Our new interview series Five Minutes With… sees us speaking to those in the writing and publishing industry – authors, journalists, editors, biographers, translators – to discover what compelled them to pick up the pen and work with words, and the hurdles they’ve overcome along the way. This week we spoke with historical fiction author Jill Dawson.
Where has your work appeared?
My recent novel The Crime Writer, about Patricia Highsmith, is published this summer in America by Harper Collins and was published last year in the UK by Sceptre. I have written eight other novels, lots of them historical. Fred and Edie, about the hanged murderess Edith Thompson is probably my best known, or The Great Lover about the poet Rupert Brooke and his time in Tahiti. I also run a scheme which offers mentoring for new writers – anywhere in the world! – called Gold Dust.
When and why did you start writing?
I wrote like most people as a child, making and illustrating little books. I think I felt lonely and as if I was ‘the wrong child’ in my family and the world of fiction was deeply consoling, whether that meant losing myself in it through reading or making stories up myself.
What hurdles have you overcome, and what have been your biggest wins?
I always feel like an absolute beginner and struggle with a lot of fears when I’m writing, voices telling me I can’t do it, etc. This self-attacking voice gets in the way and I have to struggle through it with some hard discipline to write my novels.
What’s your advice for aspiring historical fiction writers?
Find an intelligent, loyal and encouraging friend/reader, one you feel really wants this novel and imagine them looking forward to reading it. That’s what I try to provide through my mentoring scheme, Gold Dust. I’ve found it really works for me that I have an editor I hugely respect and admire and I usually sell my novel on an idea first, so that I can feel she is waiting and wanting that novel to be written.
What do you envisage for the future of historical fiction?
It’s a very healthy form. “The past isn’t ever dead, it isn’t even past” (to paraphrase Faulkner), so we know that there is much to be gained by revisiting it and fiction is the perfect genre to explore the emotional side of the story, as much as the facts.
What was your most rewarding experience at UWRF?
So many! Too many to choose just one. The entire experience is special – intellectually, spiritually and creatively nourishing. I’ve been four times now and can’t get enough of it! You can read about my experience of UWRF16 here.
Jill Dawson’s website | Gold Dust | Twitter: @JDawsonwriter