Jennifer Johnston: ‘I’m winning. I’ve started writing again’

The 86-year-old Irish author tells the Róisín Meets podcast her new book Naming The Stars is “rather good”

 

“I’ve broken this sort of spell that was on me. It means that I’m winning. I’ve started writing again, which I didn’t do. I was embarrassed by the fact that I wasn’t doing it and I was thinking to myself, what could I do if I didn’t write? I don’t know,” says Jennifer Johnston of writing her latest novel, Naming the Stars.

She wrote it two years ago, but it was held back because her publishers felt it was a bit short. Johnston’s books have usually been published without too much persuasion so this experience was difficult for her, but she stuck to her guns.

“It’s horrid having the drawer filled with the book and they say, oh yeah, yeah we’ll publish it, but would you not give us another 50 or 60 pages? No!” she told podcast presenter Roisin Ingle.

The 86-year-old is quite happy with the book about, “two old ladies who just have a row over their dinner one night,” and said, “I actually think it’s rather good.”

She doesn’t feel like that about all of her books though.

Podcast: Jennifer Johnston

“When I read bits of some of my books for various reasons, I do see what people mean when they say that I’m a very good writer. I write well, I use language well. Some of them. There are about three that I’m a bit embarrassed of,” she said.

Johnston professes to be incredibly lazy in other parts of her life, but that can’t be said of her writing. She has consistently published books since her prize winning first novel, The Captains and the Kings, which she wrote aged 42.

That book came about when, in her late thirties, she decided she “needed to be me”, after marrying at 21 and having four children. The only thing she felt she could do was write, but she also knew she couldn’t work for anyone else.

“I had to work for me. I hate being told what to do, I absolutely hate it. Even things I’m dying to do, if somebody comes along and says, ‘would you do that?’ I usually say no,” she said.

If there’s one thing Johnston would still like to achieve, it’s the great Irish novel but she doesn’t think she has it in her.

“The great Irish novel has got to be something that people slither in in front of James Joyce and say, now here is the great Irish novel. But I know I won’t do that. So I just think about that occasionally, wouldn’t it be great if I just did that one day.”

Naming the Stars, by Jennifer Johnston, is out now.

To listen to Jennifer Johnston in conversation with Róisín Ingle or other episodes of the Róisín Meets podcast, go to Soundcloud, iTunes, Stitcher or irishtimes.com

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