10 Questions With… Jean Cross
Front Row Lit wanted to see what makes writers tick. Our most recent installment of “10 Questions With…” features author Jean Cross
- Tell us a little about yourself.
I have just been for a walk. I managed three miles. I still walk in miles although the country around me has succumbed to kilometers. It is a very warm and close day here in the west of Ireland and the countryside has that lovely perfumed fragrance of early summer. I am not a native of these parts. I’m a blow in, i.e. I herald from somewhere else. That somewhere else would be Dublin City.
I left dear old Dublin in 1986 when I was 26, (fifty-two, for anyone doing the math). I was part of a great wave of economic emigration. I landed in London and I loved it. There I met my life partner, Angela, worked with many memorable people, some of whom I still keep in touch with, did two degrees and learned a lot about life, the universe and me. I came back to Ireland twelve years ago, by which time I had had enough of cities.
Now Angela and I live in our small cottage in Co. Mayo with our little dog, Holly, call sign, Pek.
- When did you first decide that writing was in your future?
This is a little difficult to answer. I began to believe I was good at story telling when in school. My teachers usually asked me to read my essays out for the class and they usually went down well. I shared this talent, as I shared most things in my life, with my sister, Maria, who was one year and three weeks older than me. Looking back, I think that writing was just there. Just part of stuff. I don’t think I decided as such, to include it in my life.
I used to write angst ridden poetry when I was a teenager. When I got over that I wrote for fun. Maria and I would take great pleasure in starting an exchange of idiotic notes and it could go on all day. She could make herself late for work, just to get a humorous point down on a note she was leaving for me. We were always on the same wavelength. She often encouraged me to write a book and I would say the same thing to her. I think we both thought that one day each of us would. But then she died when she was forty six and my heart broke.
I can still see the expression on her face on one of our last journeys to the hospital in Galway. “Write,” she said. “Just write.” It was too late for her. Maria never got to write her book. But I did. I wrote a book. I know it would be right up her alley. Just the kind of thing to make her smile. Now that I have taken the plunge I know that writing is my future. Since the book I have written several short stories and I love it. I call myself a writer now and I like that. A lot.
- Describe the process of finding the right publisher for your work.
Well the process was a short one really. I got the Writers Handbook and looked up likely takers. I made sure they were open for submissions and I submitted my book. Nobody bit. Then Angela told me about a phenomenon called self publishing on the internet. I had found my publisher, me.
- How would you describe your writing style?
That’s tough. I don’t know how to describe it. I’d like to think I have a light touch that makes an impact. Is conversational a writing style? I don’t like to get lost in descriptive details. I don’t always want the reader to see exactly what I see, I want their imagination in the mix.
- What inspires your creativity?
People. People and the things they do. I fancy myself as an observer of the curious creature that is the human being. Just watching them makes me optimistic. Often it is the tiny things that drive us. Little bits of ourselves that we just can’t help giving into, notions we won’t always admit to that lie behind our actions. It’s in the small things that I see the fragile, stubborn heart of humanity. I love people. I think we are great.
- How often do you get writer’s block and how do you combat it?
I don’t get it very often, so far. If I do come up against writers block I reach for the smooth stone fossil I keep on the table beside my laptop and I pace with it. It is four hundred million years old and I found it on a beach in Co. Sligo one wet and misty day. Somehow holding that thing makes me feel at once small and magnificent. It seems to expand my frame of thought and I find I can proceed. Usually.
- Along with praise for your art, rejection and negative criticism is inevitable. How does that affect your focus and momentum?
Well, everybody can’t get it right all the time. I am very tolerant of people who make mistakes.
Seriously, it is not easy to let negative comments go. Most people would recognize themselves in dwelling on the one bad comment and ignoring the nine good ones. We tend to let criticism in further than praise. But we can fight against that and I do. I listen to Angela when she points to the good stuff and asks me to respect those opinions with equal measure and as there are always more of them, it helps to dilute the impact of the negative.
As far as affecting focus and momentum, sure it does. I doubt myself sometimes, but less and less. The more I write the stronger I feel as an author. I know when I am writing well. It’s a great feeling, like I’m doing my part in the universe. I trust that. After all what is the alternative? To stop doing what I love because someone doesn’t like it? That wouldn’t be right. Besides, I’d burst.
- If you weren’t writing, what career path would you choose?
I’ve already had a career path, as it were. Over fifteen years I worked in two different centres in London which supported the socially deprived, the homeless, women in domestic violence situations, immigrants, the elderly and lots of other great people.
Now I grow stuff, to eat. I seem to have taken to the cultivation of tomatoes with great enthusiasm. I don’t know why, but I’m going with it. This year I have eleven varieties.
- Please tell us a little about your next project.
My immediate project is to write short stories. I love the format and have done several in the last few months. But I want to get stuck into another book later in the year. I think I’ll wait until the nights close in again and the days shorten and green things turn dark and lie dormant. I like to write in that long wait. As yet I have no idea what might emerge with the Spring next year.
- What advice can you offer to aspiring writers?
The most important thing to remember is this, write. Keep on writing. Write. Write. Write. Write anything, it doesn’t have to be a book, or a short story , just exercise those parts of you that want to engage with the written word. I once wrote to the company who operate the speed cameras, just because I needed to write something. I asked if they could send me a picture of me driving along, as I’d love to have one. I don’t know how it was received, but it made me smile all day.
Do it your way. Submit something to a school mag, or a commercial one, write an email to your granny, get your feeling into verse, it doesn’t matter as long as it is a true expression of the writer inside you. The other most important thing is to believe and keep on believing. Never, ever let it go. Every one of us is good at something and if you are good at writing the universe demands that you persevere and contribute.
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