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Book reviews ... Author interviews ... and anything else I think might be of interest to writers and readers.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Josa Young – Author of ‘One Apple Tasted’

‘One Apple Tasted’ is the great new novel from Josa Young.

For Dora Jerusalem, fresh out of Cambridge with a head full of Victorian novels and romantic dreams, landing a job at Modern Woman magazine seems like amazing luck. But her sheltered background hadn't prepared her to resist the charms of rich, spoilt kids with nasty habits and nothing to lose. Inevitably she falls in love with art dealer Guy Boleyn, but it isn't the right time, place or circumstances for either of them. And all the while a long-buried secret lies in wait to booby-trap any attempt at happiness. Kicking off in 1980s London, One Apple Tasted traces one girl's attempts to be married in the modern world.

You can read more about ‘One Apple Tasted’ here.

And I’ll be posting a review on Bookersatz at the weekend.

Meanwhile, I asked Josa a few questions about writing.

What was your first inspiration to write?

Fairies. At age 5ish. I could write before I could read fluently, and wrote illustrated stories of mind-numbing tediosity (I imagine). But I was quite persuasive in my conviction that when I was 99 I would turn into a fairy (confused about death I think, and angels) and that my shoulder blades were incipient wings. An ultra-tough, tomboy school friend, who claimed to have been born up a tree in Africa, was eventually induced to admit she was a fairy too.

‘One Apple Tasted’ had a rather circuitous route to publication. What do you think was the most important factor in the journey?

My faith in the story. The world is full of unpublished novelists. I was one of them for years but without letting this prevent me from doing lots of other things. I had written several other fictions, but somehow I kept faith with OAT, as so many people read it and enjoyed it in manuscript form – including my first agent. I never gave up on it – unlike other unfinished work.

Place and Time are obviously important in your novel. Why 1980’s London?

1980s London was hilarious fun. We had an absolute ball. It was all incredibly creative, with ideas and style exploding in all directions. I was working at Vogue, going to masses of parties, doing everything on a shoestring, learning about editorial and magazines, clubbing in Soho and dragging my friends around with me everywhere. Lawrence Mynott, who did the cover for OAT, agrees with me that the 1980s was a great decade in which to come of age. I even had a mullet.... But OAT ranges through time as well, going back to WWII and coming up to the present day.

Your main character studied at Cambridge, and so did you. This must have been an important formative experience for you. What were the highlights?

Cambridge was a mixed experience for me. After 10 years of single sex boarding school I was determined to have fun, as well as studying Eng Lit, which was and is a passion. My last year was overshadowed by the suicide of a friend in the long vac – in those days there were no counsellors to help you make sense of things like that. It was vital to keep up a kind of rubbery resilience in order to survive in that wildly competitive atmosphere, laced with sexism and sprinkled with stardust, but I found it difficult towards the end.

How does being a novelist compare to being a magazine journalist?

Being a magazine (and newspaper) journalist is what I did for a living – it involved going into an office and managing people, as well as writing and commissioning. Being a novelist is something I have had to tuck into the corners of my life. My dream is to write fiction full time, and I visualise being a novelist as being able to write and research (both by travelling and in libraries) all the time – at home and elsewhere – which would be bliss.

You’ve had experience of editing as well as writing in your journalistic career, and this must have been helpful in editing the novel. What advice would you give to writers on editing their own work?

Editing your own work is almost impossible. You simply cannot see the typos as your mind is expecting something else. I was lucky enough to have a brilliant pair of editors in the last phase of OAT's professional production, who pointed out my errors and helped me to reconfigure bits of the novel so they made good sense. Sometimes they disagreed with each other, but it was all very light hearted. My advice to writers is to write what you want to write, and when you have a publisher, listen to their advice. If you really disagree with something, then say so, but keep it all light. There is a trend now for writers to join groups that critique each other's work. I have heard good and bad things about this – the problem being the agenda of other writers, and the tendency of all humans to find things to criticise rather than praise.

What response do you want the novel to invoke in your readers?

I want to provide engrossing enjoyment. OAT is an entertainment.

What are you working on now?

Right now I have to continue with my day job of creating editorial websites for people. I made one for OAT www.oneappletasted.co.uk. My next novel is called Sail Upon the Land, and I can't wait to clear the space in my life to knock the current baggy monster into shape.

You seem to have a lot of other things going on in your life – how do you fit it all in?

I wish I knew. I have been blessed with restless energy, and a very short attention span. I get bored incredibly easily which means I do everything very fast in order to get it out of the way for the things I love – being with my family, writing, walking etc. But if I tell you that I am sitting in a room in our new house, that is full to the ceiling with boxes that I have completely failed to unpack a week later; that I have an eight-year-old son, who is a bit poorly, yelling for me from downstairs; that my husband is in hospital having his broken leg seen to; that there are many emails asking for things from me professionally and that simply keeping the family fed under these circumstances is pretty complex. I still do manage to write though as it is an uncontrollable urge.

Many thanks to Josa for sharing her thoughts. I’ll post again here when my review of One Apple Tasted goes up on Bookersatz.


Cathy said...

That sounds like a great book, can't wait to read your review on Bookersatz!


Unknown said...

Thank you for allowing me to visit your blog, Helen, and I am looking forward to your review. Great questions that I enjoyed answering as well. If anyone else has any questions, please do ask in the comments. Josa x

Leigh Forbes said...

Thank you, Helen, for this! It's brilliant!

And Josa, I can sooo relate to your final answer - the little window on your real life.

Now I'm wondering, is your writing better (by which I suppose I mean more creative) if you write when you have time, or when you have had to make the time, i.e. do you thrive under pressure, or does the stress dull your creativity?

Unknown said...

Great interview. Looking forward to the review on Bookersatz.

Unknown said...

Leigh: I write at length best when I have a clear patch of time with a little pressure attached. The first draft of this particular novel poured out of me during office hours over a five week period. I am hoping in the autumn to clear the same kind of space for the major edit I need to do on the next one. I can write an article very quickly under almost any circumstances though - legacy of newspapers.

Queenie said...

Very interesting interview; thank you, Helen and Josa. I too can identify with your 'uncontrollable urge'.

Leigh Forbes said...

Thanks for the answer, Josa, and I wish you well with the edit.

Quillers said...

Great interview, and it's great to 'meet' you, Josa.

I love the name Dora Jerusalem. I always struggle with names for characters. So they always end up having names from a very small pool. Guy Boleyn is a great name too, suggesting intrigue and danger.

How do you come up with names for your characters? And, like me, do you need the name clear in your head before you start writing them?

Fiona Mackenzie. Writer said...

As I was working in London in the '80's, I'm sure I'll enjoy this book. You look too young, though, to be working then.

You mention your first agent. Did you change agents between books?

Did you find your first book took longer to write than your second?

Using my mother's excuse: I'm not being nosey - just interested.

Unknown said...

Quillers: I am not sure where the names come from. I think I am influenced by Dickens on this one, but without his skill. They mean a lot to me though, and I am glad you like them. Got some great ones coming up....

Unknown said...

Fia: I am older than I look I think. Inherited my mother's wonderful skin, and in the photo I had a lot of make up on, and my hair done. I had an agent within days of the first draft being completed, who was crazy about the book. Go to www.oneappletasted.co.uk for the whole story. I have been rejected by a lot of agents since, and do not have one currently although one has approached me now.

OAT is my only finished manuscript, so I don't know how long I will take next time.

And I want people to ask questions, so fire away everyone! Not nosey at all. I am fascinating by everyone's stories - they are all potent.

HelenMWalters said...

Thanks for these brilliant questions everyone, and a huge thank you to Josa for popping back to answer them.

Jill Steeples said...

Really interesting interview. I'm so impressed that you got the first draft written in five weeks, that's so inspiring. I guess that comes from your journalistic background.

Really looking forward to reading the novel now.

Thanks Helen and Josa.

Kath McGurl said...

Great interview, Helen, and the book sounds like something I would definitely like to read. I can feel a purchase coming on...

Jenny Darling said...

An interesting and informative interview, Helen. Can't wait to read the book for myself!

Quillers said...

Thanks for the answer, Josa. Yes, Dickens certainly knew how to name his characters!

Tamsyn Murray said...

Shoulder blades are wings? Fabulous news!!

claire p said...

Great interview, very intresting. Look forward to the review.

Kerry said...

Hiya Helen,

Been meaning to nip over for ages (the tinternet was v v slow in Phnom Penh) and congratulate you on finishing your novel....I think I missed the initial celebrations during my blog hiatus but I am so happy for you...and excited to see how the next chapter will unfold!

Kerry x

P.s. Also v interesting interview!

DJ Kirkby said...

Oh what fabulous answers, esp number 1!

Suzanne Ross Jones said...

Great post. Am off to read the review.

Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

Thanks for the interesting and informative interview.

I can understand that uncontrollable urge, but don't have as much to fit into my life as you do right now.

Can't wait to read the book, it sounds wonderful.