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An interview with Jasmine Johnson

Jasmine's visit to Sutton Coldfield Library for Black History Month

Jasmine's second book - The Devil I Know

And now, Jasmine's third book The Day Hell Broke Loose is available in bookshops. It's a sequel to her first two novels, as she cleverly weaves characters from the first two books into one explosive sequel.

Vengeance may be sweet, but be careful in your quest to make it yours. For in your tasting, the 'lick' may become a 'sting' upon your tongue, and the bitter nectar of its twist may linger in your mouth . . . forever.
Warning!... This novel is neither for the prudish nor the fainthearted, but for the open-minded and the strong.

Published by Xaymaca Books at 2.99

What prompted you to first pick up the pen and start writing?
Ever since I was a little girl in Jamaica, I have been prompted, by emotional happenings, to pick up the pen. Back then I wrote poems, short stories and songs. I have a very vivid imagination. I don't know where it came from (well yes, I do) it comes from the Almighty. But all I know is that from as far back as I can remember, I wrote. In Jamaica when I wrote stories, my teacher used to read them out to the class. But even then, I didn't see this as creative, as no one used that term. I just felt that since my teacher took the time to read my stories out to the class, they must have been OK. Yes, so that's it, what prompted me then, was anything emotional.

Which other authors have you felt inspired you in particular?
I admire the works of, and am inspired by Toni Morrison, Terry McMillan and Maya Angelou, but when I was younger and I knew nothing of these writers. I cannot say who inspired me then. I suppose, like a friend of mine said, 'Who inspired the first writer?' I think if you have the gift of telling stories, you don't have to be inspired by anyone. You have to start somewhere. But I must admit that if you ask me who my hero is in the field of writing, I must say Maya Angelou. I just love her bravery, her open honesty and of course the way she tells her story. She's got a unique style of her own, which I just love. And at times, reading her work would make me want to write more, so yes, she inspires me most. One of my greatest ambition is to meet her one day.

What inspired you to write Mr Soon Come?
Mr Soon Come was a story waiting to be written. I class myself as a 'tell-it-like-it-is' writer, and one day when I decided that I had seen one too many relationships torn apart by lust, too many broken hearts, homes and promises. And yes, too many hurting sistas, I decided to write a 'Sista-get-your-own-back' novel. So basically, I was inspired by life. I simply got the traits of a few playas, pumped them into one character and gave him enough rope to hang himself. Then I let the women have their own back. At this point, I could almost hear the ladies saying 'Yes!' You could say I was inspired to write Mr Soon Come by your regular 'Mr 24 carrot-gold Playa'. Men who just can't say no to women!

What specific subject really excites your passion to start writing?
The subject of relationships! Yes. I don't believe I will ever run out of stories, plots and situations when it comes to the subject of relationships. And I must stress, for me, the 'black man / black woman' relationship excites me when I write. There will always be something to write about. When I personally look at where we're coming from, where we're at and the fact that we are yet to work out where we are going with this 'lurve' thing, it gives me a whole lot of scope to write. Nobody likes conflict in real life, but you only have to watch a few soaps to know that it's a darn good subject for the dramatic pen!

What do you enjoy most about writing?
What I enjoy most about writing is creating a character, carrying him or her successfully through the story, doing whatever the hell I want to do with him or her. That's the beauty of fiction I think. You can take your characters wherever you want to, make them do or say whatever you want them to. I enjoy acting them out also. Whenever I write a scene for each of my characters, I become them. I feel what they are feeling. I take on their moods, everything. I think that is why Mr Soon Come did so well. I was emotionally involved with all my characters (not literally! Just as I write them). And since there are real people out there like most of them, my readers related a lot to them. So many readers told me, 'I cried.' When you think, these are characters I created, and people believed so much in them, they cried.

What do you enjoy least about writing?
Having to leave it to sleep, work and do other things. I get so involved, it is hard to tear myself away at times.

How difficult is it for black writers to get their work published?
Very difficult I feel. For instance, in the beginning, I sent Mr Soon Come off to as far a field as Ireland. Everywhere and anywhere there was a publisher, I sent it. Letters all came back, worded nicely, but simply saying, 'Thanks but no thanks.' I think the mainstream publishers are going for what they know. They could not 'feel' Mr Soon Come'. Until you can relate to something, it isn't going to grab you. So I think black writers trying to make it with mainstream publishers, is like trying to sell ice to Eskimos. So that is why I was pleased when the guys at The X Press read Mr Soon Come and said 'We love it.'

Tell us about your second novel
My second novel is again on the relationship front. It tells the story of Elijah Benjamin, aka Lijah - a fallen Rasta whose locks are nothing but 'an old habit dying hard'. Caught in that infamous trap of 'life', where women, money and his own internal turmoil, takes him on a crucial journey, Lijah encounters more than he had bargained for. In the end, there is only one way out. The ultimate choice. I would say it is a bit deeper than Mr Soon Come. There is something to every character than meets the eye. No one is spared. Everyone's put to the test: young and old alike. I would say it's like an onion. There is always another layer, and another, and another. My mission is to go where other writers fear to tread. As much as possible, I want to say what everyone else is thinking. I want to hear that 'That's true' sound echoing out.

Jasmine Johnson has been a regular contributor to reader development initiatives such as the Black Family Reading Project as well as taking part in author visits and book readings throughout Birmingham Libraries'.

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Black History in Birmingham Libraries
An Interview with Maeve Clarke
Black Family Reading Project