Today I have the great honour of doing an interview with Louise Jensen whose debut novel The Sister was one of the best debut novels I have read.
1. Louise as a debut novelist what was your inspiration behind writing The Sister?
I’d been googling self-publishing as I was toying with the idea of writing a book on Mindfulness, and I found a writing group, not a million miles away from me, who were discussing self-publishing that evening. I went along and the evening kicked off with a writing exercise. I was given three words and ten minutes to write something. My words included forest and shovel and the bare bones of chapter one was born. Driving home I couldn’t stop thinking of Grace and Charlie and how their story might progress, and after a few sleepless nights I put pen to paper and started to expand my story, never dreaming at that stage it would end up as a novel.
2. What made you want to become a novelist?
I’ve always loved books. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t read. At primary school, I was the only child allowed to take out more than one book a week and within a few months I’d read their entire stock.
Several years ago a car accident severely compromised my mobility and my life had to drastically change. Out went horse riding, long dog walks, trips to the gym, and in came sitting on the sofa feeling very sorry for myself. I began practicing Mindfulness, which completely transformed my way of thinking, and after I qualified as a Mindfulness teacher I decided to write a book about using Mindfulness to help cope with chronic health conditions and the emotional impact physical pain can have. While I was outlining this book I went to the writing group above and Grace and Charlie popped up and wouldn’t leave me alone until I’d told their story. I’ve loved every second of the novel writing process and now can’t imagine doing anything else.
3. If you could co-write with any author who would it be and why?
Ooohh – can I pick a songwriter here? I am a huge fan of The Counting Crows and the lyrics Adam Duritz writes, particularly on their early albums are so heartfelt, whenever I’m stuck for inspiration I put a track. A lot of his songs come from his real life experiences and to bare your soul like that, to engender such emotion, is something I really admire.
4. If you could ask one question to your favourite author, what would it be?
I would have to whizz back in time here and ask one of the classic authors how on earth they managed to write such long and beautiful novels without today’s technology. The editing process is slow enough when you can cut and paste. I can’t imagine writing everything out by hand over and over. I’d love to know if perhaps part of the reason the classics strike a chord with so many people is because of their rawness. There’s a danger with over editing I think, that quest for perfection can strip away some of the passion you pour into a first draft.
5. As a new author how important is it for you to have reviews?
Reviews are massively important and can make or break a writer. I was literally shaking with fear when I read my first review. Sending my story out into the word is so personal and my confidence as a new writer is fragile. My reviews so far have been amazing and I’m so grateful for readers for taking the time to post them. As an unknown author it’s essential to have someone recommending your book. I’ve learned a lot from my reviews so far. Picking out the pieces of the book readers like, the characters they bonded with, the ones they didn’t, it’s all been so helpful in shaping book two. I’m steeling myself for the not so good reviews that all writers inevitably get but I’m hoping they will still be constructive and I can learn from them too.
6. Is your novel based off of some personal experience?
Initially, no. I’d never experienced the level of loss Grace has and to get inside her head, to really feel her emotions I’d pretend I had, imagine how that grief would feel. A few months after the original version of the book was finished I did experience that loss which is still too raw to talk about but suffice to say this was a very hard story for me to go back to and work with the publishers on the edits. I almost deleted the whole thing on more than one occasion. Everything Grace felt, I was now feeling and the story became even more personal to me but Grace’s journey also gave me hope, watching how she coped, grew, triumphed.
7. If you could choose one person’s work to do a fan-fiction story or book of who would it be, and why?
Probably the TV show Friends. It never failed to make me laugh and I’d love to explore what Rachel, Joey and the gang are up to now.
8. I really enjoyed the book and was wondering if any of the characters are based off of people you know?
No. They came to me very fully formed with personalities of their own. I think with a first book it’s hard to keep yourself completely out of it so there are small pieces of me dotted throughout. Grace’s love of vinyl records, and chocolate, is very much me. Charlie is the friend I think everyone would love to have, fun, loyal and fearless. I didn’t think she’d have such a big part in the story initially but she shone through. I think the characters are all normal people with ordinary lives who happen to find themselves in extraordinary circumstances and they’re trying to do the best they can, as we all do.
Thanks so much for inviting me onto your blog, Sean.
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