Saturday, 9 July 2016

Author Interview: Jennifer Burke

Today it's my pleasure to welcome Jennifer Burke, an author whose writing career I have followed from the start when she won a writing competition in 2013, back to the blog to talk about her third book One Monday Morning which was published last week.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your writing journey? 
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. Little stories and poems when I was a kid, and I kept on writing sporadically as I grew up. But it wasn’t until 2011, when I qualified as a solicitor, that I took a step back and asked myself that crucial question – what do I really want to do with my life? The answer was immediate and without qualification – I wanted to write. I knew if I didn’t start prioritising writing no matter how busy I was in work and life, I’d never finish a novel.

So I started putting time aside every day to write. I took a course in the Irish Writer’s Centre to help me get started. I joined a writing group and started perusing writing websites regularly. Eventually, I finished The Secret Son, though I got nothing but rejections when I sent it out. So I put it away in my drawer and started on a new book. While being published was my dream, ultimately I knew if it never happened I was still a writer, and would keep on making up stories for the rest of my life.

Then, on the excellent, I spotted a “Write a Bestseller” competition being run by television station TV3. Without any expectation, I submitted my dusty old copy of The Secret Son. A few months later, I was working away in my office when a camera crew burst in to reveal I had won the competition, and with it a three book deal with Poolbeg Press! 

Suddenly, life just got a whole lot more exciting!

One Monday Morning is a story revolving around deeply hidden secrets amongst friends, where did the inspiration come from?  
I took a chance with One Monday Morning. The issues with which my characters struggle are quite controversial, and are headline news at the moment. One Monday Morning does not come down on any side of a particular argument – rather what interests me was how characters who are flung into these situations cope. 

I recently moved to London for my “day job” (!) as a lawyer, and while I’m enjoying living in this thriving city, I miss my family and friends back home. I have come to appreciate my friends from home even more, and love that they make such an effort to keep in touch. It is not surprising to me, then, that friendship would emerge as one of the more important aspects of the book. 

While One Monday Morning explores emotive and potential divisive issues, ultimately it is the positive side of friendship that is the strongest part of the book. 

If you had to describe One Monday Morning in one sentence, what would it be?
A story about the importance of friendship in surviving an unpredictable world.

Trish has been friends with Ciara and Stephen since they were teenagers. Now in their thirties, they are still as close as ever. But there are secrets even best friends cannot share.

The death of a stranger prompts Trish to realise that her long-hidden past may soon be exposed, with potentially disastrous consequences for her family.

Behind closed doors, her friends are each struggling to contain their own secrets. Ciara is forced to confront the future she has so long avoided, while Stephen must face reality when arguments at home take a dark turn.

When planning a new novel which comes first, the plot or the characters?  
What an interesting question! For me, it’s all about the characters and the order for my books went like this – 
  1. I got the nub of an idea – eg. what if a father’s will revealed a dark secret? (The Secret Son); this beautiful place I’m visiting would make the perfect setting for a story (Levi’s Gift); true friends can help me cope with anything (One Monday Morning).

  2. I started imagining characters in the situation created by the idea above. Character often come to me quickly and fully formed, with names, looks and identities. I hardly feel justified saying I made them up! They are already there in my mind. If I am not emotionally invested in the characters, I’ll drop the idea. Character development is what fascinates me most, and in my view what makes for the most compelling stories.

  3. Plot. Once I have an idea and engaging characters, I’ll start to map my stories. But the plot is usually linked to the characters. Where do I want this character to end up? What conflict is this character facing and how will he or she overcome it? That drives the plot, and once I have characters with depth whose history is well fleshed out, the plot emerges almost naturally.
Describe your writing process, do you have set writing hours or write when you can?   
I write for one hour every weekday before work. It’s not a huge commitment. Some writers boast about writing for hours before work, but that’s not sustainable. One hour every day is doable. I’m freshest in the morning and get a lot done. I also make sure to put aside a full weekend day every few weeks, and I take a week’s annual leave every year to write full time. Of course, I love writing, and will often find myself writing in the evenings or on weekends, outside of my “core hours”. If I was never to publish another book, I’d still be writing. It’s my favourite thing to do.

What essentials do you need to have close to hand when you are in writing mode? 
I need quiet. Coffee shops draw many authors, but I find they always have music on in the background! I prefer a quiet space, so usually stay in my bedroom or living room. Other than that – a comfortable chair, a large cup of tea and a pen and paper (sometimes sketching out characters/plot helps while I’m typing away the story on my screen).

If you get a plot block during the initial writing phase, how do you work your way through it? 
I go for a long walk to “mind mooch”. Preferably somewhere quiet and scenic. There is a lovely 10k river walk near where I live that is perfect. 

“Mind mooching” involves mulling over the story, characters and plot as I walk. Thinking while sitting is surprisingly difficult and unproductive. Fresh air, exercise and physical movement helps get my brain going. Plus, there is no chance to stop and write down what I’m thinking, which can often hinder the flow of imagination. By the end of the walk, I have usually moved on from whatever was blocking me.

What authors have influenced you as a writer?
Emma Donoghue, Jodi Picoult and most recently Donal Ryan. His prose are so beautiful, I could read his books all day long.

Finally what can we expect from you next? 
More books! I’m nearly finished my next book, and have started plotting two more. Watch this space!

No comments:

Post a Comment