Please welcome Polly Johnson, author of the novel Stones which was recently accepted by Harper Collins Publishing as an eBook. You can read all about the acquisition announcement on Harper Collins’ blog via Authonomy.com, or check out her Authonomy profile, which includes some of the early chapters.
Polly has been writing since she was a child, and also illustrates and draws cartoons. She has had a couple of articles and poems published, but mostly enjoys writing longer fiction. She has written three books but never submitted any until this one. She loves the sea and the mountains, but lives in suburbia with her husband. Two daughters have finished Uni and have moved on (almost).
I was captivated by Polly’s narrative voice as well as the fluidity of her prose and story telling. Stones is an easy read, but not because it’s simple. Far from it–it covers some pretty heavy human experiences. It’s her voice that makes it easy to slip into the character’s psyche. If you haven’t checked out her work yet, I’d give it a gander.
Stones will be made available for purchase in November 2013.
Welcome, Polly! It’s an honor. Let’s jump into the questions.
Why did you become a writer, Polly?
Polly: It may seem a bit ‘precious’ but writing is something I’ve always done. I still have notebooks and papers full of ‘books’/poems/short stories and so on from when I was around six or seven upwards. I’d disappear for hours and get lost in my own world.
Where do you get your ideas?
Polly: Normally I find that they just pop into my head. The more I try to plan, or think of a special idea, the less easy I find it. Having said that, I read a short report in the paper today about some monkeys in a European zoo who were worrying their keepers because they seemed to be ‘withdrawn’, and terrified of something no one could see. I thought, ‘The animals might know first, if something big was going to happen. I might write something about that.
Do you experience writer’s block and how do you get through it?
Polly: Not while I’m writing. I did during a period of my life when I hadn’t written for ages (busy with having a family and earning a living etc.) and I tried too hard to write ‘for an audience’ and worried too much about who and what it was aimed at, and so on. I see you’re going to ask me where the idea for Stones came from. I’ll give the resolution for this quick story then.
Is there a particular author or book that is most influential to you in your writing?
Polly: There’s a roll call of writers who have made an impact on me as I grew up – people like Ursula le Guin and her ‘Earthsea’ novels, or Alan Garner’s books. I am still finding influential works now of course, but those were the writers who first made me think ‘One day I want to write something this good – that can make the world vanish or change the way I feel forever.’ That’s still a hope!
If you could go back in time to when you started writing your first novel, what practical tips would you give your younger self?
Polly: The first ‘book’ I finished was when I was about 19. I found it the other day and two things struck me. Firstly: edit! – I thought writers just started a book, wrote until it was finished, and that was it. It isn’t of course – it’s only the start. Secondly: be yourself. I could see the influences of other writers in it because I didn’t trust myself enough to have my own unique voice.
Polly: Stones is out there as ‘New Adult’ but my test readers have been adults and all have said that it shouldn’t be age limited. Some of the events are taken from real life, as is apparently the case with a lot of first novels, and I’ve been told that it stays with people after they finish it. It’s about a girl who is coming to terms with a death in the family, and the strange relationship she strikes up with a charismatic young tramp, but there’s a lot going on beneath the surface.
Where did the idea for Stones come from?
Polly: The third question (above) about writer’s block is how it came about. When I wanted to start writing again, I got a bit obsessed with things like ‘target audience’ and ‘genre’ etc. and it was all very wooden. One day I remembered how it used to be fun, and decided I’d write 1,000 words a day without any planning or thought, just for my own pleasure. I went straight upstairs, opened the computer and started to type. I liked what came out and repeated the process the next day. That was the start of Stones.
Is there a particular character or aspects of a character that relate most to you?
Polly: There is always someone in my writing (and reading) that feels a bit of an outcast, or misunderstood. (Coo in Stones). I didn’t feel like I fitted in as a child. I had that sense of being on the outside of things. I don’t know why, but I relate more to male characters (Ged in Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea for instance) and characters who look at the world and see something different beneath the top layer.
What are some underlying themes of Stones?
Polly: Being outcast, lost, or not listened to. Also the power of forgiveness. It all sounds a bit grand or gloomy reading that, but they are things which are there in the background.
Is there a sequel in the works, or is Stones a standalone novel?
Polly: There is no sequel, but the ending allows you to make up your own in a way. You can accept the obvious truth of what happens, or go with Coo and imagine something different.
Are you working on any other projects?
Polly: I’m doing an edit of the first draft of my second book ‘J’ which I hope will go more easily than Stones as I learnt such a lot doing that one! (It’s only edit number one of course, as you well know after all your work on Deshay of the Woods.) It does mean that the third one I’ve started is getting a bit neglected because of the edit. Both of these have boys as the main character. One is adult, and one is YA or New Adult.
What was the toughest bit of criticism you ever received from a reader/reviewer—something valid, not from someone just trying to flame message boards?
Polly: Hmmm. Someone said ‘How the hell did this make the desk!’ but that may not have been an honest comment, I hope. Outside the site, I took the start of another book I’d worked hard on (now abandoned!) to a course where the tutor was a wonderful writer I admired. He said ‘You’re not really going to go with this are you?’ I was devastated. Don’t think it was the writing (he liked something else I showed him) so much as the tone, the idea. I was really disappointed. I put the thing in a drawer and didn’t look at it for ages.
What was the best compliment?
Polly: A friend read Stones after its final edit and rung me up to say ‘I hate you. I keep crying and I’ve been thinking about it on and off all day. How could you end it like that.’ Also the people on Authonomy who asked me to email the last third of the book to them because they wanted to know how it ended.
Anything you’d like to say to readers/fans?
Polly: Oh, the idea of having fans! I’d be glad to just have some readers and see the book go into paperback. I’d just say ‘I’m so happy that you like what I write, because that means everything.
Any tips you’d like to offer to others attempting to write novels?
Polly: Just write it. Don’t stop to worry about whether you’re actually any good, or who it’s for, or whether that should be a comma or a full-stop – just enjoy making that world and worry about those questions when you’re done. Oh – and don’t give up. You’ll never know what might happen unless you keep trying.
Many thanks, Polly. Insightful and interesting stuff, all from a talented author. Keep your eyes peeled for an author blog from Polly when Stones hits the e-shelves in November 2013.