Friday, August 14, 2015

Summer on the Water, Josa Young - Season 2, Episode 15

It give me great pleasure on this mid-point of summer to welcome Josa Young to my blog. I'm anxious for you to meet her and read her great and well-written book, Sail Upon the Land.

Now, let's meet Josa.

Josa, what is your novel about? Give the readers a brief elevator pitch.

The mysterious death of a new mother damages the protective bonds of family love.

Since this is a ‘Summer on the Water blog’, I want to know why did you choose the theme of water for your story? Is your body of water real or fictitious?  

‘Sail Upon the Land’ is a quotation from Titania’s speech in Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which she talks about her status as a goddess in India (she is a mere fairy in England). There she sits in the most beautifully informal way with a ‘votaress of my order’ (priestess), gossiping by the sea and watching the ships. As women friends do, they joke about sex. The priestess is pregnant with the little Indian boy who unwittingly acts as catalyst for the play’s plot:

‘… we have laughed to see the sails conceive

And grow big-bellied with the wanton wind;

Which she, with pretty and with swimming gait

Following—her womb then rich with my young squire—

Would imitate, and sail upon the land

To fetch me trifles and return again

As from a voyage, rich with merchandise.

But she, being mortal, of that boy did die.

And for her sake do I rear up her boy,

And for her sake I will not part with him.’

Suffused with water imagery, this speech is one of my favourite in the whole of Shakespeare. The phrase Sail Upon the Land – a poignant metaphor for pregnancy – stayed in my mind, while the story I wanted to tell grew up around it like barnacles. The paradoxical fragility and strength of childbearing women is the underlying theme. And water, both real and metaphorical, runs through the whole novel, symbolic of risk as well as actively dangerous to the whole fragile structure of the Heyes family. It may be safer to ‘sail upon the land’ – do something paradoxical to get the best results – as well as to have the courage to change your life – be an altered person at different times and in different places.

Does water, and specifically the body of water you set your story beside, have any special meaning for you personally? What is it?

I am fascinated by archaeology, and that ancient human ways of living and being are still writ large on our English landscape. I know houses where an old pond or small lake is the last remaining part of what was once a defensive moat, the need for it left behind in distant history. The lake at Castle Hey is one such body of water.

Why are you choosing to self-publish?  What is one piece of advice would you give to authors who are thinking of self-publishing for the first time?

I chose to self-publish after the novel was turned down by the major publishers in the UK, even though it had attracted the attention of a top agent and I had a previously trad published novel (One Apple Tasted) that did reasonably well in 2009. I was encouraged to do so by other authors who read Sail Upon the Land and were baffled by its non-acceptance, including Rachel Hore, who very generously and unexpectedly offered a cover quote. I was also recently offered a cover quote by bestseller Katie Fforde too.

I was very frightened to begin with that I was exposing work that was substandard, and that the big publishers knew best what the public wanted and I was wrong. I thought there was some glaring flaw that hubris was blinding me to, even that I was deluded in thinking that anyone would be interested in my writing. Publication day was fraught with emotion as a result.

That evening I went to a women’s literary salon, stuffed with ‘real’ authors of all types, and when they heard it was my publication day they all clapped and cheered. I nearly cried as there is still a stigma around self-publishing, that it is a ‘vanity’. The leader of the salon is acclaimed novelist and critic Amanda Craig, who read and reviewed Sail very positively on Amazon shortly afterwards as ‘unusually well written’.

She compared me to novelists I have always been inspired by too: ‘In many ways, Sail Upon the Land resembles a Mary Wesley novel (and perhaps also an Elizabeth Goudge one) both in its upper class social setting, its understanding of and dislike for snobbery, and its sympathetic yet flawed characters. The period feeling … is excellent, with many little jokes about caste.’

But please don’t think that because I knew a lot of people in publishing from my days as an journalist that I got anything like any easy ride. Amanda was in touch because she had reviewed my first novel, which also suffered years and years of painful rejection that left me with writer’s block. My experience with One Apple Tasted was that people I already knew were even more determined to reject and discourage me than strangers. After it was published I made many writing friends through Twitter, people I had admired for years and been inspired by like Marika Cobbold and Elizabeth Buchan, and learned that there is a whole world out there of mutually supportive writers – so different from my earlier experiences!

I had believed my copy editor (you will need one of these) had disliked Sail as he had made no comments other than professional ones throughout the process. After it was published, he emailed me to say: ‘The trouble with enjoying a book during the copy-edit is that one can be distracted from the nuts and bolts of editing and start reading it for its own sake, which is one reason why I try to retain a certain detachment….I'm sure that review will be the first of many, and well deserved. I did thoroughly enjoy the book.’

The wider reception of Sail Upon the Land, both in the UK and in the US has convinced me I did the right thing in getting it out into the world. There have been over 100 positive reviews in the first four months – only one negative one which went into no detail, but does add spice to the mix!

My self-publishing advice is: Join the Alliance of Independent Authors for all kinds of technical hints and tips, both on avoiding wasting money and on getting it out there to be reviewed, that I found invaluable to my publication experience. A very supportive, various and interesting group of people. And edit, edit, edit, edit – get beta readers to help too, and professionals for both content and cover. The self-publishing game is very different from when I first wrote about it in 2005, when the sharks were already circling, smelling the blood of writers desperate to be published and profiting from their thwarted desires.

I totally agree with you. I love The Alliance of Independent Authors. I've received such good advice and help there, plus I think that's where I met you. Okay, final question:
You are asked to give a Ted Talk. What will it be about?

How biology and evolution shaped women’s position in the world in relation to men’s – that our large brains, which have so many advantages, mean that giving birth to human babies is fraught with danger and has to take place in the foetal stage of pregnancy. The resulting baby needs its mother’s loving care for years to grow up healthy and strong emotionally and physically. And without contraception that cycle was and is repeated over and over again, to the detriment both of women’s health and that of their offspring, effectively leaving women no time or creative energy for anything else.

This has led to women, of course equally as intelligent and able as men, moving out of public spaces and power over millennia – where success was for most of human history judged by battles won. A woman with children was not really available for sword-wielding except in a few remarkable cases such as the virgin Joan of Arc. It is notable that childless women, or women with few children like Margaret of Beaufort (one birth at 13 damaged her so badly she never had another, but that child was Henry VII) became hugely powerful.

Only recently, with advanced healthcare and contraception, are we stepping up into the world beside men, and only really in the Western world. There is a backlash to be endured, no animal likes its long-held territory to be invaded. But with accelerating communication, and different measures of success that don’t involve weapons, I see a healthier future for the planet where women and men have equal choice as to how they live their lives as responsible independent adults. Obviously some people long for a simpler past where gender roles were clear-cut and male dominance was a given, and some fight for that in deeply unpleasant ways. Educating women is the best contraceptive too.

I will continue to use fiction to express these ideas which deeply interest me but I will never bang a polemical drum – that bores me and I imagine readers too. To tell stories about women’s lives does all the work for me. It has taken me until recently to understand why I felt so uncomfortable growing up, and it was this: the assumption that I was inferior solely because of my gender when I didn’t feel inferior at all!

Where can people find you and purchase Sail Upon the Land?


Twitter: @JosaYoung

Instagram:  @youngjosa


To purchase Sail Upon the Land:


  1. I applaud you, Josa. You think outside of the box and consider the depths of your story. Well done! Although, I have not heard of the pregnancy metaphor and have trouble figuring it out in my mind! A woman, burdened and heavy in pregnancy doesn't mix well with the sail imagery! LOL.

  2. Hello Barb - it is a purely visual metaphor. Sails swelling in the wind - think spinnaker = pregnant tummy!

  3. Obviously a unique and talented writer. Best wishes for much success.

  4. May this book find acceptance with a huge audience.

  5. Thank you! Please let me know if anyone would like an electronic copy in exchange for an honest review. You can contact me through my website.