Author Spotlight: Vicki Jarrett
Joining us for today’s Author Spotlight is Vicki Jarrett!
Vicki Jarrett is a novelist and short story writer from Edinburgh. Always North was partly inspired by a day job writing manuals for ship navigation software used in the marine seismic exploration industry. She currently teaches English as a foreign language and creative writing in Edinburgh.
Welcome to the Hive, Vicki. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
I’ve just finished Sealed by Naomi Booth (Dead Ink Books, 2018). Totally horrifying and compulsive. It’s got a lot going on: pregnancy, bereavement, love, death, ecological collapse and a seriously disturbing skin disease. The writing burrows right into you and leaves its mark.
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
Okay, I have to admit I have limited knowledge of D&D… I know, unforgivable. However, I’m going to take a wild guess that a shape-shifter might be an option? I’ve always loved the idea of that. Endless possibilities.
That feels a little like a wishing-for-more-wishes situation…
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, how do you like to work? (In silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps? Do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit?) Tell us a little bit about your writing method!
The more I think about this shape-shifter thing, the more apt it seems for me. I do all of those things, depending on my mood, the weather, the availability of damned shrimp. I never start with a plan, just a seed, something that gets me rolling. It could be an image, a line of dialogue, anything. If the words keep piling up and I haven’t started to hate them, I’ll try writing a plan, which only ever partially works. When I get bored with that, I go back to the writing. Then I jump back and forth between the two until I get to the end and pretend like I knew what I was doing all along.
I mostly type but sometimes shift to handwriting. There’s a different energy there with the physical connection that can sometimes shake an idea loose or unknot a problem. I also always have a notebook on me when I’m out and keep one next to my bed to catch stray ideas. Even if I don’t end up using them, there’s something about remaining open and ready at all times that helps me tune in and turn up the volume on whatever I’m working on.
Generally silence works best for me, although I will go for instrumental music, anything from Philip Glass to 23 Skidoo, depending on the scene I’m writing. I sometimes use Noisli and turn up the train-track sound. I was born in a house with a railway line at the bottom of the garden and the clunk-rattle of slow night trains still puts me in a kind of peaceful trance, which is sometimes useful, sometimes not!
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Alternatively, what games have you enjoyed recently?
Third season of Stranger Things. Why would anybody not watch it for goodness’ sake??
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write. How do you choose to spend the day?
Oh that’s cruel and unusual! I have a lot days when I can’t write due to other life stuff getting in the way. So, having a free day and not being allowed to write is just plain nasty. I’d feel compelled to get massively drunk, hold up a bank, steal a car and drive off a cliff. But I’d probably just read instead.
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
Err, there may be words, but I haven’t decided what order to put them in yet. I’m kind of superstitious about talking about work in progress, it feels horribly wrong, disloyal somehow. But, yes, words. And some punctuation. Probably.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
There’s so much writing advice out there. And rules! Save us all from rules. Most of them are bollocks, or just too personal. You need to write your own. Your game, your rules. That said, ‘the only thing that works is perseverance’ has a lot of truth to it. Also, before I wrote my first novel and couldn’t imagine how I could ever accomplish such a thing, I asked a writer friend and they said ‘how do you eat an elephant?’ After the predictable back-and-forth of that being a hideous idea, we got to the answer of, ‘one bite at a time.’ Clearly I would never eat an elephant, but I’ve now written several books.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
The first thing I’d try is changing focus. There are always other scenes, other chapters. Sometimes your subconscious needs to chew on something for a bit longer before it’ll spit it out onto the page. Going for a walk or a run helps. Or lying in an abject heap of despair on the floor for a couple of hours, that can work too. Main thing is not to take the not-wanting-to-write too seriously. It’ll pass.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
I’d need to be pretty damn careful with that as a woman. You’d be hard pushed to find a time or country at any point in history where being female wasn’t a total liability. So, think I’d take a pass on that. I’m more interested in the future.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
I’m a massive short story fan and am always keen to convince others to read more widely in this woefully under-appreciated form. Karin Tidbeck’s collection Jagannath is stuffed full of dark, weird and unsettling ideas distilled into concentrated doses. Totally original and an absolute delight.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with an elevator pitch? Why should readers check out your work?
Always North is about complicity, accountability and our messed-up environment, about what constitutes mind and memory, and how wrong we might be about the way time works. It also has some sex, violence, and dark humour, to keep things jogging along. Oh, and a bear, a time-travelling polar bear. It’s been called ‘psychological sci-fi’ but honestly I have no idea what it is. Read it and tell me!
Thanks for joining us Vicki, and good luck with the release of Always North!
Vicki Jarrett is the author of ALWAYS NORTH, releasing on October 7th 2019!