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Josa Young Interview

Posted on 13 July 2009. © Copyright 2004-2021 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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WriteWords talks to journalist and debut novelist Josa Young

Tell us something about your background.

From Dame School, where I would while away the boredom writing stories about fairies (illustrated) and sucking raffia (nice and sour) through Cambridge, where I read English and embarked on my ill-advised homage (French accent, drop the H) to Roald Dahl’s Switch Bitch, and out into the world of magazines via the Vogue Talent Contest, I have always written. My first published novel, One Apple Tasted – a romance or entertainment – is published 7 August. The next one is called Sail Upon the Land, currently in production.

I wrote several bit of novels over the years, while working as a journalist, both print and online. Supporting a family meant long hours in offices as an editor, where I specialised in maternity leave contracts at senior levels – ie deputy editor of Elle Decoration (where my lack of knowledge obscure 1950s architects went down a storm); features editor of Country Living (where I commissioned a feature about country ghosts to liven things up a bit); commissioning editor on the Times Weekend (Thursday evenings following the wine tastings were fun) etc. I have also done internet editorial at AOL UK (maddeningly corporate) and ivillage.co.uk (where you will find my pregnancy diary from nine years ago still).

For me, writing fiction has to be done in great vomity splurges – eight hours typing madly is the best method for me. As you can imagine, working in offices and looking after my family worked against this, which is why my output is not dozens of other novels lurking in a bottom drawer.

How did you start writing?

As above, at age four

Who are your favourite writers and why?

In the early 1980s, I was a features assistant at Vogue, and Carmen Callil kicked off the Virago Modern Classics series. They came into the office, one after another, a long parade of paradise for me in green glossy covers. I read the lot, from Pamela Frankau to Jan Struther, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Willa Cather to Antonia White. The only one I didn’t get on with was Rebecca West, who was still alive and we interviewed and photographed her. But I found her novels preachy. These have been my main influences – intelligent, well-plotted, passionate books that don’t fit into any kind of modern genre. So when fellow novelist Isabel Wolff said, having read One Apple Tasted, and knowing little or nothing about me: 'Compelling, original, cleverly plotted and funny, One Apple Tasted reads like a Virago Modern Classic' – of course I was thrilled. This might of course be why I couldn’t get One Apple Tasted published for a while!

Can you take us through the publication journey for One Apple Tasted

When I first wrote One Apple Tasted in the mid-1990s, I landed a very keen agent immediately and thought ‘we’re off!’ But six months of rejections later, I told him to stop sending it out, and gave up. I believe this, combined with complicated family circumstances, made it difficult for me to get going again, although I did write other bits of fiction and Radio 4 considered one of my short stories.

A few years later, I was interviewing the PR guy from Authorhouse.co.uk about self-publishing for a magazine, and he asked if I had something I could upload to see how it all worked.

I wasn’t even sure if One Apple Tasted was in a fit electronic state but found an old floppy disc and managed to get it converted to a modern format. When the galleys came back to me electronically I realised it needed a hard edit, and immediately set about doing a second and then a third draft. Then I had fun designing a cover, and writing blurbs, but just left it, sitting on the Authorhouse website as a PDF without going on to self-publish.

But it was this self-publishing effort that led to it being picked up by Lorne Forsyth, then in the throws of relaunching Elliott & Thompson. I had given him access to the PDF, and this format made it easy for him to get a good impression, which led to an offer of publication. To say this was a wonderful moment would be an understatement. My publisher Mark Searle has been a pleasure to work with, and I was surprised when the manuscript came back with what seemed to be quite minor recommendations for change.

What's the worst thing about writing?

Not being able to write fiction due to one crisis after another. And understanding that looking at Amazon rankings is a form of madness. Isabel Wolff has come up with the brilliant phrase ‘novel gazing’ for this insane activity.

And the best?

Going down deep and letting my characters get away from me, prancing and dancing and misbehaving while my fingers fly to catch up.

Tell us what kind of responses you get from audiences\ readers.

Not published yet, but previews have elicited some wonderful feedback.

From Julie Myerson: 'hey i've been reading your book for the last hour and i have to say one quick thing: you write sex brilliantly! (hardly anyone does)ok that's it, that's all i'm saying. for now. oh ok, one more thing. i love the novel's old-fashioned straightforwardness. you observe stuff very well and you're not trying to be cool about it. there's something very touching about the way you write'

From Isabel Wolff: ‘OAT is very unusual, and very accessible and human yet quite erudite and I do love that combination. Yes of course I'll say that it made me miss my stop - a delightful annoyance!’

From French novelist Fabrice Pataut: ‘You can't forget Dora. You're with her all along - in may senses of that phrase. The twist in the tale works very well. It's completely unexpected.’

Breakthrough moment?

Having a phone call from Lorne Forsyth of E&T Books that casually indicated they would be publishing my book was a good one. It took literally months to sink in – until January 16 2009 when I went to my first proper publishing meeting.

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

Comments by other Members

nessiec at 09:48 on 14 July 2009  Report this post
A very uplifting and fun interview! Good luck with the publication of One Apple Tasted (great title).

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