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An Interview with Ingrid Jendrzejewski, author of Love and Bayes’ Theorem

jendrzejewski

Ingrid received a BFA in Creative Writing and BA in English Literature at the University of Evansville before going on to earn a BA and MSci in Natural Sciences (Physics) at the University of Cambridge. At the University of Evansville, she served as Non-fiction Editor, then Editor-in-Chief of the Evansville Review. Ingrid currently serves as Co-Director of the UK’s National Flash Fiction Day, Editor-in-Chief of FlashFlood, and a consultant for The Prose Poem. And has judged competitions for organisations like Mslexia, Flash500, Scottish Association of Writers and Quantum Shorts. She has published around 200 shortform pieces and has won multiple flash fiction competitions, including the Bath Flash Fiction Award and the A Room of Her Own Foundation’s Orlando Prize for Flash Fiction. Her short collection Things I Dream About When I’m Not Sleeping was a runner-up for Bath Flash Fiction’s first Novella-in-Flash competition. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Vestal Review’s VERA Award, and has been published in Best Small Fictions. She regularly gives talks and workshops on creative writing as well as individual and small-group mentorship sessions. You can find her at www.ingridj.com.


What inspired you to start writing this book?

I love very short, compressed prose forms like flash fiction, microfiction, prose poetry, haiku and ‘hermit crabs’ (fiction that borrows the form of another type of text like a list, computer programme, recipe, etc. to tell its story). I also like watching what happens when you place short, self-contained pieces next to each other; they often ping off each other in different ways. The origin of this project was in several stand-alone pieces that seemed to speak to the same theme from different angles. The flash fiction aesthetic has certainly shaped the storytelling; each chapter is short, and each chapter functions a bit like a jigsaw piece, showing a little bit of the full image that the reader can piece together into a full picture as they read on. The subject matter is influenced by my work in the Inference Group at the Cavendish Laboratory, but also by matters of the heart.

Tell us the story of your book’s current title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

Since the format of this interview series requires an interview, I’ve come up with a working title, but this is likely to change and I anticipate spending quite some time thinking through it. For longer projects like this one, I always leave the title until the work is complete. The reason is that I feel I learn more about what’s bubbling under the surface of a text with every single writing, editing and polishing session. I think of the title almost as a small poem that has a little conversation with the rest of the text, so I want to wait until I have the fullest possible understanding of the final work before I craft it.

I think titles are extremely important, so much so that I’ve developed a list of over 50 title-generating techniques and even give workshops on crafting titles. After my final polishing edits, I’ll go through my list and try a dozen or so different strategies. Then I’ll sit with my favourite titles for a while, until one feels ‘right’.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I have done everything from pizza delivery to mathematics teacher to academic research on information-efficient text-entry systems. For a spell, I worked as a game content developer for a popular MMRPG, writing and coding quests, minigames and holiday content. I was once responsible for an update in which I introduced the platypus as a pet/companion that players could have in the game. Since I’m interested in words and word origins, I chose ‘platypodes’ as the plural form used in the game (since the ‘pus’ comes from the Greek word for ‘foot’ and -podes would be the correct way to pluralise the Greek word). I was curious whether adding this plural to a game that boasted millions of players would make a measurable difference to usage over time. Looking at Google Books Ngram Viewer (which shows the frequency of words and phrases used in its corpus of books over time), one can see that since the time of the game update, ‘platypodes’ has indeed enjoyed a slight rise in popularity. Of course, correlation is not causation and ‘platypodes’ is still far less common than the far more common ‘platypuses’ or (shudder!) and slightly more common ‘platypi’ (which mixes Latin pluralisation rules with the Greek word), so there is still work to be done!

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

I have to give credit to my parents. Both are visual artists and created an atmosphere in the home where creativity of all manner was valued and celebrated. They made sure that there was always blank paper, pens, crayons, markers, paint, and other supplies available and easy for me and my sister to reach. They never put limits on how much paper we used, and they encouraged experiment, play, and risk-taking. They were also great models of sending their own artwork into the world and appreciating that other people’s responses were subjective, which served to inoculate me against rejection when I started submitting my own work for publication. Because of the nurturing environment they created, I’ve been writing stories, plays and poems (and occasionally illustrating them!) for as long as I could physically form letters on a page with a writing implement.

Do you have any writing rituals?

I used to try to fight distraction by lighting candles. Because I didn’t want to let them burn unattended, I’d stay in my seat and not get tempted to make another cup of tea, sneak in a load of laundry, or just check one more email. For a while, candle burning became part of a decided writing procedure, but funnily enough, I became a better writer when I gave up this ritual: by forcing myself to be more flexible, I became better able to make the most of tiny scraps of time that popped up during the day. Now, I occasionally use candles if I have a stretch of time ahead of me, but I’m much better at focusing wherever I am, and making the most of whatever amount of time I have.

I’m not sure if you would call it a ritual, but I also try to write one haiku-like object (one to three short lines, with two juxtaposing images or ideas) right before I go to bed. Knowing that I’ll be doing this in the evening makes me more observant and receptive during the day. I keep a little part of my writer mind engaged even when I am making that tea, doing that laundry and checking that email.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

This is an incredibly difficult question – I try my best not to think about readers at all! When working on commercial projects, I have to work to a brief and keep target audiences in mind every step of the way, but when I’m writing my own projects, it’s usually more about the process of uncovering the text that wants to be written…if I focus too much on readers, there’s the risk of my internal editor waking up and getting involved, which is almost never in the best interests of the text! Some people say they write for themselves, but I think I’m too picky to be my own perfect reader. Once I’ve finished something, I usually don’t want to look at it again unless I have a chance to edit it as I almost always find some little thing I want to change or improve.


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