It's my extreme pleasure to have Jessica Bell, author of the new novel String Bridge, to my blog today. First, a brief introduction:
She spent much of her childhood traveling to and from Australia to Europe, experiencing two entirely different worlds, yet feeling equally at home in both environments. She currently lives in Athens, Greece and works as a freelance writer/editor for English Language Teaching publishers worldwide, such as HarperCollins, Pearson Education and Macmillan Education.
In addition to String Bridge, Jessica has published a book of poetry called Twisted Velvet Chains. A full list of poems and short stories published in various anthologies and literary magazines can be found under Published Works & Awards, on her website.
From September 2012 Jessica will be hosting the Homeric Writers' Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca, home of Odysseus.
So, without further ado, please welcome Jessica!
Rosie: First, congratulations on your novel coming out. I really enjoyed it.
Jessica: Thank you! I’m so glad.
Rosie: Can you tell us a little how this novel came to be? What was your inspiration in bringing this story to life?
Jessica: Even though music doesn’t define me as much as writing does, it is still a big part of my life. And the idea for the book came about when I was thinking about a time in my life when music was all I ever wanted to breathe. Even though my priorities had changed, I still wanted to write about the power music has over someone who is so passionate about it. But I think music could be replaced by any sort of passion in String Bridge, because basically the story is about needing something more than you need yourself.
Rosie: How long did it take you to write String Bridge? From inception to its current state?
Jessica: I spent about five years writing it because it went through about seven different revisions. Although it wasn’t the first thing I’d ever written. I was still learning along the way. And you know what? It still doesn’t feel finished to me. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with ideas on how to improve it. That can be a bit annoying actually, because now it’s impossible. Ha!
Rosie: Like Melody, the novel’s MC, you yourself are an Australian ex-pat living in Greece. What brought you to Greece in the first place?
Jessica: My step father is Greek, so I’ve pretty much grown up with the best of both worlds (Australia and Greece). I’ve been coming here since I was two years old.
Rosie: Tessa, Melody’s daughter, is so well written. As you wrote this, you seemed to really understand and connect with the minds of young children. How much time do you spend with children under the age of five?
Jessica: I used to teach 6-7 year-old kids in an English school here in Athens, but overall my time spent with them was not more than 45 minutes at a time, a couple of nights per week, over the time frame of about a year.
I remember quite a lot about being that young, so I think my own experiences as a four-year-old, mixed in with a few instincts helped me to create Tessa. For those who don’t know, I don’t have kids, so I sometimes doubted whether Tessa was going to be a successful character. I’m so happy she is!
Rosie: Throughout the novel, Melody struggles to balance her love life, her parenting, her music, and her career. As a writer and a musician, you must also have similar struggles in your life. How do you find balance between all the different facets of your life?
Jessica: I don’t think I struggle too much in comparison to those that have families. Sometimes I complain that there isn’t time to do everything I want to do, but I think that’s because I want too much. So it’s not a matter of balance for me, it’s a matter of slowing down and giving myself some quiet time where I don’t have to do anything. I find I really need those moments to revive the stamina and keep up with my day job and my novels, poetry, and song writing, and of course, spending quality time with my partner.
Rosie: There are several songs written within the text of the novel. Do these songs appear on the album that you recorded to go with String Bridge? Are there other songs on the album? How long did it take you to write the songs to accompany this novel?
Jessica: Yes, the five songs that appear in the book are on the album, plus four extras that I wrote for it to become a full-length CD, rather than just an EP. It took me about a month to write them all. Mind you, I didn’t work on it every day and some songs took me days to perfect and others about ten minutes. It’s up and down like that with song writing.
(an interjection: You can access the soundtrack through iTunes, Amazon, or Amazon UK)
Rosie: Can you tell us a little about your experience working with Lucky Press? And how did you come to connect with them?
Jessica: This is a whole other blog post. Luckily, for those who are interested, I’ve already written one about it! Just go to: http://thealliterativeallomorph.blogspot.com/2010/11/why-i-believe-small-presses-are.html
Rosie: I saw on Facebook a few weeks ago that you’re considering forming a band. How would you describe the music that you play?
Jessica: Visceral atmospheric grunge I think is the best way I can put it.
Rosie: What kind of upcoming projects do you have planned? Either musical or literary?
Jessica: My second novel, Bitter Like Orange Peel, is about a twenty-five year old Australian archaeology undergraduate named Kit, who doesn’t like to get her hands dirty. She feels misplaced and comes to the conclusion that meeting her father, Roger, will make some sense of her life, despite him being worth the rotting orange rind in her backyard. Well, at least that’s what she’s been conditioned to think of him by the three women in her life: Ailish, her mother—an English literature professor who communicates in quotes and clichés, and who still hasn’t learned how to express emotion on her face; Ivy, her half-sister—a depressed professional archaeologist, with a slight case of nymphomania, who fled to America after a divorce to become a waitress; and Eleanor, Ivy’s mother—a pediatric surgeon who embellishes her feelings with medical jargon, and who named her daughter after intravenous. Against all three women’s wishes, Kit decides to find Roger, but in doing so, discovers he is not the only rotten fruit.
My third novel, Muted, is set in Arles, France, in a totalitarian society where it is illegal to wear clothes. In some streets, it's also illegal to sing without accompanying instruments. Concetta, a famous Italian a cappella singer from before “the change,” breaks these laws. As punishment, her vocal chords are brutally slashed and her eardrums surgically perforated. Unable to cope with living a life without song, she resolves to drown herself in the river, clothed in a dress stained with performance memories from her hometown, Milan. But Concetta's suicide attempt is cut short as someone grabs her by the throat and pulls her to the surface. Is it the busking harpist, who encouraged her to feel music through vibration, acting as saviour? Or a street warden on the prowl for another offender to detain? From this moment, the reader will discover how Concetta came to be in this position, and what will happen to her after the suicide attempt.
Muted will explore a variety of themes such as overcoming loss, coping with mental illness and disability, dealing with discrimination, loss of freedom, inhibited self-expression, motivation to succeed, escaping oppression, expression through art and music, self-sacrifice, channelling the thoughts of the deceased, and challenging moral views and values.
Hopefully I’ll create a soundtrack for this one too.
Rosie: And one random question: If you were a bumblebee, what kind of flower would you most like to hang out in and why?
Jessica: Um … I don’t like flowers much because I get really bad hay fever … Aaachooo!!! You know of any flowers with an air filter installed?
If you're interested in Jessica's novel, be sure to stop by on Nov. 18 for my review of novel, String Bridge. Would you like a teaser? Check out her book trailer.