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Tue, 15 Sep 2009 02:45
Having lived and worked in Japan and China, Jayne Joso now divides her time between London and Wales. Soothing Music for Stray Cats is her first novel. Joso's first children's book, How do you Feel? was recently published by Benesse in Japan and her first play, China's Smile, commissioned in celebration of China's Children's Day, enjoyed a long theatre run and was later televised. As well as fiction and drama, Joso has a huge fascination with Architecture and has written for publications such as Architecture Today magazine and German publisher, Prestel Art.
Mark Thwaite: What first gave you the idea for writing Soothing Music for Stray Cats?
Jayne Joso: Well, several things. I wanted to explore writing a novel as a man; I wanted to explore using music and fiction as a way of fathoming things, you know... understanding and dealing with life; and I was very interested in writing about suicide, mainly because it's a subject people quite naturally shy away from discussing. I wanted to explore how people react, and the often overly simplistic ways people have of pigeonholing those who feel that way. I wanted to look at the effects on those who are left behind and write a character trying to better understand what suicidal feelings are, and then trying to work out if it's possible to see when someone else is really close to the edge. Although the book contains quite a lot of humour, and I think is predominantly warm, I needed it to be somewhat discomforting otherwise it wouldn't be affecting. I wanted to open things up a little rather than close things down or oversimplify... or I felt I would be doing a disservice to the families and friends of people who've taken their own lives. I could talk about this for hours, but I guess that was the most potent set of feelings and motivation behind the book.
Mark Thwaite: Soothing Music for Stray Cats is your debut novel, Jayne, but it isn't the first thing you've written, is it...?
Jayne Joso: No, I've written 3 other works of fiction, novels, though one is more of a novella. Soothing Music is the first to be published, and it looks as though Perfect Architect will be next. I've also written a wee children's book; plays; journalism; and ghosting. Am also partial to the writing of postcards (wink).
Mark Thwaite: Tell us a little about how you came to get published.
Jayne Joso: Oh... 'rejection', that fits into ye olde pain bucket doesn't it? Suffice to say, it took longer than I wanted, and was harder than I thought. Glad it's over.
Mark Thwaite: Your lead character, Mark, uses music and literature to help make sense of the difficult things in life -- do you!?
Jayne Joso: Sure, life for me would be very much harder to navigate if it wasn't for reading great lines and listening to top lyrics. Some of my best friends are fictional, but that's the beauty of it, reading is a very intimate relationship. I think George Eliot said something about how we meet characters in fiction we might aspire to be, or aspire to meet... I think novels are often populated by characters who are better/wiser than ourselves...
Mark Thwaite: Mark feels very "real" -- how difficult was it to make him so convincing and authentic?
Jayne Joso: I don't know to be honest, is my clumsy answer. I walked around with him in my head for a very long time before I wrote him. Once his 'voice' was clear to me, I felt I could get on with things. But I needed to feel I knew him really well, that I knew his life, thoughts, feelings and so on to any situation, in or outside of the book. I think of it almost like method acting... I now know Mark better than I know myself.
Mark Thwaite: What was the trickiest aspect of writing your book? How did you overcome it?
Jayne Joso: Research into suicide. Makes you blue. Writing my kids' book, which was all about happy feelings, was perfectly timed (slap in the middle of writing the novel) and a beautiful antidote. It also helped me feed light stuff and humour back into the novel.
Mark Thwaite: How do you write? Longhand or directly onto a computer, straight off or with lots and lots of editing?
Jayne Joso: I fill a couple of notebooks longhand before I touch the keyboard. And when I type I re-write constantly. Soothing Music took me roughly two years.
Mark Thwaite: Did you know how Soothing Music for Stray Cats would end before you began, or was writing the novel a journey of discovery for you?
Jayne Joso: I always know the ending at the start even though I might decide to change it. Endings are really important to me.
Mark Thwaite: You've lived in China and Japan -- tell us something about your time there?
Jayne Joso: How long have you got? Perhaps I'll just mention that this novel was influenced by the slightly different cultural landscape of suicide in Japan... hence the Japanese character, Kazu, who shows up later in the novel.
Mark Thwaite: What do you do when you are not writing Jayne?
Jayne Joso: Nice ordinary stuff, sleep is a favourite; swimming, walking... going to gigs... anything from: Ian Brown or Glasvegas to Don Giovanni.
Mark Thwaite: Did you have an idea in your mind of your "ideal" reader? Did you write specifically for them?
Jayne Joso: No, not at all. (I'd like millions of readers, would like to think they were all ideal!)
Mark Thwaite: What are you working on now?
Jayne Joso: Finishing a play, and working on the edits for the next novel, Perfect Architect -- which is loads of fun.
Mark Thwaite: Who is your favourite writer?
Jayne Joso: I admire loads of people... Nabokov, Virginia Woolf, Italo Calvino, John Steinbeck, Pynchon...
Mark Thwaite: Do you have any tips for the aspiring writer!?
Jayne Joso: Yeah, and this is a quote from another writer, whose name I cannot recall, sorry... 'Only write if it is essential to your wellbeing to do so.' Other than that, enjoy! Or play guitar.
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