INTERVIEW: Natalie Jenner, a Total Pantser?
Thank you for joining my second week of author interviews.
International bestselling author Natalie Jenner penned my favorite book of 2022, Bloomsbury Girls, so it's no surprise I would have questions about her craft. With sentiment and wit, Jenner delves into the intricacies of female bonds and sometimes all-encompassing love—and the drive to be loved. Bloomsbury Girls, a poignant story of achievement above social and economic adversity, is a must-read for historical fiction lovers, booksellers, and readers alike. I hope no one revokes my Janeite card, but I enjoyed it more than her debut, The Jane Austen Society.
Christina: Pantser or plotter or hybrid?
Natalie Jenner: I am a total pantser–when I feel a sort of “welling up” of creative energy inside me, usually after a lengthy period of not writing, I simply sit down at my laptop and start typing. I only need to know three things before I start: where the story takes place (so I can picture setting, something very important for me as a writer and enjoyable to me as a reader), when the story takes place (so I can picture how the characters will behave), and what’s at stake (something that often derives from the first two things). I then type each sentence in order, one after the other, roughly a chapter a day, every day, until I have a very rough draft. The pantsing comes fast and furious because I write to find out what will happen–the editing takes a good year and slays me every time.
Christina: I am so glad to hear your stories seem to come from a need within. What comes first, plot, or characters?
Natalie Jenner: What comes first for me is actually more like a pressing question or idea. I will read something in The New Yorker, or hear a line in a Netflix documentary, or hit my head on something while falling down the Wikipedia rabbit hole, and it turns into an itch that I simply can’t stop scratching (why is reading Jane Austen helping me get through this really difficult time? Why are bookstores so magical?). They say you often end up writing about the one thing you can’t not write about. Once I know the three elements mentioned above (setting, time period, and stakes), I sit down to write and then the characters just start showing up, fully formed. It’s so much fun meeting them.
Christina: Love "then the characters just start showing up." Your sense of voice really comes through.
What is your best advice for new writers...ehem... I mean, me?
Natalie Jenner: To write the one story that you absolutely need to tell, because that is—most likely—the one story that you alone can tell, and that will give you an edge in a very crowded market. To not worry about what seems to be popular right now, because the industry is already a good year ahead of that anyway, given how long it takes for books to go from acquisition to publication (usually a good year and a half). But in addition to the story being authentic and uniquely yours, make sure you have some kind of hook—without Austen, I am pretty sure my query to agents regarding my debut novel would have gone straight to the slush pile. Finally, if you want to be a writer, don’t miss any opportunity in terms of time: the minute the kids go to camp, or off to college, or start sleeping in, sit down and write, because life doesn’t always give us time when we want it. So don’t squander it when it does.
Christina: Indeed. I feel that in my bones: write the one story you alone can tell. And that life is too short to squander. I wish more people would understand that sentiment.
Your debut novel, The Jane Austen Society, was a remarkable grand slam, an international success, and critically acclaimed by the Who's Who in the literary world. Did writing your first book change your writing process?
Natalie Jenner: I think it was the actual act of becoming published that most changed my writing process. I wrote The Jane Austen Society purely to entertain myself and my husband during a pretty harrowing time in life. I was very lucky that both my agent and editor liked that manuscript just the way it was! But with my second and third books, I was writing for many more people and so, as I wrote, I would put myself in the head of a Jane Austen or a Daphne du Maurier, push down my natural ego, and constantly ask myself what my “ideal reader” would most want to know. Otherwise, writing a novel remains the same, purely joyful experience for me, which is a major reason why, even with my husband retired, I still can’t wait to wake up each day and write.
Christina: Ha! I am your ideal reader. A historical fiction with romantic elements, female centric, and witty–that's what I love, love, love to read. So, thanks in advance for doing what you are doing.
What resources do you recommend to would-be writers?
Natalie Jenner: I am largely self-taught as a writer but over the years I have consumed many different books on the art of writing. I highly recommend the following:
Screenplay by Syd Field – this is the book that breaks down the mechanics of a riveting plot, on film or on page. Indispensable for understanding pacing.
On Writing by Stephen King – this is such a wonderfully calm and pragmatic book. So smart, but no wonder.
Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose – you won’t find a better text anywhere on how and why the best paragraphs in literature work as well as they do.
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – this is the book to inspire all writers of any stripe. Motivational, vulnerable and kind, this is writing offered up by a truly special soul.
Thank you so much for your time and sage advice, Natalie. There's only a hundred more things I'd like to ask. I look forward to the next book, Every Time We Say Goodbye (May 2024). And I'm still crossing my fingers that my favorite, Bloomsbury Girls, gets made into a film.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Natalie Jenner is the internationally bestselling author of The Jane Austen Society and Bloomsbury Girls, which were both instant national bestsellers, Indie Next Picks, Amazon Best Books of the Month and People Magazine Books of the Week and have sold for translation in over twenty countries. Natalie's third novel, Every Time We Say Goodbye, is scheduled for release in May 2024. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie has been a corporate lawyer and career coach and once owned an independent bookstore in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs.
You can connect with Natalie on social media and her website.
PRAISE FOR THE BOOKS:
"Just delightful." —People Magazine's Book of the Week "Anyone seeking an antidote to contemporary chaos will find a welcome respite." —The Washington Post "This one's good for the soul." —The Globe and Mail "Utterly and wonderfully charming...." —Indie Next Great Read