Today I am thrilled to welcome Jean McNeil to Chat About Books as part of her Fire On The Mountain blog tour, with Legend Press.
*Many thanks to Imogen Harris at Legend Press for arranging the following interview and for kindly offering a giveaway prize*
Interview with Jean McNeil…..
For those who don’t know already, could you tell us about yourself and your book(s) please?
I’m something of a veteran now. I’ve been published since I was 21 and am the author of 13 books, including Fire on the Mountain, my most recent book, published by the fantastic London indie Legend Press. Most of my books are novels but I’ve also published one collection of short fiction. I started out writing Rough Guides travel guides in Latin America, which was a very good apprenticeship. Rough Guides’ standards of writing are very high. They worked all of us authors hard but it paid off, I think, in my future writing. I also teach creative writing and run a graduate programme at the University of East Anglia.
Where did/do you get your ideas from?
Experience. At least I often get the kernel of the idea from what happens to me, or what I observe. I don’t get many ideas from history, say, or pure imagination.
Are any of your characters based (however loosely) on anyone you know?
No that would be a very bad idea. They might sometime be based on me, or rather alternative me’s. That’s a safer strategy.
How do you pick your characters names?
This is a good question. Names are like book titles, they either come to you immediately as soon as you are writing, or you have to go and find them. The latter is harder. Names are absolutely key. They communicate the essence of the character, they can be symbolic, they have to be somewhat memorable. The thing about names in books is it’s not like names in life – it’s perfectly possible in life to have a sister and a friend both named Rachel but if you try to do that in a novel your editor will insist on changing it so that readers can follow who’s who. We don’t seem to have that problem in life.
Can you share your writing process with us, in a nutshell?
I sit down and write. That’s all that’s really required. Writers are sometimes too precious about ‘process’. But I’ve noticed I write well on ships – I’ve done a lot of ship-based research, often on long trips across the Atlantic ocean or in the polar regions. Ships are absolutely the best places to write, ever. Even when I’ve had to bolt my chair to the desk to avoid being flung across the room.
Who are your top 5 favourite authors?
Tough one. I deplore having favourites. It’s not fair to the many, many phenomenally good writers out there. Here is a list of the writers I am reading currently and who I think are very good:
If you could meet any author, who would it be and what would you ask them?
Proust, but he is dead so it would have to be his ghost. How do you achieve the psychic density of your prose?
Were you a big reader as a child?
No, I grew up almost without books, apart from Reader’s Digest. But I made up for lost time once I was 12 and moved to the city and discovered the library.
When did you start to write?
At university, when I was around 18. I started writing poetry and fiction to avoid having to work on my macroeconomics essays.
If you could re-write the ending to any book what would it be and what would you change?
I feel endings are sacrosanct. Some of them are very, very hard to take – bittersweet, they really undo you. Like the ending of Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which I think is one of the most affecting endings in literature.
Is there a book you wish you had written?
Call Me By Your Name, by Andre Aciman, which I first read some years ago and have since re-read. It’s so intense, psychological and sensual. It’s just been made into an exquisite film.
If you wrote an autobiography, what would your title be?
Don’t Do it Like This
If you could invite any fictional character for coffee who would it be and where would you take them?
Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, to ask what it is like living as both a man and a woman. I’d take him/her to 193 Wardour Street, the coffee shop I meet my literary agent in and which for me has become a literary oasis in London where I can read and think.
What are you working on right now?
A new novel. It’s very early days so I don’t want to say much, but it starts out in ‘the now’: January 2018, in Hackney, so I’m having an interesting time turning what I see outside my window and experience every day into narrative. I haven’t written anything in set in the exact here-and-now in London in awhile.
Tell us about your last release?
My novel The Dhow House was published by Legend Press in the UK in 2016 and in North America by ECW Press in 2017. It’s a sensual story of politics and passion set on the Indian ocean coast of East Africa, where I live for part of the year. It is the most astonishingly beautiful place and readers who know it tell me I managed to evoke it well in the novel. That was my goal, apart from telling a compelling story, so I’m satisfied.
Do you have a new release due?
Not yet, apart from Fire on the Mountain.
What do you generally do to celebrate on publication day?
Breathe a sigh of relief. The real celebration (champagne, headaches etc.) happens when I hear a publisher will publish one of my books.
How can readers keep in touch with you?
Readers are very welcome to email me via my website http://www.jeanmcneil.co.uk, or via Instagram or Twitter.
Is there anything else you would like us to know?
Thanks very much for the interesting questions and I hope you and readers enjoy Fire on the Mountain!
Many thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Jean 🙂
When NGO worker Nick drops unexpectedly into the lives of Pieter and Sara Lisson, he feels he has found the parents he never had. Nick is enraptured by their lives of splendour and acclaim as much as the stirring setting of the African city where they live, but he soon senses a secret at the heart of his new family. Nick then meets Riaan, the Lissons’ son, and so begins an intense connection that threatens to erupt into a relationship neither had ever considered. In the shadow of the Brandberg, the glowing mountain that stands at the heart of the desert, Nick will discover that his passion for Riaan is not the only fire which threatens his newfound home.
For your chance to win a paperback copy of Fire on the Mountain (UK only, due to postage costs) just comment ‘Yes please’ on this post and a winner will be chosen at random.
Thanks in advance for entering! 🙂