Jaq Hazell is the author of My Life as a Bench, a compelling story about a young girl who’s soul gets trapped in a bench when her life is abruptly cut short. I really enjoyed reading this book. You can read my review here.
I asked Jaq a lot of questions and she was kind enough to answer them. Thanks, Jaq, for agreeing to do this Q & A!
Q & A
1. Can you tell us a little about My Life as a Bench?
My Life as a Bench is about Ren Miller who has died aged 17. Somehow her consciousness survives within the memorial bench that bears her name. She has died young and there’s a sense of unfinished business. How did she die, and why has her boyfriend failed to visit?
2. The concept of an imprint of a departed soul left on a bench in London is brilliant! Where do your ideas come from?
Sounds weird, but a bench kind of spoke to me (in my imagination at least). There are loads of memorial benches where I live in southwest London and I often read the plaques. The benches dedicated to the young are particularly sad. I was out with my dog one day when I imagined a voice complaining, ‘Thanks for turning me into a bench’. She didn’t want to be stuck in a bench or by the river. She wanted to connect with her mates and have a laugh. This idea started as a 300-word short story and grew into a novel.
3. I would love to see Lionel’s story as a separate novella of its own. Would that happen some time?
That’s a great idea. I’m very fond of Lionel, he’s a kind old soul, and it would be good to spend more time with him, so perhaps I will revisit his story in more depth at some point in the future.
4. If My Life as a Bench were made into a movie, who would you pick for the lead roles?
That’s so hard. I guess the actors playing Ren and Gabe would have to be newcomers as they’d need to be young. If I was choosing actors that are already well known, I’d say maybe Maisie Williams or Chloe Moretz (if she can do an English accent) to play Ren and Jacob Anderson/Raleigh Ritchie has the looks for Gabe.
5. In the book, Lionel remarks that teenagers today have no patience. How were you as a teen?
I probably was quite impatient and I was certainly opinionated. I also looked a bit of a state. I used to make my own clothes or wore vintage stuff. I wanted to go to art school so I was trying to look different. I was one of the youngest in my year (and looked young), so it was difficult when everyone else had ID.
6. If you could go back and give your younger writing self advice, what would you say?
I used to start writing a novel with no idea where I was heading. I still don’t map everything out as I’d find it too boring but I like to have a sense of the ending – there are always surprises along the way, but having a rough idea of where it’s heading helps me write faster with less chance of stalling along the way.
“I see self-doubt as a necessary part of the creative process.”
7. How is your writing process? Do you plan everything meticulously or do you do the vomit draft and then edit out of it?
I think about an idea for a long time before I start. Writing a novel is a commitment and I have to believe an idea is compelling enough to keep me engaged for the long-haul. There will be moments when I doubt I’ve made the right choice, but I see self-doubt as a necessary part of the creative process. I will have some idea of how a story will end, but apart from that it will not be plotted in much detail. I have to find the right tone before I can progress further. My first drafts always need additional layers and there can be a lot of restructuring. I rewrite so many times that I always lose count.
8. What is the toughest criticism you’ve received as an author?
Authors have to develop a thick skin which isn’t easy, and yet I’m struggling to think of any specific criticism. Bad reviews can be hard to take after you’ve spent a couple of years writing the best book you can, but someone once told me it’s best to ignore the best and worst reviews as either can mess with your head, and most books sit somewhere in the middle.
9. What is your advice to indie authors on marketing?
Marketing is a slog and there are no easy answers. The big publishers throw money at their lead titles, while the rest of their list will be left to do much the same as indie authors. Start promoting your book at least three months prior to publication. Who would like your book and where do they hang out? Try and reach your target audience via social media, book blogs and the press. Organise a giveaway on Goodreads and aim to get lots of reviews.
Thanks so much for answering my questions, Jaq!
About My Life as a Bench
‘There are so many benches lining the riverside, each and every one tragic in its own way.’
Ren Miller has died aged seventeen and yet her consciousness lives on, inhabiting her memorial bench by the River Thames in London.
Ren longs to be reunited with her boyfriend Gabe, but soon discovers why he has failed to visit. Devastated, she must learn to break through and talk to the living so she can reveal the truth about her tragic end.
Unique, haunting, and compelling, this is a story about love, friendship, a passion for music and what, if anything, remains after we’ve gone.
About Jaq Hazell
Jaq Hazell’s debut novel, psychological thriller I Came to Find a Girl, was included in The Telegraph’s Best Crime Fiction of 2015 and was shortlisted for the Virginia Prize for Fiction.
Born near Portsmouth, on the south coast of England, to an Irish mother and an English father, she studied textile design at Nottingham Trent and has an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London.
Jaq has worked as a journalist and magazine editor. She lives in London with her partner, their two daughters and a very small dog.
My Life as a Bench released on May 2nd. You should totally check it out, trust me! Thoughts? Let me know in the comments! 🙂