Interview with Jean Cross

Describe your desk
It isn't a desk. It is an old wooden rostrum from a local school They were selling off some of the old furniture and we went along. The piece in question stood only eight or nine inches off the floor. It was used to hold a seated teacher and her desk. It is made of planks of wood atop a rectangular frame. It measures about four and a half feet by three feet. When we got it home we added legs, big sturdy four by four wooden ones. Then we cleaned it up and coated it lovingly with linseed oil.
Now it is the table we use for our computers, and we eat at it too. Right now there are far too many bits and pieces on it for my liking. This miscellaneous bunch of stuff includes a couple of folders, some eyeglasses, two mugs and other items. But under all that are the old planks that stood in a classroom while several generations of local children sat at their desks and learned about the wider world they are now part of. In fact, when we turned it over on bringing it home, we found several messages, left, no doubt, by some mischievous youngsters who thought the scribbles would not be found for a very long time. I like to think they were right.
What's the story behind your latest book?
Well the story behind sitting down to write it is that I had wanted to for a long time but had no idea what type of book to write, finally, I just did it. Not much of a tale there, I grant you, but the book is a different story. It is a good long read, the type I am fond of myself.
The story starts simply, in a small village three days before a big festival. All of the villagers are engrossed in preparation for the event and everyone has a job to do, including the young Brownfeathers and their friend Twanda Millington. The youngsters quickly get sidetracked as they stumble into a mystery which grows in complexity as they come to realize the true nature of the threat.
In The Jam Maker, the girls are at the forefront of the fight to save the village. This was important to me. I was determined from the outset to have strong female characters, even when I didn't know what type of book I was going to write. The older women too are capable and vital characters. As a feminist, it couldn't be any other way for me. So, I suppose my feminism was a big part of the story behind the book.
Another important aspect was my respect for community and my belief that we are at our best when working together. I believe that everyone is good at something and when we get a chance to use all of our talents in a single cause, we can be sublime.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
It suddenly became possible to publish your own stories. What author wouldn't find that intriguing? Well, those with a traditional publishing deal might not have been so enthused but to me, it was a golden road to a wonderful opportunity.
Of course, to self-publish is to embark on a difficult journey. Once the book is written, there is a lot of work to do. In my case producing the best edited and cleanest copy was a priority. I think that if indie authors are to gain respect and recognition for our work, it has to be of the highest standard.
Thankfully, there are lots of talented copy editors and editors out there in the indie community, and plenty of designers to get the look right too.
I guess, to get back to the question, I was motivated by the desire to see something I had written in print, as an actual book. That prospect was a powerful motivator. I also wanted to find out if I had it. If other people would take me seriously as an author. To find that out, I had to put my work out there.
To say that I am glad I did it would be an understatement. I am thrilled.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Watching the story unfold. This may sound odd, but when I started The Jam Maker, I had no idea what type of tale it would be until my fingers started to move over the keyboard. In moments I was introduced to Eloueese Turtlewine and she swept me up into her world. The first thing I learned about her was that she doesn't like Tuesdays, and she had me with that. Of course, she revealed very little else at the start and my fingers had to find all the other characters in the village and get to the heart of the mystery myself.
It was a joy indeed, spending my days with the inhabitants of Splickety Village. Sometimes I would try to nudge them in one direction only to find that they were determined to go their own way and I would just have to follow them to see what was going to happen next. It was a great joy, especially when they made me laugh out loud.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Outside. I have a rather large polythene tunnel and I like to grow vegetables of all kinds but my favourites are tomatoes. For some reason I have taken to the cultivation of these fruits with great enthusiasm. One of the highlights of my year is to see the small seedlings appear in the pots and when the tiny fruit forms on the vine it makes my week. I love everything about growing food. It is such a pleasure to eat your own produce and I particularly revel in the little treats, such as the tiny carrots that come from thinning out the row, or the taste of a pea fresh from the pod.
I live in the west of Ireland, on two acres of land in Co. Mayo. The soil is good, but the bedrock lies close to the surface and this renders the land unsuitable for growing anything but grass which sustains the sheep and cattle farming in our county. However, there is an abundance of wild growth in the hedgerows. As I write this, we are in early Autumn. There are wild damsons ready to be picked for jam and the apples in the orchard are ripe.
So, when I am not writing I like to go out. To walk the dog down the lane where we live, to ponder the wonders of nature all around me and to breathe it in, deeply.
What is your writing process?
I open a file and stare at the cursor. Then a sentence begins to form in the wake of its progress across the top of the page. A character crops up and I begin to get some understanding of their circumstance. They meet someone else. Dialogue ensues. I start to realize that all is not as it appears to be.
My process is to ease into a place, its inhabitants and the plot. I don't have it all laid out before hand. But that is not to say I have no idea of some of the broader strokes. Take The Jam Maker, I always intended to write the girls as strong characters, I always intended the community to be an important factor. When I met Eloueese Turtlewine in the first paragraph, I liked her immediately. I knew at the outset that she would be an important person.
So, I suppose, my process is that I have an inkling, or perhaps, more accurately, a humour, a mood, an urge to write. The actual story only begins to be told when the words begin to appear on the screen.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I was born in Dublin, Ireland, in nineteen fifty-nine and that's where I grew up. I remember my childhood as ordinary and settled. My dad went out to work and my mother stayed at home. She was a terrific baker and cook. I was warm and safe. I was also quiet. I watched people. The world was always a bit of a mystery to me and when I was younger I never felt quite a part of it. Joining it scared the living daylight out of me. I shrank from the expectations I felt it had for me.
I was always drawn to stories and fantasy worlds and wonderful characters. I still am.
I was an ideologist as a teenager. Coming to understand the plight of the needy and the poor and the oppression of women in the world, I formed a political outlook on life. My views developed in stark contrast to the teaching of the Catholic Church which had educated me.
I suppose that Dublin in the nineteen sixties and seventies gave me a sense of place and home. It was certainly under the thrall of the church, in a broad sense, but it was full of intelligence and humour and community spirit. That seeped into me. When I left the church behind, I had Dublin still in my veins. And, I have to say, the nuns did teach me to write.
When did you first start writing?
Like most people, I learned to write at school. First, there was the technicality of forming letters and words. I remember the care and attention it took to form a perfect letter, it seemed to take ages to move the pencil through the hoops of an 'm' or the long, curled tail of a 'g'. But in those moments, I was in my own world. I wanted to get it right. I loved the letters. I dug deep onto the page of my copy book and you could read whatever I had written in the indentations on the next page, and probably the page after that too!
When it came to putting those letters into sentences, I was happy, I lingered over the spectacle of all those wonderful little letters in a line with a full stop at the end. Words always mattered to me. Then came imagination. When I got the change to put those two together I entered another world and I have not left it.
I remember writing essays at school. We called them 'compositions' and we were usually tasked with one every weekend. Though I often left the job too late on Sunday evening, once I started the words just flowed. My compositions usually took on an element of fantasy, pushing the interpretation of the assigned title and I reveled in them. Looking back, these were my first writings. I have to say that the nuns never appreciated my spellings and my copy book would be returned to me decorated with red lines and exclamation marks. But I always got a high mark and was very often asked to read my effort out to the class. Thankfully my spelling is much improved.
What do your fans mean to you?
The world. I believe that if I am lucky enough to have fans, I must be writing well. There is great satisfaction in that thought. If other people are interested in what I write, it encourages me to value my work and to endeavour to improve it. Fans provide an incentive, the urge to please and surprise them becomes a factor.
Fans also give me a sense of camaraderie, I feel as if we are all in the adventure together. I always enjoy the shared appreciation for an imaginative creation. Whether that be a barely know new world recently presented in a first novel, or a well-known and well-loved universe. As a fan myself, I like the sense of kinship that comes with understanding the specific language and appreciating the characters that inhabit a particular literary world. It is like sharing a secret.
What are you working on next?
There are still some unresolved issues in Splickety Village and, without giving much away, some of the characters have difficult decisions to make. Factor in the determination of a certain villain, and well, let's just say I have a feeling that I should go back to see just what is going on. I am curious to find out how the revelations settled on the youngsters and what impact the new access to the hidden caves will have.

So, I suppose, that's what I'll be working on next.
Published 2017-09-11.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

The Jam Maker
Price: $6.32 USD. Words: 175,130. Language: British English. Published: August 21, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » General
The Jam Maker is a tale of adventure set in a quirky village where all is not as it seems. When their homes are overrun by an ancient enemy, teenagers Bernie and Joxey Brownfeather must rise to the challenge. But their task is not a straightforward one. When they learn of the true history of the village, they must decide what they are prepared to sacrifice in the struggle for victory.