Q&A With Author Kerensa Jennings
Q&A With Author Kerensa Jennings
Today on the blog we welcome author Kerensa Jennings, with her guest post ‘Q&A: Kerensa Jennings‘ as part of the blog tour for her new book, ‘Seas of Snow’, released 5th April 2018.
Kerensa Jennings is a storyteller, strategist, writer, producer and professor. Kerensa’s TV work took her all over the world, covering everything from geo-politics to palaeontology, and her time as Programme Editor of Breakfast with Frost coincided with the life-changing events of 9/11.
The knowledge and experience she gained in psychology by qualifying and practising as an Executive Coach has only deepened her fascination with exploring the interplay between nature and nurture and with investigating whether evil is born or made – the question at the heart of Seas of Snow.
As a scholar at Oxford, her lifelong passion for poetry took flight. Kerensa lives in West London and over the last few years has developed a career in digital enterprise.
Q&A: Kerensa Jennings
Why did you write a book?
The original inspiration for SEAS OF SNOW started many years ago when I was leading the BBC News coverage of the Soham case. I worked closely with the Cambridgeshire Police and through the twists and turns of the investigation, became fascinated by the question of whether evil was born or made. Getting an insight in the mind and motives of a psychopath was profoundly affecting, and as the story of what happened in that case horrified the nation, it touched and horrified me.
Mulling over the way our minds work led me to want better to understand our psychological make-up. So I went on to train and qualify as an Executive Coach. The coursework covered research and practical work in differing fields of psychology. I found it so intriguing I went on to qualify as an MBTI practitioner and also an Executive Coach Supervisor.
So the seed at the start of Seas of Snow was a process of catharsis, wanting to find closure in some way for the emotional impact working on that case for so many months had on me. I wanted to investigate whether evil was born or made, which is the question at the heart of Seas of Snow.
My story takes places in the 1950s and there is a very bad man – Uncle Joe; and a little girl – Gracie. It’s a story of trust, friendship, love… and what happens when that trust is broken. The shattered dreams. The consequences. It’s also a story about the transformational effect reading and writing can have on a person. Being able to escape into flights of fantasy, immerse yourself in a whole different world, learn to process your feelings and the behaviours of others… the power of literature as the best self-help on the planet.
Gracie falls in love with poetry and it is her passion for diving into the depths of words – their meaning, their sounds, the way they interplay and weave – this passion which sustains her through heartbreaking torments in her life.
Do you write every day?
Yes I do, each and every day. I always have done, ever since I could hold a pencil! Most days I write either little phrases or aperçus; or some lines of poetry. Some days I write short stories and some days I write whole poems. Writing is the way I process my feelings and emotions. I would go so far as to say I need to write.
Do you work to a plot or do you prefer to see where the idea takes you?
When I write long-form, I build my story scaffolding first… so I know how the story begins, develops and ends. And I plan out some of the structural elements, especially for a novel like SEAS OF SNOW which has perspective shifts and moves backwards and forwards in time.
But the writing itself just flows out of me, almost like automatic writing. So the process of writing is like being a privileged witness to something magical… I am discovering as I go along and I eagerly read as I write to find out what happens next!
Sometimes an idea comes from an object or a photo. Gracie and Billy (from SEAS OF SNOW) arrived fully formed in my head – and I realised I had seen them before. On the front cover of a beautiful book I bought in Paris, there is a delightful black and white 1950s photograph by the extraordinary American photographer W Eugene Smith – a little girl dressed in a smock holding hands with a little boy. Walking off into woodlands together, slightly silhouetted from the back; haloed in light but embarking into darkness. A whisper of evil lurking over them as the voyeuristic viewer sees their innocence clinging precariously between them, the picture of sweetness possibly soon to be tainted by who knew what horror… I even place the photograph itself into SEAS OF SNOW, as Gracie’s Mam takes a picture of Gracie and Billy when they head out to play one day…
How long does it take you to write a book?
I have a very, very busy day job, so I wrote SEAS OF SNOW in all my holidays between 2009 and 2013, then completed the submission edit in 2014. I got the book deal in 2015 then spent a great deal of time in 2016 working on the development edit, the structural edit, the tweaks arising from the copy editor’s comments (I had 42 queries to address from changing ‘ale’ to ‘stout’ to deciding whether a piece of furniture was a ‘console’ or a ‘sideboard’!). Then there was the formatting edit followed by two rounds of proof reading. Phew! Soooooo much work goes into making a book. But every moment is worth it… being a published author is the thing I am most proud of in my life.
Q What’s the worst thing about writing a book?
The thing I enjoyed least was the structural edit. The publisher returned my development edit with a series of adjustments where they bunched up a lot of my sparsely-written sentences into blocks of paragraphs. I didn’t like this at all and felt it missed the point of the writing in places as the fragmented style was reflecting a character’s mindset or the dissonance of a situation. So I had to go through each and every line of the book with my original version on my iPad and the proposed new ‘bunching’ in a Word document on my laptop. I then went through each and every bit to work out whether to keep the new ‘bunching’ or take it back to how it was. In many instances where I felt it could work, I kept the bunching, but in many others I reverted it to the original. This was a long and tedious and hugely time-consuming and difficult job. I disliked it intensely!
What’s the best thing about writing a book?
The sheer joy of writing… I can’t begin to describe the pleasure I experience when I write. I just love it.
And getting published, of course… it’s an amazing feeling knowing something that was once in your head is being held in someone’s hands. When someone reads your book, for them the characters are real people. That is an extraordinary thing for an author.
Why did you choose your particular genre?
Hmm… I think my genre chose me!
It’s a bit of a hybrid but not by design. The writing just spilled out. SEAS OF SNOW has been described as crime fiction, as a psychological thriller, and as literary fiction. I think it might be a bit of all of those and it is thanks to the vision of my publisher Unbound that something as hard to categorise as this is now out there.
If you had to write in a different genre, which would you choose?
I go where the writing takes me. I have been told by several people I should write a ghost story because I am able to create suspenseful scenarios… But my writing style is very definitely literary so whichever route I take, that is the way I write. I am a poet… this bleeds through everything I create.
Which book character do you wish you had written?
What a brilliant question. I am really struggling with this one! I think either Levin by Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina – because of his values and decency; or Lord Voldemort by JK Rowling in Harry Potter – because of the visceral depravity of his actions… so memorable; or Pip by Charles Dickens in Great Expectations – because of his journey and his extraordinary character.
What do you think are the best and the worst about social media?
The best aspects of social media include the sense of support and encouragement you get from readers, reviewers, fellow authors and friends. There is an atmosphere of positivity and genuine appreciation that I love.
I also really like the fact you can have conversations with real live people who have read your work. Amazing!
It’s also a brilliant way to reach a lot of people with something you want to share. If you remain authentic to yourself and are generous to others, it’s simply incredible how people pitch in and help. Even the fact I am doing this interview is a perfect example of that.. plans for a book blog tour to help promote SEAS OF SNOW fell through so I posed a question on social media wondering if anyone could help.. and now look! Three days later we had a ten day book blog tour with 21 participating reviewers and authors! You are one of the wonderful people who kindly said you would be part of it!
The worst aspects of social media include how time consuming it can be. I feel really guilty if I know I need to get back to people, especially if they have been kind about my book or posts I have written. Time is such a precious commodity, it’s hard to fit everything you need to do in a day. I run a company in my ‘day job’ which is all-consuming… it’s hard to take your foot off the accelerator and focus on something which is more personal… like writing.A more malevolent side of social media is the bullying and trolling that can take place. Just awful what some people feel they can say behind the anonymity a keyboard….
The other very negative aspect of social media is the dissemination of fake news, and the ensuing hysteria that can be sparked. As a journalist, I was trained to always double-source all apparent facts. These days people re-tweet and share posts with alacrity and little sense of questioning about the veracity of the information. It can be at best disruptive and at worst incredibly dangerous.
A few questions, just for fun:
If you could be invisible for a day, what would you do?
I would scribble little surprising notes in condensation, on notepads, on stickies, on posters, on billboards and in cute unexpected places for all the world’s sad, or angry, or bitter, or regretful, or jealous, or resentful or despairing people…. with messages designed to make them smile and feel inspired to see the best in people and situations. To try to give something back and to experience a bit of the wonder of life.
I’d maybe quote Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata or extracts from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet (especially the extract I quote a lot in SEAS OF SNOW!). A few of my very good friends have died – the first when I was 14 and a couple of others in my adulthood. Their lives, and so many others, had their lives cut desperately short. Life is a precious, beautiful thing. It can be full of challenges and vexing situations and difficult people… it can be painful and heartbreaking at times. But each and every day is a precious gift. I do my best to see a glimmer of hope and kindness in people. If I was invisible for a day I’d like to try to prompt a little of that in others who are struggling. Anyone who follows me on Twitter will see I try to share uplifting quotes about kindness and courage and thinking positively. So I try to do a bit of it even without being invisible!
If I joined you on your perfect day, what would we be doing?
Well I fear you may be a bit bored! I would arrange for a warm, sunny day and spend part of it being somewhere beautiful outdoors, reading and writing. By the sea or in the mountains somewhere serene and breathtaking.
I would spend part of the day wandering in the landscape enjoying nature and breathing in a sense of freedom and lightness. I would eat and drink gorgeous food and wine, and I would feel relaxed and happy. Even better (if you wouldn’t feel too much of a gooseberry), I would make sure someone I love and am loved by can share the day with me.
What’s your signature dish?
Hmmm a tricky one. I love cooking. In fact I like creating in so many different ways! I especially like making something delicious and creative from whatever I happen to have around. In terms of one go-to dish, there’s a chicken and leek pie recipe by Jamie Oliver I like to make. I can whip up a yummy cheese sauce for cauliflower cheese practically with my eyes closed, and that is always a winner, and I like cooking steaks. I’m also a fan of putting together some lovely cheeses and cold meats with salads and soft fruits for an easy throw-together supper.
If you could be anyone for the day, who would you be?
I think it would be fascinating to spend a day being Rumi. Imagine being that wise, and being able to write that beautifully. Imagine being able to inspire people… and being able to transcend time, culture and heritage with the beauty and wisdom of your words.
Publisher – Unbound
Pages – 352
Release Date – 5th April 2018
ISBN 13 – 978-1783525669
Format – ebook, paperback, hardcover
1950s England. Five-year-old Gracie Scott lives with her Mam and next door to her best friend Billy. An only child, she has never known her Dad. When her Uncle Joe moves in, his physical abuse of Gracie’s mother starts almost immediately. But when his attentions wander to Gracie, an even more sinister pattern of behaviour begins.
As Gracie grows older, she finds solace and liberation in books, poetry and her enduring friendship with Billy. Together they escape into the poetic fairy-tale worlds of their imaginations.
But will fairy tales be enough to save Gracie from Uncle Joe’s psychopathic behaviour – and how far will it go?
Seas of Snow is a haunting, psychological domestic drama that probes the nature and the origins of evil.
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