Jane Higgins won the 2010 Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing for her first novel, The Bridge, a post-apocalyptic action thriller. Jane lives in Christchurch, New Zealand, where she is a senior research fellow at Lincoln University, specialising in youth studies. She kindly answered some questions from Waxings.
What inspired The Bridge?
Many things. I travelled in Europe when I was young, when East and West were divided by the Berlin Wall and the Cold War. I met young people from both sides of the divide who lived with the possibility of war every day. I also work with young people in my job as a social science researcher and they always impress me with the strength of their friendships and their capacity to ask big questions. These all came together in The Bridge.
Was it your first completed manuscript?
No, sitting in a drawer at home is my ‘training-wheels novel’ – so-called because I learned a lot about writing from working on it.
How long did it take you to finish it? Given your university work, how/when did you find time to write?
It took about three years to produce the draft I sent to Text and another year for the publication process. My university work takes about two thirds of my time and to be honest it was sometimes difficult to concentrate on that and not write. The story insisted on going everywhere with me, so I’d be writing at every possible moment – in my lunch hour, after dinner, in the weekends and on holidays. I also wrote in my head when stuck in traffic, on my daily walk in the hills near my home and whenever I woke up at 4 in the morning.
Why did you enter the Text Prize?
Serendipity played a part. I had just finished my third rewrite when the Prize opened for 2010. I knew Text was a great publisher – they publish some of the best New Zealand writers – and when I checked out their YA novels I thought (and hoped) that The Bridge might fit with the kind of stories they publish.
How has winning changed your life/writing?
It’s been exhilarating. I love to write and getting published has been an affirmation of that. I don’t feel so guilty about spending all those hours on it.
More or less. I worked with my Text editor on the manuscript over several months, passing it backwards and forwards between us, gradually refining it. That was a great process. I was learning to see the novel from ‘outside’ and to understand what worked and what didn’t from a reader’s perspective.
What was the best part of the process?
Launching the book – we had a huge party at my favourite café, with friends from many parts of my life. Wonderful!
What was the worst?
It’s hard to think of a worst part. In many ways, the most challenging part has been finally sending it out there. It’s not mine anymore. As Ursula Le Guin says ‘Fiction is not only illusion, but collusion. Without a reader there’s no story.’ (The Wave in the Mind, Shambhala, p230) It’s up to readers now to make the story happen.
How are you finding the promotional aspects of the process?
I’m enjoying it. It’s a chance to talk about writing and to have conversations with people about their readings of The Bridge. It’s interesting what people pick up on or have questions about.
Are you writing/have you written a second novel?
I’m working on a sequel.
Has it been easier to write following your experience with The Bridge? How?
No, it hasn’t got easier, but it is different. I have to keep reminding myself that I’m back at the beginning working on the (always terrible) first draft. It’s a much messier process than polishing the final draft, and it’s a challenge to live with the mess for a while, until its shape becomes clear.
Has anyone/Text shown interest in publishing this subsequent work?
Happily, yes! I’ve signed a contract with Text for the sequel.
What advice would you give aspiring authors?
Write and write and write some more. Don’t worry about the terrible first draft – everybody has one. Revise until it’s as good as you can make it then give it to other people to read (people who’ll be honest with you), listen to their feedback and then revise some more. Read great writing – the more the better. Enjoy every good sentence/paragraph/page that you craft.