Jennifer Williams is a fantasy writer and Lego obsessive who spends much of her time frowning at notebooks in cafes and fiddling with maps of imaginary places. She is represented by Juliet Mushens of the Agency group, and is partial to mead, if you’re buying. Her debut Fantasy novel, The Copper Promise, and the sequel, The Iron Ghost, are published by Headline. More nonsense available at sennydreadful.com, and you can marvel at the amount of time wasted on twitter by following @sennydreadful.
Introduction: Tell us who you are, how and why you decided to be an author and where you’re at right now in your career.
Like most writers I suppose, I have been writing stories for as long as I can remember — the first Christmas presents I remember asking for were a desk and a typewriter — but I only really started thinking about writing books about ten years ago. I had been told as a young person that writing was a foolish career to pursue because it was too competitive and hardly anyone made any money from it. Being so young, I was still under the impression that adults knew what they were talking about, so took this advice to heart and attempted a career in illustration instead (which is, if anything, even more competitive and difficult to make money from than writing). What I eventually realised — and it’s a very important lesson — is that writing is its own reward, and if you are a writer, you can never really walk away from it. Writing made me happy, and without it I didn’t quite make sense. So around ten years ago I started writing a book for fun, written in bits and pieces after work, and when I finished that I jumped straight into the next one, and then the next one… A decade later I’m writing my ninth novel, with the follow up to my debut due out in February. I’m still not entirely sure how that happened.
What was/is the hardest thing about balancing writing with everyday life and/or a day job?
The most difficult aspect of managing a writing career with a day job is simply time management, and in a related sense, energy management. When I come home from work, all I really want to do is sit in front of Tumblr for four hours eating chips, and if I’ve been up since some godawful hour of the morning — not helped by long commutes on buses — my brain is usually fuzzy and less than inspired. There’s also the fact that any social commitments that have to be arranged around your day job automatically eat into writing time, so you have to be very careful about what you agree to and when.
Tell us about your schedule and habits from this time (or what you’re doing now if it hasn’t changed).
I am still writing alongside my day job, so my schedule is still in full swing. When I come home from work, I go straight to my writing space, which is a little desk in the corner of our bedroom, open the laptop and get working straight away (or any time Windows feels like opening Word, which can be any old random time at all, really). I don’t let myself sit down for a rest first or have a browse on the internet, because immediately my brain slips into RELAXATION MODE and my time is very limited. I normally write for between an hour and a half to two hours, which isn’t a huge amount, but it adds up over the course of a week. At the weekend, I will work for around six hours, usually with multiple breaks in between.
If you don’t mind, would you tell us how your sales first started out? How many books did you have out before you started seeing traction?
My self-publishing experience is quite an odd one. I published the first section of The Copper Promise as a novella called Ghosts of the Citadel, which would eventually go on to make up around 10% of the final novel. My plan was to publish each part, of which there were four, as a sort of side project to go alongside the other books I was writing; basically I was curious about the self-publishing experience and wanted to dip my toe in the water. The sales of it weren’t stellar but they were steady, and most importantly I got a number of very positive reviews on Amazon. A few people were recommending it to each other, and I suppose that created a little positive buzz. I had some queries regarding the complete manuscript, so rather than publishing each part as I wrote it I went ahead and wrote the entire thing. From there I queried my dream agent, and to my enormous and unending surprise she was keen, and from there I was fortunate enough to sell my trilogy to Headline. So in summary, my self-publishing experience was short but lucky.
At one point in time did you make the decision to support yourself/your family as an author? What was that decision like and how did you feel afterward?
Well in truth I haven’t. I still have a day job that is vital for things like regularly paying the rent and eating those meal things you’re supposed to have three of a day, and I don’t expect to be able to give that up any time soon. Like everyone, I hope one day to be able to say that writing is my only job — this is the end game dream for me — but for now the reality is that I live in London and it sucks cash out of you like some sort of soot-covered cosmic hoover.
What is one thing about your author career that not many people know of? Alternatively, what are some of your other hobbies/interests outside of writing?
My love of high fantasy (and low fantasy, or sword and sorcery, which I prefer) was actually rekindled by a video game, the wonderful Dragon Age: Origins, and if I have a big obsessive love outside of books then it is probably this game and its sequels, along with Bioware’s amazing space opera trilogy, Mass Effect. I’ve always been a gamer to some extent – my first Gameboy is still in my top five best Christmas presents of all time, just under the SNES — but Dragon Age was the first game to give me something I’d only previously experienced in novels; a deep sense of immersion in a fantasy world, and strong emotional attachment to characters (I love films too, of course, but books and games last much longer, and therefore have more time to worm into your heart). Dragon Age gave us a traditional fantasy world with women, gay and bisexual relationships, and a sharp sense of humour — it made me want to write fantasy again.
What’s the single best piece of advice you have for authors who can’t support themselves with their writing yet? What should they be focusing on?
I think regardless of whether you are writing full time or not, the thing to be focussed on is writing better books. Outside of everything else you can do to push your career forward to the fabled “I can stay at home and write all day stage”, you won’t get anywhere near it without having written a decent book. So to that end, finish the books that you start and look at them with a critical eye; I wrote a number of “practise” books before I felt my work was remotely ready to be seen by the outside world.