Meet the Author: Nora James

NORA’S TOP WRITING TIP: Be in it for the long run. Yes, occasionally someone writes a book, sends it off to a publisher who accepts it straight away and it turns into a bestseller pretty much overnight. It is possible. So is winning Lotto. Generally though it takes years (sometimes decades) to get there, so find a way to sustain your passion for as long as it takes, and don’t give up your day job unless you have a kind spouse who can support you, you’ve saved a lot of pennies for a rainy day, won the lottery, inherited a tidy sum from your great-uncle John, or all of the above. More than anything, enjoy the daily work – being a writer is hard but it’s a privilege.

Nora James

Nora James started her working life at age 14 in a bakery in Paris. She held a number of other jobs before studying law at the University of Western Australia and becoming an international resources lawyer and translator. She has travelled extensively, both as a child and adult, for family reasons, work and pleasure. She now writes novels and screenplays from her home in coastal Western Australia where she lives with her husband and daughter and a menagerie of furry friends. Visit Nora’s website at http://www.norajames.com.au/

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I write because I seem to have a million stories in my head, and characters dancing around my mind, too. I feel I’m meant to bring those stories and characters to life and share them with other people. I find writing gives another dimension to my existence and allows me to live more than one life. It’s a little bit like reincarnation or time travel but all you need to do it is a pen (or computer) and paper.

I was drawn to writing from a very young age, too. In fact, as far back as I can remember, I wrote stories. Granted they were a little simpler when I was six, but I already loved how it made me feel. I get an incredible sense of achievement and purpose from it. And also, although I’m working, the focus and concentration of it seems to bring me balance and peace by blocking out the day-to-day issues I might face as a mother and a wife. In brief, it can be quite therapeutic at times!

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? If I hadn’t become a writer I’d be working as a lawyer or translator, which is what I was doing immediately before I started writing with a view to being published. I was lucky enough to be involved in some high profile cases, and to work for a few large companies on international matters. It was very interesting work – although I did my fair share of mind-numbingly boring stuff – and I travelled a lot. But at the end of the day I felt I was put on Earth to do something more creative and so I wrote whenever I could, on the train, plane, during lunch breaks. Eventually I threw in the towel and jumped into the world of writing in the hope that I’d become published and one day make a living out of it.

If I had to stop writing now, first of all I’d cry for days on end and then I’d probably start a small business. Something to do with animals, perhaps – I love animals – or maybe something to do with food, like having my own little French café. I spent many years in France and am married to a Frenchman and together we’d make the business quite authentic, I think.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Dark Oil was a little different, not your usual romance. It didn’t quite fit into any boxes and as a result was a bit more of a risk for a publisher, I suppose. I sent it out to a few publishers and got knocked back, as you do, sometimes with a lovely email telling me it was an interesting and thoughtful project that they’d enjoyed, but it was still a “no, thanks”.

I decided to put it aside and didn’t send it out again for a number of years. Then I heard about Escape Publishing through Juanita Kees, a very talented author who’d just joined the critique group I’m in, and it sounded like Escape was open to projects that were unique in some way. I tried it with them and was absolutely thrilled when it was accepted. I can’t begin to tell you what a wonderful feeling it is!

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing. Feeling that way about your work is extremely rewarding. A close second is that I’m completely in control of my days. I don’t have anyone breathing down my neck. I don’t even have to get dressed if I don’t feel like it: I can just write in my pyjamas, which I have been known to do on a cold morning.

I don’t have to sit at my desk, either. I quite often sit on the couch or retreat to my favourite armchair with my laptop on my knee and type away for an hour or two before returning to the desk. Varying my position allows me to not feel stiff and sore.

—the worst? I’m torn between loneliness and uncertainty. Loneliness because even if you are like me and enjoy working on your own most of the time there are moments when it would be nice to wander down to the coffee machine or the photocopier and have a chat with someone, the way people do in companies.

And uncertainty because you never know if you are going to get published, and if so when. And once you are published, you don’t know if your next book will be accepted. And once it is you wonder if it will sell well or not. Uncertainty about the future seems to come with the territory. You have to be able to live with that.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I’d find out about markets. It can be very disheartening to write something beautiful and meaningful only for it to remain on your desk gathering dust because no one is publishing that type of manuscript. The best way to find out about what’s being sold and therefore improve your chances of publication is to join writing organisations such as the Romance Writers of Australia and go to their conferences.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I wish someone had told me that it is extremely difficult to get started in certain genres. You’re better off writing in a more popular genre to break in, and perhaps later on trying your hand at other things. Also, that it usually takes a very long time to make a decent living out of writing and many writers never will.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Join a critique group. It makes such a difference not only to the quality of your work as you learn from others but also to morale. Writing is a solitary pursuit that can’t be likened to many other professions: I can’t think of another job where you have no regular income, perhaps no income at all for years, your work is constantly rejected, you don’t see another living soul all day, you depend on no one but yourself for creativity, motivation and reward. At the same time, it’s a job that gives you an incredible amount of freedom, as well as the opportunity to express yourself, lead a meaningful life and leave behind in your art the essence of who you are and how you see the world.

So in summary join a critique group to find people who not only will help you develop your craft but also truly understand the trials, tribulations and exquisite joy of being a writer.

{For a snapshot of Dark Oil and a link to where to buy it, visit the Author Bookshelf page.}

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16 thoughts on “Meet the Author: Nora James

  1. I have to say I am filled with envy for anyone who has a million stories and characters dancing in their head. I have writers’ block-itis, probably from spending hours on the computer housekeeping all the material that comes in. Do enjoy your creative burst and keep notes for the future!

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  2. Another lovely interview, Teena and Nora! I love hearing that other writers share the same doubts and fears. Great advice about joining a critique group. I have learned so much from the lovely ladies in mine and as a result, my writing has grown stronger and stronger. The feedback is invaluable and the company is awesome 🙂 Good luck with Dark Oil. Love your work.

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    1. Thanks for your question, Bob. It inspired Dark Oil quite a lot. Although the book is fiction I did draw on my previous experience as a lawyer on a number of African projects in various African countries, as well as on my knowledge of relationships in the workforce generally. So while the content is fictitious some of it is the kind of thing you might encounter working in that environment. There’s also the way lawyers are taught to write, striving for plain English – hopefully simple, not boring 🙂 ! My next book isn’t about lawyers, it’s about food, France and finding love, but there’s a thread about running and improving a business in it, too, so I guess my legal back ground has coloured my work once again. I think everything you do affects your view of the world and how you go about life, and writing concentrates all those experiences until they form sentences on the page. That’s one of things I really love about writing!

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      1. Yes. The two most profound influences on my writing were my training in two professions: psychology and nursing.
        I am glad that as a lawyer you are aiming for plain English. Most of the stuff in legal documents sure isn’t!
        🙂
        Bob

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  3. This up-beat interview illustrates that when one bases fiction on one’s experiences the result resounds more deeply with readers, who seem to sense reality and like it when they find it. Of course there’s research, but one always does that anyway. There’s nothing like reading locations described by authors who have smelled, tasted, and touched everything in a scene.

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