see what impact the contest was having on my Google placement and found a link to an ant's nest of bad feeling.

About 50 pages of official 'The Saturdays' site had been set aside for defaming 'the randomer' who was stealing Vanessa's rightful throne. 'The Randomer' beat 'Miss Nobody' as a name so I also adopted that one. The pages and pages of utter drivel about me have given me some fairly impressive super-villain powers.

  • I can hack Wikipedia (isn't it open anyhow? That one's not a great super-power).
  • I can, and frequently do, hack into the Ms Twitter UK contest and change the results.
  • I have also hacked the Ms Twitter UK contest to stop people being able to vote continuously for Vanessa (obviously I left the 20 min delay in on votes for me just for a laugh).
  • Nobody votes for me for any reason. They are all brainwashed by me because of my hate for Vanessa (for whom I have no bad feeling whatever given that I'd never even heard of her until they started attacking me).

So, I am master hacker and brain-washer. If I had only known this sooner I would have chosen a different career path. Doh!

Game Over!

I have accomplished everything I set out to accomplish with this contest. My following has expanded but, more importantly I have shown:

  • Neither age nor wealth, physical ability or mobility need be a barrier to success online,
  • The book community is HUGELY motivated online. This is significant information for those considering the digital future of the book industry,
  • I am good at mobilising an army of book lovers. This is comforting for whichever publisher decides to take me on,
  • I am now on friendly terms with some of the most important people on twitter and in the book industry
  • I have a platform to gain column inches. If I make a comment about the publishing industry/reading community on twitter it will have more quotability if I'm 'Ms Twitter'.
I'm of a 'job done' frame of mind now. When Ms Twitter UK ends I will automatically be entered into the European final and from there will go into the 'World' contest. I'm done. There is nothing more for me to prove, so I'm going to see if Tweeterwall will allow me to sit out the future contests. 'The pen is mightier than the pin-up' is a battle cry for cultural sanity, not a boast. If I win this and then bow out and get on with my writing, it will remain that way.

Will pop back on after Ms Twitter UK ends and let you know whether or not I won. Thanks for all your support. My followers are amazing.



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