Lit at Ladyfest Ten: Interview with Jayne Joso

27th Oct 2010

Lit at Ladyfest Ten: Interview with Jayne Joso

We spoke to Jayne Joso author of the People’s Book Prize 2010-shortlisted Soothing Music For Stray Cats in the run up to her appearance at Lit at Ladyfest Ten

Tell us about yourself and your work?

I’m a novelist who also enjoys writing in other forms, sometimes plays, sometimes short stories  – though these are rare. That said, I’ve recently finished a rather long short story about two brothers and a murder one of them is involved in. I’ve always been fascinated by the hauntingly operatic song by Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody – and decided to write something that would work as the back-story to the lyrics. That brings me to the fact that I am quite drawn both to first person narration and to writing in the voice of a man.

I don’t find it helpful to analyse this to be honest, but I am rather fascinated by various forms of ‘otherness’ that are quite far from myself, and perhaps because of my brief relationship with acting, I take on the characters much in the way an actor begins to prepare for a role. It’s like spending time in someone else’s skin, or walking through the rooms in someone else’s  mind – (I always visualise the mind as a set of rooms).

So, I rather enjoy writing characters as though I walk in their shoes a while; and I have a particular preoccupation with architecture and also with space – again there is some cross over with character here, as I am fascinated by psychological space, by memory, by the distortions and reliability of this; as well as real physical, geographical, and material space. If I relate that to my novel, Soothing Music for Stay Cats, it is manifest in the narrator’s search for emotional and psychological ease, and his desire for some kind of dwelling that might approximate an acceptable version of ‘home’ , and this in the context of city dwelling, and specifically London, which for many offers a very peripatetic existence.

For a lot of people it is a struggle to find affordable housing, let alone a place in which they can feel a reasonable degree of ease, of peace of mind, or sense of belonging – and I wanted to work through some of this sense of being dispossessed, and the disconnectedness that London can be guilty of. I remember reading Samuel Beckett’s accounts of living in London, where he talks about his loneliness and feeling on one particular day that he had nowhere to go, and no one to meet. There is a deeply disturbing truth in his experience, and I refused to shy away from meeting with similar feelings in Soothing Music for Stay Cats.

What can we expect from your event at Ladyfest Ten?

At Ladyfest, I’ll be reading from my novel, Soothing Music from Stray Cats, and will be happy to answer questions and sign books if anyone wishes. We ran out of books at a previous event but there will be more at this one and if anyone wants an old copy signing please bring it along.

One of the main aims of Lit at Ladyfest Ten is to promote and celebrate writing by women. What advice would you give to women finding it tough to carve out their own niche?

Find it tough and do it anyway!  Everything’s tough; best just plough on with what you want most.

What has your experience been as a woman working in your field?

I just work as hard as I can; I’m passionate about writing, about what I write about; am not much good at anything else, so I just push on. The world makes space for you eventually.

How important is sex, sexuality and gender to you and your writing?

When I write I think of the work, and try to focus on what that requires, so it’s a tricky question for me. I’m less aware of myself whilst writing, and am ‘inside the book’; I suppose it’s an unconscious, and even unintentional, subordination of self. I accept that a writer’s sex and sexuality infuses their writing in some way… to whatever degree… but this is not a conscious act or intention on my part.

As far as the work itself is concerned, I construct, or attempt to construct, the identities of the characters, and of course this includes their sexuality, romantic disposition, this type of thing, and you reveal more of this in some characters than in others, but I don’t have a political agenda as such where these things are concerned.

I think I’m trying to say that the greater part of my identity is bound up with that of writer than that of woman. I don’t know if Zaha Hadid thinks of herself as a woman architect, or rather straightforwardly, as architect, but my guess would be the latter.

For our audience who might not be able to make it to Ladyfest Ten, what authors and projects are you into at the moment that they can investigate instead?

There are often brilliant events at a place in London’s Wood Green, called the Big Green Bookshop. It’s a fabulous independent bookshop, great folk running it, super events line-up, thoughtfully chosen stock. Highly recommend checking that out. They have a website too. On the comedy front, I would say that MissD is a name to watch out for, political, cutting edge – very funny.

Jayne will be reading from her debut novel, Soothing Music for Stray Cats, about the redemption of misfits and the consolation of strangers, followed by a performance from crime noir queen Cathi Unsworth on Friday 12th November at the Horatia. If you haven’t already, get your tickets now!

Post by Alex Herod


  • Jonsey says:

    Great interview, and this looks like a great night out. I’ve seen Joso read up in Chester, not to be missed!