Interview: Jenny Robin Jones talks about Love America
Jenny Robin Jones is a writer of many years’ standing. Born in Wellington, where she now lives, Jenny spent her formative years in England, returning to New Zealand as a young adult to begin her working life as a teacher. She was for many years executive director of the New Zealand Society of Authors, served as its representative on the board of Copyright Licensing Limited (CLL) and was a long-term chair of the selection panel for the CLL awards. Jenny talks to NZ Booklovers.
Tell us a little about Love America.
It’s reflective travel and it explores three strands: the first concerns my physical journey to Santa Fe and Taos in New Mexico. The second tells the story of my relationship with my companion. The third is about the writers and artists who were inspired by New Mexico and were able to illuminate it and aspects of wider America in their work.
What inspired you to write this book?
On my return home, I found myself brimming with questions arising from the visit. Questions of social history and cultural identities as well as a desire to learn more of the work and lives of creatives such as Willa Cather, Georgia O’Keeffe – and D H Lawrence who lived and wrote there. I embarked on a kind of travel roulette, shaping ‘my America’ by following up on questions that arose from my experiences. I discovered that the former owner of the hotel we stayed in was a mover and shaker who had gathered around her an incredible line-up of creatives. And I realised that all this had a kind of shape to it, a shape that could make a fascinating book.
What research was involved?
I read many books relating to the creatives I was particularly interested in. I researched the beginnings of New Mexico as an American state and also its history of settlement by native Americans, Spanish and Mexicans.
What was your routine or process when writing this book?
The usual. I sat down to work at 9 am Monday to Friday and knocked off at lunchtime. I set my subconscious to work in between times. I began with a plan and an outline but in fact the work grew organically and dictated its own terms. I followed each thread for as long as it felt relevant and productive.
What do you hope readers will take away from reading Love America?
A sense of connection with America that transcends sensational daily headlines. A way of connecting with its history and its people. I also hope readers may be inspired to enrich their own journeys by making much more of them than just the time spent away.
If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.
Music by Aaron Copland, especially Fanfare for the Common Man. And a song by Bob Dylan called Santa Fe.
What did you enjoy the most about writing Love America?
I was stimulated and inspired by learning about the different writers and artists both as creatives and as people. I also enjoyed working on the writing itself, paying attention to the cadences of the sentences and to being truthful in my representations of people and land.
What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
Threw my hat in the air, used the hour-long body massage voucher my daughter gave me for Christmas and cried once again over the epilogue.
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
I’ve read many wonderful books this year and I don’t like ranking them, but I’ll pick Four Letters of Love by Niall Williams because it was such a surprise. I was stuck for something to read so I picked one of a few dozen I bought at a book fair some years ago and never read. I knew nothing about the author until I googled and found he was an Irishman and had also written the novel that inspired the movie, As It Is in Heaven, a movie I loved. The language of Four Letters of Love was like nothing I had read before. Poetic, daring and powerful.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
A children’s picture book. It takes a child’s point of view to events from my earlier book, No Simple Passage. That book told the story of an emigrant ship that sailed from London to Wellington in 1842. I am hoping it will illuminate realities of immigration in the 19th century and the high hopes and drama of a long sea voyage.