Jessica Jayne Webb is a Writer from New Zealand. Jessie published a fantasy novel we’ll get into below. She writes poetry as well, and is working on a variety of projects. Jessie says writing her book was monumental for herself and her family as both her sons have learning challenges. She is also working on her degree, while enjoying family life, fishing and foraging, with her partner and two high functioning boys.
I’ve been looking forward to our chat so much, Jessie. Your book The Secrets of Wilderfort Castle is packed with fabulous elements. There is a castle. Score 1. Then, you have a reluctant heiress facing an unexpected change. Score 2. It harks back to my favorite genre in the 70s. The gothic romance, but maybe this is more dark fantasy. Score 3. Then, there is a whole hidden fantasy world. Score 5. And finally (well not even finally because there’s more) you have romance. Score 6.
I’d like to start by asking how you came up with your story, which I think of as a story within a story. Did you set out to write such an epic multilayered tale?
Hey, thanks for having me here, I appreciate you adding me in and wanting to talk about my journey.
I started this more as an assignment about 10 years ago now, for my English paper at university. My lecturer liked it so much she asked me if I could write more. I wrote about 4 chapters before life jumped in. Then about 3 years ago, I had a back injury. Instead of going loopy from being stuck on my back about a year into being almost bedridden, I ‘found’ my book again and decided to write. It was hard at first to get back into it but once I opened the door in my mind again, I was able to pull the whole thing apart and rewrote it in about 2 months. I think similar to my life, I am multilayered, so writing my book like that seemed like a natural way to go about doing it.
D. So sorry that you suffered through such a terrible injury. But I’m glad you found a creative outlet to help you cope with it. I’ve had several people tell me creative pursuits like writing and art have helped them survive life’s debilitating curve-balls. Good for you.
That leads us to the question about your process. Are you a panster or plotter? Do you like to sit at the keyboard and let the story come, or do you plan ahead with an outline or other favorite technique(s)?
I think I’m a bit of both or perhaps something else entirely heh. I started off by just writing what played out, but then decided to organise myself a bit and wrote one or two lines for each chapter or like for some chapters, I listed 4 to 6 words I wanted to ‘hit’ when writing the chapters. But for the most part, I felt I was a narrator. The characters were all playing it out in my head, like a movie and I was playing catchup trying to keep up with them. I don’t sleep much, so I didn’t find it odd when I mentally argued with the characters. Much like I messaged you, as I’m finishing off my Bachelors I have had to take a step back for a few months and put them all in a metaphorical ‘draw.’ It does leak out though, so studying becomes a bit challenging, along with having children, a couple of jobs, and whatnot.
D. Ah, conjuring scenes instead of sleeping! I can relate. And after talking to so many of our fellow writers, I’ve learned that malady afflicts a lot of us.
Do you have a designated place to write, a place that is ready with the things around you that get you into the zone? What does that look like? What are your favorite methods, tips?
Nah, I’m not that organised, I go where there is silence, a decent seat and a big table. I do like to have my coffee with me; almond flat white with an extra shot. I’m a major coffee addict. Near a food source also. I like the local library on occasion. But quiet is the main part, as the noise from the characters make it quite hard to concentrate. Tips! Everyone is different. Putting all my gear into a backpack and exploring the area is a great way to find a niche place. Everyone has their quirks, and preferred ways of writing. Mine may look completely different to yours and everyone else’s so really it’s looking for what you feel will work that day.
D. Thanks for sharing that. I enjoy envisioning writers’ environments as they settle in to write. Lifting my coffee cup to you!
Is fantasy your preferred genre, and what subgenre(s)? Discovering my niche market is something I’m delving into, since I could technically gear my books towards several, so I’ve been polling writers to learn how they determine where their books fit on a book store shelf. Where do you see your book if you were to walk into a traditional book store? What books would you find next to it?
I think so, to your first question. I would say on the bestsellers shelf is my best aim heh! Unfortunately, my book is really expensive so it is mainly online. I would love my books to be near Terry Practchett’s Discworld Novels. That would be my dream. Epic fantasy for my next series. I am finding The Secrets of Wilderfort Castle is going dark. With more relationships popping up I’m feeling its getting into darker fantasy, not quite mind benders but looking at scenes involving death, I mean if you checked out the first book you would have seen some areas where the characters show a taste of the twisted things they are capable of. It’s very twisty-turny and you need to keep up. Definitely pay attention to the details or you may miss something. The characters are also showing some areas of LGB relationships which back then (Victorian era) was frowned upon and done behind closed doors, but didn’t mean they weren’t happening. So in other words, you will have to read the book.
D. Wow. Even more elements to add to the ones in our introduction. It sounds like a totally fun story to write.
At what stage in the process did you find your publisher? Can you talk about the process of getting a book deal? Did you consider self-publishing? If so, what convinced you to go traditional?
I want to go traditional. I know it’s a hefty percentage cut going that way but they have the connections and can market the book. I’m terrible at marketing and prefer to hide while writing or go walking in the literal sense. It helps me organise whats happening in the book, within my brain. It took a while to get this contract, as I really had to hunt around. I didn’t know what I was doing. Now that I’m in the book scene, I have found many more areas of interest. This first book deal was a hybrid contract. I didn’t know what I was getting into but I definitely DON’T recommend it. I was offered four hybrid contracts from different publishers and went with this company as my friend had published through them. I am looking, and they know I’m looking for another company. I am quite open with that. I need someone who can keep up with me and my different forms of writing.
D. I look forward to hearing how you progress with those goals. I can appreciate finding the right representative who can advocate for different types of writing, since you write poetry and quite a variety of other things, which we will get into in a little bit.
Can you share your insight and tips for balancing homelife and family with your writer’s life?
No tips, I’m terrible at it, apart from having the ability to take my boys swimming where I can write for two hours. Finding a place that can entertain kids and give you wifi is a great way to go. Keeps everyone happy. I sometimes ‘book’ in time for when I’m going to write. It’s like I’m mentally organising myself in preparation.
D. I like that tip. I’m a planner junkie. Writing down a schedule even if it’s booking time with yourself can be really effective.
Who and/or what were your biggest influences in becoming a writer?
Becoming a writer, it was more like, I quite enjoy this, I’m going to see where this takes me. My dad has always been in my court when an idea came up. I have actually had a few businesses in the past one being an art business, and he was always one to encourage any kind of creative flare in myself and my siblings.
What are your top 3 favorite books, or if you prefer, top 3 favorite writers, and why?
Terry Pratchett. Definitely. Cynthia Voigt’s A Solitary Blue was a very emotional book for me. I read it in college and it was the first book that changed my life, I really struggled in college. I’m loving a lot of indie authors at present, too hard to pinpoint but they are all amazing writers, I have gained a lot of insight from the bookish community on Instagram. I am part of a couple of awesome groups, and I’m really thankful.
I was delighted to find you have poetry I could listen to on Spotify. Wow! To have your words read so movingly. How did that collaboration come about? Will there be more?
I was a bit cheeky actually. Attai lily was talking about it online and I DM’D her saying if she needed anything, I would love to be included. She said she was still setting up so when she was ready, she posted up for potential authors and I jumped on board. Attai Lily is amazing to work with and has really begun to take off.
D. Enjoy right here, Jessie’s poems “Life Explained” and “The Rhyming Muscles” read by Attai Lily, In Lines and Verses on Spotify.
We met through our writer’s alliance, which I think is awesome because it brings writers from around the world together to support each other. What can you share about your experiences in the writer’s community? What other online groups can you recommend?
The bookish community is brilliant. There are some really helpful authors out there all wanting the best for you, I have learnt so much and will continue to learn from them. It’s very supportive. I have looked into NaNoWriMo. I did sign up for a writing competition with them, but the timing didn’t fit in with my schedule, I will enjoy looking at that more in depth over Christmas.
D. I do love participating in NaNoWriMo challenges. It’s a great way to focus on a project over a month. I hope to see you there.
Have you found any local communities or helpful ways to share your books at home in New Zealand?
Funnily enough no. New Zealand can be a really hard place to jump into. There are so many creatives in New Zealand. I have this fabulous man, William Yip. He is the forerunner for the Collective, a local community hub, and he is a supportive man for any he knows needs to market. I am working with him at the moment to get my book out to the local community. I managed a newspaper article and that helped, but to get anywhere you need a constant influence in the national community, plus anything overseas. I will be looking into more international influence next year.
D. Awesome. Thanks for that. The community hub with Mr. Yip sounds like a great local feature.
Now for a favorite question of mine. I understand you have projects in the works. Can you give us a glimpse into what we might see next and when?
Oh gosh. Where do I start? Well, Wilderfort is one of five books I have planned. Then there is The Last Tribe of Terraway. That is a three-book series about a small community of varying-aged trolls on the run. I haven’t quite settled on a name for my horror. I was thinking The Puppet Creator. But I’m still working on the name. That is one I am really looking forward to writing, I won’t give too many details except I am going to the local morgue at the end of the year to learn about embalming haha. I also have a ghost possession type story, and I’m excited about writing that one. I also have a children’s book with a first draft. I think this one will be about 10 books in total but I need to find an illustrator to join me on the journey. Plus my poetry book. This, I actually wrote in my twenties but as you know, a couple have been put up on spotify. I’m not sure where I will go with that one. I also have a couple articles I want to write based on Education as my study ( I’m in my final year) to become a teacher.
D. I love these ideas, and I can’t wait to see more. You can follow Jessie on Instagram and Goodreads.
Thank you so much for visiting my Spotlight, Jessie! Any parting words of advice about following our creative passions?
Don’t give up. Listen to yourself, not what others say. I was told in college, after asking an English teacher for help, not to bother. I would never get anywhere. Research. Make sure you understand what you are writing. Don’t go on blind faith. Be open to learning curves. Everything we do helps us to improve. We are always learning. Be open to it, and be humble.
Be kind, don’t be a Karen! Unless you’re copying my second mum.