Today I am honoured to introduce you to independent author Joan Barbara Simon. Joan has written and published several books in different genres and to be honest I can’t wait to find out more about her. So with no further ado over to Joan and her answers:
1. How would you describe yourself in one paragraph?
One reviewer describes me as a literary terrorist. I rather like that. I’ve also been called a woman with a dick. I like that even better. But there’s more. I have many professions (researcher, editor, independent author), and I write in more than one genre. My novel Mut@tus and the novel I most recently published, Verses Nature, are what I term experimental contemporary romance. In a bookshop, you would probably find both under ‘erotica’. My other novel, Long Time Walk on Water, has rightly been described as ‘genre-bending’, although more conservative readers would classify it as post-colonial fiction, women’s fiction or maybe even romance. At the heart of all my work is my playful frame of mind, my artistic and intellectual rigour, the perpetual interrogation of myself and my surroundings, and my strategies for smudging, or crossing, margins
2. A fun fact about you?
I am partial to men’s underwear under certain circumstances.
3. What made you write in the first place?
A gold star and a lollipop. Allow me to expand:
When I was five years old, I was picked out by the Headmistress, Mrs Hill, from the mass of children sitting cross-legged on the floor during a typical Monday morning assembly at an east London infant school. Asian, African, British, European, Caribbean, Other (please specify). No uniform, just specks of coloured cloth and peeps of skin flanked by teachers comfortable on their chairs. We must look like Hundreds n Fousands, I thought. All these colourful children. If you look at em from way up, like a bird, we must look like hundreds n fousands, like when they’re stuck on a marshmallow or somefing. Or on these chocolate buttons from the sweet-shop round the corner, you know, in those little white paper bags with a pleat on the side, and you´d always have at least two of these buttons that’d stick together back-to-back. As I scrambled to my feet, flushed by pride, my eyes on that soft, smiling woman who had just called my name, whose pale, perfumed skin always made me think of candy floss, and whose fingers now dipped into a small pouch (lovely, lovely fingers you got, Missis ´ill…) to produce a lollipop, a hard, round one that you could suck for ages, the magnitude of the moment did not escape me. Mrs Hill, full of praise as she pinned a gold star to my chest. See, I’d been getting nothing but gold stars all last week in my exercise book.
‘For wonderful, clear, joined-up writing like the big children. Well done!’
For the rest of assembly I was allowed to sit at the front, facing the congregated school, all those eyes of all those hundreds n fousands fixed on my gold star. And on ma lollipop.
When I grow up, I’m gonna be a writer n a teacher. I love words, writing … n I love teachers.
For the rest of that morning, I would forget my secret envy of Babita and Rajinder, my best friends who could speak other languages (though they hated speaking them in front of us), and whose shopfronts were jewelled with a curly writing that looked to me like some kind of music. Why couldn’t I be two people instead of one, too? At home, I would play at being one of them, invent a language to imitate them. Put my poncho on my head to emulate Babita’s wondrous black mane tamed into a thick rope of a plait that dangled in a surly fashion beyond the seat of her chair (whereas Rajinder wore his hair in a bun under a hankie with an elastic around it and when I asked him once to take it off so I could have a look he said he wasn’t allowed to). Right now, I didn’t mind my picky-picky hair or the fact that I could only speak English. For the rest of that morning, I would be the source of envy.
I’ll let you ave a lick a my lolly at play time cos we’re friends, innit? I smiled over to them. And they smiled back.
I´m gonna be a writer. One day. I just know I am.
3. Which author… has influenced you and why?
The British artist Penny Goring is my absolute favourite writer. I was so impressed by her work that I didn’t dare to pick up a pen for weeks. Penny is a verbal and visual artist like no other (author seems to small a word). Her work is playful, irreverent, sexy, intelligent, unclassifiable to any genre (in my opinion) and of a brilliance I aspire towards. It is thanks to Penny that I have a whole new understanding of what language can do. Penny Goring’s Zoom Zoom. It made me realize I was still far too faithful to what I had learnt to appreciate as ‘good writing’ from the structural viewpoint. And it made me realise that I was still too chicken to write the way I wanted to: in a multi-disciplinary, multi-genre way. This is what I do today. In social media, you’ll hear the term crossover for mixed-genre fiction. In my thesis, because it’s framed theoretically/scientifically, I speak of phenotypical promiscuity. If I’m not speaking to a literary theorist, I’d rather say I’m a style slag.
4.What is your favourite book?
That’s a hard one! Patrick McCabe’s The Butcher Boy, I’d say. This book impressed me on two counts: the plot and the language, particularly McCabe’s use of direct speech. I’ve not seen any writer depict direct speech the way he does. Marvellous! Apparently, there is a linguistic affinity between the Irish and the Jamaican. I’m half Jamaican. I once fell in love with an Irish guy but he ran 100 miles in the opposite direction, so maybe the affinity’s not so great after all 🙂
5. Your writing ritual (if you have one)?
I used to get up and go for a jog. That would guarantee my good mood, which then would guarantee a good writing day. I’m having an amazing flow right now, so I prefer to jump out of bed and be at my desk as soon as possible.
6. Your secret “sin” when you write?
I’ve let on about the underwear. If I say any more, I could get arrested.
7. Do you suffer from artist’s block and if, what do you do against it?
It has occurred that I haven’t been able to write for a while, but rarely for such a long time that I truly begin to panic. When I can’t write, I read. The last time I went to a book fair I came home with over thirty books. There are always enough titles on my To Read list to ensure that even when I can’t write, I’m still connected to the literary world.
8.Your advice for apprentice creatives?
Don’t be too quick to get feedback. Don’t try to emulate any other artist but let people who would be inclined to emulate simply inspire you to go in search of your own originality. When you are ready for feedback, take every form of critique seriously. Develop a thick skin. And patience!
Thank you very much, Joan, for sharing your story and writing experience with us.
Titles by Joan Barbara Simon
Tatar (Carmina thinks he stinks of Male Pig) and Carmina (Tatar can smell when a woman’s on heat), locked in an intellectual-erotic Kampf that will end tragically if she loves him as much as he loves her. Sex. Power. God. Perversion. Or is it: innocence? Two controversial, addictive protagonists who change the rules, so get ready to change your mind.
Watch out, watch out, there’s an Alpha female about!
What if you’ve been told you have everything you could wish for, yet you know there is still a hole in your life? You do something about it. If you dare. Virginia Mendes dares. Not only is she certain that life has more to offer, she is convinced she owes it to herself to find out just how much. The bourgeois bliss of her brittle marriage is swopped for the delights of personal growth via the world of virtual romance. Is the grass greener on the cyber side? And what if she dared to take the adventure a step further? Or should we say: closer?
A maelstrom of intellectual questions allied with online sex and hard-core humour.
LONG TIME WALK ON WATER
The story of Emily Rose Thompson and James Dunbar. Emily, a Jamaican immigrant, jostling to find her place among the white working class in 1960s London. James Dunbar, Englishman, fed up with the low life. James has developed a soft spot for his Jamaican pals down at the docks. And for one Jamaican woman in particular.
They happen to meet at a bus-stop. The rest is history.
An urban historical fairytale about racial tension and tolerance, told with pride, poise, humour and grace. A tale of chances taken and chances missed in the Motherland. A tale of friendship, family and of how the humble live whilst waiting for their dreams to come true. Long Time Walk on Water is, above all, an unforgettable love story: the story of a mother’s love and the price her family must pay for generations to come.
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