This month, 40 of our lucky members have been reading House for All Seasons by Jenn J McLeod. We had a chat with Jenn to find out more about her and how the book came together – her answers are sure to put a smile on your face:
How did you get started as a writer?
With a school report card like mine there was no way I was going to be a mathematician and my mother will tell you I have been telling stories since the day a dog first ate my maths homework. But more than writing I wanted to be an actor (well, more specifically, on a Broadway stage) but I lacked the confidence – and probably the talent!
As it turns out, writing novels fulfils the latent actor in me. I’m always acting out scenes in order to examine actions, expressions and emotions. I’ve even been known to argue with myself in the bathroom mirror to examine facial expressions or get into the right mood for a certain scene. It scares the dogs into a corner, but then so does my singing, which I now save for long car trips with the windows well and truly wound up and the music on LOUD!
You relocated from the city to the country, how has this changed you?
Moving to the country was like coming home. I had travelled around Australia in my early twenties – two girls living out of a converted F100 truck – working at anything and everything. I loved country life and small communities then and knew I would eventually make my way back.
I took my first tentative steps from corporate chick to sea change champion in 2004 and found the time and the inspiration to pull out some old manuscripts and put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). The rest, as they say, is history.
What can you tell us about House for All Seasons?
House for all Seasons is about coming home and discovering country roots can run deep.
Bequeathed a century-old house, four estranged friends return to Calingarry Crossing where each must stay for a season at the Dandelion House to fulfil the wishes of their benefactor, Gypsy:
Sara, a breast cancer survivor afraid to fall in love;
Poppy, a tough, ambitions journo still craving her father’s approval;
Amber, a spoilt socialite addicted to painkillers and cosmetic procedures;
Caitlin, a doctor frustrated by a controlling family and her flat-lining life.
But coming home to the country stirs shameful memories of the past, including the tragic end-of-school muck up day accident twenty years earlier. And at the Dandelion House, the women will discover something about themselves and a secret that ties all four to each other and to the house – forever.
Who is this book aimed at?
I write what the business calls ‘commercial’ or ‘popular’ fiction. This means stories with broad themes that appeal to a broader audience (making the distinction from what is referred to as more ‘literary’ works). I once heard Jodi Picoult say, “The best books straddle genres and attract a variety of readers.”
That influences my writing, and with intricate themes that deal with family ties and friendships there is definitely broad appeal. A broader audience is good; it means more people reading my work. That, after all, is why I write. So I’d say my novels would comfortably sit on a shelf alongside more literary works, general fiction and contemporary romances.
Where did the character inspiration come from?
I’m inspired by the seasons and as House for all Seasons deals with change and growth, what better analogy? I love the contrast that each season brings—and not just the sights and smells, but the wide range of emotions the different seasons can evoke. Contrast makes for great conflict and characters so I set out to create four women, each as different as the seasons, and each with their own story: Tall Poppy, Surviving Summer, Amber Leaves and Wynters Way.
I also wanted to dedicate the book to four women as different as the season: To Jeannette (my partner in dreams), Kris (the wind beneath my wings), Shirley (my mum 02.09.30 – 18.02.13) and Pam (whose courage inspired Sara’s story and who deserved a happy ever after).
How long did this book take you to write and what was your process?
I started House for all Seasons as part of the global online challenge for writers (NaNoWriMo), completing the required 50ks in 30 days. (For me, 50,000 words form the basics of a story—what I call the skeleton (all the bones are in place. I just need to flesh out the story, add depth, emotions, etc.)
I added another 40,000 words before submitting to my agent (Clare Forster, Curtis Brown) who pushed me to expand and grow the story and its characters well beyond what I ever thought I could, adding ANOTHER 20,000 words to bring it in line with commercial fiction requirements. Then I read and re-read. Friends read and re-read and helped me eradicate my exclamation marks, halve my hyphens, curtail my colons and part with my parentheses. (Shame they didn’t allay my alliterations!)
Which authors are your all time favourites?
I know too many authors to pick favourites. But what I will say is this… As a writer I’m drawn to authors for their specific styles: Lisa Heidke’s witty dialogue; Posie Graeme-Evans’ stunning scene setting, Sara Foster’s wicked weaving of plots and characters; Monica McInerney’s eclectic cast and clever characterisation, and Jodi Picoult’s tackling of real-life issues.
Authors who influence my writing are generally the ones whose books sustain my interest to the end – but mostly the ones whose books don’t (because they are the books that teach me what not to do.)
What is next for Jenn J McLeod?
You mean after I hit the New York Times Bestseller list, sign a movie deal with Hugh Jackman’s production company, and miraculously develop a Miranda Kerr body?
The second book in my Seasons Collection is next. It’s called The Simmering Season and the lovely people at Simon & Schuster, Australia, will have that on the bookshelves March 2014. Right now I am 60,000 words into book three and loving life.
What is one funny fact we wouldn’t know about you?
You mean my all-singing, all-dancing, argue-with-myself-in-the-bathroom-mirror-to-get-into-the-mood-method is not enough for you? Hmm, after consulting my friends and family (to narrow the list of 100 whacky things down to one) I have this to offer … According to the stationery shop person in my local town, I am a ‘fat pen person’. (Although she quickly changed it to ‘broad-point pen’ person. Perhaps because of the look on my face at the time. Perhaps because the term ‘fat pen’ is politically incorrect these days. (Perhaps all the other pens bully the fat pens!!)
What does being a woman mean to you?
At this stage in my life, when the words ‘fifty shades of grey’ makes me think more about my hair colour than my love life, I would have to say being a woman means hot flushes, mood swings, and acceptance that my Victoria’s Secrets will forever stay a secret!
Hi, I’m Anna the Editor of Beauty and Lace. This website was my first baby and since its launch, I’ve gained three kids, a husband, and a puppy! We want to keep this space positive, we are all about sharing the things we love – and avoiding the things we don’t. Happy reading x