Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Fifteen minutes with Jessica Bell

If you've hung around my blog at all, my guest today needs no introduction. 

But just in case, a quick bio on the beautiful and talented Jessica Bell

Jessica Bell is a literary women's fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter who grew up in Melbourne, Australia, to two gothic rock musicians who had successful independent careers during the '80s and early '90s.

She spent much of her childhood travelling to and from Australia to Europe, experiencing two entirely different worlds, yet feeling equally at home in both environments. She currently lives in Athens, Greece and works as a freelance writer/editor for English Language Teaching publishers worldwide, such as HarperCollins, Pearson Education and Macmillan Education.

In addition to String Bridge, Jessica has published a book of poetry called Twisted Velvet Chains. A full list of poems and short stories published in various anthologies and literary magazines can be found under Published Works & Awards, on her website.

From September 2012 Jessica will be hosting the Homeric Writers' Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca, home of Odysseus.

What the bio doesn't capture, and what you can't find on Google is that Jessica is a rare combination of beauty, humility, grace and talent. She's also one of my closest friends, even though we've never met. That's the magic of the blogging world. 

You're a talented musician AND writer. Are you professionally trained in either? And if no, do you wish you had been?

I’m not professionally trained in music, but I am in writing as I studied various subjects such as writing fiction, non-fiction, poetry and screenplays at university. I even did a course in publishing and editing and now make a living as an English Language Teaching Writer/Editor for multinational ELT publishers.

Yes, I do wish I was professionally trained in music. I don’t even know half the notes or chords I play on guitar because I taught myself by ear. This makes it very difficult to improvise with other people in a jam session. Usually when musicians get together to have a jam they can just determine the key in which others are playing in and know exactly which notes will fit. I can’t do that. And yeah, it makes me a bit sad. But I only have so much energy and I’m putting it into what matters most to me. My writing.

If I opened your fridge right now, what key ingredients would I find in it?

Ha! Watermelon, grapes, zucchini, broccoli, tomatoes, cucumber, feta cheese, milk, Lavazza coffee, lemons, left-over Bolognese, grated Kefalotiri (Greek hard yellow cheese), orange juice, pork chops, a couple of chocolate bars, red wine.

Where do you plot? While working out? While watching TV? Where did you have your biggest breakthrough for String Bridge?

I hate exercising. You’ll never catch me working out unless it’s the time of the month and I feel fat and decide to spend five minutes on the exercise bike. Ha! I don’t plot much. I plot as I go so things remain a surprise for me as I write. Otherwise I get bored if I know what’s going to happen next. Of course, I write a general outline so I know what I have to achieve, but I never work out the details until I’m actually writing it. Breakthrough for String Bridge? I honestly can’t remember. I wrote so many different drafts of that book that it all muddles together. I guess, though, if I had to come up with an answer, I’d say it was the idea of producing a soundtrack for it.

What key piece of advice would you give to young writers? 

Take criticism and feedback on your writing with a grain of salt. Ultimately YOU have to decide what works. And listen to your heart. Learn the rules and then break them intelligently. I learnt that the hard way. In the early days, I was told by an editor at a professional and very well-established critique service that I had a perfect voice for women’s fiction even though my heart kept saying to strive for literary fiction. I listened. I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote until my story didn’t sound like it was written by me anymore. Despite hating what it turned out to be, I tried to get it published. Then Janice, from Lucky Press, came along and read between the lines. She understood me because she read other material I had posted online, etc. She understood that my real voice wasn’t shining through in this story. But she gave me a chance to rewrite it and it all worked out brilliantly. I can’t thank Janice enough. String Bridge would have been shelved for good if it wasn’t for her generosity and encouragement.

If you could be any character in fiction, who would you be? And why? (And which fictional character have you fallen for...)

Oh my, I’m blushing … I’ve never fallen for any characters in books, but I did fall for Sayid from LOST! Eeek! Am I seriously admitting to this in public? Shh! You can keep this quiet, right?

I’ve always wanted to be Mary Poppins. J

Describe your dream day.

You know I was actually thinking the other day that there is always something undesirable about the weather. It’s always too hot, too cold, too windy, too humid, too dry, too wet, too much of something. A day when the weather isn’t too much of anything is my dream day, so I can sit on my balcony and read in comfort.

You write with such a beautiful literary quality. Have you ever had the urge to bust out and write something raw, commercial, and without strict detail to every word. If so, what's stopping you?

You know, I actually don’t see “raw and commercial” to mean less literary. I think that comes through when writing is written in a way that invokes a certain intensity of emotion; when the “way” something is written isn’t even noticed and the reader is left with their heart beating a little faster. So no, I haven’t ever felt the urge to “bust out,” because I try to achieve both lyrical and raw commercial quality in my work. I’d actually like to know if any of my readers think I achieve this. So please feel free to comment on this.

Are you satisfied with where you are at with your career?

Definitely. I couldn’t ask for a more steady-paced and satisfying road to publication. Every day I will achieve another success in my career, whether it be a fan sending me an email telling me they loved my work, or whether it be a major write-up in a well-known newspaper or magazine, or even simply thinking of a new idea for a novel and feeling excited about it. I don’t care what it is. As long as I keep learning and growing, as a writer and as a person, along the way. So far I think I am achieving this, and this is certainly satisfying. Ultimately it’s the doing that makes me happy. Not the result.

Jessica's debut novel, String Bridge is out NOW. If you don't have a copy (of the book AND the soundtrack), you should. Really. They are both breathtaking.

Purchase links:

My links:
String Bridge Website: http://www.stringbridge.com/


  1. Great interview! Bish blogged about Jessica too. Lots of buzz. I better to get to reading! ;)

  2. Love this interview. I also hate exercising.

  3. Those are some great questions!
    Oh, Jessica... I want to live in your fridge. Please?

  4. I love all of this, especially this part: "Take criticism and feedback on your writing with a grain of salt. Ultimately YOU have to decide what works. And listen to your heart. Learn the rules and then break them intelligently." What an awesome interview once again, Jessica! And great questions, Dawn! :)

  5. If you play by ear, then you are an amazing musician, trained or not!

  6. Go Jessica! You are one fascinating human being!!

  7. Sayid was a bada**, so that's perfectly acceptable. And I do think you achieve those two things. String Bridge is wonderful. Hooray for you and good for Janice. ((hugs)) :o) <3

  8. Jessica - it goes without question that I love you :-P

    Suzanne - yes! Get reading. I haven't steered you wrong yet, have I?

    WW - Thank you! I don't love it either, but I admit, I do love what I feel like after. Wish I could get that without going through the motions.

    Deniz - it does sound like an amazing fridge, doesn't it? Thanks for stopping by.

    Len - great advice, right? Thank you for coming by.

    Alex - I couldn't agree more!

    Pam - indeed she is.

    LTM - <3

  9. Great interview. I like what Jessica has in her fridge (great question) and I think it's great advice to give new writers.

  10. Jessica, I wish I had more formal training in writing, like you. Good luck with the chart rush tomorrow.