#TenThings about Alison Jean Lester | #author of The Sound of It | @_benchpressbks_ @A_J_Lester @hannahhargrave8

I’m delighted to welcome Alison Jean Lester to the blog today. Alison is the author of novels Yuki Means Happiness, Lillian on Life and Glide. Her most recent novel, The Sound of It, was published yesterday by Bench Press Books and is available from all good book retailers. Today she’s sharing a really interesting #TenThings she’d like her readers to know about her, with a focus on the steps she’s taking while writing her work in progress.   

Five of my ten things are steps.

The first step toward the idea for my current work in progress was participation in the New York City Midnight Short Story Challenge. The competition challenges writers to create stories in just a few days, based on assigned genres, subjects and characters. In one heat, I had to write a historical fiction story featuring an eating contest and a teenage mother. I set the story in China, where I studied in the 1980s, and it was the first time I used my experience there in my writing. I loved it so much that once the competition was over, I wanted to continue the tale.

The next step was to accept that people were unlikely to accept a novel about a Chinese girl written by an Anglo-American white woman, and to decide to set it somewhere else—in a country of my own invention. 

The third step was a literal step. I went through the gate at the edge of a field on the edge of my town. Along the path, I thought about the country I would build in my tale. How would power be represented? What would the culture revolve around? I needed to decide what the core crop would be, on which so much of a society’s traditions are based. Skirting the field, I realised that I didn’t recognise the young shoots coming up in rows. I needed to know. A few walks later, there was a farmer in the field, and he let me know it was flax. Perfect. I spent the next year studying that field, taking photos and recording vocal notes that quickly became the voice of what I knew I would be writing.

The fourth step was a more dramatic form of travel. I knew that to give the story its best chance, I’d need to take myself away somewhere unfamiliar to me, and peaceful. On May 31st, my photographer husband and I boarded a plane for Helsinki, and on June 1st we boarded a train for the small town of Lapua in the middle of farms and woods three hours away. We would be spending a month there on an artistic residency. I wrote in a big, creaking loft overlooking the Lapua river. My husband took photographs of the stark shadows made by the almost constant sun. Our life was completely pared back, and I wrote and wrote and wrote.

Three days after we returned, the builders arrived at our house to begin a drastic remodelling project. Step number five was to take up my friend Sylvia’s offer of her spare room as a writing retreat. There is nothing in there that needs my attention, nothing that sparks a memory. Looking out on Sylvia’s garden, there is nothing I’m supposed to prune or pick. The time it takes to cross the street, walk along the pavement, go through her gate and ring her doorbell is the time it takes for me to leave my to-do lists behind and clear my mind. My heart rate slows.

Thing number six is a pen: The Uni-Ball Jetstream Ballpoint. I write by hand, with my left hand, and did the research on the best pens out there this year for lefties before I headed to Finland to begin writing. It’s great (and I’m sure it is for righties as well). My local W.H. Smith doesn’t sell the refills, but you can get them online. I have a pen case full of them on the desk at Sylvia’s. (My notebooks are just lined notebooks. I bought a pack of seven of them for £2 at a yard sale. I spend money on pens, not on paper.)

Number seven is a book: The Kalevala, the national epic of Karelia and Finland. I was reading it in Finland, and I know it influenced my feeling of freedom in my mind as I wrote, as its line breaks are unusual and its repetitions mysterious to me. It is on my desk at Sylvia’s as well. I haven’t finished it yet, but sometimes when I’m in a lull I open it and see what’s going on in there.

Number eight is a person: my husband, Andrew Gurnett. He is the most energetic champion of my work, and designs the books we publish together. Have a look at his wonderful work both inside my novel Glide and on the cover. I have only talked to him a little bit about how I’m going about this novel, as he is so design-oriented that he’s already got plans for how the book will look, and for me it’s not a book yet, it’s a place to go. It’s a world I’m discovering. It’s not ready to be bound.

Nine is the feeling I have when I can’t go to Sylvia’s. She had guests staying for several days recently, so I cleared out. It seemed like it would be just fine, as I’d written hundreds of pages and had come to point where I really wasn’t sure of the next step. I decided it would be a good time to start transcribing it onto the computer, to remind myself of all of the groundwork I’d laid. But being at home meant I felt like the project was a little duckling swimming around in circles, surrounded by enormous geese that were churning up the water. If you’ve had work done on your house, and are at the same time publishing a ready novel, you’ll know how it feels. But you know what? I’m not sure I won’t keep going to Sylvia’s even once the house is finished, and she’s fine with that. Encouraging, in fact. She’s an 83-year-old widow, and she likes the company, no matter how little we talk sometimes. 

And ten is a perfect ten of a feeling. It’s joy. Pure joy. Building an unknown world in a book is a departure for me, and not only my brain but also my heart is delighting in the voyage of discovery. I’m not thinking about publishing; how I reach readers is a question for another month . . . or year. So this tenth thing is the feeling I had when I first started concentrating on writing fiction, thirty years ago, before I’d had anything published and only knew I needed to tell stories.

About The Sound of It

When Su, a divorced mother of one daughter, falls in love with Jeremy, a widowed father of two sons, they want to build a life together, but neither of their houses in Worcester is big enough for a family of five. They decide to build a dream house in farmland outside the city, in which to live happily ever after. For sound designer Su, it’s an opportunity to create an embracing home and heal past wounds of betrayal and loss, while failed entrepreneur Jeremy sees a chance to impress his overbearing father.

But what happens when hidden financial misjudgements cloud the horizon? What happens when some family ties grow strong and others don’t grow at all?

The Sound of It looks at parenting and at step-parenting, when expectations are high, dreams are big, and the Internet is very dangerous.

About the Author

Alison Jean Lester was born in the US and has also lived for years in the UK, Singapore and Japan. She worked as an editor, journalist and voiceover artist before moving to Singapore, where she developed a successful coaching and training business and continued to write. She is the author of novels Yuki Means Happiness, Lillian on Life, Glide, The Sound of It, poetry, short stories, plays, and non-fiction books on communication. She currently lives in Worcestershire, England. http://www.alisonjeanlester.com      

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