Q&A With Author Alice Jolly
Want to know what other writers think? Check out our I Am A Writer series where we ask writers to share tips, experiences, and thoughts about what matters to them.
Which do you find harder to write: the beginning or the conclusion?
For me, the beginning is definitely the most difficult part of writing a novel. Often I do not find the right beginning for a book until I am very near the end of the writing process. As for the end, it should be easy if you have got the rest of the book right. Writing a novel is like building a wooden box. The ending is the lid. If your box is correctly constructed then the lid will go on without any problem.
Do you prefer to have family and friends or a professional editor review and critique your work?
I cannot understand anyone who asks family and friends to give a critical opinion of their work. You do not ask your family to sort out your plumbing problems because they are not plumbers. The same is true of writing. You will also lose many friends if you involve them in your creative work. Editing is a profession and even many people who do it as a job are not good at it. Finding good editorial support is desperately hard. Writers’ groups are probably the cheapest way to get some good feedback but not all are worthwhile. You need to choose carefully.
Do you write in more than one genre? Which do you find most challenging?
I write novels, plays, and short stories. I have written poetry in the past and have recently tried writing for radio. I think each form brings its different challenges. Overall, for me, the novel is always the most difficult but also the most rewarding. It is such a huge task to write a novel. It is like climbing a mountain in the mist. You should be very grateful for the mist. If the skies cleared, and you saw how far you still had to go, you would probably give up.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced while writing?
I think the biggest challenge for any writer is simply to keep going. I teach and so I see the students who succeed and the ones who do not. Often it is not the people who are brilliantly talented who do well but instead those who are doggedly determined. I have a reasonable track record as a writer but earlier in the week I had my short stories turned down by a literary magazine. Yesterday I failed to get a playwriting commission from a theatre in Bristol. I get some kind of rejection most weeks. In my desk drawer is a novel that took me eight years to write and which I cannot get published. The writing life can be unbearably hard.
When you begin to write a story, do you know where it is going to end?
I have come across writers who say that they simply start writing and continue, sentence by sentence, with no idea where they are going. I personally cannot imagine how they do that. My thought is that it is desperately hard to write a novel if you do know where you are going. So how much harder will it be if you do not? Having said that, I rewrite endlessly. You can have a plan but it will never work out in the way that you expect. I always know the broad outline but also know that I may have to make big changes as I write.
Alice Jolly has published two novels with Simon and Schuster and four of her plays have been produced by the professional company of the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham. She has been commissioned by Paines Plough and her monologues have been performed at the Tristan Bates Theatre in Covent Garden. She teaches creative writing on the Mst at Oxford University and has just finished her third novel. She has also written a memoir which will be published by Unbound in July 2015. One of her short stories won the 2014 V. S. Pritchett Memorial Prize, awarded by The Royal Society of Literature.
Do you ask friends and family to edit your work?