An Interview with Jacquelyn Middleton
Written by
She Writes
October 2018
Written by
She Writes
October 2018

This month our guest editor is Jacquelyn Middleton. She is the author of London Belongs to Me, London Can You Wait? and the latest novel, Until the Last Star Fades. She sat down with She Writes to talk about her writing routine, her worst job ever and more!

Q: Describe your writing routine.

A: I spend most of my waking/working hours writing and I’m really protective of that time. I always write at home—never in a coffee shop. I would get too distracted by all the activity, noise, and baked goods. My books always feature food, so being that close to cookies isn’t a good idea as I sometimes like to snack while I write.

I lean heavily on music for inspiration. I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve come up with ideas while on the treadmill with music blaring in my ears. I’ve never been an exercise fan, but I am now because my best ideas always crop up when I’m mid-workout.

When setting out to create a new book, I usually start with the characters. I work on detailed profiles for each one using a lengthy questionnaire I’ve patched together. I have to know everything about their family life, romantic history, school experiences, hobbies, their flaws, quirks, likes, dislikes, what they like and dislike about the other characters. Even if I don’t end up using this stuff on the page, I still need to know my characters inside and out. But for me, the key to any character is always the inner wound that makes them behave the way they do and the lies they believe about themselves. Without that inner substance, they don’t feel like real people to me. And I guess I’m on the right path because one of the compliments I keep getting about my books is that the characters feel so real.

I also make extensive notes about the plot. I don’t wing it; everything is lined up. I need to know all the key moments and plot points from the very beginning, but I’m still open to change things up when necessary.

Q: What was your first/worst job before you became an author?

A: My worst job was the first I had: cleaner at a gas station in the Toronto suburbs along Canada’s busiest highway, the 401. I was in high school, saving money for university. I won’t get into how disgusting it was, but you can probably imagine how much fun I had cleaning the men’s room. Yuck. From there, I became one of their cashiers. I held that job for a few years, into my freshman year of university, but I promptly quit after a man held a metal pipe to my temple and robbed me on a quiet Sunday morning.

Q: When was the moment you started to feel like a writer?

A: In high school. From grade nine until graduation, I worked on the school newspaper. The last two years I was the editor. I LOVED it. Nothing can beat the satisfaction of holding something you’ve written in your hands. I’ve always wanted to write and I debated whether to go to university for journalism or for radio & television arts, but in the end, I chose TV over the written word. I worked in broadcasting for twenty years and started to write for one of the TV channels’ websites just before I got swept up in the first batch of industry layoffs in 2008. I reinvented myself as a freelance writer and ended up winning several national awards for my magazine writing. When freelance jobs slowed to a trickle (again, more layoffs and cutbacks), I starting writing my first novel, London Belongs to Me, so I’ve come full circle.

Q: What is the number one piece of advice you'd give to aspiring writers?

Just do it. Not to sound like a famous running shoe ad, but I think you have to just go for it. That first leap might be scary but it’s so worth it and rewarding in ways you’ll never imagine. I’d also say to write the story you want to read, not what’s hot in the industry. I know people say that a lot, but you will be spending a lot of time with the characters and plot—might as well make it enjoyable. There are many paths to publication these days (traditional, indie, hybrid, self-publishing) and readers want all sorts of stories, so believe in what you’re creating and don’t be afraid to do things differently.

Q: Who inspires you?

My mum. She passed away a few years ago, but all my life she encouraged my sister and me to draw and write, be creative. As kids, she refused to buy us colouring books because she wanted us to draw and express ourselves without the limitations of lines on the page. We always had rolls of paper, packs of pencil crayons and markers, and a typewriter. I used to make my own comic books, so I was writing from a very young age. When I wrote freelance, my mum was so proud of my magazine articles, but she always urged me to write a book. I like to think she’d be pleased now that I’ve published my third in three years. More than anything, I wish she was here to read them.

Q: Why is it important for women to tell their stories?

A: Women are often the keepers of our family’s stories, history, and desires. They’re tales of incredible strength, bravery, and beating the odds—and we need more of them, now more than ever before. We need to take ownership of our stories and experiences, and refuse to allow anyone else to speak for us.

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