Jess and I had our paths cross briefly last year, when she and I both wrote articles for Ami Spencer’s World Mental Health Day event back in October. Jess wrote about her experiences being diagnosed with ADHD as an adult – something she builds on in her novel Truly Enough – and her words stuck with me, so since then I’ve been a big fan of hers. And most excitingly, her next book (Truly Home, pictured) is coming in just over a month! I was very excited when she signed up for Sapphic Fiction February, and even more excited to read her answers. I’m sure you all will be too!
Hey Jess! Let's start off with you telling us a little about yourself. Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Jess, I write under J.J. Hale. I'm a sapphic romance author from Ireland publishing with Bold Strokes Books. My day job is working as a manager in technology, and being a foster carer to two awesome kiddos. I also spend far too much of my time doing a lot of Lego!
How did you become an author?
I've been writing since I was about 10 or 11, mostly poetry and short stories to begin with. I've been reading for far longer than that. I spent most of my childhood with my face buried in a book (even when walking...) and consumed stories in any and every format I could. Creating stories became a dream of mine and more so when I figured out sapphic romance was a thing. I was filled to the brim with ideas but could never manage to stick with a story for long, so I figured it just wasn't for me. When I started to delve into the why's behind it and figured out that I had ADHD, it made a big difference. Learning to work with my brain was the key to finally finishing my first story, and that story became my first published novel, Truly Wanted.
Who’s your favourite character that you’ve ever written?
Hmmm... that's a very tough one. I'm never good at picking favourite anything's because it changes depending on my mood. There's a character in an older unfinished story that I love to take out and play with when I need to do some writing therapy. I'm not sure whether she will ever be introduced to the wider world, but I have so many random pieces written for her that I love to look over when I need inspiration. Out of my published (or to be published) books, my current favourite is Sophie who is a side character in Truly Home. She was refreshing to write since she called out all the main character's BS!
Do you ever experience writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome it?
Often. My writing style is chaotic at best and I have made peace with the fact that I'll never be the type of writer who writes every day. I write in spurts I would say, it's pretty much all or nothing. Obviously when there are deadlines looming I try to sit and push myself to write which can be tough if I'm not feeling it. External motivation is always a winner for me. Usually having someone to check in with so I can utilize my people pleasing needs to my advantage!
What do you consider to be the hardest part of writing?
For me it's the middle parts of how I'm going to get from A to Z. I'm usually pretty clear on how I want stories to start and where I'd like them to get to and the main points along the way, but piecing that together in a way that makes sense outside of my head is challenging. I always have that sort of lull in the middle where I need to really push through and just focus on getting the story out and then reminding myself I can go and fix it later.
And how about the most rewarding?
Without a doubt its hearing that my story meant something to someone. I've had a few readers who have spoken about how reading about a character with ADHD meant a lot to them and it never, ever gets old. Knowing that something I wrote might have helped someone feel a little more understood or seen is amazing.
What is one piece of advice you wish you had listened to, either in life or with regards to being an author?
Write your own story. It's applicable in so many ways, both in life and as an author. I'm still working on it, but I definitely wish I had begun a lot sooner. You're the only person you have to live with for the rest of your life, so letting your life story be written by anybody else is pointless. Learning to do things because it's what I want and what I need is an ongoing lesson that.
In terms of being an author, you have to write the story you want to write. With Truly Wanted, I was so nervous to submit it after finishing it that I got feedback from a lot of people and ended up changing the story so much in ways I didn't really agree with. But I figured it was what it needed. When it got accepted and I was assigned an editor, the main chunk of feedback for developmental edits was actually changing it back to almost exactly how I had originally written it. My editor is wonderful and is always the first to tell me that it's my story, and I need to be happy with any changes we make to it and it's finally stuck with me. (Also, you'll be reading it so many times you better enjoy it!)
You’re putting together a party. Which characters from the Sapphic Fiction genre would you invite?
Ooooh. The characters I invite and the characters that would actually get on well at a party may not match... I just finished listening to Purposefully Accidental (which has amazing ADHD rep by the way), so I think I'd have to bring Madison and Wren. Josie from Don't Cry for Me and Clem from Howl would get on great too. Let's add Brooklyn from Kiss The Girl and Vanessa from The Simple Answer and finish off with Magdalene Nox just to keep everyone on their toes!
Is there anyone you’d like to highlight, while you’re here?
Too many people to name. Being in Ireland, it can be hard to feel really part of the wider authorly/sapphic writing community. But having so many people be online friends/support has made it that much easier. I recently travelled alone to Weston-Super-Sapphic in the UK for my first sapphic event and everyone was so welcoming and kind and genuinely made me feel among friends right from the start. A special shout out to Ileandra Young who crocheted the most adorable duck next to me and potentially sparked my latest hyperfocus!
How can people connect with you?
I'm heading to GCLS next year so am very excited to connect with people in person there.
In the meantime, you can occasionally find me procrastinating on the below social medias:
Finally a light-hearted one. What ice cream flavours and toppings would you put together in your ultimate sundae?
I'm not very adventurous with food... so I'd have to go with mint chocolate chip and zero toppings! I feel like that's a boring answer, but why ruin a good thing?
Hey, if you're boring then so am I! I love mint choc chip.
If you enjoyed this interview, then make sure you’re following my social media accounts (@kblakemanwriter on Twitter and @katherineblakemanwriter on Instagram) to get all the latest updates! And if you want to support my own Sapphic Fiction journey while you’re here, The Summer We’ve Had is available now, and Love You However is coming on March 22nd!