Author Interview: Jenni Gudgeon

Jenni Gudgeon Photo

First off, tell me about yourself?
I’m a blue eyed, blue haired, photographic artist and writer from Fife, Scotland, who’s written and illustrated a book about the fairytale creatures who live in my local woods. My artwork is created by etching (or scraping) designs into the emulsion of my photographs, so I can combine the everyday world, as picked up by my camera, with the fantastical world of the human imagination.

What made you want to be a writer?
I honestly never wanted to become a writer. I wasn’t very good at English in school, and for most of my life I’ve told stories with pictures, rather than words. About five years ago I exhibited a couple of etched fairytale creatures and told people the silly stories I’d made up about them while etching. People told me the stories would make a great book, and wouldn’t listen when I said I couldn’t write.

Three days later I woke up with the first line in my head and realised “Oh God, I’m writing a book!”

That was a really scary morning. It took me by surprise how much fun writing is. I love creating worlds with words instead of pictures, and watching my initial tangle of ideas come together to form coherent sentences.

And what attracted you to writing in your specific genre, and do you stick with that consistently or do you change it up?
I’ve always loved myths and legends, and been fascinated by the idea of what is hidden at the edge of perception. At the moment, I create pictures of fairytale creatures, so that is the genre I write in.

However, I’m also doing a creative writing course at present in order to learn how to tell stories properly. The stories I write on the course are a world away from fairytale creatures so I might end up writing other genres as well as fantasy.

So tell me about what you’ve written, and has it been published/where can potential fans find your book(s)?
My book is called Folkland Fables and is available from Amazon on kindle, paperback and hardback or on hardback via my website. The book is a guidebook to the fairytale creatures of Folkland Wood, written by a fairy-sighted human to pass on their knowledge to the next fairy seer. The book gives the new seer all the information they need to know about the strange creatures they’ll meet. The reader also has to decide if they want this fairy seeing life. The more time spent in Folkland Wood, the more vague and ‘away with the fairies’ you become in the human world. Will this make you give up your fairy-sight forever?

If you have had stuff published, how has it been received? And what is your opinion of your work now that it’s out there?
I’ve been overwhelmed and touched by how enthusiastic some people are about my book, and I’m thrilled when people put their own interpretation onto my characters. I was recently selling my book at a craft fair, and a lady told me she’d bought my book for her Danish grandchildren. They had struggled to translate some of the words into Danish, so the children made up their own stories based on my pictures. I’m immensely proud of Folkland Fables, and it’s the very best of what I could do at the time. However I want to development as a writer and artist for my next book, which will be about the fairytale creatures living off the coast of Scotland.

Is there anything you’d change or do differently now that it’s published?
I wouldn’t change anything to do with the actual book, but I would have liked to have enjoyed the experience of bringing out my first book more. Unfortunately, a relative became extremely ill just before the launch of Folkland Fables, so I had far more important things to worry about than my book. I barely have any memories of my launch, and found the whole thing a bit of an ordeal really.

Speaking of publishing, how did you go about getting you book(s) published, and what was your publishing journey like?
I independently published Folkland Fables, after failing to find an agent or publisher. I applied for these even though my writing mentor told me on my first session that I’d probably want to publish it myself. This is because I’m an artist, and therefore quite a control freak. It would have been unacceptable to me to have no control over the style of the finished book, which could easily have happened with a traditional publisher.

Now tell me a little about what your writing process is like?
To create my characters I start by researching each creature thoroughly. As I’m doing this I imagine how their mythology will have shaped their character and what they’d be like as a real person. Lastly I wonder I’d react to them if I saw them every day, like if they were in my class or worked with me, and I wonder how they’d behave in certain situations.

e.g ghillie dhu’s look after woods. In their mythology, they love children but hate adults. I wondered what would happen if the ghillie dhu was your best friend when you were a child, and then you hit puberty. I was suddenly heartbroken because my pretend best friend didn’t like me anymore for something that was completely out of my control. I was devastated for about six months every time I thought about it.

I also wanted to turn my creatures’ reputations upside-down, so their behaviour would come as a surprise.

e.g Flower fairies are usually thought of as the cute little children drawn by Cicely Mary Barker, so I always knew I wanted them nasty. Eventually, I used Harry Potter for inspiration and made them like veela – beautiful creatures who become vicious and terrifying when angry. They hate humans because our scent makes their flowers wilt, and will attack us without mercy if we get too close.

And do you write for any market or demographic in particular?
I don’t write for any particular market, but I imagined a younger age limit of about eight because of some of the themes mentioned. I’ve had books bought for toddlers though, who’ll graduate to the stories in their own time and can enjoy searching my pictures till then.

What advice do you have for other writers?
For most of my life I believed that writers could somehow create perfect sentences on their first draft. No one ever told me writers edit their words over and over again to make them read smoothly. I stupidly thought it was an innate ability rather than a skill which could be learnt. I wish I’d been told that in school. Having a mentor to guide me through writing and publishing a book has been invaluable, and I heartily recommend finding someone who’s further along the publishing path to help you avoid pitfalls. There’s a lot of help out there, but I find a lot of it very confusing. Sitting down with one person for an hour to go through what it all means in practical terms is very useful.

Tell me about some writers you really like and/or admire?
My favourite authors are Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. They both normalise the extraordinary, and make you think the extraordinary could happen to anyone.

How do you deal with writer’s block.
I don’t really suffer from writer’s block, but I do use strategies to stop myself procrastinating. Once I’m in the middle of a piece of art or writing I’m fine, but starting it is often hard. I allow myself one morning to give into my panic. Then I block social media, news outlets, YouTube and every other time wasting sites, and I make myself sit down and work. It doesn’t matter if the work is good or bad, but there has to be something on the page by the end of the day.

And lastly feel free to share links to your social media so potential fans can follow you?


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