By Heather T.
I was lucky enough to have been invited to interview the author of The Tenth Gift, Jane Johnson. She was kind enough to answer my questions via e-mail. She is an interesting, talented woman and I’d like to once again offer my thanks to her for writing such an entertaining novel and for taking the time to reply to my questions.
HT: How long did it take to write this novel? Did you have trouble finishing the book and leaving Julia and Cat behind?
JJ: I started it in 2004, and finally delivered it in 2007, so I lived it for three years, and really immersed myself in it, so yes, it was hard to leave the characters behind. Though a relief, too, to be truthful: when I started out it seemed the most immense and difficult task and I was very, very relieved to have completed it to some degree of satisfaction.
HT: Did the writing process flow smoothly for you? Could you explain your process?
JJ: Hmm, not sure 'process' is something I have! I don't really have a disciplined routine, partly because I'm juggling so many things at once and many of them can get in the way of the writing. I'm not a quick writer, though: generally I will aim for 1000-2000 words a day, but if they don't come, they don't come, and it certainly doesn't happen every day. I keep a notebook, and I often find new material comes easier if I write longhand outside somewhere, especially in wide open spaces or by the sea, as if my imagination needs a lot of space in which to roam. Then I'll type the draft into the laptop and edit as I go.
HT: I noticed a bit of a supernatural strain throughout with the sad attic and Annie Badcock. I wondered if you plan to next write a novel which explores this theme more fully. I want to know more about Annie!
JJ: Yes, it's really a well-disguised ghost story! I do enjoy a touch of the supernatural and magical -- for me they enliven a book, and the next novel certainly involves these themes. But not Annie, nor indeed Cornwall, I'm afraid. In fact, Annie is based on a local character in my village, so I think I'd better leave well alone!
HT: Do you consider yourself to be a spiritual and/or religious person? Whether or not you do, do you think it had an impact on the story itself?
JJ: Not in any serious or organised way. I indulge in a bit of magical thinking and superstition from time to time (I blame my mother and Cornish ancestors); and I've had one or two strange experiences in my life which raise the question of there being things we simply don't understand, patterns of life that catch us in their toils. And yes, certainly, these things influence the story and how it's told.
HT: Do you keep a journal and record story ideas? Will we see more of Julia and Cat in a future novel?
JJ: I keep all sorts of notebooks and scraps of paper and computer files, but as ever, not in any organised way. A lot of them just stay in my head, and emerge when they join together, like story molecules! No more plans for Julia and Cat, though: I like to think I've set them free to live their own lives now.
HT: I like to re-read books and I wondered if you do the same and whether or not you have a particular favourite?
JJ: Yes: I have a very unretentive memory, so after a few years I can quite happily revisit a favourite book and find new things in it, especially with heavily textured, rich books like those by Mary Renault; or classics like Thomas Hardy.
HT: Is there a much loved quote you could share that speaks to your thoughts and feelings about life?
JJ: I don't go in much for aphorisms or pearls of wisdom (if I knew them I'd forget them!). But I do like, and try to follow, some of the 14th Dalai Lama's wise words:
Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.
When you lose, don't lose the lesson.
Follow the three Rs: Respect for self, Respect for others, Responsibility for all your actions
Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.
Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.
Don't let a little dispute injure a great friendship.
When you realise you've made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.
Spend some time alone every day.
Open your arms to change, but don't let go of your values.
Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.
Live a good, honourable life. Then when you get older and think back, you'll be able to enjoy it a second time.
A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.
In disagreements with loved ones, deal only with the current situation. Don't bring up the past.
Share your knowledge. It's a way to achieve immortality.
Be gentle with the earth.
Once a year, go somewhere you've never been before.
Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.
Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.
Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon.
(Especially the last one!)
Thanks very much to Random House Canada for this one.