Interview with...Joanna van der Hoeven
Name: Joanna van der Hoeven
What authors/ books influenced you in your early days of being a Pagan/following your spiritual path?
The first book to really grab my attention and change my perspective on the natural world was J.R.R. Tolkein's The Hobbit and especially, The Lord of the Rings. These volumes reflected the deep love of nature that I had always had in my own soul, and also filled my mind with the magic of The Otherworld, in the form of the elves in those tales. The first Pagan book that I ever bought was in my first foray into a Pagan shop in Montreal, Quebec. It was a wonderful store, filled with the scent of handmade incense, brimming with crystals and silver jewellery, wands and cauldrons, tarot decks, cats wandering around the aisles and sitting on counters, capes and cloaks and books - so many books! I had no idea where to start, and was too shy to ask the lady at the counter, and so just stood in front of the many volumes and finally reached out to Scott Cunningham's Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. I was 17 or 18 years old, and finally found a religious tradition that made sense to me, that honoured my love for the natural world and my desire to live in balance and harmony with it. I collected all of Scott's books, as I loved his down to earth approach and easy-going style, and then moved on to Druidry ten or twelve years later when I discovered the works of Emma Restall Orr. Her writing brought the love of nature and the magical qualities of an earth-based tradition into a context that made sense to me in a cultural setting. I had always loved reading about religions from all over the world, but was seeking the native religion of my own tribe, so to speak. And so I found Druidry and have been a Druid ever since.
What drew you to your path?
Love and absolute devotion to the natural world. I was lucky: I grew up on the edge of a village in Quebec, Canada, with miles of forest stretching out behind the house where deer roamed, porcupines and racoons, skunks, snakes and all sorts of wildlife made their home. I would spend hours there, wandering on and off the paths, feeling eyes that were not human watching me from the depths of the boreal forest. When I discovered that there was a religion and a culture from my own ancestry that reflected this love and devotion, I knew that I had found my spiritual tradition. I had always loved the Native American stories and myths, wisdom and lore about the place where I had grown up, but I still longed for something that spoke to my own soul on an even deeper level. When I found Druidry, I knew that I had come home.
Where do you find inspiration for your books?
I find inspiration in the natural world around me. Going for long walks and hikes out into the forest and heathland of where I live now in the UK, I can open my soul to the wider songs of nature and be inspired by them, letting go of a self-centred perspective and really expanding my soul to the vastness of the land in all its beauty and wonder. When out walking, I can quiet down all the other mental chatter and get inspiration from what I see around me, discovering the mysteries of the Druid tradition right there in front of my eyes. There are other authors that inspire me as well, such as Emma Restall Orr, Ellen Evert Hopman, Phillip Carr-Gomm, Danu Forest, Graeme K Talboys and Jason Kirkey, just to name a few!
How did you become an author? Was it something you intended to do or was it by accident?
I have been writing since I was 13 or 14 years old. I loved writing fiction and fantasy, as well as poetry, and spent many long hours in front of a lined notebook writing them out by hand, and then moving on to a manual typewriter, crafting stories of elves and knights, spellcasters and thieves, the wide dark expanse of ancient forests and more. I had always wanted to be an author, but knew, even from that early age, that it would be a rare thing to actually be able to make it in that industry (and we're talking nearly 30 years ago!). But still I wrote, clacking away on my little blue typewriter in my little bedroom, or wandering the woods coming up with new stories to write down. This is the way that I still write, though now with computers it is much easier (and less noisy) than it used to be!
What do you feel makes a book worth reading?
This is a difficult question, because it is so subjective! For me personally, I love a book that is written simply but eloquently, that captures the imagination and really hooks you into the narrative or the concepts and ideas that are being put forward in the text. I like a book that either sets me dreaming as I wander the woods, or that makes me put it down and just sit and think for hours.
Are you working on a new book right now and if so what is it?
I am always writing! I am working on two projects at the moment, having just finished my fourth book with Moon Books Publishing. I am writing another Pagan Portals book, as well as a full-length book on the Druid path. I'm also looking to possibly re-release some earlier fantasy fiction from years ago that has gone out of print, and hoping to write sequels as well. So many projects, so few hours in the day!
Do you write part or full time?
I have been writing part-time all my life, but have recently handed in my notice at work and gone full time. It is an incredible feeling, to be able to live the dream that I have always had since I as a teenager. I am so blessed to be able to have the opportunity to do so, with the support of my friends and family, as well as all the readers who are a source of constant encouragement. I shall be using my time well!
What's the hardest thing about writing?
Finding the hours in the day to get it all down!
How can other readers discover more about you (website/facebook links etc)?
I have a website at www.joannavanderhoeven.com, and several blog sites: my personal blog atwww.downtheforestpath.com, my videoblog site at Down the Forest Path - A Druid's Journey on Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkI8C2dqmUb-eatjxaDWXmw), and my blog Druid Heart for SageWoman Magazine (http://www.witchesandpagans.com/sagewoman-blogs/druid-heart.html). I'm also on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/joannavanderhoeven.autumnsong) and Twitter (@JoannavanderH). I also run Druid College UK, and you can find out more about the three-year programme at uk.druidcollege.org.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Keep writing, and never lose the magic. Never lose the wonder that brings inspiration. Don't be disheartened by manuscript rejections, and don't take it personally. When my first fantasy book was rejected I found it really hard, until my partner at the time actually read the letter out to me. All I could focus on was the rejection, but when he read it out the reason for it, it was actually a compliment! My first work was rejected from a major fantasy publishing house (Wizards of the Coast) because the work was a little to "advanced" for their core market of 14-16 year old boys. Honestly, that's what it really said!
Write to authors that you admire, and ask them for their recommendation on publishing houses. They will know first-hand the information that you need. It's a lot easier these days to look into publishers, as they all have websites that detail manuscript submission guidelines and that sort of thing. You can also find out whether they are actually accepting submissions at this point in time as well, rather than taking the time in writing to them and then finding out that they aren't. You can tailor your submissions more readily these days with all this information to hand, and you will also have to learn how to market yourself accordingly. Sadly, it's not all about the writing, about the content, but also how you can support that work yourself. Writers have to be more than writers these days; they have to know the ins and outs of promotional work as well. Research all the info that you can on these subjects, and then combine them with your talent and creativity to create something wonderful.
There are tons of pagan books on the market, what do you think makes you stand out from the crowd?
I don't think it's so much a case of standing out from the crowd, but simply writing honestly and from the heart, using experience and hopefully a little wisdom gained from my time here on the planet. I'm not trying to stand out, per se, rather I am writing on subjects that really interest me, subjects that perhaps haven't been dealt with in other works.
Which one of your books are you most proud of?
Well, The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid has been a best-seller for nearly two years now, and that's quite an achievement. It's gained quite a following, and I perhaps receive more emails and letters from people regarding that work than any of the others. It was quite difficult to fit all the aspects of modern Druidry into an introductory Pagan Portals book that has a page-limit of around 100 pages, but I think it has succeeded nicely and offers a well-rounded perspective. However, I think I will always love my first medieval fantasy fiction the most, Falconwing, as that's my imagination let loose, running free with the themes of love and jealousy, honour and friendship. It's the book I started as a teenager in my bedroom all those years ago, which has been re-written many times over the years until it finally went to print. Fingers crossed for a re-print soon!