From the age of fourteen I wanted to be a writer. That vague desire crystallised when I read Mrs Dalloway. Something about the prose made me feel I could do it. Obviously, I had nothing like the talent of Virginia Woolf and my mind was vastly inferior to Woolf’s – yet that book, that author, gave me a goal and career path to follow.
At first, I had no voice of my own, could only write in imitation of others. Although I felt deeply, the feeling got lost in translation to the written word. Rejection, not long in coming, hit me hard. As a child I had been taught to persevere and so, rather than read rejection as a nudge towards an alternative career, I just kept going, rather like the early pioneers in colonies throughout the world who never let themselves see they were beaten.
Even so, after slaving away at three novels and being unable to get them published, I hit the Slough of Despond. The coup de grace was the realization that some authors actually enjoyed writing novels. Me, I hated making things up. I wasn’t interested by plot. There was never a sense of an organic unfolding.
What I did enjoy was writing about people I knew. Turning my own life into a narrative. Exploring dilemmas, philosophical questions, the meaning of things.
Finally, the machine ground to a halt. I understood I was not a novelist. The sun still shone, the trees grew, the flowers bloomed. I lived in a supremely beautiful country where food was varied and plentiful, roofs over heads were the norm and I felt safe walking down the street. Why make myself miserable for the rest of my life, just because I wasn’t a novelist? The logic was compelling.
What did fame matter? Why be a millionaire? One should write for oneself – but with a reader in mind. For a year I followed my own advice. I edited some family letters and wove a narrative around them and self-published eleven copies for family members, under the title, Not a Bad Bunch. I laughed at the thought that I was writing a book for eleven people. It was my act of greatest daring yet. To find the intrinsic value of writing. To find the authentic reader.
Then I struck lucky. At the Dublin Writers Museum I was entranced by quotes by Irish writers that revealed how many of them knew each other. I wondered if the same was true of the first New Zealand writers. The idea raced around my head all that night.
Soon I started writing a book about the pioneer writers of my own country. How did the first writers fare, how did they learn to write of a place so foreign to them, so obliterating of the place they came from? What kind of people were they?
I fell in love with each of my pioneer writers in turn. They changed my experience of New Zealand for ever and provided the material for my first published book.
They Know How to Care, short story, in Another 100 NZ Short Short Stories, Tandem, 1998;
Daylight Robbery, short story, in The Third Century, NZ Short Short stories, Tandem, 1999;
Inside the Stone, story in It Looks Better on You: New Zealand women writers on their friendships, ed Jane Westaway and Tessa Copland, Longacre Press, 2003. Quote from NZ Herald, 21 August 2003 by Shonagh Lindsay, ‘Jenny Robin Jones’ candid recounting of a friendship that became a triangle recalled the confusion and ambivalence accompanying the exhilaration of the sexual revolution.’
Quotes from No Simple Passage in Quotable New Zealand Quotes: Kiwi wit & wisdom for all occasions, Compiled by Jim Weir, New Holland, 2012
Report on Part-time Teaching, PPTA Journal, November 1975
Blood Sweat and Tea in Sri Lanka, Corso Overview, No 26, March 1985
Book reviews for Islands, The Dominion, Evening Post, The New Zealand Herald, New Zealand Books and NZSA e-zine.
Editorials and feature articles in New Zealand Author, 1988-2001, Education Today, 2002-2004.
In Anyone’s Language, a travel piece about Luxembourg, NZ Listener, 12-18th March, 2011,
Travel articles on North Yemen and Eritrea published in The Dominion, The Evening Post, Christchurch Press, Otago Daily Times, Gisborne Herald and Broadsheet during 1988.
Quite a Young Man Abroad, Inside History, Jan/Feb 2012, No 8, pp 48-51.
Descendants help recreate voyage of the ‘London’ 1842, New Zealand Genealogist, May/June 2011, Vol.42, No 329, pp 122-127.
Peer-reviewed profiles of early New Zealand writers published online in the Literary Encyclopedia and Kotare:
- Lady Barker, 1000 words Lady Barker
- Alfred Domett, 1000 words Alfred Domett
- Jessie Mackay, 1000 words Jessie Mackay
- William Satchell, 6000 words ‘Early Male Prose Writers’ In Kotare 2008, Special Issue – Essays in New Zealand Literary Biography Series Two
Short stories in Landfall, Takahe, PPTA Journal, The Fred (UK), Writing Women (UK), and broadcast on Radio New Zealand.
Winner of Cambridge Toyota Short Story Awards, 1986;
Shortlisted in the John Cowie Reid short story award, 1988;
Shortlisted in the Aoraki Festival/Timaru Herald short story award, 1988.
From 1977-1990 Jones published as Jenny Moiser; from 1991-2002 as Jenny Jones; from 2003 onwards as Jenny Robin Jones
Glide, wriggle, zoom! Learning Media Pacific Chapter Reader 2003, 32 pages.