When I was about 9 years old, I was petrified that I would be possessed by demons. The fear was so real, I would become gripped by dread at lunchtime because that signaled midday and the quickly approaching night time. And night, in my childhood imagination, was the Most Dangerous Time.
I coped by reading children’s and young adult books until about 2 or 3 in the morning until I was so sleepy, my imagination could no longer go into overdrive. Then I would sleep and my dad would wake me at 6:30 or 7 in the morning to start the day. So I must have been absolutely sleep-deprived for a couple of years. My parents had no idea this was going on and I have no idea why I didn’t tell them. But when people ask why I write, I tell them that books literally saved me. They kept me from falling apart in terror.
2. Do you have a nickname?
I have at least a million. My husband is very fond of giving me nicknames. The ones in vogue right now are 'Mama Llama' (which my 3-year-old calls me) and Jeefe. Next week, they will probably be something different, though certain names are brought out and recycled more than others. More normal people call me Jess or Jessie. But if you call me 'Jeefe', I will probably answer.
3. What is your greatest fear?
My greatest fear is failure. I’m pretty driven to succeed at writing, which I feel is not so much a 'chosen profession' as a 'calling'. But then after that, the answer is probably zombies. I would be absolutely terrified if I ever ran into one.
4. Can you describe your writing style for us in ten words?
A baroque style. Layered, detailed, ornate, and lush.
5. Can you give us five positive words that describe you as a writer?
Daring, gritty, realistic, alternative (non-mainstream), and offbeat.
6. What book character would you most like to be, and why?
I would love to be Anne from Anne of Green Gables. She was spirited and imaginative and totally original. She brought so much beauty and life and joy to the people who were around her.
7. If you could time travel, what year would you go to and why?
I don’t know about a particular year but I would like to go to the 17th century, mid- to end of the century. This is the time when South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and Canada were being settled and colonised by Europeans.
It was a very violent, crazy, fast-moving time period, when many new ideas — and new nations — were being formed. Although I think I would be horrified to see the treatment of Native Americans, Africans, Aboriginals, and Maoris (at least, presuming I brought my 21st century values along with me on the trip), I would like to see how that played out.
8. What would your ten-year-old self say to you now?
Relax a little, Jessica. You work too hard.
9. Who is your greatest influence?
My parents have probably had the most ongoing influence in my life. As people who have always lived life off the beaten trail, and who have exemplified for me values of compassion, non-materalism, justice, mercy, and hope, they are truly an inspiration to me. But for 'famous' people in history, I would have to say that both Jesus and Gandhi remain lifelong influences in me for living life the way it should be lived.
10. What or who made you start writing?
My mom used to find stories around the house when I was five or six. Then I had a truly terrible third-grade teacher who used to threaten to pull my fingernails out with a pair of pliers if I didn’t learn my capital letters by the next morning. I learned to hate writing and being creative. It wasn’t until I was eleven and went on a trip to De Smet, South Dakota, where I saw the Laura Ingalls Wilder homestead, that I went home and told my mom, 'I want to be a writer like Laura Ingalls Wilder someday.' After that, I started writing one or two novels every year.
11. What is your favourite word and why?
Forgiveness. We all need to forgive people in our lives, and we all need somebody to offer us forgiveness. Thank goodness it is possible to both forgive and be forgiven.
12. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I currently read at least one book a day so limiting myself to one for the rest of the life would be very difficult indeed. This might be cheating, but I would probably choose something very long that contains much of the human wisdom in the world, and is full of many crazy stories and possibly some poetry — like The Bible or the Collected Works of William Shakespeare or Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Something I could read over and over and muse over at night when I’m trying to fall asleep.
Jessica Powers is the author of the new book Amina: Through My Eyes, published in Septermber 2013 by Allen & Unwin and available at all good bookshops and online. You can find out more about Jessica and her writing by visiting her website. The Through My Eyes website also has information about Jessica and the other series authors, including video interviews, book trailers and sample chapters.
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