My guest today is the young Welsh writer Beverley Jones, whose intriguing novel Telling Stories kept me up until late last night. (I’m heading straight back to it after this interview) So let’s get started straight away. Bev, the narrator in Telling Stories is a journalist, and that’s your background too, isn’t it?
Yes, that’s right. I started out on a weekly newspaper, The Rhondda Leader, then moved to the Western Mail in Cardiff. Then I worked on daily TV news for the BBC Wales Today programme and, more recently as a press officer for South Wales Police, sort of ‘poacher turned gamekeeper.’ You can’t ask for a better grounding in the world of journalism.
Did that help you when you set out to write novels?
Yes, of course. You deal with everything, from the council issues to fatal road accidents, inquests and court cases. I even dealt with a few murder cases. You see tragedy and cruelty and the worst of human behavior every day. The work of the emergency services is the bread and butter of the press/media. There’s always something bad happening to someone, somewhere. It was only natural to bring some of that into my writing!
So let’s get into the Curious Questions. What’s the bravest or scariest thing you’ve ever done?
One of the scariest things ever was being involved in live TV news at the BBC, both as a broadcast journalist, helping put news pieces together, and as a producer in the studio with a little headphone set on and a stopwatch in my hand. Most viewers probably don’t realise how news is controlled right down to the second, literally. A piece is 26 seconds, or 50 seconds or one minute thirty seconds etc, never there or thereabouts! It’s all timed to within an inch of its life and if you’re the one counting the news reader in and out of the links, giving them their cues you need nerves of steel. Then things go wrong, a piece is late being edited and you’re sitting there with 40 seconds to air and your lead story is missing. Heart attack central! I never got used to it. The upside is I know exactly what can be done in small units of time. In the average TV ad break I can make a cuppa and a sandwich, whack the washing in the machine, empty the bin, nip to the loo and still have 15 seconds change before the show restarts!
On a daily basis the scariest thing is letting other people read what I’ve written. I’ve just finished my third novel and it was just as scary giving it to my agent for that first read. When my family reads one of my books, that never gets any less terrifying!
Ok, let’s lower the stress levels and turn to something more peaceful. You’ve chosen your favorite poem, I think. One that features in your first novel, Telling Stories.
Yes, my favourite poem is TS Eliot’s Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock. I love the sense of longing and loss, the strange dreamlike quality and the use of the language. I loved it so much I got permission to use bits of it in my book. Lizzy my journalist uses it as code for her unspoken feelings for her best friend’s husband during their heady University days. Well, she is an English Lit Student, so she’s allowed a bit of poetic self –indulgence before she becomes a cynical and potentially homicidal reporter!
I love that the poem’s a journey, real and metaphorical, through the hollow niceties of middle class living and the overwhelming sadness of it all. Here’s the opening…
LET us go then, you and I, When the evening is spread out against the sky Like a patient etherized upon a table; Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets, The muttering retreats Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells: Streets that follow like a tedious argument Of insidious intent To lead you to an overwhelming question….
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?” Let us go and make our visit.
In the room the women come and go Talking of Michelangelo.
And below is one of my favourite bits about the difficulty of making a decision and taking a decisive step that could have great ramifications in our small world, caught up in the little domesticities we all fill our days with.
Do I dare Disturb the universe? In a minute there is time For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse. For I have known them all already, known them all: Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, I have measured out my life with coffee spoons
Yes, that’s beautiful in a sad, slightly frightening sort of way – or so it seems to me, as someone who is notoriously bad at making decisions or doing anything really adventurous. So, if you could live at a different time in history, would you choose the time when T.S. Eliot was alive, at the start of the twentieth century?
Well, yes, in a way. But can I cheat and choose two historical periods? Firstly I’d have to say the Roaring Twenties. I’ve always loved the style – the flapper dresses, the art deco design and architecture, and the jewellery and accessories. I’ve been raiding vintage shops for years! I imagine myself haring around in a vintage two-seater sports car with my mates Bunty and Pinky sporting a bob so sharp you could slice smoked salmon with it! Or I’d be hot-footing it through the night at some disreputable party, Charlestoning with a bottle of champagne in one hand (in this scenario I’m a real toff obviously) I can actually Charleston (my mum taught me) so am perfect for a sort of Evelyn Waugh, Vile Bodies/Nancy Mitford Love in a Cold Climate scenario but without the fascist sympathies!
(Can I just thank the makers of Downton Abbey for forcing me to now put away the lovely accessories I’ve had for years to avoid looking like I’m channeling bleeding Lady Mary and co on the Downton fashion bandwagon! You rotters!)
My second choice would be a n 18th century tall-ship captain. When I was about eight my mum and dad took me to see the recovered wreck of Henry VIII’s flagship The Mary Rose.
For about two years after that I wanted to be Long John Silver/Admiral Nelson – splice the main brace you scurvy dog or you’ll feel the lash of the cat etc. I know my mizzen mast from my mainsail so I’ll be good with a flintlock on the quarterdeck.
Excellent. In that case I think you should start reading Patrick O’Brian’s books, if you don’t know them already. His characters sail all around the world. Do you have a special place which is particularly significant to you?
Yes, I do. The Yosemite National Park in California.
It looks beautiful but it’s hard to describe the actual power of the place when you are standing there, dwarfed by this astonishing landscape. It’s easy to understand how totally overused the word ‘awesome’ is when you’re gazing at the valley or down on ‘half dome’ from glacier point. I visited two years ago and have bored people rigid since by saying Yosemite ruined my life!
It’s well documented that people often react very strongly, in a visceral way, to their first visit to Yosemite. Some burst out crying, others are lost for words. A very down to earth friend of mine warned me about it and I thought, yeah, wusses! Well, I managed not to blub but there’s something disturbing about the place, the sheer beauty, your own utter insignificance among it.
Why has it ruined my life? Because I didn’t want to leave and because wherever I go in the future, whatever I do, I know I will find myself going, huh, it’s nice but not as good as Yosemite! It’s spoiled everywhere else, forever. And I know it’s there right now, as I stare at the grey sky and think about defrosting a bit of chicken for dinner. It’s going on without me as it has for millions of years being all broody and frightening and gorgeous and majestic and serene….and that’s just spiteful. Yosemite, you spoilsport…
Even better than Cardiff docks, then. I long to go there. After something so uplifting, I hesitate to ask, but …. is there something that annoys you particularly?
Oh, where do I start? Apparently I’m the most impatient person in the world and ‘I don’t suffer fools gladly’ (this is my family’s way of telling me I can be an aggressive pain the in the bum.)
If I had to narrow it down I’d say people who are late. Lateness is an insult to the person waiting. It says ‘you are clearly not as busy as I am and your time is not as important as my time because I am so terribly busy the day just gets away from me!’ Er, no, you thoughtless eejit! I have organisational skills and manners!
And people who say ‘pacific’ or ‘pacifically’ when they mean specific (or specifically). Where has this bizarre thing come from? Do these people realise they are eejits or do they think that’s really the word they mean? How can they possibly not realise they are two different words? How has this happened to society?
Indeed. But language changes all the time, so linguists tell us. My pet hate is the vanishing difference between ‘may and ‘might’ – as in ‘He may have died’ vs ‘He might have died.’ Most people – including linguists – have no idea what I’m talking about. But you’re a writer, so I hope you can see the difference. Tell us a bit about your books.
I was lucky enough to have two novels published by Cutting Edge Press last year. My first was Telling Stories and the inspiration came from my time working as a journalist at The Western Mail in Cardiff. I often wondered what it would be like if I started covering a crime story and it led me to people I knew, friends or family, and I felt they were hiding something – what would I do? That’s the predicament my heroine Lizzy finds herself in.
My second novel Holiday Money features another woman with a dilemma. Jen is about to settle down with her solid, steady fiancé Dan, a police Inspector, but an unexpected phone call leads her to question how well she knows him and she ends up at the mercy of a blackmailer. The tag line I use is ‘Can you tell predator from prey?’ because people are rarely what they seem and everyone has secrets, even seemingly mild-mannered press officers like Jen!
They’re both literary crime/psychological thrillers about the way people shape the stories of their lives and relationships to hide or alter the truth, sometimes with fatal consequences.
People have kindly said my books reminded them of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, Fay Weldon’s The Life and Loves of a She Devil and more recently, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl – being told my writing is anything like any one of these is a massive compliment! You’ll have to make up your own mind.
A great compliment indeed. I’m certainly enjoying Telling Stories. Thank you very much for answering my questions, Bev.
Telling Stories Amazon UK http://amzn.to/Pesgrl
Telling Stories : Amazon US http://amzn.to/XVnJw
Holiday Money Amazon UK http://amzn.to/TJJhjo
Holiday Money Amazon USA http://amzn.to/Uyr6Pp
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