A Writer Talks - Transcript

An author is interviewed on the radio about her past and present works.

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Keith: Joining me here on Book Choice this week is Janet Stilton. She won the prestigious San Diego Fiction Prize two years ago for her debut novel, Standing Still So Fast. Her new novel, Changed, is coming out on Friday and she joins us today to talk about her new work. Janet, welcome, and first of all, I must say, you're looking wonderful today, as bright as a button.

Janet: Oh, wow, thank you, Keith. I don't feel as bright as a button. We've been doing a lot of publicity for the new book and of course, that will take off in a real sense after the Friday launch.

Keith: Where is the official launch going to be?

Janet: We're doing it at the New York Central Library, which I was absolutely thrilled about, because I spent so much of my childhood within those hallowed walls. It will be a really special occasion for me, and of course for all those who turn up. We're hoping for a good crowd.

Keith: It must all seem a long way off from the small scale launch of Standing Still So Fast. I believe you did that in a small bookstore in Harlem? How the world has changed for you and so fast.

Janet: Yes, I have a good friend who runs an independent bookstore in Harlem and it was a very low key thing. It seems like decades ago, but it was about three years ago, incredible to think about that now.

Keith: No television cameras back then? No New York Times?

Janet: No, it was just about twenty people who came to hear me read a few extracts. There was a kindly girl from a local literature publication, another blogger, that was it. We just drank coffee and ate a few cookies.

Keith: There are - we know on this show as much as anyone - so many authors, young and struggling along at the base of the pyramid, doing book launches like yourself those three long years ago, reading extracts to literally tens of people. It must be an enthralling experience to be plucked out of that and thrown into a very different world, into the New York Central Library no less.

Janet: The San Diego Fiction Prize changed everything, it changed my life. Just to be nominated was a world-altering experience. We were selling about ten copies a day of Standing Still So Fast. The reviews were wonderful, yes, but without that glare of publicity, without its light shining on you, you're always going to struggle. When the nomination for the San Diego prize was announced, I never thought I had a shot in a million at winning it, there were five other very talented writers on the shortlist, but even then, my sales shot through the roof and we were shifting hundreds a day. I got to peek even then through the curtain into this other world where sales are measured with a few extra zeroes!

Keith: And what now of your friend's niche bookstore in Harlem? Do you have any plans to do any further readings there of your new novel?

Janet: Well, it's funny you say that, because that's precisely what I intend to do. I really love those intimate events, where you can get to know the readers, hear their thoughts on my work, I don't want to leave that behind, so yes there will be some big fancy launch events for the new book, but some smaller things too.

Keith: You said this was a painful book to write. Why was that? Are you talking about the famous "second album" difficulty that so many bands are supposed to face?

Janet: No, no, it was nothing like that. Well, my first book, Standing Still So Fast, that was something domestic, the mental abuse, torture really, of a very ordinary woman within a relationship. For Changed, I actually take that as my starting point, but take the story to a very different place.

Keith: Is it autobiographical?

Janet: Oh, now that's a very hard question to ask. I think the best way to describe it is to say it's biographical for millions of women out there…

Keith: The protagonist, who has the wonderful name of Lucy Doo, is a tough cookie, isn't she?

Janet: She's been living in my head for a long time. I created her about ten years ago.

Keith: Ten years ago?

Janet: Oh yes, my head is very crowded and I tell you, they don't all get along.

Keith: Why didn't you write about Lucy Doo in your first novel?

Janet: Ah, because Linda DelMonte was a better scrapper and she escaped from my head first. She was just a larger than life personality and I felt a few years ago this fierce, burning desire to tell her story. Her place on the stage was ready, but now it's certainly Lucy Doo's turn.

Keith: Where do these characters come from? I've had so many writers here on the show and it is something I ask a lot, the font of all these incredible people. Writers find their inspiration from so many different sources.

Janet: To be honest, the catalyst was actually a sad-looking woman I saw in a supermarket one day. Just a glance, an impression of something, that's often all it takes. And then the person becomes a living organism in your head, and you play with them, test them with questions, moral dilemmas, things like that. What would that wretched woman do if her husband left her, if she won the lottery, if she accidentally killed someone with her car, that type of thing.

Keith: And do you have to like them?

Janet: Oh, goodness no! They do need to be interesting, capable of change, yes, that is important. But no, likeable is not a necessary characteristic. Believable, capable of producing sympathy or empathy in the reader, able to communicate something, all of these things are vital.

Keith: Now, without giving anything away of your new novel, what could you tell our listeners about Changed?

Janet: I think this book speaks to the dreamer in all of us, and I don't mean exclusively women in that respect.

Keith: This is a book for everyone, isn't it?

Janet: Oh absolutely. Yes, the protagonist in this case happens to be a woman, but there are universal issues being dealt with in the novel. The ordinary person, the everyday passer-by, the woman sitting on the bus, the one you never look at, the one who creates a very limited impression on those that come into contact with her, even in many cases, her own family.

Keith: And of course, deeply unhappy.

Janet: Yes, she's out of her mind with the dreary dullness of her life and she decides to do something about it, to actually make that leap of faith. And she becomes, in ways she couldn't have expected, as the title of the book suggests, changed.

Keith: Before we finish, I'd just like to ask you what you yourself like to read. What is on the Janet Stilton Kindle or bookshelf?

Janet: Definitely bookshelf! I haven't gotten into the whole cyber book thing, whatever you call it. I'm like a sponge when I write, often mimicking the style of whichever author is my current favorite. That's quite dangerous when you're a writer. I was actually reading a lot of Stephen King last year and I noticed in my own writing, in the first draft of Changed, many more shadows and unexplained creaks than I would normally have. It's a sort of osmosis, going from his writing into mine. I've always done that. There was an entire section of the manuscript I had to scrap. It read like something out of the Twilight Zone. But, yes, I do like my thrillers and horrors. And anything fantasy, I'll lose myself in for days on end. That's when my editor starts calling and complaining about deadlines!

Keith: Well, speaking of deadlines, unfortunately, we too have run out of time. You can find Changed in all good bookstores and if you happen to be near the New York Central Library on Friday, I'm sure Janet will be delighted to see you.

Janet: I absolutely will!

Keith: Thank you for visiting us today, Janet. Best of luck with the launch.

Janet: Thanks Keith.

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