By Jenetta James
Writing sneaked up and grabbed me when I wasn’t expecting it. I never had myself pegged as a novelist at all, until it was actually happening. I blinked, and it became part of the landscape. So I look upon the idea of being a writer as a strange and wonderful oddity in my life - one that I cannot now imagine being without. It was the best kind of ambush, and I’m very glad it got me.
I grew up in Cambridge and from early life, was a fairly academic soul. I read History at university and then did another degree to become a lawyer. There was a lot of writing involved in both of those but in neither case was it the sort of thing to trouble a romance reader. After leaving the comforts of academic life at the age of 23, I discovered that I had to get a job! I’m now into my twelfth year as a practicing lawyer, minus a couple for babies. My everyday working life involves an eye watering amount of reading and quite a lot of very formal, structured writing. I don’t mean to suggest that there is nothing creative about it, because there is. I have always been fascinated by finding the right word and putting things in just the right way - even in the law.
Maybe I should have realised earlier that there was a more fanciful writer in me.
In fact, when I sat down and started writing “Suddenly Mrs. Darcy”, it was the first time since school that I had written a story of my own. I was on maternity leave with one tiny baby and one bigger one and each day I would push them both around in their double buggy to get them to sleep. Now, my children are champion nappers. Once they are out for the count they can be gone for a couple of hours. Sometimes, I would take a book with me, so I had something to do when they were asleep. Then, one day, I took it into my head to take my laptop. I didn’t know what I would write. I was thinking about starting a blog about books I’d read. But when I sat down in my local coffee shop with my skinny latte and started to type, the blog idea had been replaced with a scene. So I wrote the scene and the scene became a sequence and the sequence became a story.
Since that moment in the coffee shop, I have gone back to work, published two books, and written one half (each) of two further books (do two halves of two separate books make a whole? No, unfortunately). Almost all of my writing is done in short bursts, slotted in between other things. I have written in train stations and coffee shops, in waiting rooms, in bed, in all sorts of funny corners. Scenes and developments chase through my head all day but I only have quite short periods to splurge them out onto the page. My editor deserves a medal, of course, for picking up the pieces of this lack of continuity. But if I didn’t do it like that, it wouldn’t happen at all. I long to be able to write for a long period of time. I’ve heard other writers talking about retreats, and I could definitely get on board with that - although I’m not sure what my family would think!
So, for me, writing is an unexpected occupation. And even though it is so demanding, and I find it hard to write sometimes, I do it because the reward is so great. In my writer-zone, I have a little window onto an inner world where anything can happen and frequently does, I have history, mystery and love, any time, any place. What could be better than that? Well, hearing from readers probably is, that is the best thing, of course. I still feel a sense of amazement to receive feedback from others. It is a humbling thing indeed. “Only connect” as E. M. Forster had it; it is the most wonderful thing going. The whole process is a huge privilege and although I may be slow, I intend to keep going.
Jenetta James is the nom de plume of a lawyer, writer, mother and taker-on of too much. She grew up in Cambridge and read history at Oxford University where she was a scholar and president of the Oxford University History Society. After graduating, she took to the law and now practises full time as a barrister. Over the years she has lived in France, Hungary and Trinidad as well as her native England. Jenetta currently lives in London with her husband and children where she enjoys reading, laughing and playing with Lego.