AMR: Jaq Hazell meets Philipa Coughlan

Article published on April 7, 2017.

Reviewer Philipa Coughlan took matters into her own hands after reviewing My Life As a Bench by Jaq Hazell (which you can read here)…

Following my review of My Life As A Bench for BookDiva on nudge, author Jaq Hazell contacted me directly to thank me for the support. She then kindly agreed to do a Reviewer/Author Q &A alongside this busy time promoting the new book which is published in July 2017 (Nowness Books).
Born on the south coast of England, Jaq studied textile design at Nottingham Trent University and has an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London. She has worked as a greetings cards designer, journalist and magazine editor. Jaq lives in London with her partner, two daughters and dog, Basil.
Jaq’s debut novel was the psychological thriller I Came To Find A Girl which was included in the Telegraph’s Best Crime Fiction of 2015 and shortlisted for the Virginia Prize (it’s well worth a read!). She has also written a short story collection London Tsunami.

Philipa Coughlan, April 2017




PC: Your latest novel ‘My Life As A Bench’ comes under the Young Adult Fiction genre, although its themes cross all ages. Are there any issues which are off limits to readers in this group?

JH: No, I wouldn’t say any issues are off limits to YA readers, but I do think as a writer you should carefully consider how you handle certain themes.

PC: The idea of the main character Lauren(Ren) being a voice within a memorial bench is appealing as we have all read the plaques on such seats. Why did you decide on this as the theme and do you have any personal connections to such a memorial?

JH: It was a case of being inspired by what’s around me. There are loads of memorial benches near where I live in London. They are dotted round the parks and along the river and it was this familiarity that triggered my subconscious to imagine a bench talking. It was a young teenage voice and she wasn’t impressed with being a bench.

PC: I loved the relationship between Ren and neighbouring bench voice Lionel, a much older man. Was this relationship one you planned from the outset and is it important to include characters from all generations in books for younger readers?

JH: I didn’t know Lionel was there until he started talking, but I was glad he turned up. I’m fond of Lionel as a character as he reminds me of my own English and Irish grandads who were both kind and thoughtful men. It’s not essential to have characters from all generations in books for younger readers and I wouldn’t include all ages just for the sake of it, but at the same time it’s good to reflect real life and all aspects of society if it suits the story.

PC: I was initially put off ‘My Life As A Bench’ by the cover of the novel thinking it would be chick lit themed (which it wasn’t at all). What involvement do you have in the final production and promotion of your books?

JH: The cover is aimed at the YA market with the hope that it will also appeal to adults. It’s quite hard to produce a book cover with the potential to crossover. The colours were inspired by punk-style screen-prints, and perhaps the physical paperback looks better than the ebook version. I do dedicate a lot of time to promotion. I think all authors have to these days. I believe in Bench and want it to have the best chance of discoverability.

PC: I was intrigued to read ‘I Came to Find A Girl’ (your debut novel) as it was set in Nottingham (where I live and where you studied textiles as a student). But you do portray it very much within the past sensational headlines of ‘crime capital of the UK’. Have you visited it recently?

JH: I’ve been back to Nottingham a few times since I left. It’s a great city with a compact centre that gives it a friendly feel, and I’ve never viewed it as any worse than other UK cities. I wanted to write about the dark side of being young and single. The main character is an art student so it made sense to utilise my own experience as a student and that’s why I set the novel in Nottingham and because it’s a psychological thriller I have exaggerated the edgier side of the city.

PC: One of the memorable lines from ‘I Came to Find a Girl’ was “Why am I always on the outside of an already established relationship?” Why are so many of your characters described as voyeurs looking in on events and people?

JH: That’s an interesting observation. From talking to friends that write, I’d say it’s not unusual for writers to have felt like outsiders at some point in their lives. Perhaps there’s an inherent ability to momentarily detach that enables writers to observe other people and events a little more closely than others.

PC: Is having ‘Girl’ in the title now something that publishers and/or readers are tiring of?

JH: The short answer is yes, probably. I Came to Find a Girl had several working titles. Its first being Girl’s World, as I was trying to write about how it really is for young women (in contrast to the light-hearted, glamorous and comical ideas conveyed in Sex & the City and Bridget Jones). Eventually I went back to the text and used a comment one of the characters makes, and when the novel was shortlisted for the Virginia Prize I thought I better stick with that title even though I had some misgivings about including the word ‘girl’.

PC: You sometimes use very strong, often spikey and hurtful dialogue. Is this to emphasize the vulnerability of people?

JH: Using this sort of dialogue can emphasise vulnerability and it can also highlight a character who may be thoughtless or even sociopathic.

PC: I loved your collection of short stories ‘London Tsunami’. They are very varied, so what guided your choice in including them?

JH: I often write short stories between novels as they’re a good way to test ideas. These stories were written over a few years and eventually collated to form a collection. Some of them are more fantastical than others, but they all have a connection to London.

PC: Is it harder to sell short stories to the reading public?

JH: Yes, it’s true what everyone says – hardly anyone buys short stories.

PC: My favourite short story was “An Ending You Can Trust” which outlines the National Trust setting up a scheme to offer euthanasia! As I once worked for the National Trust I thought it was great black humour. Are you a National Trust member?

JH: I used to be, having joined while visiting Ireland where the National Trust seemed to own everything.

PC: You once worked as a greetings card designer. Is there a life event you feel hasn’t yet been covered by a card opportunity?

JH: The greetings card industry has monetised most life events, apart from … “Congratulations on your First Tattoo” or “Congratulations on your Laser Tattoo Removal Treatment”.

PC: Is there an author whose style you feel has most influenced your choices as a writer of contemporary fiction?

JH: It’s hard to choose one author as there are so many I admire, writers such as: James Salter, Jeanette Winterson, Mark Haddon, Meg Rosoff, Ali Smith and many more. I like work that’s pared down with the occasional poetic flourish.

PC: What are you planning next for publication?

JH: I am writing a new novel and I also have a children’s book, Horace Fox & the Dark Hedges, which is a middle grade humorous adventure.


My Life As a Bench by Jaq Hazell, published on 2 July, 2017 by Nowness Books, in paperback


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