I first “met” Jennie Ensor years ago on a now defunct writer’s website. We both belonged to a critique group there and I was able to read an earlier draft of her recently released novel, Blind Side. I’m rereading the polished, final version and I’m enjoying it even more the second time around. I recently talked to Jennie and got her to answer a few questions about writing, editing, and about her new book.
Jennie- I just started rereading, though it’s been long enough that I can’t tell for sure what’s new. Is the prologue new? It’s fantastic…
Thanks Katie – and thanks too for inviting me here. I added the prologue fairly late on, yes – good to know it works! It’s a short passage that plunges the reader into the action straight away, taken from a chapter near the end of Blind Side. The aim is to let the reader know the kind of book this is (a thriller infused with psychological suspense, terrorism, romance and politics!) as well as to create suspense as to what will happen.
So I love reading a piece I’ve read before that’s been revised and perfected. Tell me how long it took you to write this from the time you typed your first line until your publisher took it from your hands.
I started mulling over ideas and scribbling them down late 2004 early 2005 – so long ago I’ve forgotten exactly when. My novel was accepted for publication by Unbound in October 2015 (conditional on crowdfunding, see below). So around 11 years in total, though I did write another novel during this time and finish one I’d started earlier. I must have revised it ten or more times – I’ve lost count of how many! And before Blind Side was published I had to make many more changes (more on that later). Thank goodness there’s no more to make!
We ‘met’ in a writer’s critique group. How do you feel about the value of getting feedback as you’re writing?
It gives an immediate insight into how your work in progress comes across. Also other writers can make useful suggestions as to how to fix problems and can often articulate issues better than non-writers. Often there’s plenty of quite small things that people will pick up on, which a single editor may not. Though some find it confusing, I like getting a diverse range of views – with practise I’ve found it easier to decide which points I will act on. I think peer critiquing is one of the purest forms of feedback a writer can have. No money changes hands, which could influence things, only time and effort. You get back what you put in – there’s so much to learn from the attempt to help others. Last but not least, a group can really help one to soldier on in the face of discouragement, I’ve found – and be there to cheer on the successes.
I know a little bit about your struggle toward publication but can you describe the process you went through with Unbound?
The most difficult part was raising over £3000 to cover the costs of publication. For each pledge there’s a reward offered, e.g. a video of the novel’s settings that I’m doing my best to get done now. In the UK people aren’t used to crowdfunding as much as in the US, so you have to do a lot of explaining as to how it works and the publishing model. Like many others I found the first 30% or so came in relatively quickly… then it got difficult. I tried all sorts of things in the later stages. When my allotted three months were nearly at an end I’d reached only two thirds of my target and was trying not to panic. Fortunately, two very special people came forward and lifted me across the finish line.
Once the book was funded, I believe the processes are similar to traditional publishing – this is my first published novel so I’ve got nothing to compare it with. Blind Side is also the first title in Unbound’s new digital list (comprised of e-books), mainly genre-oriented fiction. There was an intensive period of editing and cover design – I was surprised at how much consultation was involved to produce the cover. But it’s nice to be able to say that in part at least it was my idea I was thrilled with the final cover – I’m hoping the e-book sells enough copies to allow it to come out as a paperback version and be seen in its full glory!
Regarding the editing, I was asked to make many substantial changes for the developmental edit, such as changing the whole thing into present tense. I also altered aspects of the plot to make things hang together better and brought forward some elements to speed up the read. After reading my editor’s first report I felt daunted by the extent of the changes she suggested… especially the re-plotting, which was like tearing apart a jigsaw you’ve spent ages on knowing you’ll have to rebuild a bigger better one in only a few weeks. But as I made the changes I could see that they worked and knew I was doing the right thing.
How did you decide to change the title?
I’d had my title ‘Ghosts of Chechnya’ for years – it was the second title after ‘Nikolai’. I started thinking of an alternative after my editor suggested that the title didn’t reflect the central character’s situation. I’d had doubts about it too for a while – many people didn’t respond well to ‘Chechnya’. The publisher also wanted a title that would suggest a thriller… After much hand wringing I came up with ‘Blind Side’, which totally fits the novel. But it’s taken quite a while to get used to it – and of course some people like the old one better.
Can you tell us what the book is about and give an excerpt?
Off the top of my head, Blind Side is about two guys who want the same girl. One she’s known a long time as a platonic friend, she thinks she is close to him then realises she doesn’t really know him as well as she thought. The other she is wildly attracted to but he has been traumatised by fighting in Chechnya, and is potentially dangerous. My central character Georgie has issues with trust having been badly hurt before; in essence she has to decide whether to risk making herself vulnerable, or to carry on as she is, living half a life.
I focus a lot on relationships and the (often abnormal) psychology of my characters, as is the case with many psychological dramas/thrillers. But the setting of my novel is 2005, amid the terror attacks on London. Embedded in the story are social and political currents of the time, e.g. people’s suspicions and fears of immigrants and outsiders, which seemed to escalate after 7/7 having already been heightened by the UK general election earlier that year. Also the war in Chechnya, which plays a part too… Tongue slightly in cheek, I’ve described Blind Side as The Book of You (a sinister stalker novel by Claire Kendall) meets a condensed version of Gone With the Wind.
Below is a short chapter from fairly early on – the first time Julian appears in the novel in the first person.
She’s standing there, across the lane. Close enough for me to call out hello.
Blue jeans, padded jacket, short boots, the furry insides folded over at the tops.
Not much make-up. Hair loose, tickling her shoulders. Scarf draped chicly
about her neck. With her long legs and silky hair she could pass for a model.
Every so often she looks at her watch. She’s getting agitated, chewing her
lower lip, staring at people passing by. Men, that is. Her hair keeps getting
blown across her face and each time she pulls it off with an impatient flick
of the fingers. The wind has a nip in it today. She hugs herself and rubs her
arms. She pushes her hands down into her jacket pockets, rocking from one
foot to the other.
It’s busy in this quaint little lane. People ducking in and out of boutiques
and bakeries, yakking in French, supping their Saturday morning cappuccinos.
Old ladies creaking along in cashmere coats and sensible shoes, trendy mums
pushing designer kids. Oh, yes, and little old me loitering in a doorway,
A burly man in a khaki jacket strides into view from the direction of the
Tube station. His hair is hidden by a beanie. She checks him out too. A sharp
turn of the head and the expectant look on her face is wiped in an instant. He
disappears into the gallery.
Russell Brand, or his lookalike, emerges from a florist. Diamond earring,
pirate beard. She looks again at her watch, ignoring him. Her mouth twists in
frustration. She jams her hands in her pockets and strolls along the lane, away
I drain my coffee, ditch the plastic cup. She stops and looks into the
florist’s window. I go closer, almost close enough to reach out and touch her.
Her long earrings nestle into the curve of her cheekbones. She’s wearing
gloss on her lips. A trace of light perfume reaches me. Something new, inviting.
I feign an interest in the garish display of tulips, unnatural yellows and reds.
Funny how dark glasses and a hat can make such a difference. She doesn’t
recognise me, doesn’t even see me.
What are you working on now?
I stopped writing poetry for a while due to so many demands on my time, and I do miss it. It seems to access another part of the brain to that needed for prose writing. I’ve started writing flash fiction and want to experiment a little with the form. I’ll probably need to revise my second novel (an unsettling psychological thriller) once more before it can be published, my next goal. Also I’m keen to get stuck into something new, not sure what yet.
To find out more about Jennie, check out her website at www.jennieensor.com