Today, Writing Wicket interviews Jenni Gudgeon.
Jenni is a photographic artist from Fife, Scotland, who etches into photographs to create one off pictures. In May 2013, she exhibited a couple of fairy creatures that she’d etched into photos taken in her local woods. As her pitch, she told people silly stories she’d made up about the creatures while etching them. She was told repeatedly that these stories would be great as a book. She explained she couldn’t write and that the project would never happen. Three days later, she woke up with the first line in her head and thought, “Oh my god, I’m writing a book!” She independently published Folkland Fables in March 2018.
Q: If you could be any author, who would it be and why?
I’d be Terry Pratchett. When I was about fifteen, I told my friends how I thought the world worked. It was a slightly crazy idea, and they told me I was being an idiot, so I kept those thoughts to myself from then on. About five years later, someone gave me The Colour of Magic to read, and everything I’d told those friends aged fifteen was written down in his books. I want to be the person who lets other people know they’re not alone in thinking the way they do. And I want the world to be brighter because it includes me in it.
Q: What is the first book that made you cry?
One story my Mum told me was getting a phone call from the neighbours letting her know that I was crying in my pram in the back garden. She apparently replied that she knew I was crying because she’d put me out there so she wouldn’t have to hear the rest of my tantrum after she refused to read me The Billy Goats Gruff a fourth time.
Q: What are your favourite literary journals?
I’m afraid I don’t know any. I’m not even sure exactly what a literary journal is. Yeouch! #notaproperwritersyndrome
Q: What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Ooh, there I so many that I’ve fallen into at one point or another. I think the one thing which made the biggest difference to my writing was creating a character profile for my main character. I didn’t do one at first because I was so new to writing that I’d never heard of them. I was encouraged to create one, and was shocked at how much more it made me know my MC, and how it made me understand how they’d react in different situations.
Q: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
My research time is now my official procrastination time. I always panic when I’m about to start designing a new picture so I allow myself one day to research the creature I’m creating. During this time, I copy and paste everything I can find online that interests me about the creature. As a by-product, I also start to think about how the creature’s mythology would have shaped their character, and what they’d be like if you knew them.
E.g., for centuries unicorns have been told that they’re perfect in every way, and they’ve gradually believed the hype and become big-headed bores. Therefore, my unicorns are vain, stupid, and obsessed by the length of their horn.
Q: What is your favourite childhood book?
There were a few books I loved as a child, but the stand out one has to be Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. The illustrations are beautiful, and I loved the idea of leaving my boring, annoying life behind and travel to far off lands to meet monsters.
Q: What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
None of this is hard. Many people work in dull, life-sapping jobs, and being able to create art as part of my living is a privilege I don’t underestimate.
As an artist of many years, I was used to people critiquing my art, so I haven’t had as much of a problem with people critiquing my stories as most newbie writers do. I know I need to get criticism in order to learn, but I don’t like it much. I deal with it by allowing myself to be angry at the impact it has made on my self-esteem and having a couple of glasses of wine to wallow. Then I leave the criticism to stew for a couple of days before thinking it through properly. By this time, the subconscious part of my brain has decided whether the person is right or not and I can get on with solving the problems without the white heat of hurt affecting my judgement.
The part I most struggled with when writing my book was coping with the conflicting advice from my five beta readers. It overwhelmed me because I didn’t know whose opinion to take over the others. I met with my mentor, who gave me excellent advice and gently reminded me that I was in charge and could take or leave any opinion as I wanted. It helped a lot having someone to share the problem with.
Q: Does writing energize or exhaust you?
It energizes me.
Q: Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? If you write under one now, why did you do so?
No, I never considered it. I’d been creating art under my own name, so for consistency it made sense to use it for my book too. I might consider writing under a pseudonym if I changed genres.
Q: If you could start over again in your writing career, what would you do differently?
The only thing I’d like to change is to have enjoyed my launch more. My formatter took ten times longer than he should have done, so I had to reschedule my launch party in order to have books to sell. Then, and extremely unfortunately, a close relative got extremely ill just before the rescheduled party, so bringing out a book was the last thing on my mind. I found the whole thing quite a trial and can barely remember it at all, or the wonderful things people said to me.
Q: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
There are so many things I’d change about myself! Can I have two? Listening more when people talk to me would be a huge one, and I’d like to be less paranoid as well.
Q: What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
I lived in a pretty sheltered community as a child, so my first awareness of using language expressly to hurt, and my introduction to racism was at the same moment and quite late on. My best friend at primary school was half Pakistani, and throughout the 1970s I never heard one racist remark to her in our community. She experienced it, but I was never aware of anything at all. In the first term at secondary school aged eleven, we were walking down a corridor and an older boy shouted out to her, “Do you want a banana?” It made no sense to me why she should want a banana on the way to class so I said something like, “That was weird. Why would he ask you that?”, and she told me it was because her darker skin made him think she looked like a monkey.
It blew my mind. She was my beautiful, talented, outgoing, exotic (it was the 70s and she had cushions with mirrors sewn into them – wow!) best friend who I would have loved to be, and other people could only see her as a colour? Also, she knew that’s how some people saw her.
Q: Do you want each of your books book to stand on its own (if you’re writing more than one, that is), or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
The next two books I have in mind are linked, but after that I’m not sure. I’d like to do something with Greek Gods, or possibly Shetland’s mythical creatures (which are different from the Scottish ones). I’d like to start writing continuous stories rather than the guides to fairy tale creatures my first two books will be.
Q: Are there any books you didn’t like and couldn’t finish reading? Why?
I struggle to remember the names of books/authors I like let alone the ones I give up on. I’m much better at remembering the stories within, though. I don’t like pretentious writing, or writing which uses thirty words when five will do. Long words for the sake of using long words always turns me off too.
Q: How often do you write?
The honest answer is that I write when I need to. I’d love to write every day, but my pictures take between 14 to 36 hours each to etch (To see how I etch into photos, you can view a video on my website via the link below.) so take much longer than my writing. I could write something else, but I get very involved in the picture I’m etching, and resent anything which takes me away from it.
For Folkland Fables, I quickly made a first draft of each creature’s story (about 300 words per creature) and then concentrated on the pictures until they were complete. Only then did I work solidly on the writing part until it was as perfect as I could make it.
Q: What challenges have you faced in publishing?
I couldn’t get an agent or publisher so I had to go the indie publishing route and learn it all on the job. My mentor told me on our first session that I would probably want to self-publish rather than go the traditional route. This is because I’m an artist and am therefore a control freak. I’m used to being in total control of my own work, and traditional publishers would probably want a say in the finished work too. My biggest challenge has been marketing. In my ideal world I’d concentrate on creating and someone else would sell my work. I hate having to promote myself all the time and find the right blurb to entice people to want to buy.
Q: What’s the best way to market indie books?
As I say, I’m not great at this, but I do a range of things. I’m not sure it’s a one-size-fits-all thing. I advertise on Amazon, do craft fairs, and post regularly on social media, and I am building up a mailing list (according to Mark Dawson of Self Publishing Formula, this is the most important thing). There’s lots of free information on the internet about marketing your book, and I’d say spend a few weeks learning from those who know.
Q: What is your biggest accomplishment (in writing or otherwise)?
My biggest accomplishment by far as been completing the many, many edits I needed to do in order to make my book ready for publication. Watching my tangled ideas gradually transform into beautiful sentences was incredibly exciting and a life changing experience. I can’t wait to do it all over again.
Q: What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Paying for mentoring sessions has given me invaluable advice from someone who’s been there before at every stage of my publishing journey. I was very lucky to slightly know a local author who also did mentoring, and she’s become a good friend over the years.
Q: What book(s) have you written?
Folkland Fables: an illustrated guide to the fairy creatures who live in the woods near my home in Fife, Scotland.
Check out Jenni’s website and social media:
How I etch link: https://jennigudgeon.co.uk/about-jenni/how-i-etch-photographs/
Amazon link to book: https://amzn.to/2ARnAZ6
C.A. MacKenzie is the author of (among other books) the novel WOLVES DON’T KNOCK, a psychological drama/thriller, available from the author or at various retailers including Amazon [https://www.amazon.com/Wolves-Dont-Knock-C-MacKenzie/dp/1927529387/].