I’m interviewing the first ever Megaphone participants, giving those who follow the blog and have an interest in Megaphone an insight into the people who’ll be on the scheme. Today, Danielle Jawando tells us a bit about herself and her writing and her hopes for Megaphone.
Leila: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your writing life so far? Have you been writing long, and what drew you to writing for children and teenagers?
Danielle: Writing and books have always been a huge part of my life. In fact, most of my childhood memories include reading or scribbling down some form of story or the other. Although writing has always been something I’ve done, I never realised I wanted to be a children’s author until much later on.
True to form, English was my favourite subject at school and I then went on to study a BA and MA in Creative Writing at the University of East London. For me, this was one of the most significant turning points in my life. I’d never really been around other writers, or people who loved words as much as I do. So those years spent analysing craft, exploring narrative, discussing theory and questioning what it means to be a writer, made me realise that this was what I wanted to do.
I then went into teaching, and taught a mixture of English GCSE, Functional Skills and Creative Writing in an FE college (along with running various writing workshops within Hertfordshire.) On the rare occasion I didn’t have marking to do, or lessons to plan, I would stay up and write. But I found that I just didn’t have enough time, and when I wasn’t writing, that’s all I could think about. Although I enjoyed teaching, deep-down I knew that I was writer, and the less I was able to write the more miserable I became. For me, writing wasn’t just something I enjoyed, it was a necessity. When I didn’t write, I felt disconnected. Lost almost, and I knew then (that even if nothing came of it), I had to finally do what I’d always wanted. I began sending stuff out and the good old rejection cycle started. Then, at 23, I had my first short story published by Deadink and NAWE, not long after that I found out I’d been shortlisted for an Original Voices scheme with ITV and Emmerdale.
After several very close calls (and countless no’s), I finally left teaching in May last year, to start storyline writing for Coronation Street. I worked on Corrie for seven months and during that time, I also wrote a few short plays, one of which was put on with a local theatre company. I’m currently in the process of developing a full-length play (‘O’Donoghu’s Wife’) which will be touring next year. But I guess, through all of this, the one thing I’ve been desperate to do is to write children’s fiction. When a close friend of mine sent me the Megaphone application last year and I read about the scheme, I knew I had to apply. I was thrilled when I found out I had been chosen as one of the five participants.
I guess the first thing that drew me into wanting to write children’s literature, is my love for children’s books. I think that some of the most wonderful stories, important messages and pressing accounts of society and the human condition, come from children’s literature. Of course, having taught would undoubtedly come into this. I feel that as generation after generation evolves, so does the need for new stories. I think as writers, we owe to the world to constantly look for new perspectives, new narratives and new ways to have those important conversations. It’s an exciting time to be a children’s author, there’s even more of a shift in boundaries, in censorship, in diversity and in voice. Finally, I’ve always found the way children and teenagers see the world fascinating. Perhaps it’s that balance of innocence and experience, or that element of truthfulness that children so often possess. They tell you how it is, they look at things and when something isn’t right, they speak out. Either way, all of these things have contributed and Megaphone is something I’m very much looking forward to being part of.
Leila: And can you tell us a bit about the book you will be writing this year – what’s it about, and what inspired you to write it? What do you think the biggest challenges will be in writing it? (the things you think will be most difficult – e.g. researching, or structuring, etc.)
Danielle: The novel I’ll be writing, I’ve had in my mind for about four years now. I was coming to the end of my Masters and was writing my thesis on the representation of mental illness within literature and the effects that institutionalisation has on voice (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is one of my favourite novels.) I read a lot of Foucault, Laing and Goffman at the time, and I was both disturbed and fascinated by the history of mental illness, and the way in which society treated those who they perceived to be ‘mentally ill’ at the time.
A few things really stuck out to me, one of them was Foucault’s discussion that madness itself is not a natural disease, but rather “a disease of civilisation.” Foucault believed that this was often created in order to evade a certain moment of our own existence, “the moment of disturbance, and penetrating vision into the depths of ourselves.”
Another significant influence was Laing’s The Divided Self, in which Laing provides detailed accounts and case studies of what ‘schizophrenic and schizoid’ patients. Laing’s main purpose was to describe the decent into madness in a comprehensible way, allowing others to understand the transition between the ‘sane schizoid way of-being-in-the-world,’ to the ‘psychotic way of being-in-the world.’ Laing then goes on to discuss, how the term ‘schizoid’ often refers to an individual who is “split in various ways.” An already “shattered humpty dumpty, trying to exist in the world.” These images really stuck in my mind, and from those bits, all of these questions started to form. It made me wonder how someone born into such a controlled and institutionalised society, where madness is this disease of civilisation, would cope? It also made me wonder what it would be like for this person with this shattered sense of self, a core they’re constantly trying to piece together, would cope?
From that, my novel and my characters were born.
My protagonist, (Nathan) is a teenage boy with this divided and split sense of self, almost like a Rubick’s cube he’s constantly trying to piece together. I then began to think about other aspects of his life, his mum, his brother, his younger sister and those relationships around him. The novel is going to be a split narrative, with two parallel points of view running along side by side. One point of view is going to be told from Nathan’s perspective (who is institutionalised and perceived as being ‘mentally ill’), and the other point of view from his brother, Sol (who is perceived by society to be sane.) It’s not just about this depiction of mental illness and the effect of institutionalisation, but I also want to show this ‘transition’ in a comprehensible way. For me, this story is also about those murky bits in-between. How a young boy with this divided-self experiences the world, how his relationships are effected, how he grows up. I’m really interested in those grey areas, which so often bleed into every aspect of our lives.
Some of the challenges I know I will face, will undoubtedly be research. For a novel like this, I think it’s important to not only get the critical and theoretical research, but also the experience from those what have worked within the mental health profession. I’m still playing with the idea of my novel being set in a dystopian universe, but either way, I want it to seem real, truthful and believable, so research will be a significant aspect. As my novel is also a split narrative and will have two parallel points of view, another challenge will undoubtedly be the structure and the distinctiveness of both voices. I think I’ve managed to accurately portray the voices of teenage boys (years of teaching construction students have definitely helped that), but my challenge will be in keeping them separate and distinct. I’ll definitely have to embark on some thorough planning. Finally, with most things in life, I don’t want this novel to be as clear cut as this is ‘reality,’ this is ‘fantasy,’ this is the voice of someone who is ‘mentally ill,’ this is the voice of someone who is ‘sane.’ As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m very much interested in those grey bits in-between. I’m hoping to write something that will consistently have my readers questioning their perception on sanity, but also society’s perception on it. Through it all, I want them to understand, experience and feel what both brothers are going through – which I know will be a challenge!
Leila: Finally, what do you hope to get out of Megaphone?
Danielle: A lot of my friends are either published writers, or in the process of sending out their manuscripts and the one thing they always tell me, is how difficult it can be to receive critical feedback from an editor or agent. One of the wonderful things about Megaphone is that it opens up the direct channel of communication to editors and agents. There are so many experienced people involved, from Leila Rasheed to the countless editors, writers and publishers who have volunteered their time. One of the things I’m hoping to get out of Megaphone, is that crucial experience and advice from industry professionals. I’m excited to attend the masterclasses and I’m also excited to learn, from everyone who is involved in the scheme.
Another thing I’m hoping to get out of Megaphone is a good support network of friends and writers. Writing is such a lonely feat. You spend most of the time in your own head, or locked away trying to get your ideas down. It’s one of those jobs where you are constantly doubting yourself and sometimes can’t see the wood through the tress. I think it’s so important to have a group of fellow writers who you can trust and share your work with (especially in those early stages, when things are still raw.) Another great thing about the scheme is that there are four other people going through the exact same process as myself. So we will be able to support and encourage each other along. We’ve already been in contact (although we haven’t yet met), and have shared book recommendations and the writing samples which we submitted during the application process. I’m hoping that long after the scheme has ended, we will all be in contact.
Finally, without meaning to state the obvious, I’m looking forward to writing my novel. Aside from all the wonderful people I’ll meet and the wonderful things I’ll learn, I can’t wait to have my finished manuscript.