Today, I bring you an interview with author Jenna Adams. Jenna is an author and copywriter who lives in London. She writes from her third-floor flat which is covered in plants.
Her debut novel Can I Stray is out now with Neem Tree Press.
Tell me about yourself
My name’s Jenna, and I live in London. I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember – that is, after being a princess, pop star, or unicorn, of course. A decent fourth option. My debut novel 'Can I Stray' published in October with Neem Tree Press. This is a book I’ve been working on for an embarrassingly long time – more than a decade! Seeing it finally come to fruition last year was really something.
When did you first call yourself a writer?
I’m a firm believer that being a writer doesn’t come without a generous dose of imposter syndrome, so I probably didn’t start calling myself that until I got published, even though I’ve been doing the actual writing part for years. Even now with the book in my hand, I feel nervous introducing myself as an author.
What do you like to read?
I mostly read contemporary women’s fiction, but I’m pretty open to anything except SFF, which I don’t have the stamina for. My favourite author is Holly Bourne. She writes for both teens and adults, and manages to tackle the serious subjects of life while also being hilarious. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of rom coms since that’s what I’m working on myself at the moment, but I also love something a bit different like 'The Wall' by John Lanchester or 'Station Eleven' by Emily St. John Mandel.
What Inspired ‘Can I Stray’?
This is a terrible reason to write a book, but I started it because I had a crush on a boy. I was fourteen. He was a few years older and probably didn’t even know my name. I quickly forgot about the crush, but I didn’t forget the story.
As I got older and gained an understanding of healthy relationships and power dynamics, What was originally a forbidden romance became more informed. And now, more than a decade later, here it is.
The book explores the themes of mental health, consent, and co-dependency. How did you approach this?
The mental health themes stem mostly from personal experience, having been a teenager with mental health issues myself. I’ve been fortunate enough to receive a lot of support over the years in terms of counselling, CBT, and psychoeducational courses, so I think I just wanted to send the message that everyone deserves help, and everyone can get better.
In therapy I went on to find out I was codependent in my relationships, which was something I knew almost nothing about. But deep diving into it, I started seeing codependency everywhere – in Disney movies, song lyrics, a depiction of love which at its heart was just unhealthy. And that’s what I thought love was. Learning I was codependent and tackling my own unhealthy behaviours was enormous in removing barriers to my happiness.
And finally, consent. Consent is a crucial issue, and a subject that has gained a lot more traction in recent years, but when I was at school, no one knew what it was. I learned about it from Relationship and Sex Educators on YouTube, but in school, there was silence. And that was far from the only thing they missed out on when it came to RSE, and I could see it playing out in real time, having a dangerous effect on the people around me.
What do you feel needs to be taught in schools and what are the gaps that need to be addressed?
I think schools need to teach that consent is not simply the absence of a “no”, but is a sober, enthusiastic, continuous, overage, verbal “yes”. We also need to teach what good consent actually looks like, rather than just throwing a rulebook at young people and hoping they can figure it out themselves.
There is so much that needs to be covered: LGBTQ+ sex, body image, lube, gender identity. We need to be teaching young people what healthy relationships look like, how to spot the signs of an unhealthy relationship, and what to do about that. There are some great organisations like Reshare SW and the charities Brook and Sexpression UK that are working hard to reshape RSE in UK schools.
I also think we need greater mental health awareness in schools. I bet there’s loads more now in the ten years since I left, but that’s not to say there’s no stigma. In my school, if you so much as said the word “anxiety,” you got called an attention seeker, or someone jumping on a trend to be fashionable. That made it really hard to reach out and ask for help. I didn’t even know who in school I could go to.
Tell me about your journey to publication
After drafting and drafting and drafting again, I finally got to a point where I felt I couldn’t make the book any better on my own. I did tonnes of research on literary agents and independent publishers, and I was ready to accept that this book might not get picked up and I’d have to crack on with the second one. But I was so lucky that Neem Tree Press emailed to say they were interested. My advice is to always check your spam folder.
Are you working on anything new?
I’m flitting between two different stories, both rom coms. Can I Stray was pretty heavy, so I wanted to write something a bit more fun and upbeat. Hopefully the next book doesn’t take ten years this time!
What’s the best piece of writing advice you have ever been given?
Feedback is your friend. I think that, as a writer, it can be so hard to share your work, and even harder to hear criticism. But I believe that all feedback is good feedback. You don’t have to agree with all of it, but I always welcome it in the first instance and weigh it up later. I recommend seeking out a variety of opinions so you can see what feedback you’re consistently getting.
If a reader is taking the time to give me feedback, I think the correct response is gratitude and curiosity, rather than defensiveness. Reader feedback is the number one thing that made my book better. It’s not easy, but it makes SUCH a difference.
What animal represents your life/personality/writing?
I’ve always liked the idea of being a bird or a dolphin. There’s something about having the entire ocean or the entire sky at your disposal, swimming or flying into the sunset. I also like the idea of wolves - maybe there’s something there about belonging to a pack that’s comforting.
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
When I’m not writing, I love to dance. I’m also partial to a bit of Sims 2.
A big thank you to Jenna for sharing her inspiration with us. If you would like to check out Jenna's work, click on the links below.