Culture Street

Books

Interview with debut author Jenn J McLeod

On February 27, 2013

No stranger to embracing a second chance or trying something different, Jenn took the first tentative steps towards her tree change in 2004, escaping Sydney’s corporate chaos to buy a small cafe in the seaside town of Sawtell.

Jenn spends her days maintaining her NSW property and writing contemporary Australian fiction—life-affirming novels of small town life and the country roots that run deep.

Securing a two-book deal with Simon and Schuster, her debut novel—House for all Seasons— is out March 1, 2013. Book 2 in the Seasons Collection—The Simmering Season—follows in 2014.

We were delighted that Jenn sat down with us for a chat before the release of her first book.

House for all Seasons is your debut novel. Is the release of your first book exhilarating or terrifying?

How many adjectives am I allowed? The word ‘surreal’ has been the most over-used word of late, that’s for sure.

From the minute a writer jumps on the publishing train, it’s a non-stop rollercoaster of exhilarating highs, stomach-turning terror, and shattering lows. Once a publisher whips you up your head spins: disbelief, excitement, trepidation. Everything changes. Your mind even plays tricks; you’re convinced every phone call is your agent, ringing to say, “It’s a mistake. It was another Jenn J McLeod they wanted.”

As I sit at my computer to answer this Q&A (with cyclonic winds and damaging rainfall hammering Nthn NSW) I am a few days from the official release and there’s a strange stillness (almost a numbness) – like being in the eye of a storm. I know that once the book is out there, the publicity storm will pick up – now that’s one storm I’d like to experience – and I will be boarding the book review rollercoaster. I’ll just hang on tight and enjoy whatever the ride brings.

Why did you choose to write about four women?

This story was always going to be based on the seasons. The premise deals with change and growth (school friends who, as a result of something happening, grow apart). What better analogy for change and growth than the contrasting seasons? Contrast makes for great conflict and characters. So I created four women, each as different as the four seasons, and I gave them their own stories: Tall Poppy, Surviving Summer, Amber Leaves and Wynters Way.

You come from a musical family, what drew you to writing?

What an interesting question. Thank you for asking. Perhaps the short answer might be a lack of musical talent! Despite me being a talented hairbrush-microphone-in-the-mirror kid and solitary Von Trapp child called to perform before heading off to bed (you know the scene – Adieu to yieu, and yieu, and yieu!) I suffered from stage-fright. I can only guess that’s why I chose writing over music – the computer my keyboard of choice, leaving the old upright piano to languish in the living room and the daddy longlegs to weave their web around the piano’s soundboard and strings while I weave my stories.

After more musing of this musical matter however, I realised just how much music still influences my life and my writing. I grew up listening to my Dad’s jazz and old-fashioned dance-band music and my favourite songs include: Autumn Leaves, Summertime, Stormy Weather, and When You Walk Through A Storm. I feel my connection to the seasons may have started at a very young age indeed.

My favourite song of all-time – and the song I would sing to myself as I tripped and stumbled along the yellow brick road of publishing – is Somewhere Over the Rainbow. (Yes, with each rejection letter I received I’d cry…Why, oh why can’t I?!) Not until half way through the writing of House for all Seasons and a certain scene in Tall Poppy (I am a pantster not a plotter, which means my characters take me wherever they want) did I realise just how much influence that song had on my story. You see, House for all Seasons is very much about discovering what is and isn’t home – four lost characters, each one looking for what’s missing in their lives and hoping their journey back to the town they once called home would have the answers they seek.

My second novel – The Simmering Season – includes my own composition.

You write beautifully about the country. What is your preference, city or country?

Can I sit on the fence? (Post-‘n’-rail, not picket!) Does that answer the question?

Okay, seriously … I think growing up in the city has let me appreciate the differences – both obvious and subtle. One of the first lessons a writer will hear is “Write what you know” and moving to the country ten years ago was, for me, like coming home. I’d travelled around Australia and though it’s centre in my mid-twenties. I’d been a hairdresser at the time who never went anywhere without a hairdryer and makeup. When the opportunity (my parents called it rebellion) arose, I walked away from my comfy life in a leafy beachside suburb of Sydney – walking away from my hairdryer and make-up – to set off in a converted F100 with a tent, a couple of cast-iron pots and $400 petrol money. I promptly fell in love with the land and from then on I knew my ‘somewhere over the rainbow’ would be in the country.

What is next for you?

The second novel in my Seasons Collection is The Simmering Season. Also set in the fictional town of Calingarry Crossing and ‘loosely-linked’ to House for all Seasons, this story delves into the lives of a secondary character from ‘House’ – the one I couldn’t bring myself to leave behind when I typed ‘THE END’. There’s plenty of trouble brewing too, as a hot summer and a school reunion brings home more than memories.

I’m so excited my ‘House’ found a home with Simon & Schuster and I feel very much at home here on Culture Street. Thanks for having me. I hope when people enjoy House for all Seasons they drop into my website and let me know what they think. I love hearing from readers.

 

 

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