This month, fresh from her leap into astrophysics for our latest project with the Bloomsbury Festival, Jill Hopper invites us into her writing ‘cocoon’ to share insights into her early love of language and a moving memoir.
We’ll be meeting a new 26 member each month. If you’d like to feature, or nominate another member, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t be shy.
Tell us a bit about yourself – where are you from and what do you do?
I’m from Essex originally, but these
days I live in London with my husband and teenage son. I started out as a
reporter on local papers – I took to the newsroom like a second home, and I
still miss it sometimes.
In my late twenties I got a job with a Soho-based contract publishing agency and stayed there for over a decade. I went freelance in 2012 and still can’t believe how well it’s worked out. I’ve got some very interesting clients in the corporate and non-profit sectors and I enjoy the ability to shape my own workload.
did your love of words come from?
Both my parents were language
teachers, and I spent all my childhood summers in France. There were long
evenings around the table with French friends, where I soaked up strange new
words for familiar things. It alerted me to the idea that language isn’t just a
given, it constructs your whole world.
From the age of about seven my
favourite thing to do was read. When I was 12 I started keeping a diary, and I
never stopped. I’ve somehow written a work in 40 volumes without really meaning
made you join 26? And how long have you been a member?
The one downside to freelancing is
that you don’t have colleagues around you. For me, 26 is a kind of virtual
workplace, full of interesting people who are as obsessed with writing as I am.
I became a member about five years
ago, and since then I’ve done some brilliant workshops, like Neil Baker’s
Wordography session where we wandered around the South Bank applying the
lessons of street photography to writing, or Elise Valmorbida’s ‘pitch your
book idea’ seminar. I went on to do Elise’s writing class at Central St Martin’s,
which was instrumental in me finishing my book and finding an agent.
Both Neil and Elise have been
important mentors to me, and I wouldn’t have met them without 26.
you been involved in any 26 projects?
I’ve done five or six now. On the
Armistice 100 Days project last year, I researched my husband’s uncles – two
young brothers who died within a month of each other at the Somme. Without the
project, they would have remained shadowy figures for me.
Last month I took part in 26 Leaps and
found myself writing about an astrophysicist, Dr Ziri Younsi from UCL. We’ve
become friends. Again, hard to imagine that happening without 26 opening the
your ideal scenario for writing? (A coffee shop? Quiet retreat? With or without
music? What do you do to get yourself in the right frame of mind?)
I have a small study at home, which my
son persuaded me to paint deep red. I find it very easy to concentrate there,
it’s like a cocoon. But I also write when I’m out and about. I like my
notebooks to be battle-scarred – I draw in them and stick things in, and the
pages get stained with mud, sea water, coffee, wine.
are you working on at the moment?
I’m playing with an idea for a new
book. I’m trying not to nail it down too fast, and allow it time to develop. I
have a tendency to be impulsive, which can mean starting off on the wrong
Natalie Goldberg says you have to be
physically strong to be a good writer, and I think that’s true for me. It takes
a lot of stamina to write a book, I’ve discovered.
you tell us about a piece of writing you’re particularly proud of?
When I was young I had an intense
relationship that was cut short when my boyfriend died at the age of 24. I’ve
always wanted to write about him, and last year I finally managed to finish a
memoir, called The Mahogany Pod. I have a
brilliant agent, James Macdonald Lockhart at Antony Harwood, who is submitting
it to publishers at the moment.
The book is about the joy and pain of
being in love, and about how the experience of loss changes over the years. I
have learnt an enormous amount from writing it.
do you get your inspiration?
Ideas often seem to come when I’ve
turned off my brain – cleaning the house or walking to the station. That said,
there are certain things I turn to that never fail: doing research at the National
Archives. Reading Sharon Olds’ poetry. And listening to podcasts. To me there’s
nothing so riveting as real people talking honestly about their lives.
– Jill Hopper, interviewed by Sophie
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