Writers Talk — Jenny Pattrick

Posted on Aug 21, 2013 | Comments Off on Writers Talk — Jenny Pattrick

Jenny PattrickLike the rest of the country and many overseas readers, I loved Denniston Rose and its sequels – and all the other novels Jenny has written.  I visited Denniston Plateau last year and as I stood there, imagined what it must have been like for the women who lived on that plateau – some of whom found the trip up the incline so hideous that they never went down again and I was glad all over again that Jenny had alerted me to theirlives and their stories…  

Here’s Jenny…

Story — which comes first — subject, characters, story or place — or other?

It’s often place that comes first with me. A dramatic place can add drama — particularly one with an interesting history. When I set Catching the Current partly in the Faroe Islands, I had to go there to get a feel of it — a long journey, but worth it. The place often gives me a clue about the subject or theme. Then come the characters. I write down the back history of the main characters so that I know them well before I start. Of course then I may change them or add new characters.

Planning — do you plan your entire book before you write a word?

No. I may have a general idea of where I want to end up but often this changes. As I get into the novel,  I may plot ahead a few chapters, but even these change as I go along. The hardest part of planning for me, and the one that takes longest, is finding the right voice.

Rituals — are there any rituals you like to observe before you sit down to write? 

I’d like to say I get up early and write before I do anything else. Once I did!  Now I have breakfast, read the paper, feed the tui, any other displacement activity that comes to mind. I am slightly addicted to Spider Solitaire on the computer so if I’m feeling sloppy, I allow myself one game before I start writing and tell myself I’m sharpening up my brain. Perhaps it’s true!

Rejection — how do you handle rejection?

Denniston Rose was rejected several times. The letter I got from Penguin was particulary damning and it hurt me badly. I cried. I put the rejection letters away and went back to making jewellery. Six months later I took out a rather encouraging rejection letter and tried to rewrite along the lines suggested. Then sent the new ms to a script advisor. She said to throw away the new stuff and develop the old. Very disheartening. So that was a year’s work down the drain.

I don’t rage or dump on others; just go quiet. I rewrote according to her and others’ suggestions. Finally when Random House decided to take a punt on a historical novel, I had been trying to get it published for four or five years. The fact that I was older and tougher helped me to persevere, I suppose. If Random hadn’t accepted I would have given up writing I think. Since the success of Denniston Rose, I haven’t had to deal with rejection.

Success — where were you when you learned your first piece of work had been accepted by editor or pubisher?

I was at Rangataua, a tiny settlement, beloved of our family and where the novel I’m writing now is set. It has very poor cell-phone reception. I knew Random House was about to make its decision, so instructed Laughton my husband, who was at home, how to access my email. He phoned through the news, but only got as far as ‘Yes the news has come through…’ when the phone went dead. I ran outside into the snow and stood there waiting for him to try again. This time he said it all in one sentence. They were going to publish and they felt bullish about it! I went inside and my daughter and grandchildren danced with me around the kitchen singing Lenard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’.