Welcome to TRB Lounge. Today, I’d like to welcome the author of Umbilical – Jane Kay, from Atmosphere Press, for an author interview with The Reading Bud.
About The Author
Jane Kay is a South African-born writer whose early career was in teaching. She has worked as a research analyst for the management consulting industry and as a writer/editor. She has lived and worked in South Africa, Canada and Russia and currently lives in northern Portugal. Umbilical is her second novel.
You can connect with author Jane Kay here:
Author Website | Facebook | Atmosphere Press
Welcome to TRB! Please give our readers a brief introduction about yourself before we begin.
How wonderful to share your space – thanks for having me! I’m a fan of TRB.
What’s not mentioned in my bio is that books helped raise me. What I didn’t get at home or in my life, I went looking for in the written word; in stories about others. What you might guess from reading my bio is that I’m a bit of a nomad, both mentally and physically. I think I always was, even in the days when South Africa was far more isolated from the world and I was a kid with significant awareness of what was out there. Don’t we all have the capacity to become better humans when we’re exposed to what’s “other”? I certainly think so. Finally, it’s not all cerebral or sedentary for me – I’m a wine (and naturally food) lover and I have a physically active lifestyle. Not only does the latter help with the writing process but my hedonistic leanings necessitate it!
Please tell us something about your book other than what we have read in the blurb?
It’s very personal, more than I initially recognised. When I submitted my first manuscript to agents and publishers, I was told that writing about South(ern) Africa was no longer sexy. So, in my youth and insecurity, I turned away and wrote something entirely different, but this one I felt I had to write. It’s a love letter to a flawed country with a complicated history and at the same time a way of trying to examine the forces (and people) that shaped me.
What is that one message that you’re trying to get across to the readers in this book?
It’s all connected – and it’s up to us to discover where and how. And once we discover the connection, what are we going to do with it?
Who is your favorite character in this book and why?
You’re making me choose, no! I have a soft spot for both my main female protagonists: Ella for her defiance, irreverence and deep sense of anger and Ruth for her grace and fortitude. Although there is one very peripheral character – Ryan Henningh, a very broken man whose full story is not in the book – who still lives in my head.
What inspired you to write this book? An idea, some anecdote, a dream or something else?
If you’re a South African and you have half a brain and a fraction of conscience, you probably grapple with some of the issues of our past. There are so many secrets and we all have a few in the pasts of our families. The idea came to me of a person receiving a message that said: I know what you did in 1989/1990/xyz. An implied threat not intended for the recipient but one that they started exploring when they realised that it was a part of their own history. What would happen if they tried to unravel the secret? How would that knowledge then affect them?
How long did it take you to write this particular book?
12-18 months of writing, several years on ice (due to a bruised ego after a major publisher showed interest and then rejected the novel) and then a full year of polishing the book and going through the publishing process.
What are your writing ambitions? Where do you see yourself 5 years from today?
I wonder how many writers have specific ambitions other than the thing or things they’re working on at any moment. It’s a fickle business, so it feels scary/unwise to have grand plans, much less voice them! I’d say my main fuzzy goal is to keep growing and maturing as a storyteller. The more concrete one would be to have one or two more well-received international mystery/thrillers under my belt as well as a growing audience.
Are you working on any other stories presently?
Yes! A completely whacky one that is inspired by a series of industrial, criminal and political events – all connected – in China and the US. It’s complex and I’m currently waayyyy down the rabbit hole…
Why have you chosen this genre? Or do you write in multiple genres?
It’s one of the main genres I read for relaxation. I read almost everything, but I love a complex mystery/thriller with some solid characters thrown in. I guess that means I write what I want to read.
When did you decide to become a writer? Was it easy for you to follow your passion or did you have to make some sacrifices along the way? (feel free to give us your story, we love hearing author stories!
Decide? Phew, it was more a case of taking one step, quivering… and doing it again.
I’ve written since I was a kid – little rhyming poems to start with! My head was full of stories, but you know, life and career and all that. The catalyst for this phase of my life came when I was working as an analyst/researcher for a consulting firm and my boyfriend (now husband) transferred to a different part of the world with the firm. That route wasn’t available to me, so we got to the point where we had to address the future and it was kinda sorta agreed that I would follow him halfway across the world, without having a job, and pursue the dream of writing so that we could be together. Having said that, though, the number of people in this world who have that very dream is not insignificant, and to make it happen is difficult. The sacrifices, judgments, challenges and pressures are real. I’m eternally grateful for the engaged, supportive life partner I have. He is the original nomad and I’m extremely lucky.
What is your writing ritual? How do you do it?
Based on an idea or something that interests me, I do a great deal of research initially, then outline what shakes loose during that process, and then I put pen to paper.
How do you prefer to write – computer/laptop, typewriter, dictation or longhand with a pen?
I tend to do longhand first. I write so fast that I can barely decipher it half the time, but it does slow me down for round two, which is when I turn to my laptop. From there it’s a bit of both until I think the story has strong enough legs to live independently on my laptop. I do multiple versions and endless tweaks and edits all on the laptop.
What are your 5 favourite books? (You can share 5 favourite authors too.)
Impossible task – I’m going to go with authors.
- Biggest childhood influence – Enid Blyton for the stories (while acknowledging her somewhat tarnished reputation these days)
- A book that stayed with me as I grew up – First Poems by South African poet Antjie Krog, gifted to me by a friend at a time when I was particularly receptive to her poetry.
- Biggest influence – Robert Goddard
- A small selection of other favourites: JM Coetzee, Tom Wolfe, Stieg Larsson, Deon Meyer, Joyce Carol Oates, David McCullough, Kurt Vonnegut, Michael Lewis, Anne Applebaum, Gillian Flynn, etc.
How do you deal with Writer’s Block?
For immediate distraction: Sudoku, solitaire or a crossword puzzle! Yes, embarrassingly, I’m that person… A quick game or puzzle manages to relax my brain enough to be able to get back to the task at hand quickly.
Generally, I don’t have writer’s block (just laziness!), but I do need thinking time, so I go for long runs to give me space to think and process.
What advice would you give to aspiring non-fiction writers?
The same advice I give myself: break it down, don’t be overly attached to pretty sentences, keep going.
Thank you, author Jane Kay, for your honest and insightful answers!
About the Book
It’s the early nineties in southern Africa. Not far from Cape Town, a small chartered plane on its way to Namibia crashes unexpectedly. On board is a nun who is hiding an undocumented baby.
Today, thirty years later, two people have very different reasons for wanting to find out what happened to the child: Ruth Masisi, a prominent African judge about to be appointed to the International Criminal Court, and Arthur Coleman, a pharmaceutical industry tycoon from America, who is finalizing the deal of a lifetime with China to establish southern Africa’s first full-scale pharmaceutical manufacturing facility in Botswana. Werner and Ella, the descendants of the men who rescued the child, know nothing of the complex history that connects them, but when Ruth tracks them down and pleads for their help, they find themselves faced with an almost impossible situation. Will they be prepared—or able—to sift through their shared past and find the child in time?
In Umbilical, Jane Kay weaves a tale of an unwelcome inheritance, one that is as inescapable as it is perilous.
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