Fresh from her powerful contribution to our recent project, A Common Place, 26 board member Wendy Jones shares her writing background, her journey with 26, and what she’s working on at the moment.
Tell us a bit about yourself – where are you from and what do you do?
I’m almost a Londoner, having lived here for 40 years. But I was born in the Midlands (the clue is that I pronounce ‘last’ the correct way: last not larst), and arrived in London via Hull, Slough, Carlisle and Oxford (the local radio station, not the uni). I’m a journalist by background, ex-BBC, and now I work freelance – on writing, editing, comms. I also spend a bit of time teaching English to newcomers to Britain, which I love.
Where did your love of words come from?
My mother talked non-stop and I guess it was infectious. My father’s family spoke Welsh – I didn’t really learn it, though I liked the sound. I still love the spoken word and for a long time thought (mistakenly) I should act. Instead I went into broadcasting. When I was a kid, there weren’t many books at home, but then I discovered the library and went on to do an English degree. I’ve written as a journalist all my working life, but a couple of years ago I did an MA in creative writing – although I hate the way the word ‘creative’ is often used: poets and novelists don’t have a monopoly on creativity.
What made you join 26? And how long have you been a member?
I met John Simmons (a founder director of 26) when we were both on the board of the Poetry Society (I wasn’t a poet but was keen on poetry’s educational clout). John used to go on about this writers’ group with an odd name (26 – what was that all about?). I went to a 26 Wordstock festival and was hooked.
Have you been involved in any 26 projects?
Loads. I ran one – 26 Lies. I came up with the words without any real idea what I meant and then had to invent a project to fit the title – thankfully I got help from 26 board member, Andy Hayes. But I’ve taken part in lots of others too, including Armistice, 26 Pairs of Eyes, Writers in Residence and more recently A Common Place and 26 Weeks. Now I’m part of the team working to produce a book about the prison arts charity, Fine Cell Work. And I love editing other people’s writing almost as much as doing my own – I was an editor on the fantastic Trees and Wild projects.
What’s 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’m lucky to have my own work room with a view of two magnificent trees – an oak and an ash. I prefer dead silence, but if I have to, I can work anywhere – years of practice in noisy newsrooms. I also like the motion of a train journey, although I’ve almost forgotten what that is.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve written a novel and am editing it for the umpteenth time. Just as well I like editing…
Could you tell us about a piece of writing you’re particularly proud of?
I’m going to pass on that. I may look at a piece and decide it’s great, but then come back to it days, weeks or even years later and wonder what on earth I was thinking of. I don’t believe I’ve ever written anything that couldn’t be improved.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Same sources as many writers I expect – characters I’ve met, things people say, stories in the news (I’m still a news junkie), ideas that come out of nowhere and wake me up in the middle of the night.
– Interview by Sophie Gordon
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