Judy Croome lives and writes in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Shortlisted in the African Writing Flash Fiction 2011 competition, Judy has numerous other short stories and poems published in journals and anthologies, both internationally and in South Africa. Some of Judy's short stories can be read free on-line in places as diverse as The Huffington Post's "Featured Fifty Fiction" series, and the University of Witwatersrand's School of Literature, Language and Media ITCH magazine. Judy's novel “Dancing in the Shadows of Love” and her debut poetry collection "a Lamp at Midday" are available from Amazon and other on-line stores.
A vegetarian, Judy loves cats, exploring the meaning of life, chocolate, cats, rainy days, ancient churches with their ancient graveyards, cats, meditation and solitude. Oh, and cats. Judy loves cats (who already appear to have discovered the meaning of life.)
Judy's reading tastes are eclectic; her reviews subjective.
Influences are Louise Erdrich, Witi Ihimaera, Rose Tremain, Osho,Toni Morrison, sundry poets such as WB Yeats, Walt Whitman, Rumi, Kabir, Robert Frost, John Keats, John Milton, William Wordsworth and others.
1. From your biography, it looks like you have always been a writer. When did you start writing? And was writing something you always wanted to do?
I was thirteen when I first thought of writing a book. However, before listening to my soul’s call to write, I did other things. Mainly, I played it safe career-wise and studied accountancy.
When my husband and I met, we were both accountants (he has now specialised in tax law and changed careers to a tax lawyer – you can imagine the slew of jokes he’s subjected too!) As is usual on early dates, we were asking each other deep and profound questions. I asked Beric why he decided to specialize in tax. His answer changed my life! He said, “Figures really speak to me.” I realized that in nearly 15 years of accountancy, the figures on a page had never, ever spoken to me. Not once! So I asked myself, “If figures don’t speak to me, what does?”.
The answer was instant: words on a page. Books were my passion and my calling.
So I went back to university and started studying English literature. The rest, as they say, is history, because I discovered that writing was what I wanted to do more than anything else in the world.
2. Who are some of your biggest influences, if any?
Shakespeare (although his language is different to ours, his characterizations are still relevant, which make him one of the greatest writers in history. Just watch Leonardo Di Caprio and Claire Danes in Romeo & Juliet to see what I mean).
The English Romantics, of course – William Blake from the early Romantics, John Keats from the later generation of Romantics.
The American metaphysical poets – Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson move me to tears.
But mainly, as a novelist, Louise Erdrich is my greatest inspiration. She writes from a place of magic and mystery that is a joy to read.
Many others too, but those are the writers and poets whose work touches me most deeply.
3. I read your book The Weight of a Feather and other stories which I won on Goodreads (thank you!) and wow, it was just superb. For those of you who do not know, The Weight of a Feather is a collection of short stories. But ones you will not forget. I noticed looking through the books you have in print that you tend to lean toward short stories. Can you tell me why?
Thank you, MollyDee – you’re every author’s dream reader so I hope you win many more books on Goodreads!
I’ve sort of fallen into writing poems and short stories because of personal circumstances. Since 2010 my beloved Dad was very ill and we were determined to keep him at home. My Mom and I did as much of the home caring as we could ourselves, during which time I couldn’t concentrate on long stories. During his illness, and after his death, I wrote poetry and short stories, just to keep my creative mind-muscles flexible.
4. I honestly can say a book has never touched me so as in "The Weight of a Feather". Every story spoke to me. There was a little something to be taught or remembered or mulled over in each story. I believe all of the stories were heavily written about strong women. And that was amazing. I always loved strong female characters and there was no dearth of them in this book. Can you tell me about where you drew from to create the female characters? Tell me how the characters and stories form in your mind. You can name specific ones or generalize it.
Many of my stories come from newspapers or anecdotes that people tell me. An image will pop into my mind and then off my imagination goes…!
For example, “Black Waters” came from two incidents. I read a newspaper article about Italian divorces – when women in Italy initiate a divorce the main reason cited is “interference by my mother-in-law”. At the same time, my parents-in-law lived in a small seaside village and there was a tragedy – one of the elderly residents who swam on the beach every day for decades suddenly disappeared. All the life guards found was her swimming cap, washed up on the beach. As that coastline is subject to many shark attacks, the real story is probably that a great white took her, but I had just read the Italian divorce story and then I heard about this, and then I started wondering how desperate a daughter-in-law with an interfering mother-in-law can get …
“The Blue Mountains” also comes from a newspaper article. South Africa has one of the highest numbers of women Members of Parliament in the world, but I read a story about how a female MP was made to move from her chair by a male MP because she had the better seat and she had to give it up to him because he was a man. My mind started wondering how – or if – power could change in a rural and patriarchal society such as South Africa.
The little boy in “Escaping the Thunderbolt” is my Dad. This story is based on a true story my Ouma (grandmother) told me about my Dad when he was a little boy. “The Last Sacrifice” is based on Robert Browning’s poem My Last Duchess. Essentially, my characters in "The Weight of a Feather" come from different, and sometimes unexpected, sources.
5. All of the stories were my favorites but my three top stories were Black Waters, The Lottery Ticket, and The Blue Mountains. Which ones were your favorites and why?
My absolute favourites are “The Last Sacrifice” and “The Leopard and The Lizard”, because they represent the opposite extremes of humankind’s faith in a Higher Power, whatever you may call that Higher Power. In “The Last Sacrifice”, blind faith in his gods leads Rax into a darker and darker place – he is a real tragic anti-hero, and by the end of the story I felt about him much like I feel about Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Horrified at what he did, but sorry for him too. In “The Leopard and The Lizard” John is the opposite of Rax – his faith and his optimism keeps him true to his better self (Grey John) no matter what his bad side (Black John) does or says.
6. How did you come up with the title? That was a draw for me right away.
The book title was first the title for the short story published by The Huffington Post. When I wrote that story (based on a dinner table anecdote of a friend of ours) the image of the chicken feathers wafting in the wind was strong on my mind. This made me remember that in Ancient Egypt, it was believed that a person’s heart, on entering the afterlife, was weighed against a feather. If the person’s heart (soul) was lighter than the weight of a feather (because of good deeds), the person was allowed to enter into paradise. And I wondered how Moyra’s final choice (remember I’m a vegetarian!) would weigh up in the afterlife. By using that title I was trying to convey the sense of how even apparently small decisions can stain our souls for years afterwards.
7. You also have some novel length books. Do you have a preference when writing?
My first love is full length novels, because they’re much more challenging to write. I’ve only had one full length novel published so far, but in future I want to concentrate on getting out at least one full length novel a year (I had written 5 full length and 2 partial romances previously, but in a fit of angst after yet another rejection from a traditional publisher I burnt all the manuscripts & deleted the files from my computer! Now I’m sorry, because I would have published them myself, even though my writing focus has moved to more literary novels!),
8. I noticed you have done a lot of collaboration on a few of your books. How does that come about and how does it work out?
It’s not so much collaboration as that I heard of writing competitions, calling on writers to submit short stories. I’d read the competition rules and write a story that I thought would work. Sometimes, I was lucky enough to have my story selected for publication in a particular anthology of short stories along with other authors.
9. Do you carry a notebook around with you for ideas or are you able to remember your story ideas in your head until you can get to paper? In other words tell me about your writing habits.
I don’t carry a notebook, but I do carry my trusted BlackBerry! When something catches my attention or I come up with an idea, I’ll either snap a photo of it, or send myself an email with a brief outline of the idea or (if I’m driving) I’ll voice record the idea and transcribe it later. Now you know why I love technology! If I’m in a place where I can’t use my BlackBerry, luckily my husband always has a pen and paper in his shirt pocket and I’ll make notes on that (and hope I don’t lose them!).
10. Where is your favorite place to write? For example, in a park, out on you deck or patio, at a desk?
At my desk, early in the morning, before the world wakes up. And my desk must be spotless – nothing on it except my writing pad and pencil (I write my first draft long-hand in HB pencil.) That being said, I can write elsewhere if I have to – “Jannie Vermaak’s New Bicycle” was written by the light of a penlight torch at 3 a.m on a narrow steel bed in the freezing cold when we were camping at Injisuthi in the Drakensberg. (Injisuthi means “valley of the well-fed dogs” because game was once so plentiful there; Drakensberg is a range of mountains and also a world heritage site).
11. Must have snack food/beverage while deep at work.
I’m an awfully slow starter; I procrastinate until I can’t procrastinate any longer. During this writing phase vegetarian snacks (Chocolate! Crisps! Colas!) are essential writing tools. But once my muse kicks in and I get into “the zone”, I forget to eat or drink or even move from my desk (unless my office assistant Shadow meows loudly enough for her snacks!).
12. Tell me 5 random facts about yourself.
a. I love cats
b. I hate exercise
c. I wish the world was a kinder place
d. People see me as friendly and extrovert but, essentially, I’m a solitary, rather shy person inside.
e. I’m too old to remember what the 5th random fact was.
13. What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on a novel about child murders, which will be out in the South African spring (your fall.)
14. Is there anything else you would like to add?
I’d love your readers to watch and “like” my book trailers on YOUTUBE:
THE WEIGHT OF A FEATHER: Click here.
DANCING IN THE SHADOWS OF LOVE: Click here.
When I’m not writing, I can be found on social media:
And, finally, MollyDee, I’d like to thank you for inviting me to your blog. You’ve been a great hostess and I’ve felt very welcome!
Ngiyabonga & Sala Kahle!*
Judy, it was more than a pleasure to have you here. This interview was everything I expected and more. I could comment on all of your answers but than it would by my interview! lol! Seriously you have a reader for life. I have three gift certificates, two to Barnes & Noble and one to Amazon and I may be picking up another one (or more) of your books. I loved the trailers, thank you for including them. And ask my readers about me and book trailers. :) It is so wonderful to know you. I am sure we will speak again but much continued success to you.