Today I’d like to welcome Australian author Jenny Bond to the blog. Jenny’s debut novel, Perfect North was released last year and focused on an attempt to conquer the North Pole via a hydrogen balloon. Her second novel is The President’s Lunch, revolving around Franklin Roosevelt’s time in the White House and to celebrate its launch I was given the opportunity to ask Jenny a few questions about life and writing. My review of the The President’s Lunch will be up later today.
Q1. Hi Jenny and welcome to my blog. Thanks for taking some time to answer a few questions for me. To get us started – when did you first begin to write and what was the road to publication like for you?
Thank you for inviting me in for a chat! My background is as an English teacher. When, after a decade in the classroom, I decided to try my hand at something new my husband suggested I write a novel. Despite spending my life and career reading and analysing books, the idea was completely foreign to me. Anyway, I took his advice and wrote Perfect North the following year. The seed of The President’s Lunch was already germinating before Perfect North was completed. I submitted the manuscript of Perfect North to a number of publishers and I was astounded when they all showed interest. I chose to join with Hachette because of the passion they showed for my writing and my stories.
Q2. Share a little of your writing routine: do you have a favourite place to write (such as a study or café) and is there anything you consider necessary to the creative process, such as coffee or music?
I have two young children around whom my work week is shaped. Fortunately, I can write anywhere and at any time, although I prefer daylight hours in the comfort of my own study. I find music, emails, Facebook and Twitter a distraction when I write and I try to avoid using the internet except for research purposes. Hot drinks (coffee & tea), and lots of ‘em, are essential for any Canberra writer during the winter.
Q3. Your books must require quite some extensive research. Are you an extensive plotter once you begin writing, or a more fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type?
I fly completely by the seat of my pants. I try to do most of my research before I begin writing as I like to have all the facts floating around in my head when I begin on the narrative. While I have a general idea of the plot when I write the first sentence it is not until halfway or even further into the manuscript that I know how the tale will conclude.
Q4. What I know about the White House comes from binge-watching all seven seasons of The West Wing over a few months. What was your process for researching The President’s Lunch and how long did it take from first idea to completed manuscript?
Sadly, I have never seen The West Wing, although I have been told Jed Bartlet very much resembles Franklin Delano Roosevelt (minus the wheelchair). I read as much as I could about and by the Roosevelts – biographies, autobiographies, diaries and letters etc. I also researched the time period and the politics of the era extremely thoroughly. Then I took a research trip to the US and Canada and visited Franklin and Eleanor’s homes in Hyde Park (NY), New York City, Campobello Island (New Brunswick, Canada) and Washington D.C. Being guided through their houses and speaking with people who knew them was extremely valuable. The insight I gained into these two extraordinary individuals gave colour and life to the narrative.
Q5. What drew you to writing about this time in history and the Roosevelts?
My mother, a Depression-era baby, spent a great deal of her adolescence at the ‘pictures’. By feeding me a well-rounded diet of Hollywood movies from the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, she passed on her love of film and a fascination with the era. My interest in American politics was born at university when I was forced to complete an American history course as a prerequisite for another course. I can’t remember what the other course was, but I became completely enamoured with America’s past.
Q6. What’s the hardest part of blending fact and fiction?
It is a very fine line an author walks when writing historical fiction. I have to know the real life characters so well before I begin writing that I feel entirely comfortable to speak and act for them in scenes of my own imagining.
Q7. Are there any books you’d recommend for readers who might want to know more about FDR or this particular time in American history?
Blanche Wiesen Cook’s two volume biography of Eleanor Roosevelt (Eleanor Roosevelt 1884-1933 and Eleanor Roosevelt The Defining Years) is a must-read. Likewise, Jean Edwards Smith’s award-winning biography of the president, simply titled FDR, is informative and thoroughly entertaining.
Q8. What do you like to do when you’re away from the keyboard?
I like to spend time with my husband and sons. This usually involves being outdoors, playing soccer or cycling or watching my eight-year-old master the skateboard. I am a fitness nut and enjoy running, swimming and cycling. Canberra is a great place to be outdoors. Travel is also a pursuit I am passionate about. Whether for research purposes or pleasure, going away is what I look forward to most in life.
Q9. Share five favourite authors and/or books
- Emma by Jane Austen. I came to read Emma quite late in life and it immediately became not only my favourite Austen, but my favourite book. I also developed a serious literary crush on Mr Knightley.
- The Cider House Rules by John Irving. I began reading Irving as a teenager and immediately fell in love with his unexpected storylines and unique characters.
- Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. I read this book when I was fourteen and it scared the bejabbers out of me. I slept with a bible, garlic bulb and crucifix for the time it took me to complete the book. I still think it is the best horror ever written.
- A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel. I read this book about the French Revolution while I was in Paris. The experience somehow deepened my appreciation of the novel.
- How to Eat by Nigella Lawson. I first encountered Nigella on TV when I was living in London more than a decade ago. I thought her no-nonsense style of cooking and her on-screen charisma was phenomenal. I immediately purchased her seminal work and have been a devotee ever since.
Q10. And lastly….what’s next for you?
I’m currently about seventy five per cent through my third novel. It deals with the life and career of English pirate, Samuel Bellamy.
Thanks so much for your time Jenny – and when you get a chance between books, you should definitely watch The West Wing. It’s very entertaining and the acting is brilliant.
The President’s Lunch is published by Hachette Australia. You can purchase it here