Today I'd like to introduce everyone to author JG Jones. Why don't you start by telling us a little about yourself.
I’m a former teacher from the UK who is married to a scientist and owned by a beautiful cat. I studied history at university which is why I love anything historical, particularly when it involves research. Learning about new or unusual things is one of my favourite parts of writing. My other favourite is sharing my love of writing and history with my readers, whether in person or through my books. I set up my reading club, The Source Detectives for children who want to learn about history and to explore with them how we can use real sources to build a story. That’s what makes writing fiction so exciting. It doesn’t matter what the ‘real’ story is, in this context, it’s the story you can tell that is important.
I love that you set up a writing club for kids. That's so great. JG, what got you into writing?
I’ve always been a story-teller, whether making up games to play in the playground or alone playing with toys. As I got older, this developed into writing simple stories, often based around favourite books or just completely random subjects. Friends and family were often roped in to help deliver performances of plays, songs, poetry – anything I wrote, I wanted to present. In terms of writing and eventually publishing, I wanted to write something different for children. As a teacher, I struggled to find quality stories for a lot of the areas of history that I was required to teach. From the Cave Wall began as a simple concept of a girl looking at a cave painting. I knew that I wanted to set the story in the Stone Age and that the girl’s grandpa was going to be the painter of that painting. Once I found the image of the mammoth that begins the story (coincidentally named ‘le grandpere’) in the Rouffignac Caves in South-West France, I knew that I had my inspiration.
Sounds intriguing. Have you been given any helpful advice?
I’ve had lots of advice. The one thing I found when I started writing was how enthusiastic people were. The best response came from someone who I consider a mentor. I had what I thought was my final draft and asked her to read it for me. Her feedback lead me to completely rewrite the first two chapters and significantly change several others. Her advice was to take a step back, read an excellent book which she recommended (The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults, Cheryl Klein) and reflect on how to bring the best out of the book. That advice made the book. The changes I made lifted the story and helped to bring the plot alive.
I think it's important to be open to feedback. I don't follow every suggestion but I do take a good look at it and see if there is any merit to it. Tell us a little bit about your main characters.
My main character is eight years old and I love her. It’s a stereotype that authors love their main characters but I can’t help it. Osha is everything I wasn’t as a child. If she wants to do something then she will find a way to do it. In the first chapter we learn quite quickly that this attitude really frustrates her single mother and causes tension between them. She does begin to learn as the book progresses but determined and stubborn are accurate ways to describe her. Her great loves are mammoths, her grandpa and her cousin and best friend, Pira, who she wouldn’t be without. Pira is a few months younger than Osha but is altogether more sensible. She is cautious about everything and doesn’t like to disobey but will follow Osha to the ends of the earth if it will help to protect her.
How did you decide on what to title each book?
From the Cave Wall refers to where the story comes from. It begins at the cave wall and we learn the importance of the painting very quickly.
JG, is this a stand-alone novel or part of a series?
It is the first in a series, but you are unlikely to see Osha again. The series, The Source Stories, will form several books which track the evolution of human history from the Stone Age right through to the Present (or close to it). Every story will be told from the perspective of a different child of the time and will be focused around a real historical source which can be visited or seen, hence the name of the series.
What is the easiest part of the writing process? What is the hardest?
I found the easiest part to be the initial conception of the idea. I knew where I wanted to start the book and had a general idea of plot. The hardest was taking the bare bones of the story and adding the details that make it a full length book. I took it one chapter at a time and allowed it to evolve naturally, which I found helped with the development of the story.
Do you have people read your drafts before you publish? How do you select beta readers?
I absolutely have people read drafts. Some focus on the basic grammatical errors I have made. Others, usually fellow authors, help me to read through the plot and give me feedback on character development. I couldn’t publish without these people. They are all people I know, but ones that I trust to be completely honest and who will provide constructive feedback even if it pulls the book apart!
Ha, that's what I tell my beta reader to rip it to shreds. I'd rather find all the flaws before publishing rather than after. What was your writing process like?
After my initial idea, I focused on the research. I had little knowledge of the Stone Age, other than that which I had gathered when teaching the subject and knew that to write a good story, I would need to know more than I did. Once I felt confident about what I read and discovered, I moved to constructing the chapters, ensuring that my focus was on telling Osha’s story, not the research. When I eventually had the book, I went back multiple times, tweaking and changing things until I felt it was the best it could be.
I have found it amazing that even in fiction books there is so much research needed. It's something I didn't expect. In your novels, which character is your favorite?
I’ve already mentioned how Osha is almost the mirror opposite of me, which I love. I’m far more like Pira. It’s Osha’s determination and focus which draws me to her. Her relationship with grandpa is particularly special to me and I like how she and her mother grow closer as the story progresses.
What advice would you give someone who is considering publishing? Should they consider traditional or self-publishing?
Do what is best for you. Look into all the options and weigh up what you feel will suits your situation. Self-publishing requires a lot of hard work and dedication but I chose it because it would give me control over everything. There are also a number of services available, dependent on your budget, to help you with every aspect of the publishing process. In addition, the indie publishing community is incredibly supportive providing reviews, advice and help to whatever query you have. If your work is accepted by a traditional publisher, that is fantastic but it doesn’t necessarily mean instant success, there are many stories out there from people who have been burned by the publishing industry. Research the different options and make an informed choice.
Any last words?
Thank you for the opportunity to do this interview. It’s been interesting reflecting on my writing and talking about my motivations.
Don't forget to check out From The Cave Wall. Happy Reading!!
Don't forget to check out From The Cave Wall. Happy Reading!!