Author interview: Jemma Wayne

5 Jun

Please join me in giving a very warm welcome to Jemma Wayne on One More Page today. Jemma comes from a creative family, where her father is the composer Jeff Wayne who wrote the musical ‘The War of the Worlds’, based on the HG Wells novel, her brother Zeb Wayne is an acclaimed DJ and her sister is the actress Anna-Marie Wayne.  Jemma’s first novel, After Before, was published by Legend Press in 2014. It was long-listed for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, theGuardian’s Not the Booker Prize and was short-listed for the Waverton Good Read Award. Jemma’s writing is regularly featured in the Evening Standard, Independent on Sunday, Jewish Chronicle and she is a columnist for The Jewish News and a regularly featured blogger at The Huffington Post. Jemma lives in North London with her husband and two small children. Jemma’s new novel, Chains of Sand is out now and she kindly agreed to answer my questions about it. Welcome Jemma!

jemma 2Chains of Sand is out now, please could you tell us a little about it and why you decided to write this book.

Chains of Sand is about identity and truth. It asks not what is the truth, but is there a truth, and whose truth is it? Set against the backdrop of Israel’s war with Hamas in the summer of 2014, it traces the parallel stories of two men: Udi, a 26-year-old veteran of the Israeli army who wants to leave Israel for London; and Daniel, a similarly aged British Jew desperate to emigrate to Tel Aviv. There are very different pushes and pulls driving their journeys, but both men share a sense of their destiny not being in their own hands. When the conflict breaks out, it is amidst chaos in Israel and antisemitism in London that they attempt to unpack their identities and make tough decisions. Alongside this is a tale of forbidden love, set in Jerusalem a decade earlier, between a Jewish girl and an Arabic man, the consequences of which are far-reaching and touch some of the characters even in the present day.

The book explores ideas I’ve been playing with for a number of years. But the real trigger was the war in 2014. Conflict in this region is always polarising, but in 2014 I began to see a new kind of triumphalism from people on both ‘sides’. Horrendous antisemitism. And also some Jewish friends responding to tragedy in Gaza not with compassion, but with justification about why Israel was right. This black and white framework – in which we lose all empathy, all ability to acknowledge the narrative of an Other – is a dangerous place to be, so in Chains of Sand I wanted to explore the grey. Because the grey contains the grief and longing, the hope and fear, the humanity, and a whole lot of colliding ‘truths’.

The book is set in London and Israel; how did you go about your research for it?

I live in North West London where much of the book is set, so I was able to draw on an intimate knowledge of the place and the communities for this section of the novel. I have also spent a lot of time in Israel, but because I was exploring places and peoples that I didn’t know as well, I did a lot more research here. The most helpful element for me was the interviews I conducted with Israelis from all walks of life, particularly soldiers who gave me such illuminating insights into life in the border regions, where I haven’t been, and in the IDF.

Did anything surprise you as you developed the story?  

Yes. And those are my favourite moments when writing – when a character or a part of the plot suddenly takes on a life of its own and somehow suggests something I hadn’t thought of in my planning stages. Often that something feels so real, or truthful, or crucial to the story that it’s later hard to believe it wasn’t a core part of the original plan. In the very first draft of Chains of Sand for example, there only existed two strands of what is now a three-stranded story. But the third strand, now, is absolutely critical to everything else.

How do you think your own experiences influenced your writing?

No matter how objective we attempt to be, I think that writers always create through the filter of their own experiences. I have felt the heaviness of antisemitism, I have felt defensive about Israel. But I have also felt uncomfortable about Israel’s policies, and ashamed of the way we are sometimes blinkered to them. I have felt restrained or repressed by religious directives, and I have felt the desire to speak out, as some of the characters, particularly the women in the book, often do. I am sure that these experiences have coloured the way I’ve approached parts of the writing; but one of the underlying themes of Chains of Sand is the importance of empathy, the need to listen to and acknowledge other voices, other experiences. So I hope that this is something I’ve been able to do

Chains of Sand explores religion, racism, love, family and feminism; what would you like readers to take away from the book?

Love is so important to this story. It is when we are most open to trying to understand the way that somebody else lives and behaves and feels. And as we align our identity with another’s, there is often revealing unpacking of our own. I hope that in reading this book, through such stories of love, readers may find themselves considering ideas they thought they were sure about from another point of view.

And finally … What can we expect next from Jemma Wayne? 

Who knows! I am in the very beginning stages of thinking about a third novel, but it’s much too early to tell!

Chains of Sand by Jemma Wayne is out now in paperback (Legend Press, £9.99)


Find out more about Jemma and her writing at:

Chains of Sand final cover-SmHe has always been good at tracking down things that are hidden, like cockroaches in his mother’s kitchen cupboard, or tunnels in Gaza.

At 26, Udi is a veteran of the Israeli army and has killed five men. He wants a new life in a new place. He has a cousin in England.

Daniel is 29, a Londoner, an investment banker and a Jew. He wants for nothing, yet he too is unable to escape an intangible yearning for something more. And for less. He looks to Israel for the answer.

But as the war with Hamas breaks out, Daniel cannot know that the star-crossed love of a Jewish girl and an Arabic man in Jerusalem a decade earlier, will soon complicate all that he thinks has become clear.

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