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An Interview with Angela Johnson

It is a pleasure to welcome writer and Swanwicker Angela Johnson to the blog today. Thank you for making time to chat today. Tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born in West Wales a very long time ago and the landscapes of childhood and the soft rhythms of my native language made me a writer. I now live in Kent and I love its marshlands and estuaries with its population of migrating birds. I have travelled extensively and enjoy the stimulus of new places.

What inspired you to become a writer?

I was inspired by childhood experiences of story telling. I feel my childhood reverberated with stories and the sub Chaucerian cast of characters I met on my grandfather’s farm, and the complex dynamics of the market town where I lived. I was inspired by childhood reading in Welsh, and later in English, and by a brilliant English teacher who told me that I should be a writer and encouraged me in every way.

What is the best thing about being a writer?

Writing can often be painful and lonely, but there are so many compensations: entry into a world of complete and utter power, a world the writer rules without opposition, and the sheer joy of manipulating human beings and examining the mysteries of the human psyche.

What is your writing routine like?

I try to write in the mornings when the muse is a little stronger, when the day is fresh and each day’s possibilities is an inspiration. I’m a strong believer in moving away from the desk and nourishing the mind, walking, looking at nature, swimming, or going to the gym. Writing is privileged as it gives the writer the freedom of negotiating time.

How much time is spent on research?

I do what research is necessary to avoid factual errors. I am not the kind of writer who enjoys research, regarding it as a necessity rather than an intellectual pleasure.

How much of the book is planned out before you start writing it?

I know how a book will end and I know the main arc of the story and I’m well acquainted with my characters before I begin. Other than that, I feel that writing a novel is a process of evolution, and I will be disappointed if at some point there is not that flash of illumination which tells me something new about character or theme which has not occurred to me before.

What do you think is most important when writing a book?

I am very involved with language, and I cannot abide something which is badly written even if it tells a good story. The most satisfactory novel is one where there’s a facility with language and an awareness of its myriad possibilities to enhance a story, blended with interesting and plausible characters, whether likeable or not, human beings with all the complexity and contradictions which characterise us all. And, of course, a narrative which involves us, which makes us feel that we are somehow part of its development.

What is your latest book about?

I do not just write about Wales, one of my novels is based on working in the mainly male environment of a boys’ school, another is set in a West Country village, and another is partly set in a river side town in Kent, a multicultural town, not far from the marshes which form the setting for the early part of Great Expectations.

What inspired it?

However, for my latest work I return to rural Wales, this time coastal Ceredigion. My protagonist is a woman who has travelled the world, led an independent life, but feels compelled to return to the family farm, and the people who seem to depend on her. She appeared in a previous novel, and such is the force of her personality that she insisted on a novel of her own, and I placed her in a little farm above my favourite cove, a place of choughs and peregrines, and a tiny old church which seems to grow, organically, out of the soil.

Any new books or plans for the future?

Next in my plan is to complete my comic novel, a picaresque tale of a priapic Welsh cop. I am very fond of his self-delusion and misplaced vanity and the run-down village which is the setting for his mishaps.

What genre do you read most often?

I have eclectic tastes in books, and I couldn’t say that I have any particular genre which I prefer. I just like novels which speak to me and in some way enhance my life. Of Classical writers Hardy is my god and of modern writers Margaret Atwood is supreme.

The Author

Angela Johnson is a Welsh writer and poet whose debut novel, Arianwen, set in her native West Wales, was published in September 2020. Her novel Harriet and her Women was shortlisted for the Impress Prize for Fiction, and she has been shortlisted for the H.E. Bates Memorial Short Story Prize and has won the Folkestone Arts Festival Poetry Prize. She studies Creative Writing at the University of Kent and was awarded a Distinction. In a previous incarnation she was an English teacher. She lives in North Kent and is a passionate environmentalist.

The Links

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Twitter @jyfelin

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