Grace Jolliffe

Grace Jolliffe

Grace Jolliffe was born and brought up in Liverpool and now lives on the east coast of Ireland. A writer and film-maker, her award-winning short films have been screened at festivals worldwide. She has written and directed several documentaries and her short stories have been widely published. The Guardian said of her debut: ‘The real punch of this tale comes from the appalling isolation of Sparra’s childhood . . . Leaves you gasping.’

Which have been the landmarks or highlights in your career?
The first was winning the Book-Stop best short story award. But having Piggy Monk Square published has been the most rewarding because it was a story that one side of me didn’t want to write yet another side felt compelled to do.

What other jobs and work have you done that have proved useful to you as a writer?
I’ve had some interesting and horrible experiences – a dead rat so full of maggots that it ‘walked’ along the warehouse floor! I believe everything you do influences and expands your perception – and later informs your writing whether you’re conscious of it or not.

What is the most challenging aspect of your writer’s life?
For me there are 3 challenges: the first is getting started. The second is isolation. Not having a workplace where you can enjoy light-hearted chat can cause ‘cabin fever’ and I know it’s time to get out when I start talking to myself. The third is ‘writer’s bum’ – I’ll leave this to the imagination!

Do you enjoy plotting and research or do you prefer to take a different tack?
In general my writing doesn’t need much research but when it does I prefer to do it as I go along. I often don’t plot a novel until about I’m about 5 chapters in, then I’ll do a basic outline of 1 or 2 lines per chapter and this helps me get to the end without much confusion.

Have you tried writing in other forms? What’s special about the novel? Or the short story?
I’ve written short stories, screenplays, documentaries and novels. I think the novel is the most special as it allows you to spend more time in the characters’ heads. Perhaps there’s more creative freedom for the novelist: they can go where ever they want and have as many spaceships or flying giraffes as they want.

What do you like most about your book? What do you hope readers will enjoy best?
What I enjoyed most about Piggy Monk Square was writing the first draft. I’ve never before or since felt so free and uninhibited as a writer and I miss those feelings. I doubted I would find a publisher and was afraid to show it to them in case they thought I was mad! I think this is where the freedom came from. Convinced nobody would see the story, I could write how and what I wanted! Sparra was already in my head – I sat on the bus in a trance letting it all fall out onto the page. I want to shed light on how a minor event can escalate into catastrophe if there is insufficient support for children within a dogmatic, violent atmosphere.

Who is your favourite writer? Who inspires you most?
John Steinbeck and East of Eden. Each time I read this I learn something new. It’s a riveting story packed with drama, and an insightful study into human nature. Even though I believe environmental, social and family influences have the strongest impact on our lives, East of Eden made me wonder whether it’s possible for someone to be born plain evil.

What other forms of expression most appeal?
Photography. I studied film and television and photography was part of the course. I learned that the camera does lie – frequently. I enjoy looking at photos and figuring out how much is real, what the angle says, how much is staged, and how much the photographer’s perception has influenced it.