Journalist and copywriter Jennifer (Jennie) Ridyard grew up in South Africa during the dying days of apartheid. In 2004 she moved to Dublin because she fell for a man from Rialto. She has two sons and two dogs. Jennifer’s first book, Conquest, was co-authored with crime-writer John Connolly.
DBF: Were you always interested in writing or did it suddenly come about for you?
Jennifer: Always, always, always, without a doubt. Even before I could write I’d try and shape my name on paper: it looked like Jemie. I was always making up stories, even if they weren’t written down. I guess I was the child always accused of having her head in the clouds, but actually it was immersed in a story.
No one ever said you could write for a living though – what a crazy notion!
And then, after I left school, life, working in a bank and having a child got in the way, and I rather stopped writing. I took it all up again when I finally got my underpaid, overworked dream job as a cub reporter at the local paper, and I haven’t been able to stop.
DBF: What would you say most inspires you to write, if it is a number of things, do you think your sense of place influences you in any way?
Jennifer: A deadline! As just about any writer will tell you, if you wait for inspiration, for the muse to strike, you’ll be waiting a very long time indeed. Writing requires a decision more than inspiration. The more you write, the more that inspiration comes. Sometimes you eke out every tortured word and sometimes it flows, and either method may produce both diamonds and dross.
As a vaguely confessional journalist – I’ve written a newspaper column for 14 years now – you learn to rip the guts out of anything, to collect experiences from others, and even the dull everyday stuff will do. I’ve upset people I care about before now – it’s a very delicate balance and yes, I screw it up!
DBF: I had a great time reading many of your posts from The Anti Room. Some were sentimental and lovely insights into the life of your grandmother while others were insights into a troubled and largely ignored world. Do you seek such stories or do you simply come across them – what is it that gets your creative juices flowing? Would it be fair to say that in a lot of your work lies a statement of some sort?
Jennifer: Again, creative juices often need to be squeezed, wrung out like a dirty dishcloth even, and some days it’s like getting blood from a stone. But we live in such a messy, marvellous world – I read loads of newspapers and books, and I see what people are chatting about on Twitter and Facebook, and sometimes something connects, gets stuck in your head. As a journalist, you learn to look for stories, or even just a strand that you can start weaving with….
And I guess that I’m not a very good news journalist because I do tend to get completely engrossed and incensed or enraptured about what I’m writing about. It takes a certain rare and shining brilliance to be able to look at the world and not pass judgement or make a statement, to just share the facts as they present themselves. That’s what hard news is about. My hard news always turns out squidgy!
DBF: How did you first come across journalism? Was it something you pursued or was it simply a destiny thrust upon you?
Jennifer: I was working in a bank and waitressing part-time to make ends meet, then the local paper advertised for a trainee reporter. I’d always dreamed of being a journalist but there’d never been a way, until this. The only qualifications required were your own car (I took a bank loan and bought an old tank), a camera (check!) and the ability to write. They tested your ability to write by sitting you in front of a screen and saying “WRITE!” I got the job. I also took a cut in pay, so waitressed even more. Happy days! Happy daze! And I wouldn’t change it for the world.
DBF: And finally, what advice would you give to any budding writers?
Jennifer: Just do it, to borrow a slogan. Sit down and start writing. Don’t wait for any flighty muse hussy – just write. Put those words on paper without thinking what people will say. When you’ve finished writing you’ve only just begun: now go back and rewrite, and rewrite again. Then edit, and delete all the purple prose that you feel protective and precious about: chances are it’s overwrought and over-thought.
And read a lot too. It’s how you learn, and how you experience the whole world from beneath the comfortable warmth of a reading lamp. A writer who doesn’t like to read is about as much use as a chef who doesn’t like food.