Welcome to another Interview with… Yes, I’m a week early this month, but for good reason (which you can read about at the bottom of the page).
Today, I’m talking to J.S. Watts who I met – in the internet meaning of the word met – when we were both published by Vagabondage Press. I’ve loved J.S.’s novels, The Witchlight trilogy about a woman who discovers she’s a witch when she hits 40, since I read the opening page of the first book. It’s such a refreshing change from the teenager-saves-the-world trope of recent years.
J.S is a British poet and novelist who weaves the fantastical and the literary with other vibrant strands to create glowing, multi-faceted writing. Originally from London, she now lives in South Cambridgeshire.
Her poetry, short stories and non-fiction appear in a wide variety of publications in Britain, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the States and have been broadcast on BBC and Independent Radio. She has edited various magazines and anthologies and performed her poetry across England, Scotland and Wales, but not yet in Ireland (should anyone from Ireland be reading this).
J.S.’s two full poetry collections, Cats and Other Myths and Years Ago You Coloured Me, are published by Lapwing Publications, as is her multi-award nominated SF poetry pamphlet, Songs of Steelyard Sue. Her latest poetry pamphlet, The Submerged Sea, is published by Dempsey & Windle. Her novels, A Darker Moon – dark fiction, Witchlight, Old Light and Elderlight – urban fantasy, are published in the US and UK by the Strange Fictions Press imprint of Vagabondage Press.
Tell us a little about yourself
Um, where do I start? I was born in North West London (Wembley, of stadium fame) and lived there until I went off to university to read for a degree in English Language and Literature, which I guess was appropriate for an author-to-be. I then worked in education for many years until I threw it all in for a life of luxury and excitement as a writer. Well, okay, no luxury and only limited excitement, but a lot of personal fulfilment as a writer. These days I write poetry, short fiction, novels and the occasional factual piece from my desk in the depths of Cambridgeshire. To date, I’ve had eight books published: four of poetry and four novels, but I’ve not yet achieved the levels of luxury and income demanded by my cat – he has high expectations. I’ve also won some prizes, or come very close to doing so, but the cat remains unimpressed – as mentioned before, he has high expectations.
How did your writing career begin?
If I’m honest, I’m not really certain. I might date it back to around age six or seven when I won, or came second in (I can’t recall which) a local poetry competition my school had entered a poem of mine into (the poem was about Covent Garden. I can remember that), but my mother claims to have the first poem I ever wrote when I was four. Fortunately, I can’t remember it. At secondary school, my writing was kindly praised, I won some prizes and a much loved English teacher told me my writing might be good enough to be published in due course. I guess that ignited a spark. Despite that, I didn’t write much creatively while at university, but having graduated I started writing again and eventually my poetry began appearing in assorted literary magazines. Somewhere in the midst of all that, I guess you might say there was the beginning of a career. The novels didn’t turn up, though, until I gave up the day job in favour of the luxury and excitement I talked about earlier. I’m still waiting for the luxury (as is the cat, as he frequently reminds me), so perhaps the career is really only beginning now.
Why literary fiction, speculative fiction and poetry? Did you choose them, or did they choose you?
I think they chose me. I write what interests me and I have eclectic tastes. I have always liked fairy stories and myths, so speculative fiction was probably inevitable. I read a fair amount of it and as a child fell in love with the stories of Ray Bradbury and the gripping retelling of old legends by Rosemary Sutcliffe. Similarly, I have always read poetry and literary fiction. I also enjoy mixing up the genres. My first novel, A Darker Moon, mixes literary fiction, myth and fantasy, dark fiction and horror. I still struggle, to this day, to describe what it is, other than seriously cross-genre. Basically, my subject matter chooses whether it wants to be poetry or prose, long or short, clinging to a genre, crossing them unmercifully or totally genre free. If I’m lucky, it then tells me.
How do you approach a new project? Are you a plotter or a pantser, or somewhere in between?
I’m definitely an in-betweener when it comes to writing novels. I can’t face drawing up the detailed plans that plotters seem to, and I doubt that I would stick to them if I did. Similarly, I can’t imagine starting a novel without some idea of where I am headed. It would feel like walking towards a cliff edge in the dark with my eyes shut. I start off a new novel with an idea and a rough plan – usually a beginning and an end. Then I start writing. The beginning usually stays firm, the middle develops as it wants and, depending on what the middle does, the end is subject to change. I do, however, constantly re-plan as I and the work progress, so there’s always some sort of map. It’s just that the map that I end with may bear a limited resemblance to the one I began with (apart from the very beginning of course). In terms of poetry, I rarely plan. An individual poem just evolves, though I do plan collections. Short stories lie in-between novels and poems when it comes to planning. I have, I’ll admit, started short stories with nothing more than a basic opening in mind.
Tell us about your most recent publication.
That would be “Elderlight”, the third and final novel in my “Witchlight” urban fantasy trilogy of books (“Witchlight”, “Old Light” and “Elderlight”). It was published in December 2021 and should have had a fantastic launch as the concluding book in the trilogy, but I found myself, somewhat unexpectedly and over dramatically, chained to a monitor and a hospital bed on the day of its publication. The poor thing didn’t really have an auspicious start. I feel bad about that. I enjoyed writing it and it deserved better. I’m not sure what else I can say about it, other than paraphrase its blurb. It’s a good blurb, though, so I suppose I can say that the book starts ten or so years after the first two novels in the series. Holly, my main character whose magical career begins with “Witchlight”, is now an Elder of the Grand Coven of Great Britain, Ireland and All Isles Within Their Domain, the governing body for all witches in Britain. Members of The Coven start turning up dead, and it seems as if someone is settling some old scores or launching a power-grab, or both. It’s going to take a witch with considerable power to find the perpetrator and bring them to justice before the entire Coven is eliminated. Holly is the obvious witch for the job, but first she has to avoid joining the list of the recently deceased, or being found guilty of the growing number of murders.
Is there anything you need to have with you when you write? A tool of the trade, a mascot…?
Paper and a pen, or a pencil, but nothing as posh as a fountain pen. My first draft of most things is produced longhand, so I need old fashioned writing utensils. Other than that, and the time in which to write, my needs are few: no additional tools, no mascot. A beer, a coffee or a glass of wine are always welcome, but not essential. Sometimes, I have a gin and tonic instead.
I like the idea of writing in pencil – it has a slightly transient feel to it, that anything can happen and everything can change.
What’s next for you?
Good question. I have multiple projects on the go, but I’m not sure which, if any, will see the light of day first. I’m hoping to have a new poetry collection published soon, based (very) loosely on the narrative arc of the myth of Orpheus. I’m also seeking a home for a Science Fiction novel I’ve completed and I’m just under half-way through writing a cross genre science fiction/ fantasy novel in which magic meets space travel. I did mention that I like mixing up genres, didn’t I? Well, it appears I’m still doing it.
Magic and space travel? That sounds awesome! Thank you so much for talking to me today, good luck with all your projects, I’m sure they’ll all do well.
My good reason for posting this month’s interview early is that Small Forgotten Moments has been shortlisted for the Holyer an Gof Publishers Award for books about Cornwall or written in Cornish. The ceremony is next weekend, so I’m hoping I’ll have some good news to share. Or, at least, a few good photos of the event.