debut spotlight feature introducing readers to Jennifer Burke and her prize winning debut novel The Secret Son and now today it's publication day of her second novel Levi's Gift. Hope you enjoy your launch in Dublin tonight Jennifer x
It's my pleasure to welcome Jennifer back to the blog to give us an insight into the inspiration about Levi's Gift which I for one cannot wait to read.
Can you tell us a little bit about your latest book Levi's Gift?
Shortly after I finished my first book, The Secret Son, I travelled to Italy with my choir. We travelled up into the Tuscan hills to a seminary, where we sang and listened to the seminarians sing too. It was one of the most beautiful places I had ever visited, and I found the lifestyle intriguing – it was so far removed from my own life. I decided then that I wanted to write a story that was set in that place and, before I knew it, characters were popping into my head and storylines were tripping over each other to be told.
What inspired you to write about mother and daughter going together to a seminary as a healing process?
I decided that if I was going to set a novel in such a beautiful place, it would have to be a deep and powerful story. I knew then I had to write about love, and not just romantic love. One of the key relationships in Levi’s Gift is that between Lena and her twenty year old daughter Mattie. The story centres on their difficult attempt to get to know each other after years of emotional distance. What better backdrop than a picturesque seminary nestled in the Italian hills, a place that has the appearance of tranquillity, but which for Lena stirs memories that are anything but peaceful.
Levi's Gift sounds like it's going to be an emotional read for us readers, was it as emotional for you writing it?
Actually, it was quite emotional for me. I put a lot of myself into this book. Not my own personal experiences I hasten to add! But I made myself think deeply about what the characters were going through – I made a huge effort to imagine how I would have felt in their position. As a result, I feel very close to them, particularly the two narrators, Lena and Mattie.
Is it easier second time round going through the writing/publishing process?
Yes, it is easier this time, especially in relation to the publishing process. My first novel, The Secret Son, was published after I won TV3’s Write a Bestseller competition, so there was a tight deadline, everything happened so fast. This year, I know a bit more about the process and am more prepared for the important job of promoting the book. From a writing point of view, I learnt so much from my editor last year. Her comments on The Secret Son were invaluable and I tried to pre-empt things she would pick up on in Levi’s Gift. As a result, we had very few edits to make – most of them were minor.
What's next in the pipeline for you?
I have already started my third book which, all going well, will be published next year. I’m very excited about it as it’s quite different from The Secret Son and Levi’s Gift. There are some similarities, but there is more action in my third book. I think it will be more gritty. It’s a challenge for me and I’m loving it so far.
Are you a plotter or a start writing and see where it takes you writer?
Both! I’m a big fan of plotting and planning a novel. Contrary to the belief that a plan only serves to constrain, I find it invaluable. As a writer, you need to understand the flow and progression of your novel in minute detail and planning is essential for this. But once the plan is in place, it is important to let your imagination run free and to explore your characters. Knowing the plan is there to steady me makes me freer to go off on wild tangents.
If you were going to look back on your career in the future, what do you hope to have achieved?
I have already achieved my two primary goals – first, to finish a novel, and second, to get a novel published. Now looking forward, I hope to be in a position someday where I can devote more time to my writing. The dream would be full time, but even if I could give the majority of my week to writing, that would be great. In 2012, I took the summer off to write full time. I was very focused and wrote full days. It’s amazing how much I got done, but also how much my writing progressed when I gave that focused time to it. To have that opportunity again would be incredible – I’d be excited about what I could achieve.
Are there any authors who inspired you when you were starting out on your writing career?
JK Rowling was a huge inspiration. Her story is well known – she was a single mum living on welfare and, as she said herself, was as poor as it was possible to be in England without being homeless. If anyone had a legitimate excuse not to write it was her – she was busy trying to make ends meet while taking care of a baby alone. For me, I kept putting off the mammoth task of tackling a novel because I was too busy with other things in my life. But when I thought about JK Rowling nipping into coffee shops to write for a few minutes every time her daughter fell asleep in the buggy, I realised that I was just making excuses. If this woman could do it, when she had every reason in the world not to commit to writing, then I could too. That was when I started putting time aside to write The Secret Son.
If you could do a writing collaboration with anyone, who would you like to write with and why?
Oh Sharon, that’s a great question! I’d like to collaborate with Jodi Picoult. She isn’t afraid to tackle controversial issues, and I think I’d learn a lot from her experience of putting together a story, and writing from different viewpoints while keeping the ultimately flow of the book for the reader.
If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?
I’ve written a series of articles for writing.ie on this very topic. It is hard to pick just one, but an important truism of which all writers must be aware is “writing is re-writing.” If you’ve finished a first draft of your book, congratulations. But know that the first draft is never the final novel. You’ll need to assess it for problems as basic as typos and as complex as style. Look at the language, tone and flow. From the settings and descriptions, to voice and tense; from chapter size to character development, all aspects of your story must be re-visited. A completed first draft is really just a starting point. The writing happens in the re-writing.
When you’ve finished writing a book, do you treat yourself to a reward?
Have you got anything exciting planned for publication?
I’m having a launch in Dubrays on Grafton Street. It’s my opportunity to celebrate with family and friends the fact that I managed to turn this nub of an idea into a finished book.
Where would be your idyllic location for a writing retreat?
Anywhere, as long as it’s near water – ideally the sea. Nothing is as calming and inspiring as the vast expense of the ocean.