Introducing my friends and fellow (or should that be sister?) authors of Honno – The longest-standing independent women’s press in the UK – who will be at the Honno Book Fair on the 7th May 2022 , 10.00am until 4.00pm, at the Queens Hall, Narberth, Pembrokeshire.
If you’re in the area,we’d be thrilled if you popped in to say hello.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be introducing each author. I’ll also be showcasing Honno.
Today, I’m really pleased to be joined by Crystal Jeans.
Hi and welcome, Crystal. Good to see you here today.
It’s good to be with you, Judith
Tell us, please, how many books have you written, and which is your favourite?
I’ve written four books and though my latest, The Inverts, is my favourite, I have a special place in my heart for The Vegetarian Tigers of Paradise, as it was my first.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
Someone else did actually – Catherine Merriman, a fellow Honno author, suggested it. She was my teacher at the time and she lifted it out of the text. It was in reference to an illustration from my Children’s Book of Bible Stories – it showed tigers and lambs and people frollocking in paradise (I grew up a Jehovah’s Witness). I’d wondered if the tigers were vegetarian in paradise.
What part of the book did you have the hardest time writing? Or what was your hardest scene to write, and why?
No particular part was difficult. Overall, it was hard trying to splice together what was essentially a collection of personal essays into a novel. Emotionally, it was hard writing about my mother as I wasn’t on speaking terms with her at the time. But I got to flex my magnanimity muscle, which made me feel very noble (we’re fine now). I also struggled with fictionalising it. Looking back, I could have gone further. I was too close to it.
If you’re planning a sequel, can you tantalize us with a snippet of your plans for it? If not, your plans for your next book?
I’m not writing a sequel but I would like to return to creative non-fiction one day. I thought I’d scratched that itch with The Vegetarian Tigers of Paradise but apparently not. I’d like to write very honest essays about sex. I will never write about my family again. I felt awful when VToP came out – my mother loved it but she was very anxious about how she might be perceived and I felt bad for her. Guilty. Right now I’m working on a historical fiction novel. It’s too early for me to talk about.
At what point did you think of yourself as a writer?
When I started writing my first novel at age 21. It was terrible by the way.
Have you ever considered writing under a pseudonym, and why or why not?
No. I love my name. And it already sounds made-up.
What do the words “writer’s block” mean to you?
Hell. I’ve only had writer’s block once, when I was pregnant. I watched a lot of TV and felt very empty.
What do you need in your writing space to help you stay focused?
Tea and nicotine. Radio 2 played on low. And a walking treadmill or a knee stool. Sitting at a desk for years has ruined my back.
Are there therapeutic benefits to modelling a character after someone you know?
Yes. Writing about my mother made me really think hard about how she might have felt at certain points of her life, like when she lost her own mother at 14. As I said, we weren’t speaking at the time, and part of the reason I ended up wanting to make up with her was the empathy I felt recounting (fictionalised) parts of her life.
What is the most difficult part of your writing process?
The first draft. I absolutely love the editing process though. It’s like a fun puzzle and I could do it all day.
How do you use social media as an author?
I don’t. I’m beyond crap at using social media to promote my work. I don’t have a lot of time for it, or enthusiasm. I don’t really understand how Twitter works – am I supposed to add anyone who adds me? I personally have never bought a book because I’ve seen an author’s Twitter feed. I buy books through word-of-mouth. My agent tells me that it does make a difference for some authors – those who seem like they actually enjoy it. I think if I was in my teens/early twenties when my books came out, I would have been brilliant at social media book promotion because I was such a flaming narcissist and attention seeker back then. Now, the prospect fills me with dread and low-level anxiety.
Why did you choose Honno as a publisher?
Honestly? None of the big London publishers would accept unsolicited manuscripts, I couldn’t get an agent, so I tried the Welsh indies, who did accept unsolicited MMS. Honno turned out to be a great fit though and I have nothing but praise for Caroline, my editor.
Crystal Jeans has had three books published by Honno – The Vegetarian Tigers of Paradise, which was shortlisted for the Polari Prize, Light Switches are my Kryptonite, which won Wales Book of the Year in the English language for fiction, and The Homeless Heartthrob, a collection of short stories. The Inverts was published by Borough Press in 2021. She lives in Pontypridd with her wife and two children.
My twitter – @crystaljeans1