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Ardella Jones Interview

Posted on 12 January 2011. © Copyright 2004-2018 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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WriteWords talks to Ardella Jones, journalist, writer and creative writing tutor with Chalk The Sun

Tell us all about your writing background- what you’ve written, ( a potted history if you’re very prolific, highlighting notable achievements etc) and what you’re currently writing

I grew up in Notting Hill, before the Cameroonians and Trustafarians took over, so I was a big reggae music fan which took me to Jamaica in the turbulent 1980s where I started writing for NME. You can imagine how exciting that was hanging out with reggae stars, dodging army roadblocks and getting gun salutes in dancehalls; it also earned me an award from the Catherine Pakenham Memorial for young women journalists.
I moved onto short fiction in the 1990s when my sense of humour got me side-tracked into comedy as part of the double act Ken & Ard, winning the New Names award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1992. I continued as a solo stand up performing on the circuit at Jongleurs, Bound & Gagged, Up the Creek and many other clubs around the UK. I devised the Radio 4 panel game The Labour Exchange starring Rory McGrath, Stephen Frost and Tony Hawks and contributed gags and sketches to various radio and TV comedy shows.
I now work as a performance poet; my favourite gigs include Dodo Modern Poets at the Poetry Café, the Wimbledon Bookfest and I did a memorial show last year for Aaron Thomas, Dylan Thomas’ daughter. My most recent commission was for two episodes and dialogue ‘punch ups’ for the cult 3D animation, Bunny Maloney, for France2. Like most people I know I am working on a novel!

Other work besides writing; eg. Editing, dramaturgy, tutoring, and how it works/worked for/against your own writing

As a struggling comic and free-lance journalist, I was sucked into part-time teaching by the lure of regular money but I found my commitment to students and the burden of Ofsted paperwork and academic bureaucracy took all my energy. I did love teaching, however, and I’ve now left Further Education and founded an organisation called Chalk the Sun, with other professional writers. We teach in a cosy bar, with a good wine list, in Balham which is really how it ought to be done. We named the organisation after an obscure Emily Dickinson poem about the elusiveness of the creative process though I am not sure Emily would approve of some of our social gatherings.

How, when and why did you first start writing?

I wrote my first novel, The Little Ducklings Go on Holiday, when I was five and at eight I had my first taste of success with a £1.00 book token from Kensington and Chelsea Libraries for the seminal work, A Day in the Life of a Penny.


Who are your favourite writers/influences and why?

Elmore Leonard and Chandler for stylish crime. Evelyn Waugh for elegant comic prose with depth of meaning. Fay Weldon for being such a sharp, funny, observer, a modern didactic narrator. Martin Amis for being so clever and Kingsley for being so funny and non-PC. Alice Walker for the bravery in her choice of themes and the poetic beauty of her prose. My all time favourite book is The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, which reflects the complexity of Caribbean identity and the unsung connections with the English literary tradition. Then there’s Zora Neale Hurston’s great love story, Their Eyes were Watching God. Of course I am much more of a Fay than a Jean or Alice. I also love powerful British dramatists such as McGovern and Bleasedale. John Pilger as a journalist…I could go on and on.

How did you get your first agent/ commission/publication? Can you tell us about the process/journey?

I was very lucky [and very stupid] in that, after getting the Catherine Pakenham, a very reputable agent wrote to me expressing his interest and, young and silly as I was, I assumed it was some kind of vanity publishing scam, ignored him and skipped off to Jamaica again. A year later I mentioned it to a girl friend, who worked in publishing, who said ‘You ignored XXX Associates!! Write and apologise now!’ So I made contact and they got my first short story published in Marie Claire, plus a Norwegian magazine.



What's the worst thing about writing?

Settling down to it when Frasier’s on daytime TV.


And the best?

The excitement of the creative process. When I have done something worth reading and get to run it by my friend and mentor, Jonathan Wolfman. We have also had great fun working on comedy scripts together, as comedy is collaborative. We worked on an American project and were phoning each other up at 3 am having serious debates about whether ‘pooh pooh’ or ‘ca ca’ was more American. Thank God my classical education was not wasted

Tell us what kind of response you get from audiences/readers and if/how this affects/influences your writing

Of course stand-up is the toughest school for a writer. Before I first went on stage, I was arguing with Jon, refusing to ‘kill my babies’ and edit a gag – two minutes dying on your feet in front of a stag party in a seedy pub in Kentish Town and Oh Boy do you become a savage editor! I think this honed my writing skills and, although poetry audiences are much more civilised and tolerant, I keep it tight. Reading short stories out loud is always fun and of course I have the advantage of being a performer too. The rush, when you have done a good gig or good reading, is the most exhilarating thing in the world. However, I don’t take criticism well unless it’s from people I respect like Jonathan and I think I was too sensitive for stand-up – I used to brood for days over heckles. My favourite moment was at an Edinburgh show when a man come up to me as I came off stage, glowing from a really kicking gig, and said ’I’d just like to say you are on the very lowest rung of humanity.’ I was on such a performance high, expecting effusive praise, that I smiled radiantly and said ‘Thank you sooo much.’ It was only after he’d stomped off that his words sank in. How we laughed! I realised afterwards that, being a fairly inexperienced comic, I had inadvertently picked on him every time there was any audience participation. Poor bloke.

What was your breakthrough moment?

I’m still waiting…


What inspires you to write?

A funny phrase or absurd situation for poems and comedy sketches. For fiction, it may be personal experience or wanting to recreate somewhere exciting that I have visited or a strange world I have had access to. I’m a wimp really so I like to put cool characters into situations in which I am hopeless. I write humour but sometimes it is inspired by anger. I kill off characters based on people who annoy me.



A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.






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