Jenny Quintana grew up in Essex and Berkshire, before studying English Literature in London. She has taught in London, Seville and Athens and has also written books for teaching English as a foreign language. She is a graduate of the Curtis Brown Creative writing course. She lives with her family in Berkshire. The Missing Girl is her first novel.
Hello Jenny! Many thanks again for agreeing to answer some questions for our Ink Pantry readers. Many are aspiring authors and I’m sure they will learn a great deal from your experiences. May I start by asking you about your childhood literary influences and what books in particular gripped your attention?
I was lucky enough to have parents who took me to the library when I was a child and bought me books, which meant I gained an early passion for reading. I loved Little Women, What Katy Did, The Famous Five, Malory Towers. I moved on to Agatha Christie and when I was twelve, wrote my first novel called The Imposter. It was a detective story influenced by Agatha Christie, of course. My dad marked it and gave me an A. I went from there to Thomas Hardy, the Brontës and Shakespeare and all the classics which I loved.
At what age did you begin writing seriously, in the knowledge that this could become a career, rather than a hobby, Jenny?
I wrote stories from a very early age, but confidence stopped me from believing that I had anything worthwhile to say, and then circumstance – work, family and other commitments – gained more importance. However, the need to write didn’t go away and in my early thirties after I had my first child, I felt that I would be forever unfulfilled if I didn’t do something about it. I joined a local creative writing group and started writing short stories. I entered competitions, had some success, and that spurred me on to start my first novel.
Your 2017 début novel, The Missing Girl, (published by Mantle Books) attracted a lot of positivity from the literary world. Can you tell us more about how the seeds of the idea began for this novel, and how long it took to piece everything together? Also, how daunting was this project initially?
The characters in The Missing Girl came to me first. Two sisters – the younger one, Anna, idolizing the older, more popular and outgoing, Gabriella. I imagined what they were like and put them in the context of their family and the village where they lived. I decided the story would be from Anna’s point of view and then considered what was going to happen. By then I had written two unpublished novels and was beginning to understand what themes and ideas I wanted to explore. I was interested in ordinary people who are affected by tragic events and how they manage to make sense of them. I considered what it would be like if Gabriella went missing. Often in news stories we mostly see the effects a missing child has on the adults of the family, but what must it be like for the siblings? How heartbreaking for a child to not know where their brother or sister has gone and whether they will ever come home? I had the characters and the idea, but still I was nervous about embarking on another novel. I had spent so long by then trying and failing to get published, so it seemed very daunting. However, it isn’t easy to ignore the urge to write and I’m glad that I didn’t because once I had immersed myself, the novel took about a year to complete and then another eighteen months or so of editing with my agent, and then my editor.
Do you have a particular framework for writing? For example, are you an author who prefers pen and paper, or one who does everything on the computer? Also, is there a set location you have chosen for your writing?
I generally write straight onto the computer and do many, many drafts. Usually I write the whole novel quickly and it comes out quite short. I then edit and rewrite and edit again, adding texture and colour and depth. I have a very messy study at home where I work, but it is also a walkway between the hall and the kitchen, so I’m constantly interrupted by my family. I don’t mind really as I like to feel a part of things, but my most productive time for writing is early in the morning when everyone else is asleep, or when the house is empty.
Who currently inspires you creatively, both inside and outside of the literary world? How important do you believe it is to receive inspiration for writing, especially at an early age? What hopeful words would you give to someone seeking to find a career within writing?
Inside the literary world, I am inspired by writers such as Kate Atkinson, Maggie O’Farrell, Margaret Atwood and Sarah Waters because they are prolific and write great novels. Outside the literary world, I am inspired by people who challenge the system – especially young people who have the best sense of all. My children are young adults now and they never fail to impress me with their good sense, humour and outward view of the world. I think it’s important to have a similar approach in everything you do, including writing.
I do think it is an advantage to receive inspiration for your writing at an early age, mainly through reading, however, many people don’t have that opportunity and there is no reason that being inspired at a later stage should make a difference. What’s important for every author is to read as widely as possibly in order to understand how writing a novel can be done.
My greatest piece of advice for new writers is to persist. Ignore the doubts you may have that your writing isn’t good enough, or that you have nothing to say. Take small steps. If you are writing a novel, think only about the paragraph you are writing, the page and the chapter. If you consider how long the whole novel is going to take you, it’s all too easy to give up. From my point of view, nothing I have ever written has been wasted. I have reused characters, ideas and themes many times. Another piece of advice is to prioritise. It can be difficult when you have a job, a family or other commitments, but try to find some time at some point in the day or night which is for yourself and for your writing. I used to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning for example – I still do, sometimes. Make writing an important part of your life and above all give yourself permission to write.
Many thanks Jenny for your insights. I know you have a new novel planned for release in 2020, Our Dark Secret. Is there anything you can share about this, and what other creative plans have you within the foreseeable future?
Our Dark Secret (Mantle Books) will be published in February 2020. It is another psychological mystery that focuses on two teenage girls, thrown together through circumstance, who form a bond based on the terrible secrets they share. It is about how decisions made in your youth can affect your whole life. It’s about sacrifice, friendship, loyalty and love. I am also writing a third novel for the same publisher which I have almost completed and have plans for a fourth. I started late and I am brimming with ideas that I am determined to get down.
Inky elf Kev Milsom is in the very early stages of his 5th decade, but looks at least ten years younger…possibly even fifteen on a good day, under beneficial lighting conditions. Currently training in holistic therapies, such as hypnotherapy, metaphysics and counselling, he is also trying to expand his creative writing knowledge and experience. As a devout ‘struggling artist’ he is working towards the completion of that elusive first novel, whilst fuelling a profound talent for procrastination by making notes on a possible second novel (alongside intermittent research for a third). He is proud to have achieved his goal of being independently published at least once a year since 2012, but is also currently exploring other aspects of writing such as journalism. His favourite colour is anything bright.