Writing


Writing for me has been both an escape from the world and a means of entry into the world. When I could not speak, a shy and stuttery child with secrets already that no one should have, I could write. By the age of five or six I was stammering out a poem in school assembly, humiliated and shamed by my inability to be fluent, proud as punch of Bingo the Dog, my three- stanza offering of rhyming verse.

In another lifetime, perhaps I would have become a full-time writer. Yet for a long time, focused on the need to earn money, to provide for my family, and a tendency to a number of deviations from the path, I believed that only other people got published. Without the deviations, paradoxically, that belief might have remained my truth.

I changed my beliefs when I completed my first Master’s degree in my thirties. I submitted a research based paper to a professional journal and was accepted. From there I dared to believe that I might write more, and submitted a book proposal which became accepted. I wrote that first book in whatever spaces I could grab while working and raising two children. I fashioned my writing space from a cupboard under the stairs, and wrote between washing, playing and working.

Apparently, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

I believe that writing is an art and a science: to be a writer is a discipline. It’s probably true that most of us have at least one book inside us, and while a story might create itself, a book won’t write itself.

Now, I have a series of publications out in the ether, and have taught Creative Writing for the University of East Anglia. I am increasingly interested in story telling through different means, and offer bespoke coaching and workshops for aspiring writers.

Welcome to my writing page.

Interview with Jan (please click to expand)

About Jan Russell
Where were you born?
Post war inner city Birmingham, a multi-cultural environment, quite poor. I shared a bedroom with my sister and brother, and we bathed once a week in a tin bath. Yes, that type of upbringing – lived in a shoebox, yada yada. I won a scholarship to an all-girls secondary school, King Edward VI, which changed everything.

Did you like school?
Funny word, like. I was shy and stuttery, and regularly felt humiliated and estranged. I developed a hard core outer shell, and became suitably rebellious in the teenage years. I have to say that King Edwards instilled in me the notion that girls could do anything, the world was our oyster, and I had some wonderful teachers in the mix. I developed my love of literature there, and learned how to study with discipline, both of which have served me well.

When did you first start writing?
As a five year old, I read out my first poem, in school assembly. It was called Bingo the Dog. I then wrote exercise books full of early novel, based on The Girl from Uncle, in which I was heroine, regularly escaping from something. I turned away from fiction writing for many years until my late thirties, developing instead skills as an academic writer while fulfilling various jobs in social welfare and further education (much case presentation writing!) and enjoying my two children. I was published professionally before completing a work of fiction. I began coherent scribblings around my late thirties and only produced my first novel after having `time off’ to recover from breast cancer.

What principles do you live by?
That of compassion, of which I learn more each day. `Live life with adventure’, the Quaker motto. `It’s not the last shot in this game that counts, duck, it’s the next’. My father Jack Russell on golf and life. Every second is of value – now counts.

Do you have any regrets?
Yes and no. On the one hand, I am who I am now because of every decision I ever made. On the other hand, I have regretted when I didn’t listen fully to my true self, to hunches and intuition. I look back and see how much I hid behind excessive behaviours at times, and didn’t quite recognise certain struggles. However, it’s not the last shot in this game…

Favourite books From childhood, The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton, and a volume of Edgar Allan Poe which I used to terrify myself with under the covers at night.

Through my schooling, Albert Camus `La Peste’ and `l’Etranger’, Solzhenitzyn’s Cancer Ward, all of Jane Austen – a queen of `show not tell’. Later, The Women’s Room, I know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Birdsong.

Biggest influences
When I graduated aged 20 from three years of an archetypal experience of sex, drugs, music and dancing, which masqueraded as a degree, I worked for 4 months in London at Estee Lauder, and was offered a permanent job there. Instead, I enrolled for a social work course and spent 8 months being an auxiliary nurse on a young stroke rehabilitation ward. I never forget what I learned there, that life is unpredictable and finite, and to be treasured. I relearned something that I now recognise I had first known my heart since early childhood, that there is no such thing as certainty. All of my powerful influential events have been to do with fear, loss, courage and resolve.

People have influenced me of course – my parents, various teachers, and my children: philosophies and psychologies, literature.

Political leanings
Old left. I was fascinated by the work of Karl Marx, and see a lot of the propositions that I liked in his work proving to be of great significance. The notion of capitalism as ultimately destructive to human worth seems to be bearing out, and his concept of alienation is lived out on a daily basis by many for whom work has no more worth to it than the pay packet. I believe very much in the principles of each according to their abilities, and all people having intrinsic human worth. I abhor cult and institutionalised exploitation and violence.

Likes and dislikes
Likes: sunshine, physical freedom, the joy of the innocent, generousity, excellent savoury food, exploring, rediscovering abilities to indulge in simple pleasures.

Dislikes: self-importance, exploitation, snobbery, brainwashing of the masses, abject stupidity.

Hobbies: writing, playing with paint, walking and other travel experiences, dancing.

Links to books I have authored:

Fiction

 
an algarve affair

An Algarve Affair

A waste of good weather

A Waste of Good Weather

 

Non Fiction

 
who's broken my scales

Who's Broken My Scales

 
 

My Poetry

I froze when they grabbed me.
It had been a tough journey, dark and wet, and it was only
my mother’s encouragement and the lure of the outside that
kept me going. Besides, I knew I couldn’t have stayed where
I was for much longer - they’d have forced me to leave
eventually.

What was happening?
Bright light glared in my face, and loud unfamiliar noises
reverberated.
My body trembled, cold air filled my lungs.
Someone slapped me hard, and I cried out in pain.
A woman laughed.
‘It’s a girl.’
And that was only the beginning...

Janice Russell. December 1999
I can tell it will soon be light by the jewels of the dawn
which fall to my cheeks,
Darkest hour,
Come again.

Sun is rising even as the moon is clear and small
Its narrow curve the sign of nature’s rhythm
Harmony of the eternal heavens
Haunted by a face I miss
Gaunt
Beautiful
The child and woman who was mine but never mine
Because she’s hers.

Flashes of another, ally from the sisterhood, heart and mind distorted, Way beyond my reach.

Thoughts of the woman who would understand
But who I cannot tell
Lest knowing brings her down.

And, finally, the woman who I never knew,
Black eyes twinkling, courage in her smile,
her presence near, evasive,
like the stars,
her light travelling through the universe long beyond
her bodily demise.

What would you say to me now, unknown crone of my
ancestral blood?

Some things just had to be. It was never in your hands, all souls, including yours,
are free.

And so.
I send kisses of love to the skies
and hope the little flutters in the air will travel via the moon
and somehow reach the cheek of that most precious
one I miss so dear,
touch my erstwhile comrade in her sleep,
and soothe my mother in her bed of fear.

Relief comes with the day.