Joanna Barnard is the winner of 2014 Bath Novel Award for her first novel, Precocious. It is coming out on 2nd July and is now available for pre-order on Amazon.
Precocious is about Fiona, a woman who meets and starts an affair with her former English teacher. Interspersed with the present-day relationship are flashbacks to her time at school and the crush that developed into a relationship back then. Events unfold that force her to re-visit her version of the past.
Joanna is also a fellow WordPress blogger. Her blog-post about the initial struggle to find a publisher for Precocious (which was then called Being Different) to finally winning the Bath Novel is a brilliant documentation that every newbie author must read. You can also read about her journey as an author in this beautiful interview.
In conversation with author Joanna Barnard
Interview by Arpita Pramanick
In one of your blog posts you mention that you wrote your first story aged six, and published one in an anthology when you were nine. So, should we say you have always wanted to an author?
Definitely! I had other ambitions from time to time (I even wanted to be a nun, briefly, probably because I thought it would be like The Sound of Music!), but I always came back to writing.
How has life changed since the Bath Novel Award?
The award was a huge turning point for me because that’s how I met Juliet, who’s now my agent. From there followed the publishing deal with Ebury and the opportunity to write full-time. So life has changed dramatically and it’s really exciting.
Was giving up your day job post-Precocious an easy choice?
Yes and no. It’s nerve-wracking leaving behind a secure job, but I wanted to devote my time to writing the second book. I knew it might only be short-term but I think if you get the chance to live your dream, you should go for it!
Precocious is written in second person. Was it easy writing in this POV? Is there any special reason for choosing this point of view for this book?
Well, it’s first person technically because it’s narrated by Fiona, but it’s addressed to Henry [the teacher] so yes, it reads like second person. There are some challenges with keeping up the ‘you’ voice for a whole novel, but it felt right for the story. It works in terms of the plot but more importantly, it’s true to Fiona’s character: she’s obsessed with Henry and thinks of everything only in relation to him.
You are currently working on your second book as part of your two-book deal with Ebury. What is it going to be about? Have you decided on any names yet?
I’m undecided on the title and I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s a family story told from multiple viewpoints – it starts with a child getting hurt and everyone has a slightly different version of events. The family starts to implode as all their secrets and lies come to light.
Does the extensive editing process for your first book make the writing process of the second book easier?
Sort of. I suppose the experience of the first one means I know what to expect, and what ‘good’ should look like, but this can be restricting in a way, too. The temptation is to ‘edit as you go’ and try to make each sentence as perfect as it can be, first time around, but this prohibits you getting the story down. So at the moment I’m trying just to write, finish the first draft, and worry about edits later!
For your first book there was no deadline, but there was no promise of getting published either. For your second book, there is a deadline, and you know you’re going to be published and read widely. Does the deadline add to any pressure?
Well, first of all, it’s a really nice position to be in so I would never complain! And as pressures go, there are far worse. But yes, it’s a very different experience having a deadline. There’s that sense that you’re writing ‘for’ someone, whereas with Precocious I never knew whether it would ever be read by a wider audience. Also, I’m really proud of Precocious, and I want to improve as a writer, so I challenge and put pressure on myself all the time to make this book even better.
In this fast changing world of publishing where more and more authors are going the ebook and self-published way, do you think a newbie author should still give traditional publishing a try? If yes, then why?
I think there are pros and cons to both and authors should think about what they’re trying to achieve. From my perspective, a major advantage of the traditional route is scale: you will get wide distribution in a way that is very difficult to achieve going it alone. But also, if you’re lucky (as I have been) you will get a team of people around you who are incredibly supportive and whose guidance will help improve your work. Writing can be a lonely business as it is
I have been following your blog and see that you often share short stories on the blog. Have you ever thought of publishing an anthology of your shorter works?
Not yet, but you never know! I actually find short stories really hard to write, but I like to use them as ‘exercise’ when I need to get away from the novel for a bit.
If Joanna Barnard is not writing, what is she doing with her time?
Spending time with my son, who’s five. He’s a total joy at the moment. I’m also studying – I’m training as a psychotherapeutic counsellor, so that takes up quite a bit of time, both theory and practical. I read A LOT. I also love walking and, occasionally, running – I think it’s important to get fresh air and exercise when you spend most of your day sitting at a laptop or notebook!
Lastly, where do you see yourself in the next five years of your writing career?
I know I’ll still be writing novels and I hope that people will still want to read them! That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do and all I wish for.