Interviews with Writers

Crime | The Woman Who | Jacqueline Ashman

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I’m delighted to be welcoming Jacqueline Ashman to my hot seat today who is chatting to us about The Woman Who.

Find out about her inspiration, how her characters come into existence and much more! Enjoy.


Witnessing a tragic accident brings back nightmarish memories for a young mother she thought she’d long suppressed – an event in her past that shapes her present – but she is not the only person affected by that tragedy… and tragedy begets tragedy.

Who is the woman who kneels with her head in her hands?
Who is the woman who stands at the top of the stairs?
Who is the woman who is flying to Italy?

The woman who knows will never say.

Book cover for The Woman Who by Jacqueline Ashman

The Woman Who by Jacqueline Ashman is available to purchase in digital and paperback formats.

Interview

Hi Jacqueline, welcome to Jera’s Jamboree.

Please summarise The Woman Who in 20 words or less.

It’s the story of a moment in time and the consequences of being there.

What was the idea/inspiration for your novel Jacqueline?

Sometimes, you just get light-bulb moments. 

I was heading into London to meet a friend for lunch.  I was walking to the train station, looking forward to my day ahead and wondering if I’d have time to get to Foyles and, out of nowhere, half a line just popped into my head.  I wasn’t looking for it.  It wasn’t connected with anything that I could see or that I was thinking about.  It was just one random half-line.  But it was good.

By the time I got to the station that half-line had become a mental picture; the mental picture had become a scene; the scene had become an act and I knew what was going to happen in Acts 2 and 3, so to speak.  I had the whole thing. 

I had about 15 minutes before my train was due so I sat on the platform, pulled out my notebook and frantically started scribbling.  Not just plot but characters, motivations and even snatches of conversation just poured out of the ether.  The Muse must’ve been sitting on my shoulder that day because I just couldn’t switch it off and, when the Muse wants your attention, it pays to give it to her (because you never know when or if she’ll be back).   

I missed my train.

How do your characters come into existence?  Do they have a bio?

When I start writing, actually putting pen to paper or finger to keyboard, it’s usually because I’ve been holding conversations with my characters for quite a while.  Long car journeys are very useful for this.  (This wouldn’t work on public transport.  You’d get some very funny looks.)   

After a while, these “conversations” just take on a life of their own and the characters become people at their own pace, becoming more and more solid with each run-through.   It’s a kind of method acting: method writing, I suppose.

The other thing that makes them actual people, for me, is when I find out their real names.   I have found, on more than one occasion that I’ve been struggling with someone but not been able to fathom out why.  The balance is off.  They’re just not right.  But, as in real life, where names suit people, names suit characters too.   

In THE COLLECTIVE, for example, both Lily and Sandra had a number of name changes before I found the one that fitted each of them perfectly.  The names Tess and Vivian just suited those two characters right away.  I did try to change one of their names part way through when I realised that, though not based on her, I did have a very dear friend of the same name.  But it was the right name.  She just didn’t work with any other nom de plume. 

Who would you cast in the role of your characters if your book were optioned for a movie?

Hmmm, difficult.  THE WOMAN WHO works because it is all in your own mind’s eye – which is why I was so cagey when you asked me to summarise the story for you, I am not going to ruin it for you by giving you any spoilers. 

Thinking about THE WOMAN WHO filmically, it’s a static camera operation.  You only see what’s directly in front the character who is telling this part of the story.  Nothing is hidden from you, as the reader/viewer, but you can only observe from one person’s point of view at a time.  It’s only at the end that you get that wide shot and the understanding of everything that’s gone before. 

So, to answer your question, I just can’t cast it.

That said, if Hollywood were to call and offer me however many million Dollars for the film rights, I’m sure I could overcome all and any scruples I may have!

Going back to THE COLLECTIVE, I think that could work well on screen.  There’s a possibility that it may become a radio production in the next year – fingers crossed – but I’ll have no control over casting.

Do you think movie adaptations do books justice Jacqueline?  Do you have a favourite?

I tend not to see the film of the book if I’ve read the book.  Similarly, I won’t read the book if I’ve seen the film.

For my English O’level my novel was Wuthering Heights and, just before the exam, the Laurence Olivier version was on the telly on the Sunday afternoon so I watched it, thinking it would be really useful revision.  I was wrong.  The plot is changed and the casting/playing didn’t work for me.  Because I knew the book so very well at the time, I had a very clear idea of everything which, because I was about to sit a very important examination, was exactly what I needed to have.  I won’t watch the film again but I have reread the book. 

There is one book, however, that I did read after I saw the film and both are still firm favourites.

I saw The Duelists when I was in my teens and I just loved it – I still watch it every couple of years or so.  The music haunts me still and the image of Harvey Keitel gazing out over the river – ooh, I still get goose-bumps.   

I remember sitting watching it with my mother once and saying that I thought it would have made a good book.  She laughed, reached behind her and handed me The Duel (Joseph Conrad) which had been sitting there the whole time. 

Again, though, although both are brilliant, it’s the thing I came to first that has stayed with me.   And, if asked to make a choice, it would be The Duelists not The Duel hands down.

Do you have a favourite book?

Just one favourite?   Ooh, that’s a tough one.  

There are two books in particularly that I wish I had on my own shelves at home and they are both by Michael Butterworth – “A Virgin on the Rocks” and “The Man Who Broke The Bank at Monte Carlo”.  Tragically, both are out of print and, try as I might, I can’t find a copy anywhere.

They are beautifully written.  They are wonderfully plotted.  They are dazzlingly original, hysterically funny, brilliantly clever and oh so very dark… and you’ll never look at the Mona Lisa the same way again (and it won’t be anything to do with the infamous enigmatic smile).

If anyone has a copy they don’t want…

What are you reading now?

There’s always a massive pile of books threatening to topple off my bedside table.

Right now I’m in the middle of Ian Mortimer’s “The Greatest Traitor” (about the man who overthrew Edward II).   I am fascinated by monarchic English history from the Saxons up to 1485, at which point I lose interest.  I’m a dedicated member of the Richard III was innocent tribe.  

Also on the pile at the moment is “And yet…” a compilation of Christopher Hitchens’ essays, Quentin Jardine’s “Skinner’s Rules” (a reread) and “An English Murder” by Cyril Hare (which, I must admit, I haven’t started yet), Saki’s short stories and Dorothy Parker’s poems.  Dorothy Parker is always on the pile.

What has been the best part of your writing journey so far?

There are so many highs – getting that brilliant idea; finishing a first draft; getting it back from the editors with their approval.  Then, of course, there are good reviews (which buoy you up when you’re feeling a bit blue).  And, of course, the first time you get a paperback with its precious ISBN number on it – something you can actually touch and give to the British Library.

But I think the best thing is when you’re doing a reading and Q&A session and, an hour and half later, you’re still there because people have enjoyed it so much and are so keen to talk to you.  And they’re always such interesting people with such great questions. 

Writing is a solitary, and often a lonely and frustrating business.  These public sessions, particularly in the more intimate settings of book clubs and coffee houses, are just the best thing – it’s like a hosting a great party (but without having to face the washing up in the morning).

Finally, can you share with us what you are currently working on?

I have three projects in various states of undress at the moment. 

I write stories about women who are pushed to the point of taking matters into their own hands – then have to deal with the fall out – sometimes comedically, sometimes not.  It’s a subject that’s a bottomless well of opportunity for a writer.

What tends to happen, certainly with me, is that I tinker and tweak for ages then suddenly get a break through and, the next thing I know, it’s 3am on the following Tuesday morning and I’m 40,000 words further along and in desperate need of a cup of tea and some sleep but, by the time the kettle boils, I can’t go to bed because I need to write some more before the Muse packs up and leaves so I power on until I get to the end.   Once I get through an entire story I print it out on very brightly coloured paper and put it somewhere obvious so that it’s always in my way… on top of the telly is a good place.  After a couple of months or so, having a bright green glow in the middle of the room irritates me to the point when I have to go back to it.  That’s when the fun stuff starts; playing with conversation, adding inner monologues for characters to make them more real, more atmosphere, more description, more of everything.  Then, another brightly copied A4 version prominently placed until it calls me back for further editing.  Eventually, it reaches the point when it’s “ready” and I’m secure enough with it to hand it to the readers who will give me detailed feedback which I consider very carefully and, when I feel it’s right, make changes before finally handing it over to an editor.

But a book is never really finished.  You can draw a line under it.  Park it.  Release it.  But, every time you read it again, your fingers twitch to go back to the keyboard and make changes.

Thank you for being my guest. Wishing you success with all your writing projects Jacqueline.


Jacqueline Ashman worked in theatre, radio and television (with credits including ‘Allo ‘Allo, Casualty and Harry Enfield & Chums) before picking up her pen. 

Jacqueline is an art-lover, a cat-lover, a weapons-grade cribbage player and drinks far too much tea.

Author photo Jacqueline Ashman

I've been blogging about my interests at Jera's Jamboree for 8+ years. My love of reading, crocheting and being out in nature are all things that help me unwind from my role as an Inclusion Lead in a primary school. I'm passionate about early help and sharing strategies with families to empower and help build resilience. I'm a member of of my Local Authority's Early Help Operational Board, working alongside other professionals to instigate change and growth.

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