Interview _ Penny Jones

Penny Jones is a writer from Leicestershire.

She has been published by Fox Spirit Books, Factor Fiction Press, Five Leaves Publications, and Dahlia Publishing. Among other writers' conventions and conferences, she attends the monthly meet up of Leicester Writes.

In this interview, Penny Jones talks about her writing, Over Land, Over Sea and Journeys in Translation.

How would you describe the writing that you do?

I'm new to writing, so at the moment I write anything and everything. I find writing really hard, but find procrastinating really easy, so writing in different styles and genres means that I can try and fool my brain when it is telling me to give up.

I have recently finished the first draft of a novel, and throughout the process all I wanted to do was write the short story I had been commissioned to write; then when I was writing that, all I wanted to do was write the screenplay for the course I was attending, and now I'm doing that all I want to do is go back to re-writing the novel.

Who or what has had the most influence on you as a writer?

I read for pleasure, and admire writers who manage to take big issues and make them accessible through fiction.

I don't tend to stick to one style of literature and enjoy finding new writers, so each year I take up a different reading challenge; for example one year I made my way through the alphabet, another year all the authors had to be from different countries.

I want my writing to be as well rounded and diverse as possible, and so I want as wide an influence of subjects and authors as possible.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

I very much put myself into each and every character I write about, especially my flaws. I like my characters to be well rounded, so I look at my experiences and use those to try and see how I would react to a situation. Also, my background as a psychiatric nurse helps as I can utilise the skills and knowledge that I use as a nurse, to empathetically see how my characters are feeling and how they would react; the protagonist in my novel is a young boy, so his reaction to events will be drastically different to my own.

What has been your most significant achievement as a writer so far?

My most significant achievement so far was my first commissioned piece, which was for a charity zine called Do Something by Factor Fiction Press. The first time you are asked to contribute to something, rather than sending in to an open submission, feels amazing.

How did you get involved with Journeys in Translation?

I felt very strongly about supporting Syrian refugees, so when I saw a post on Facebook, where they were looking for poems for a charity anthology I knew that I had to at least send them something, even though I hadn't written any poetry since my school days.

My poem "What's in a name?" was accepted for the anthology Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for those seeking refuge by Five Leaves Publications, and following on from that one of the editors, Emma Lee, asked if it could be included in a project to bring the message to as many people as possible through translation.

Penny Jones' poem, "What's in a Name?", on the pavement at the Leicester Against War / Leicester for Peace vigil that, since December 2015, is held every Friday at the Clock Tower in Leicester in solidarity with people everywhere who are bearing the brunt of war and those who are seeking refuge.

Which were the easiest aspects of the work you put into the project?

The easiest aspects of the work, was the idea for the poem. I can only really write poetry if I already have an idea in mind, and for this project it was already clear in my mind, that I wanted to look at humanising refugees.

I had seen and heard many people using the terms refugee and immigrant interchangeably, and it angered me that not only did people not understand the difference between someone who was a refugee and someone who was an immigrant; but also that these people who were dying had become faceless and nameless. So I wanted my poem to show that these were people, they were someone's son, daughter, brother, or sister.

Which were the most challenging?

The most challenging aspect of "What's in a name?" was that although the letter "E" is the most common letter used in England, it is the least common in Syria. This is a major issue when you are writing an acrostic using the word refugee, so finding three Syrian names that began with "E" was really difficult; especially as I wanted to use the name's meaning as the crutch for each line of the poem.

It took hours to find three Syrian names that began with "E", and I only then managed it because some Arabic names that are spelt with an "I" have alternative spellings that start with "E". "What's in a name" took about 10 hours to write, but 9 hours was just trying to find those three names.

Penny Jones' poem, "What's in a Name?", Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) p.5. Translated into Bengali by Rinita Banerjee‎.

What would you say is the value of initiatives like Journeys in Translation?

The value to initiatives like Journeys in Translation, is that you can get the message out to as many people as possible.

Language is a barrier that we all face, but if we can share our stories and our beliefs it can be a barrier we can peep over, shake hands, and discuss our differences, rather than remain hidden behind.

Editor's Note:

Journeys in Translation aims to facilitate cross- and inter-cultural conversations around the themes of home, belonging and refuge.

The project encourages people who are bilingual or multilingual to have a go at translating 13 of the 101 poems from Over Land: Over Sea: Poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) from English into other languages and to share the translations, and reflections on the exercise on blogs, in letters and emails to family and friends, and on social media.

So far, the 13 poems that are being used as part of the project have been translated into languages that include Italian, German, Shona, Spanish, Bengali, British Sign Language, Farsi, Finnish, French, Turkish and Welsh. Currently, over 20 people from all over the world are working on the translations. More translations and more languages are on the way.

In Leicester, Journeys in Translation will culminate in an event that is going to be held on September 30 as part of Everybody's Reading 2017. During the event the original poems and translations will be read, discussed and displayed.

Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for Those Seeking Refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) was edited by Kathleen Bell, Emma Lee and Siobhan Logan and is being sold to raise funds for Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)Leicester City of Sanctuary and the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum.

Copies of the anthology are available from Five Leaves Bookshop (Nottingham).

More information on how Over Land, Over Sea came about is available here.


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