Not long ago, I read and reviewed the brilliant novel My Life As A Bench (here). After that, I had the pleasure of corresponding with author Jaq Hazell online and even asking her a few questions. To celebrate the publication of My Life As A Bench earlier this week on May 2nd, below is the complete Q&A.
If you don’t know anything about My Life As A Bench, you can find some useful links at the end of this post!
Where did the idea for My Life as Bench come from?
Sounds mad, but a bench spoke to me. There are loads of memorial benches near where I live and I often pause and read the plaques. One day I was out with my dog when I imagined one of the benches complaining about being a bench. The voice was young, someone that wanted to be free and have a laugh.
Did Ren come to you as a fully-formed character, or did you spend a lot of time developing her personality and family situation?
It began as a 300-word story, so all I knew was that Ren was a teenager and wanted to hang with her mates and have fun. Ren’s background, her love of singing and the story of how she abruptly left her life in Devon to move to London all developed over a long period of time.
The novel is told from the perspective of Ren, but she is trapped inside a bench. Did you find this difficult and what were the biggest challenges?
It was difficult and I almost gave up at one point. The first draft didn’t work. I had to find a way to make Ren (who is dead) remain active. She had to want something and that triggered the idea about Ren learning to “break through” in order to talk to the living.
There are a lot of references to songs that Ren loves. Did music play a big role in the writing process?
I love music but can’t sing a note so it was fun to write about someone who has a talent for singing. Ren is a massive Amy Winehouse fan and I enjoyed researching the artists that inspired Amy, while also checking out more recent tracks that feature in the party scenes.
Do you have a favourite scene in My Life as a Bench?
I’m particularly fond of the character Lionel and I like it when he makes his entrance. Lionel wasn’t planned. I didn’t know he was there until he started to speak. I also like it when Ren tries to break through and talk to people that sit on the bench. We’re all hardwired to be frightened of ghosts, but maybe it’s really tough being a ghost.
Is there a particular message or lesson that you would like readers to take from this book?
I never write with any message or lesson in mind, but I suppose the message that Ren’s life and death conveys is that we should all grab life while we can and make the best of it.
How long did it take you to write My Life as a Bench and did you always know how the story would unfold?
It probably took a couple of years on and off. It’s hard to say because I did leave it alone for a while (as I rewrote my psychological thriller I Came to Find a Girl), and then I went back to it for yet another rewrite. I had a rough idea of the ending when I started, but the first draft bears little resemblance to the finished novel. Ren is dead but she’s still active. She can’t rest because there is something she wants.
What are the best and most challenging parts of being a writer?
There’s nothing better than a day when you feel your writing has gone well. Every novel is a challenge and they all present their own problems. Solutions to plot issues can’t be forced and if a novel has stalled it’s best to do something else – take the dog out or cook dinner. The answer will always arrive when you least expect it, perhaps while taking a shower or when you’re about to fall asleep.
When and where do you write?
I’m up early and out with my dog, Basil, and then it’s back to my extremely messy desk where I sit for most of the day. Eventually, Basil hassles me for a second walk and my family arrive home. I can, however, write pretty much anywhere – trains are good, and I often write if I’m stuck in the car waiting for one of my kids.
What five books would you take with you to a desert island?
I’d take Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte for its mad passion, atmosphere and gloomy weather to remind me of home. Solo Faces by James Salter is a novel about mountain climbing that could just as easily be about writing and I love his spare, deceptively-simple writing style. ‘I know a Man’ by Robert Creeley is my favourite poem and I’d take his collected poems to gain an overview of his work. I’m currently reading The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney. It’s darkly funny and sweary and I’d take that along to finish and my last choice would be Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. It’s only just come out and I’m curious to see his take on the afterlife – it has talking ghosts!
Thanks so much to Jaq Hazell for answering these questions with so much thought and care. I really hope you all enjoyed reading this interview as much as I enjoyed being a part of it.