I’d like to introduce you to the one-hundredth interviewee in my ‘Meet the Author’ series. She is Jesamine James from the UK.
Scrag – Up the Hill Backwards is your first published book. If I’m not mistaken, it’s a true story about the child abuse you suffered. Can you tell us a bit about the book?
Yes, it is based on a true story. I say based because much has been omitted to protect other innocent people’s identities who would rather not be connected to the past.
After going to the police and having to recall events from decades before, I wrote them down, firstly to remember and clarify times and events, then feelings came into it and I knew I had to write the story. Mainly to warn people about the child abuse that might be going on under their noses, but also to get it all out of my head and on to paper where it will stay.
The book is not a grim, depressing Mis-lit like so many others on the market. It’s a positive story of strength and spirit which also highlights effects of abuse that are often overlooked. Unlike the adverts on TV would have you believe, there is not a stereotypical abused child. Different people cope or do not cope in very opposing ways. There are many signs though and I hope this story brings that awareness to parents and adults working with children.
How difficult was it to bring up those old memories? Was the writing therapeutic in some way?
It was incredibly harrowing to trawl back through memories. I had all the notes which were compiled for the police statement and I could have left it at that. I realised the importance of sharing all this information soon after and decided to write the first draft. I basically shut myself in a room with a supply of vodka, a pen and stacks of paper for a month and got it all written down.
A month might not sound that long, but it took a further five years before I had a polished, final draft ready for publication.
Although it didn’t feel therapeutic at the time I was writing it, I do believe that it was. Once finished, my head was empty and clear of it, almost. The story now had its place between the pages of the book and the court case was over, so my head had no reason to store the information or memories any longer. It’s like putting stuff into a box and shoving it into the attic. I know it’s there, but I can ignore it.
You’ve received some great reviews of your book. Do you get a lot of comments from others who have experienced similar events?
I have had a lot of readers contact me personally either because they felt compelled to after reading such a private and honest account or because they had been through similar experiences and wanted to share there own story with someone who understood. I have made many friends due to this book which surprised me as the subject is often uncomfortable and could have made people shy away, but I think the way I’ve delivered the story in a matter-of-fact manner has made me more approachable for people to speak about the content of the book.
Your next published book is a novella called Janine, Eggs and Lemons. It, too, has great reviews. Can you tell us about it? What prompted you to write it?
Janine, Eggs and Lemons was originally a flash fiction tale which I wrote to try my hand at fiction. The story developed in my head with twists and turns over time and so I wrote it as a play, as I was still not convinced I could write a work of fiction. My confidence grew and the story developed further in my mind until I had to write it or spend the rest of my life dreaming about it.
Not fitting into a particular genre, I don’t think the readers knew what to expect, but everyone has loved it and it’s caused debate and much thought long after reading. It’s a little humorous and is one story hidden inside another which are both connected with a message that will be familiar to everyone.
What it’s not, is a cookery book which to title and cover seem to portray.
Your third book is The Krankies Go Dogging and it sounds like a funny story. How did you come to write something so very different from your previous books? Can you tell us about the book?
Oh The Krankies Go Dogging I’m surprised I haven’t been sued!
This story came about around the time that I was getting reviews and feedback on Scrag – Up the Hill Backwards the first book. I said earlier that once that book was written I wanted to put it behind me, but the responses to it were a daily reminder. I had to do something else. Something so opposite to create a balance not only for my own sanity, but to show the writing world there was more to me than a grown up survivor of child abuse.
Over my working life in pubs, I’d overheard so many strange and funny tales told between customers at the bar that I decided to jot them all down and somehow connect them all to a few characters and write a novel.
The saying ‘The truth is often stranger than fiction’ is spot on and I managed to create a positive story with an optimistic message out of some very bizarre incidents which were apparently true.
How the title came about and became central to the story was actually a dare on a drunken night in a bar in Tenerife. It all came together so perfectly that I could hardly believe it myself. Genre-wise it fits in ‘humour’ although it’s a very British kind of humour and the story doesn’t travel well especially if you don’t even understand the title. It was well worth writing it though. Apart from giving myself many chuckles, it also changed the feedback I was getting and it wasn’t all about ‘Scrag’ any more.
Do you have a favorite review of any of your books? If so, would you share it?
This is my favourite review of Scrag – Up the Hill Backwards because it is very long and shows the reader really got something from my work. There are many more similar to this. I prefer my reviews for The Krankies Go Dogging but as Scrag is very important to me it deserves this space.
Here is the review: 5 stars WHEN READING A STORY STRIKES A BLOW AGAINST AN EVIL
I read this story when I was on holiday with my family of three teens in a tranquil part of England during a very pleasant spell of sunny weather. This is how life should be, right? OK a teen is a teen is a teen is a teen. But on the whole my crew are OK. I try to be an OK dad. It is one of life’s blessings for a guy to be a dad.
So why do so many men mess it up? Why do so many of us screw up the lives of those we are supposed to nourish and be espaliers to? What makes a man like Richard the vile step-father in Jesamine James acutely beautiful SCRAG – UP THE HILL BACKWARDS turn evil? I guess a shrink might offer a load of reasons with footnotes to all sorts of studies. But the word evil works for me.
SCRAG – UP THE HILL BACKWARDS is not about Richard though and it is not about his evil doings, few of which are detailed. The story is about Jes, his step-daughter, her suffering, intelligence, resilience, defiance, and survival.
I’ve read and heart a lot about evil men like Jimmy Savile preying on kids recently. If we are honest we all know it has gone on forever. It is one thing to be hurt by a stranger, but when the stranger is a parent, or step-parent. How the hell does a kid live with it? A kid doesn’t know how to front down the person who is supposed to defend them not destroy them.
SCRAG -UP THE HILL BACKWARDS shows us how Jes works things out as best she can, how she copes, how she makes her little escapes, and then her big escape, and ultimately takes a very, very big step to deal with the evil man who is her worst enemy.
This is a harsh story. But it is also achingly beautiful because of the insight it gives into a normal kid’s spirit. Yes, she does bad things. She sleeps around in a lovelessly casual way to ‘dilute’ her tormentor’s influence on her. She does glue with other messed up kids, at least one of whom dies young. She sneaks INTO a children’s home to find friends and solace. And when she is older, Mr.Vodka awaits her .. ‘I said, go easy on the mixer!’
The writing in SCRAG – UP THE HILL BACKWARDS is intelligent and matter of fact. It is stripped of sentimentality. The story shoots straight and sparingly. It is coolly and sharply told. No words are wasted. And it is very convincing.
I could see the traces of pink paint in the knot swirls in the long case of bad Richard’s collection of clocks. And I could see the wooden lasts burning in the fire before which Jes is sitting in her Northampton trap of a home, burning her leg. The lasts for me were symbols of a more solid time. Naive I admit. But that is what I felt as I read that dab. So, too, later on, Jes bemoans the loss of so many pubs – in part because she wants a drink – but, more significantly because of the loss of community spirit. Perhaps bad things are less likely to happen when we get out from the intensity of our self-contained little worlds. Maybe there is a msg for all of us in this as our online lives see many of us sinking into potentially damaging isolation. For it is not in that isolation that men like evil Richard can flourish?
Jes is not beaten, never beaten spiritually, though she is beaten physically. She plots her escape. This passage of SCRAG – UP THE HILL BACKWARDS was top draw because it made me feel how it was for her, the sheer terror of what she was attempting to do .. to .. just .. get .. on a bus .. and go. And, ach, the pain of how it all goes wrong for her. Yet she persists, this is the point .. she persists. She keeps going. But, o the sadness of how things turn out with her literally on a slow boat back to her tormentor, witnessing the hypocrisy of another man, this time a manipulative youth using religion to get his lustful way, con control.
So I learnt a lot and I thought a lot as I read SCRAG – UP THE HILL BACKWARDS, which I believe will make an excellent piece of drama on a stage or on a screen. I swear to you, it deserves to be on a stage in Northampton where the story is set. That would be something because it would show that Jes, through her art, has triumphed in a creative way over the destroyer who was Richard and over whom she does triumph personally.
I am a middle-aged bloke who’s had an OK life. I have never messed anyone up and I was not messed up as a kid. But for anyone who has suffered or is suffering an evil Richard I am certain that SCRAG – UP THE HILL BACKWARDS may well prove a lifeline. So the book deserves to be out there and read because its message is an important msg of survival and a slap for those of us who are complacent or dismissive about the things others less well off have to endure.
So the next thing to do it get it and read it. By reading SCRAG – UP THE HILL BACKWARDS you will be doing something to fight against the evil it shows us is among us. The more Jes succeeds the more the evil recedes.
I’ve heard that you design your own book covers, and I think they’re good. Where do you get your ideas for them? How difficult is it to design a book cover?
Hmm…I don’t think my covers are good. I couldn’t afford to have them done professionally, so I played around on a Pixar site until I’d figured out how to do it.
I am still practising!
When did you first know you wanted to write books? Can you tell us a bit about you – what made you want to write?
I think most children, when they start reading, decide they want to write a book one day. I definitely had those notions when I was really young. They soon got dismissed as reality of life and work hit me. It was only after having to write so many police statement notes at the age of around forty when I seriously thought about it again. Strangely, I would probably have never written a book if it wasn’t for all that child abuse.
Do you have a writing routine?
The only writing routine I can truly call a routine is that when I have a full story in my head, I will sit down and write it until it’s finished and nothing else matters. I can’t write for the sake of writing or write without knowing where it’s going. More time is spent thinking out the story than actually writing it.
What is your favorite or least favorite part of writing?
I type slow, so typing a story out is my least favourite part. My mind races faster than my fingers and I find it frustrating.
I don’t have a favourite part of ‘writing’. Thinking up the twists to a story is what I enjoy the most.
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/JesamineJames?ref=hl or Jesamine James
Twitter – @JesamineJames