Congratulations to Linda and Sphin!
Hey! Happy Easter! Author Kathleen Jowitt stopped by to answer some questions for us. And while she’s here, she’s giving away a couple of copies of her latest book, Speaks Its Name, one paperback and one ebook. Leave a comment below to enter and I’ll draw the winners next Friday, April 1.
Q&A with Kathleen Jowitt
Introduce yourself to the rest of the class. Who are you and what makes you tick?
Hello, rest of the class! My name is Kathleen Jowitt, and I’m a thirty year old trade unionist admin-wrangling singing bicycling Anglican* bisexual writer… Phew!
*that’s Episcopalian, for everyone outside England!
What does it mean to you to be an author? What makes a writer a writer?
A writer writes, except when they don’t. A writer may also spend significant amounts of time (years, sometimes) gazing out of the window, going for long walks, people-watching, reading books they wouldn’t tell their mother about, singing along to ABBA, and watching tennis. This is a legitimate aspect of a writer’s life. In fact, I’d say it’s essential. OK, the specifics may vary, but every writer needs to switch off every now and again, and to be encouraged not to beat herself up if she doesn’t hit some arbitrary word count every day of the week.
An author is an observer, a chronicler, a truth-teller – but one who knows that the truth is, as Oscar Wilde put it, ‘rarely pure, and never simple’. An author sees both sides of the story, and knows how much of each of them to put down. An author writes everything down, and then takes out whatever doesn’t contribute to the story.
Are you promoting a specific book? Tell us about it. Include the book blurb if you’d like.
‘Speak Its Name’ is the story of an evangelical Christian coming to terms with her sexual identity and navigating the murky waters of student politics in the process. It’s been a long time coming – I put the first words down in 2007 – but it’s a story that’s still happening on university campuses across Britain. It’s about faith and doubt, love and integrity.
I wanted very much to write a book that would tell young LGBT Christians that they didn’t have to make that agonising choice between being true to their own identities and holding on to their faith, that it was possible to choose both. Other people are doing amazing work in that area now, but I think there’s still room for queer characters of faith who are doing their best in a world that doesn’t really understand them.
A new year at the University of Stancester, and Lydia Hawkins is trying to balance the demands of her studies with her responsibilities as an officer for the Christian Fellowship. Her mission: to make sure all the Christians in her hall stay on the straight and narrow, and to convert the remaining residents if possible. To pass her second year. And to ensure a certain secret stays very secret indeed.
When she encounters the eccentric, ecumenical student household at 27 Alma Road, Lydia is forced to expand her assumptions about who’s a Christian to include radical Quaker activist Becky, bells-and-smells bus-spotter Peter, and out (bisexual) and proud (Methodist) Colette. As the year unfolds, Lydia discovers that there are more ways to be Christian – and more ways to be herself – than she had ever imagined.
Then a disgruntled member of the Catholic Society starts asking whether the Christian Fellowship is really as Christian as it claims to be, and Lydia finds herself at the centre of a row that will reach far beyond the campus. Speak Its Name explores what happens when faith, love and politics mix and explode.
Tell us about your biggest guilty pleasure. For example, to you sit naked in your pantry in the middle of the night and eat Nutella with your fingers?
I try not to feel guilty about any of my pleasures, and enjoy them wholeheartedly instead! The one I’m most embarrassed about (but clearly not embarrassed enough not to tell you) is middle-brow Victorian music. Normally I’m very reserved, and there’s something about the unashamed sentimentality of a Victorian parlour song that really allows me to let go. I will belt out ‘Yes! let me like a soldier fall!’ and ‘Come into the garden, Maud’ in the shower, or wheedle my husband into singing the bass part of ‘Excelsior!’ while I do the show-offy tenor bits about the spectral glaciers.
I am also fond of: raspberries, black coffee, dark chocolate, and paddling.
Tell us one thing that you’re passionate about. For example, would you strap yourself to an oil rigging a la Lucy Lawless with a Greenpeace sign in your hands?
My day job is very political, though I have yet to strap myself to anything! Since I started working for a trade union I’ve spent a lot of time carrying banners and waving placards (not as much time as I’ve spent taking minutes of meetings or wrestling various electronic filing systems into shape, but it’s all in the interests of the same cause). In my spare time, most of my campaigning is for the full inclusion of LGBTI people in the Church of England. I see a lot of parallels. Fundamentally, it’s about people’s right to be treated as valuable human beings, whether that’s in their workplace, their church, or just as members of society. And everyone is a member of society, however much some parts of society like to pretend otherwise.
What’s your writing process? That is, do you have a particular place you write and/or time of day? Do you have any particular things you do before you write? (e.g. do you listen to music, drink coffee, take dance breaks…)
I have a long commute – fifty-five minutes on the train from Cambridge to London. Assuming I’m awake enough, I scribble away in an exercise book while I hurtle through the Hertfordshire countryside. Otherwise, it’s me, a jug of coffee, and the computer on Saturday mornings. If I’m out of inspiration, I go out for a walk.
I am not one of those people who can write a story from beginning to end. I write the bits that interest me, then I go back and fill in the gaps. My current work in progress has a beginning and an end and various isolated chunks of scenes that I will eventually join up to form a middle. I’ve tried doing it in chronological order, but I just get bored!
Tell us something that most people don’t know about you (unless you’d have to kill us, in which case tell us something that some people don’t know).
I have a real fondness for old buses. My father rescued two 1930s Paris buses when they came out of service in the early 1970s, and later doubled the collection. I love seeing machines continuing to do the job they were built to do, half a century or more after their fellows were sent to the scrapyard.
That’s no secret. This is the part that most people don’t know: despite my affection for these venerable petrol-swilling old ladies, I’ve never passed my driving test, and I go everywhere on foot, by public transport or by bike.
Is there a book by another author that you wish you had written?
I’ve just finished ‘Summer Will Show’ by Sylvia Townsend Warner. It’s the story of an English lady who goes to Paris in 1848, falls in love with her estranged husband’s former mistress, and gets mixed up in the revolution. It’s a beautiful, richly described, ironically observed book with a subtle love story and a nuanced, cynical, view of the politics of the time. I’m in love with the prose style, and I’d recommend it to any of Sarah Waters’ fans.
If time and money were no problem, where would you most like to go in the world?
Everywhere! No, but I like the actual process of travelling as much as I do arriving. I’d go all around Europe by train. I’d take a boat up the Amazon. I’d walk the Appalachian Trail. I’d like to see the whole world, but slowly. When I was 21, I walked the Camino de Santiago. It took me seven weeks to cover the 500 miles from the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela in the west of Spain, and there’s something about that slow, immersive way of travelling that changes you from the inside.
And finally, what sorts of writing projects are next for you?
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about physical capability and the human tendency to push ourselves beyond what we can bear and then harangue ourselves for being unable to do the impossible. The protagonist of my next book is a disgraced professional athlete; the love interest has a chronic illness, and the disparity between what they expect of each other provides the tension that drives the plot.
And I do have a book in mind in which a Paris bus plays a leading role. I think I might get disowned, though!
Having spent her childhood and early adulthood in various parts of the south and west of England, Kathleen Jowitt now lives in Cambridge, works in London, and writes on the train. You can find her on Twitter @KathleenJowitt or at her website, www.kathleenjowitt.com. Speak Its Name is her first published novel. (http://www.amazon.com/Speak-Its-Name-Kathleen-Jowitt/dp/0993533906/)