Interview: Sophie Jonas Hill

by | Interview, Uncategorized

Thanks so much for agreeing to our questions! Can you tell us a little bit about your background? Outside of writing what do you get up too?

I think I have what you called these day ‘a portfolio career’, which means life has very got in the way of anything which you might call a sensible job! I went to Art school, then tried lots of different ways to earn a living, including jewellery design, pattern cutting and dress making – I used to run a bridal wear design studio, which sounds a lot grander than it was – I then tried to become an antenatal teacher with the NCT, which was a great training but did not work out job wise, but after that I got into teaching in an odd sort of way, and now work for a weird little college teaching young people excluded from Education creative crafts, alongside teaching adult education classes in art and craft, while also studying for an MA in illustration and writing books – my dream is to illustrate and write full time.

When did you know that you were a writer? Is writing something you have always done?

Yes, it is – I struggled a lot with dyslexia when I was a child, and I was always better at Art, but in some ways I wish I’d gone more down the writing route as I always have written. I actually have an essay from when I was about 12, detailing how I was going to be an author and listing all the books I was going to write! I wrote as an escape I think for many years, but it wasn’t until I had my daughter and ended up more at home that I started writing more seriously.

When did you decide to write Unprotected, and why did you choose to write about the end of a relationship?

Unprotected came out of my own experience of miscarriage, so initially it was a bundle of pages almost as therapy to work through what happened to me. There’s a thing people say that writers need a shard of ice at the heart, which allows them to keep an objective eye even at the worst moments, allowing them to keep an eye out for a good story – and I kind of felt that my experience was mine to use if I wanted to, so I started to build the book around that. The character of Lydia is made up of some aspects of me, though she’s probably more exiting life on the surface – and she’s a lot braver than I am – but I did have this fear when I was going through miscarriage that my partner would get sick of it all and leave me. He’s obviously a better person (much better) than the boyfriend in the book, but I did think that there’s this…..weird mindset you get into when you’re trying to conceive and it’s going wrong, and how men do have a power in that relationship as you kind of need them to achieve your goal. I also saw it from the other side, just how hard it is for partners to watch their partners suffering and how there really is nothing they can do, and that’s an intense pressure. Also – it’s a bit like the ‘why are all children’s books about orphans’ thing – so often in books and film you need your protagonist to be isolated from emotional ties, otherwise they won’t go out into the world and take the risks you need them to take. So I kind of had to at least cut her free enough to be both vulnerable and independent. There is a battle of wills often in a break-up, a sense of fighting to be the ‘good’ person, and the temptation to be the bad person and say fuck it – and characters who are under that sort of pressure are more interesting than ones on solid foundations’

Do you agree that women often face pressure to get married, and to ‘succeed’ at relationships?

Yes, totally – we are always seen as having to be the good ones, the ones that make it ‘work’. I still think woman who have affairs get more condemnation than men who do it, though I think it’s better now than it was. I think my character expresses this because, even though she’s quite ‘out there’ she too struggles with the sense that she doesn’t want to use the moral high-ground of being the wronged party, because that’s how women are kind of meant to be seen. I think also she feels slightly annoyed that her best friend is apparently now doing all the right things, though she doesn’t want children she has a nice, stable, ‘good’  fiancé now, and Lydia kind of feels the only way she can compete is to have children, that’s certainly part of it – of how she can be as good as Cassie, and this drives a wedge between them for a while. Lydia feels like she’s failed, and also that Cassie kind of wants her to ‘fail’, so that she can keep on being Cassie’s going out friend.

I think that miscarriages are a challenging, and emotional, topic for many women, again perhaps due to societal expectations and taboo. How did you feel addressing this in the book?

It was a hard choice once it was moving away from my experience, into a larger novel- but I also really wanted to write about it just because it is so hard still for people to talk about. And I find, especially if you’re not a conventional ‘married with kids’ type – if you are a tattooed self defined person, there’s a sense that this isn’t for you anyway, so you should just get over it. I lost count of the number of times people references how I look and the tattoos I have – endless comments of ‘well, you can’t be scared of needles, can you? as they approached me with IV drips and the rest – I know on tin four pregnancies are lost and yet you so rarely heard about it, even now. There is this weird pressure for women achieve, to have a career, to be sexual beings and be all about having fun – and then seconds later, or so it seems, it’s pressure to have a baby and if you don’t or can’t, oh well, that’s your fault for putting your career and having a good time first –

Why did you publish with Retreat West Books?

Because they wanted to publish it – and because I knew from everything they’ve done and that do, that they would respect the voice the novel and what I wanted to say with it. It’s been controversial, it was turned down by a big agent who’d signed me because he said it was too feminist and only women would want to read it, and not that many because it was to angry in tone – yes, you can stop spitting now- and Amanda at Retreat West understood and helped me shape it into a book we could both be proud of. She was brilliant at pulling out the deeper levels of the story and getting me to discover things I never knew about the characters, that’s her editor’s gift!

Are you writing another novel?

Always! I have two finished ones I am working and re-working, and I am working towards a first draft of one, only that’s been slightly derailed because of the pandemic, as, guess what, I started it last year and it’s about a pandemic……yes – it’s all about a pandemic being used as a way of bringing in a two tier NHS system and mass population tracking, and people who turn into animals – it will come together, but I did get to point where I was sure someone was reading it and using it as a guide for life!

Thank you so much!

Image: Amazon book store


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