This week, In the Middle has had the opportunity to talk to children’s author, and once Leeds student, Jay Dee. His book, The Night Before The Night Before Christmas, climbed the New Children’s Christian Fiction Book on Amazon, claiming the number one spot. We were eager to find out how he carved out such a successful path after he left our university.
- Why did you want to become an author?
I’ve always loved writing. For me, there’s nothing more amazing than jumping headfirst into a story, only to surprise yourself with how it ends up. No matter how much I’ve outlined the story beforehand, there are always unexpected twists and turns during the writing process.
- What made you want to write for children?
I loved it when my parents read stories to me. There’s something special about the medium and the time period in which we consume children’s books, and as we grow up, those stories remain in our minds. The best children’s books tell some of the most memorable stories in considerably less space than their grown up novel siblings. But, children’s books are one of the purest forms of storytelling. The illustrations are also incredible; the diversity in style, the way they add to the story rather mirror it… I don’t think I consciously recognized these things growing up, but I definitely appreciated them in a way. Now having seen the incredible talent of illustrators first-hand, I realise these illustrations are true works of art.
- What were your favourite books when you were young, or what sorts did you enjoy?
I loved the original Night Before Christmas story. Every year, my whole extended family would get together the night before Christmas, and my granddad would read it to us.
- Will you write more children’s books, now that you have written this one?
Definitely! I’m working on another children’s book that explores a passion my dad shared with me while growing up, that ended up shaping who I am today. I also want to explore the world of YA novels.
- What steps did you take once you’d graduated from the University of Leeds that lead you to where you are now? What can you tell us about your path into writing?
I’ve always written, but while at Leeds University, I decided to pursue a career in it. Unfortunately, that decision doesn’t come with money to pay the bills; so, I got a job working in technology in San Francisco. That made sure the lights stayed on, but it also took most of my time. I quickly found out that I would need to set aside meaningful time to write. Luckily, that time spent writing doesn’t feel like a sacrifice at all!
- Did you partake in any activities at the university that have helped to get you where you are now?
Because I self-published The Night Before The Night Before Christmas, all the business side of being an author landed on my plate. This is where university helped me the most, from friends that are helping spread the word to the skills I learnt whilst studying marketing being put into use.
- How was the transition from university to work? Did you learn anything in the process?
Carving out time to follow your passions gets much harder after university. When I first left, I really missed the breaks and the clubs that brought people with similar passions together. There’s no built-in time to work on hobbies like there is at university. However, you also have the benefit of getting paid to work, and of having more freedom than ever before. I have tried to recreate some of my favourite parts of university with friends; I’m in a book club, where we throw themed parties, and I spend dedicated time to writing every week. Work life can become all consuming, but it can also be liberating if you’re able to wrangle it and set boundaries. I’m definitely no expert, but I’m trying!
- What words of advice would you give to those wishing to pursue the same path?
The most important thing you can do if you want to be a writer is to write! It’s too easy to get caught in the editing process, or to get bogged down by holes in your plot. None of that matters with your first draft, so just get it all out. Then, once you’ve finished a story you can spend the time tightening it up. What’s amazing about the world today is how easy it is to take your story and get it out in the world. E-publishing, print on demand, social media – it’s all flattened an industry that used to be impossible to break into. I’d encourage anyone who wants to be an author to start by publishing something. See one project all the way through, and I’ll bet you’ll be hooked.
Interview by Katie Dawtry
Find Dee’s book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Night-Before-Christmas/dp/0989810828/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1418482015&sr=8-1&keywords=the+night+before+jay+dee