Johanna Craven is an historical fiction writer, pianist and film composer. She has lived on three continents and currently divides her time between London and Melbourne. She loves ghost-hunting, cooking (and eating) and plays the Celtic fiddle very badly.
Johanna released her first novel Music from Standing Waves in 2015 before signing with Endeavour Media for her second novel, The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. She is currently writing the West Country Trilogy, inspired by true events from 18th century Cornwall. Book One, Bridles Lane is available now.
How did you become interested in creative writing?
I’ve been interested in creative writing for as long as I can remember! Ever since I was a child I’ve loved telling stories.
You had trouble deciding between music and writing before deciding on a compromise. Your first novel, Music from Standing Waves, reflects both loves. How did you blend your two loves in this book?
While it’s certainly not autobiographical, a lot of Music from Standing Waves is drawn from my own life, primarily dealing with the challenges and competitive environment at the Conservatorium of Music. I like to think the book has a distinct soundtrack, featuring a number of classical and contemporary pieces and I really enjoyed the challenge of describing these pieces through words; trying to allow the readers to ‘hear’ them through my writing.
What is your writing process like?
Now that writing is a career for me, I’m challenging myself to write faster, which means I do a lot more planning of the story than I used to. Before I start writing, I’ll have an outline of each scene. I then write the story out like a script, using sparse descriptions and dialogue. From there, I flesh the story out into prose. It sounds kind of organised, but in reality, it’s really scattered! I don’t write chronologically, so I’m constantly jumping between scenes – and in the case of the trilogy I’m currently writing, I’ll also jump between books! I’m also prone to staring off into space for long periods of time, trying to work out exactly how to phrase a single sentence…
You state in your biography that you like to chase ghosts. How has that hobby influenced your writing?
Hahaha yes, I love to be scared! While I like to think I’m not a gullible idiot (!!), I am open to the possibility of the paranormal, and a lot of my work includes subtle – or not so subtle – references to ghosts, psychic abilities and other elements of the supernatural.
On a recent trip to Cornwall to research my latest book, Bridles Lane, I stayed the night in the reputedly haunted Jamaica Inn. My boyfriend and I sat by the fire telling ghost stories and I spooked myself so much I couldn’t sleep. I ended up spending the night on the floor of the toilet, writing my book and cursing my overactive imagination!
Your musical training is in film composition, and you have worked at scoring movies. Has the attention to storyline and tension levels needed for movie scores given you a greater sense of timing and expression in books?
I’m not sure it’s affected my writing in this way, but music is definitely an important tool for me. For each book I write I will make a playlist of pieces that inspire me — songs, film scores or pieces I’ve written myself — and listen to them while I’m writing. I’ve also been told my writing style is quite lyrical and I think this comes from my experience as a composer — to me the rhythm of my words is extremely important.
Your book Forgotten Places was recently turned into an audiobook. How does it feel to an author to give up your book, your baby, to someone else to interpret?
My experience of working in film has taught me that collaboration is rarely a bad thing! My narrator, Rebecca McKernan, is fantastic and I knew right from the beginning that she understood the direction I wanted to take the book. While Rebecca’s interpretation was sometimes different to what I was expecting, she brought things to the audiobook I would never have considered. While admittedly it can be daunting handing your baby over to someone else, I believe collaborating with another artist you trust will only ever make your project stronger.
You have started a program of workshops called Artyficial Dreams. Tell us about that.
Artyficial Dreams is also about artist collaboration! We run workshops based around the concept of “barn-raising”– an idea that came about hundreds of years ago when members of a community would gather together to literally help their neighbours build a barn! At our workshops, each artist is given the chance to present their current project and the group will pool their resources and knowledge to help get the project off the ground. We’ve helped artists produce everything from art installations to dance performances to book series. We also run a podcast on which we interview artists building a career in their chosen fields.
You divide your time between Australia and London. What do you do in each location?
Living in two countries is quite a new venture, so it’s still a work in progress! As I release more books, I’m able to make more of my living through sales and I supplement that income by teaching music and creative writing, running workshops and freelance editing. I also spend a lot of time sitting in the sun drinking wine and enjoying two summers a year!
You spent some time studying music in my own hometown of Los Angeles. What experiences affected your career, whether music or writing, the most?
Living in Los Angeles made me realise how valuable it is to be surrounded by other creatives. I went there expecting the atmosphere in Hollywood to be completely cutthroat and, while it was of course incredibly competitive, I built up an amazing network of other artists from whom I could learn and be inspired by. I also had many incredible experiences studying at UCLA, such as conducting an orchestra who had come straight from recording a John Williams score and listening to David Lynch discuss the link between story-telling and music.
What authors have provided you with inspiration for your own writing career?
I love the styles of Susan Fletcher and Margaret Atwood and they have definitely influenced my own writing. I’m also hugely inspired by my colleagues. I get a lot of support and inspiration from other authors at my publishing house, Endeavour Media, and also from writers choosing to go down the indie path, as I have chosen to do for several of my books.
You can visit more with Johanna at the following sites: