Wednesday, 5 April 2017

A conversation with Jennie Ensor

Jennie Ensor is a Londoner descended from a long line of Irish folk. She has worked as a freelance journalist, covering topics from forced marriages to the fate of Aboriginal Australians living on land contaminated by British nuclear testing.

Jennie lives in London with her husband and their cuddle-loving, sofa-hogging terrier. When not chasing the dog or dreaming of setting off on a long journey with a Kindleful of books, she can usually be found writing – novels as well as short stories and poetry (published under another name). Her second novel, to be finished soon with any luck, is a dark and unsettling psychological drama. 

Jennie's debut novel Blind Side explores love and friendship, guilt and betrayal, secrets and obsession. An explosive, debate-provoking thriller that confronts urgent issues of our times and contemplates some of our deepest fears. 
Can you ever truly know someone? And what if you suspect the unthinkable?

London, five months before 7/7. Georgie, a young woman wary of relationships after previous heartbreak, gives in and agrees to sleep with close friend Julian. She’s shocked when Julian reveals he’s loved her for a long time.

But Georgie can’t resist her attraction to Nikolai, a Russian former soldier she meets in a pub. While Julian struggles to deal with her rejection, Georgie realises how deeply war-time incidents in Chechnya have affected Nikolai. She begins to suspect that the Russian is hiding something terrible from her. 

"Graceful, poetic, intelligent and captivating. A story about three flawed and fascinating people living in dangerous times." Gail Cleare, author of USA Today bestseller The Taste of Air

Blind Side is an explosive, debate-provoking thriller about terrorism and sexual obsession. It is published by Unbound, publisher of the highly-acclaimed essay collection The Good Immigrant. We'd like to thank Jennie for taking part in A conversation with...and wish her much success with her writing adventures.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

10 years thinking I might write something one day, trying to write and tossing pages in the bin.
10 years writing (3 novels, a few short stories and lots of poetry) and dealing with rejection.
3 months crowdfunding my debut novel Blind Side with the publisher Unbound.
5 months working with editors, a cover designer and the publisher to get the book produced.
8 months getting used to being a published author.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

Being a writer is an opportunity to share with others what one cares most about. I try to be honest in my writing, to say things that may be difficult (possibly because they confront oneself or sections of society) without worrying about what readers may think. I love the freedom to play and make things up, and having permission to be float off into my own world. Now I’m actually earning some money from writing, I can say ‘I’m off to do some work’ without excessive guilt and the thought that I’m really a deluded, useless idler-cum-hermit :) Most of all, I enjoy knowing that I do not need to get up at 7.15am on a Monday morning... and if I do, it’s my own choice.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

Julian in Blind Side is not an easy character to like. Despite his apparently easy-going exterior, he has an obsessive side and becomes fixated on a friend of the opposite sex (my main protagonist, Georgie) who doesn’t feel the same way about him. Her rejection triggers a strong reaction... Though I don’t much like Julian, I drew on my experiences of stormy and difficult relationships to get under his skin. He is not a totally bad character and was once a caring friend – and I know very well the pain of unreturned love.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

First off I must say that I’m keen to create more characters who have radically different backgrounds from me. So far my novels have focussed on white middle class people living in the south of England, which admittedly is not particularly diverse! The exception is my character Nikolai in Blind Side, a Russian migrant recently arrived in London with little money who works as a labourer in often dangerous conditions. The novel is partly about society’s perception of the ‘outsider’. It’s a thriller about terrorism and sexual obsession set in 2005, the year of the suicide bomb attacks on London, when attitudes to immigrants in Britain noticeably hardened.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

Oh dear me, this is hard. Only one place? An island in the Caribbean wouldn’t be so bad especially in the British winter. I’m a beach babe, love outdoor swimming and crave the heat. Possibly it would be too tempting not to write though, so I’d have to live a ten-minute cycle ride from the beach. To be honest most of the time I’m pretty happy living where I am now, in north London. There’s woods, parks and theatres etc nearby and Paris is just a train ride away.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

Hmm, this is a hard one too. There are so many! Although it would have required a considerable injection of literary prowess to say the least, I would have been overjoyed to have written All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, a novel set during the occupation of St Malo in France during WW2. I am in awe of the writing and storytelling. It’s not in a genre I’ve written in (literary historical fiction) but occasionally I ruminate on possibilities.

What advice do you have for would be novelists/writers?

It’s not the destination that’s important, it’s the getting there. (I am doing my best to learn this!) Try to enjoy the writing journey, embrace the uncertainties and don’t compare yourself with others. Also take any opportunities that come your way. Submit to publishers, agents, poetry/prose competitions, whatever... One can’t expect to win all the time 😊 but you definitely won’t if you don’t enter.

Since getting published, I know what an exhausting job it can be getting exposure for one’s book, and how much there is to learn about publishing, publicity and marketing. So don’t expect to get everything perfectly right the first time you publish. Keep calm when things go wrong, don’t angst about what you can’t control and don’t be too hard on yourself.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

My main project is another psychological novel, a very dark domestic noir. It’s about a paedophile and his family, and reflects on our sexuality-obsessed culture.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mocking Bird – the lawyer who fought racial prejudice despite overwhelming opposition in defending a black man accused of raping a white woman. I was struck by his courage and determination to stand up for what he believed to be right, based on strongly-held principles that all are equally worthy of respect. And my favourite badass heroine has to be Scarlett in Gone With The Wind.

Blind Side is published by Unbound

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