Interview: L K Jay

For the third Koobug interview, the Koobug team decided to interview L K Jay who has recently been voted a Guardian newspaper 'top 30 indie author.'

Q: As an early contributor to Koobug we have charted your impressive success over the past year, culminating in your inclusion in the Guardian Newspapers top 30 Indie writers list. 

How did you react to broadsheet recognition?

I nearly fell of my perch!  I found out about it when I was at work – I had a tweet from a friend and so I looked on the internet and there I was, with my novel The Ghost Hunters’ Club.  The first thing I did was to run to my friend and show her and then ring my mum and dad.  I couldn’t believe that I’d caught the attention of a newspaper and that they’d included me.  I dined out on that for quite some time.  

Q: In a recent blog you have chronicled the rejection of your latest manuscript by London literary agents. Do you think your success as an Indie author has influenced their reaction? 

A case of the established order maintaining its grip?

I do wonder if being an indie author does put them off.  I’m one of a million writers who are shouting to catch their attention and so there’s no real reason as to why they should listen to me rather than anyone else out there.  It can be difficult to gauge what they want; and I’m coming to the conclusion as to whether it’s worth it.  Unless you’re the next J K Rowling or E L James, you’re not going to make a lot of money as a traditional author and being an indie means that I can write what I like; I can blend genres or make my characters as spiky as I want.  I’m writing for myself and my readers rather than to a market that I have no idea how to predict.

Q: A teacher by day, athlete and author by night, where do you get the energy?

Careful time-management and a disregard for housework!  Really, it’s about setting up a routine.  I’ve been teaching for many years and so I’ve manage to become efficient with my work day and I use my holidays wisely.  I’ve always done a sport of some sort and have maintained a level of fitness and so getting the energy for sport is something I’ve always had.  I set up a regular routine of writing, a little bit each day, and I try to avoid too much TV.  I only watch shows I actually want rather than watching rubbish for the sake of it.

Q: Do you think of pupils and agents as you practice Tae-Kwon-Do?

Surprisingly, no.  I actually don’t think of anything when I do taekwondo, only about taekwondo and my friends there.  That is the beauty of doing my martial art, I get to think about something else rather than what is going in during the day; it is my time to enjoy myself and be someone else for a while.  I actually don’t take anything personally at all.  I’ve been in my job for too long to care whether a child doesn’t like me and if an agent doesn’t like me or the font I’ve chosen to print my writing sample in then jog on pal.  If I was bothered by any of them, I would have topped myself a long time ago so I say, whatever!

Q; Black belt ninth degree or Richard & Judy’s latest recommendation (for non UK readers Richard & Judy are two TV personalities who have a highly publicised book club)?

Richard and Judy’s latest recommendation, which would be an accolade I would like to have.  I’m already a 3rd Dan black belt in taekwondo and I’m happy with that.  Only one or two people in the world reach 9th degree and to be honest, that doesn’t interest me.  

Q: You began to write during your summer holiday in 2009, where were you, and why then?

I was living in Leeds and I used to write a lot for the martial arts press.  I was running out of ideas and I was getting the calling for fiction.  I had some ideas swimming around my head and it was something I wanted to explore and eventually, my fingers were itching to write stories.  So I gave up the journalism (for which I wasn’t getting paid enough) and took up story writing instead.  I liked the challenge of writing a novel and it’s 
difficult to describe what that impulse to put a story down on paper is like but it’s overwhelming and that is what drives me on.

Q: There has been much talk of “genres” in the Koobug blog community. Do you like your work to be identified by “genre”?

I have my own genre, L K Jay!  Oh no, I’m not that much of an egotist!  I understand the need to group fiction into groups but I think it can be unhelpful as well.  Genres can, and need to, blend, otherwise we don’t come up with stories that are new.  I will write to the idea that is in my head, I won’t make it fit a particular genre style or rules, it’s my laptop so I’ll do what I like.  For example, The Ghost Hunters’ Club has a mixture of chick lit but the supernatural as well.  There’s comedy but it can be quite acerbic as well.  I wanted to write a novel about women and dating but not in a fluffy way because I’m not like that, it’s just not my cup of tea.  That is where the indie outlet is so good, you can write as yourself rather than a preconceived idea of what a particular novel should be.

Q: What is the subject of your next novel “Ashwood House” and when is it to be released?

Ashwood House is a supernatural thriller set in a house called, err, Ashwood House.  The main character is a middle-aged woman who has just been released from prison for the murder of her husband – and she’s one of the good guys!  I think I’ll be releasing this sometime at the end of February.

Q; Do you believe in the supernatural? Have you ever seen a ghost?

Well for someone who is as sceptical as me, yes I think I have seen a ghost.  It was about twelve years ago and I was still at university doing my teacher training.  It was early evening and I was in the kitchen making some tea and deciding what I was going to make for dinner.  When I looked down to the hallway, I saw a white shape with a head and shoulders go up the stairs, plain as day.  I hadn’t been drinking and I wasn’t tired either.  I rang my mum and told her and then carried on with my tea.  I don’t know what it was but it was jolly peculiar.  I had loads of fun winding up my housemate though.

Q: You have your own accomplished website, how much time do you devote to it? What advice can you give to other indie authors following your example?

I don’t spend that much time on my blog – which is my website – as you’d think.  It takes me about half an hour to write most of the regular blog posts and I do that about every fortnight.  I don’t like to do it every day as I wouldn’t have enough ideas and the quality of the writing would go down.

Q: You have your own annual awards posted on your site. These include Indie Book of the Year & Short story of the Year. What criteria do you apply?

The normal ones such as best book, best short stories, and the special award and also best traditional books I’ve read and the wooden spoon.  I also add music as I’m a bit of a Radio 6 fan.  Then I like to add a few comedy ones as well because I don’t take it too seriously, as you may see if you read them!

Q: Does your writing world have a defined path? Do you have an ultimate goal?

I’m terrible at long term planning so I tend to work novel by novel.  I aim to write at least one full-length novel a year as well as either a shorter one or the lion’s share of another novel.  Each time I think I’ve written a good full length novel I have another crack at the agents and ultimately, that is something I’d like.  But getting an agent is like trying to win the lottery and I think I just need a bit more luck and fairy dust to be able to do that.

Q: Are you political?

Not in my novels I’m not.  My aim is to write an entertaining story, that’s all.  My novel The Ghost Hunters’ Club may have a touch of the feminist in it but then again, it doesn’t take itself seriously either.  I do vote and I am an active member of a trade union, but I tend to keep those separate from the writing.

Q: If you were asked to pen a contemporary Miss Marple mystery what would your plot be?

I’d have Miss Marple much more caustic and more like my mother, who can look sweet but come out with some killer one-liners.  Otherwise, It’d be fun to have the murders set in the modern middle-class with such outrages as ‘Murder at the Farmer’s Market’ and ‘Massacre at Waitrose.’

Q: How important is a sense of humour?

Vital, in fact, more people should work on developing their sense of humour as there are far too many people who take themselves too seriously in all walks of life.  Writing is fun to me and when it stops being fun, then I’ll stop doing it.

Q: In your last Koobug blog “Goals, Goals, Goals” you begin by telling us of a “crap date”. What constitutes “a great date”?

Well not getting so drunk I have to drag him across Leicester Square to bundle him into a taxi would be a start.  And not someone who rattles on about their divorce either.  Ugh.  I’d like a man to think about the date and make a bit of an effort.  Choose somewhere nice to have a drink and don’t make me travel too far.  I’d like them to provide me with some food, I’m usually hungry, and make conversation and don’t take the whole thing too seriously.  Make me laugh.  It’s a date, not a job interview.  And don’t behave as if you’re doing me a favour just by gracing me with your presence and try being nice to me for the duration without either looking constantly disappointed or leering at other women.  Seriously, the men around where I live have a lot to answer for!

Q: Tell us about Rusty the hamster? Do you confide in him? Does he have the run of your home? Do you realise he is a South American delicacy?

First of all, Rusty is a her, not a him!  It’s funny, a friend of mine was also quite shocked to find out that Rusty is female, to which I pointed out that in order to breed, the female hamster is a necessity.  I often talk to her; she’s probably the only creature I know with any actual sense.  Although if she ever replied, I’d know I’d been on the wine a bit too much.  She does have the run of my flat and often gets the better of me, little minx.  She has her space ball and she charges around the flat as if she owns the place.

If any South Americans try to hunt my hamster, they’ll have to get past me first!  And Rusty, she’ll give them a jolly good nip if they try to put her on a kebab stick.

Q: The author’s life is a solitary one. Is this all the more so for an Indie author”

Only when I’m actually writing, although I don’t need a special place to write, I can just take my netbook to the pub and write there as well.  I keep in touch with lots of other authors on Twitter and Facebook and this is important in order to get feedback, honest opinions and contacts.  You can be as lonely or as outgoing as you want to be – I work full-time and go training so I see plenty of people.  I suppose if you were a traditionally published author, you’d have an agent and editor to keep in contact with but I think I have just as much contact with the writing world as I would if I was published traditionally.

Q: How important is Koobug in alleviating a sense of isolation and uniting authors with their audience?

I think it is a very good tool for keeping in contact with readers and for finding out about other books to read as well.  I also put up selected blog posts as well and this can direct traffic to my author page on Amazon.  

Q: How do you think Koobug could further enhance your profile as a leading Indie author?

I think it is the exposure to new readers that is the key advantage to Koobug.  More readers means more bums on seats, as it were, and if the site keeps promoting me and giving me good exposure, then I’m happy!

Q: You recently told us it was only 30 years to retirement? Are you looking forward to your free bus pass? When you rejoice in your first pension payment what mark on life will you wish to have made?

Well still being alive would be a miracle, if the present government have anything to do with it.  Our pension age is going up to 68 so I’ll probably be pretty worn out by then!  I hope that I’ll still be writing and that people will know the name of L K Jay.  

Q: What would be your ideal line up at a Rock Festival? Where would it be?

Ohh, well in the park just outside my flat, so I can get home after its finished!  Hmm, well my own personal line up would include: Arctic Monkeys as headliners.  I’d like to see a set by Public Service Broadcasting, Metronomy, The Strypes and Arcade Fire.  And if we’re allowed to resurrect a band from the past, then a set by The Smiths as well.

Q: Who is your hero and why?

In writing, probably Ian Rankin.  He’s one of my favourites and although he’s a best seller and really clever, he’s down to earth and not pretentious and that’s how I’d like to be if I made it.

Q: Your Twitter identity is FenlandGirll. Can you tell us what lies behind your choice?

It has two ‘l’ s at the end, which when I set it up I had no choice as ‘FenlandGirl’ has already been taken.  I was living in the Fens when I started it and of course, I’m female, hence the girll part.  I actually hadn’t thought of my pen-name when I created the account and that’s why I’m not L K Jay on Twitter.

Q: You have sold your millionth book and decide to buy a holiday home, where would you choose, and in a phrase sum it up?

I’d like a nice pad in Cambridge I think.  I don’t think I’d like one in London as that’s too big but in Cambridge I’d have the benefits of being in a city with being near the countryside as well.  I need to be in a town, I like the countryside but only if I’m near a Waitrose and it has excellent broadband.

Q; To adopt our customary conclusion

You are washed up on a Desert Island

Your one piece of music? Am I allowed a CD?  

Then the Arctic Monkeys first album.

Your one luxury?  

A sun hat

Your one book?  

The Complete Works of Shakespeare – that would keep me busy for a while!

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