Good morning, Rosemary! It is our pleasure to have you here from beautiful Oxfordshire this morning. Welcome to Vision and Verse. Welcome to the US. Now, tell me,what have you written?
I’ve just finished the final draft of my current novel All Good American Boys. It’s contemporary fiction with historical elements, set in Virginia and Hungary.
A grieving Englishwoman flees to Virginia but when two brothers from one powerful Hungarian immigrant family fall dangerously in love with her, she must face the secrets of their past, as well as her own.
Like a set of Russian nesting dolls the story offers different perspectives on the same lives.
The Hungarian Revolution is the catalyst. It was an amazing, courageous, brutal and unique event. It was brief but changed Budapest and its people forever. With the uprisings occurring around the world today it has resonance.
The experience of being an ‘outsider’ in a community fascinates me: my main English character Elizabeth assumes this role when she visits America. The Suslov family who have fled the Hungarian Revolution struggle to create their version of the ‘American Dream’. Immigration, assimilation and identity are of current relevance. They’re at the core of the loves, rivalries and ambitions throughout the book.
I’m researching for a second novel set on the edges of the Amazonian rainforest.
I also write plays and short stories. I have excerpts and short stories on my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/RosemaryAnnJohns
My twitter is https://twitter.com/RosemaryAJohns
My favorite play was Breaking Ice, which was a winner of a writing competition judged by the Royal Court Theatre and the BBC.
When a young man saves the daughter of a famous actress from a lake in a winter park, they find their very different lives are suddenly brought together.
Sounds fascinating. I can't wait. What is your favorite genre to write?
I love twentieth century historical and contemporary fiction. There’s something about the exploration of the past and its shadow over the present. I studied history at Oxford University so the research side is fun for me. It’s often a single photograph that can have the greatest impact.
Italian- our Honeymoon was to Rome, also my favorite City (at least for romance) and the food there was the best I’ve ever eaten. Every anniversary we eat Italian and it takes me straight back to the beauty of Rome.
Where would you like to visit?
So many places! I’d love to take a road trip around America. The Amazon as I research it is blowing me away. Nature, people, culture, woven together by a past that can leave Catholic temples in the middle of rainforests.
Favorite musical artist. Do you listen to music when you write? What?
I find that creative people are often creative across the arts disciplines. I go into a bubble when I listen to music, similar to the one I go into when I write. I like different types of music for different moods. But my favorite has always been American alternative rock. EELS are incredible. Beautiful Freak is an understated masterpiece. When I was a child I had a haunting music box that played TCHAIKVSKY’s Swan Lake. I was mesmerized by it. It’s still my favorite ballet.
I can’t, however, listen to anything when I’m writing my first draft. I need total silence. I go into a ‘zone’. The second draft is typing up for me because I write the first one by hand. On this one I listen to music, something really energized to keep me going, like NIRVANA.
What makes you laugh?
How old were you when you started writing?
First stories and book attempts when I was eight (a naval tale in the nineteenth century) then throughout my teenage years. But seriously when I went to university and set up a theatre company. Before this I had also been involved in a range of ways with different theatre companies. I think it’s the best apprenticeship a writer can have. Stagehand, front of house, director, actor – when you know about the mechanics of plays from all different angles you can understand them far better. In the same way, writing plays and being involved in theatre, has helped in writing novels. Structure, psychology of characters, point of view, dialogue – just to mention a few. I took a short break from writing whilst my son was young because he has autism. Now he’s older I’m writing again.
Where do you get your inspiration?
The world…I have a writer’s ideas book where I write down sometimes whole concepts, sometimes a single line of dialogue. I may not use an idea for five years and then the right project has come along for it, sparking it to life. Often other mediums inspire me – ballet, opera, rap, art, movies – just a passing line, image or the feel behind a scene.
What do you do when you get a writer's block?
So far- touch wood- it hasn’t happened. I start each day I’m writing by re-reading the section I’ve written before and this seems to kick start me back in.
I do some art photography as a hobby and I think it helps having other creative outlets. My latest set of photographs was entitled Spectacular Light. They’re an exploration of beauty and colour in abstract, as well as ideas of infinity, exploration and space. They’re on https://facebook.com/RosemaryAnnJohns
Who is your favorite author?
The Russian novelist FYODOR DOSTOEVSKY.
I came to his novels, particularly Crime and Punishment when I was a teenager and they had a profound effect. Rereading them as an adult they hit me in different ways. He has a unique voice. A way of taking you right into the mind and soul of the protagonist.
He showed me as a writer what it is to be morally complex and conflicted. To sympathize with characters who are on the surface unsympathetic because the point of view is so close.
The great strength running through his novels is the emphasis on family and family ties. What binds people. Society, religion, or family. The dialogue is wonderful, with a dark humor.
His books started my love for Russian and European literature.
Best book you ever read.
My favorite book is The Master and Margarita by MIKHAIL BULGAKOV.
The devil appears one day in the streets of Moscow, accompanied by a huge black cat and what follows is a tour de force of political and social satire. It’s funny, reads as a surreal fantasy, is wildly imaginative and you can imagine it being true if it were to happen today in London…
It was BULGAKOV’s last novel and was finished in 1938 at the height of Stalin’s purges. It wasn’t published in Russia until 1966.
Who is the one person who has influenced your personal life the most and why?
My son. When you have disability in your life it changes your whole perspective on the world. Social justice and the impact we have on each other as humans, across generations, across continents has come through as a connecting theme in my writing because of my son. It’s a powerful idea. It’s the concept behind the uprisings that are currently sweeping the globe. And that have periodically throughout history. But in small ways every day each one of us faces the same choices and decisions. We’re all part of families, communities and society.
If you could sit down and have a conversation with ONE person, living or dead, real or fictional, who would it be and why?
When I was about eight I injured my foot and was unable to walk for a number of months. My parents owned an antique collection of DICKENS and I read every book, cover to cover. For this reason I’d like to have a conversation, over a good dinner, with DICKENS. I like his humor, his vivid characters and the worlds he pulls you into. The Pickwick Papers is one of my favorite novels. But he was also a social critic, campaigning for and highlighting in his novels, the needs of the poor, children’s education and reforms. I’d be interested in how he married the two. Oliver Twist is a good example. He remained always a man of his time, weaving in events happening around him, people he met, social problems and realities. He saw the novel as a reflection of reality, not to be rose-tinted or pure entertainment (although they are endlessly entertaining) but also as having a moral purpose too. It would be an interesting conversation!
What advice would you give someone who aspired to be a writer?
Read…anything and everything. Not just in your genre or your form. Read plays, poetry, YA, science fiction…then write a little of everything until you’re sure of your own voice, the right genre and where you want to position yourself. Sometimes people are surprised to find they’re really a short story writer when they thought they were a poet or a poet when they thought they were going to be a novelist…diving in too fast can be a problem. Finding your voice- and having a strong and unique voice- is the most important thing. If you can’t identify it in other people’s works first then it’s much harder to develop your own. But if you want to do it, be confident in yourself!