It was great to interview Dreena Collins, whose alter ego, Jane Harvey released her debut novel, The Landlord of Hummingbird House, on 31 August. Dreena’s own writing tends to be a little more gritty than Jane’s and her short story collections of modern life are insightful and entertaining. Here we learn more about her and her writing.
Tell us a little about yourself
I was born and raised on the island of Jersey, where I currently live with my husband and teenage son. We have a little Lhasa Apso dog, Sherman, who thinks he is our ‘bouncer’. I am immensely lucky to live here, as it is safe and sunny, and we have a wealth of beaches and some varied countryside.
This month, I am starting a new job in the charity sector as the Service Manager for a mental health charity. This is a big change, as I have worked in the public sector, in education, for approaching twenty years – including thirteen years at my last workplace. I had reached Senior Leader level but felt that it was the right time for me to change direction for a number of reasons. My background is in English teaching but also Educational Needs and Inclusion, so this role greatly appealed to me and I am excited about starting.
How did you come to be a writer?
I have written on and off all my life, including during my first degree, where I chose a creative writing module. I have periodically had the odd poem published, or story listed in a competition, but it is only really in the last 3-4 years that I have been structured and consistent about writing. At that point in my life, I took the time to focus my energy and set myself targets and constructed a sort of plan. This worked for me, as it created a habit of writing. Now I write whenever I have the chance – several times a week – and I work on all of the other aspects of writing (social media, editing, planning, etc.) every day – for hours! I can’t imagine ever going back to not writing, now.
You are a multi-genre writer who writes under two names. Tell us how this came about.
I have several short story collections published, which can be fairly dark or gritty, and which lean towards the literary. Even within these I suppose it could be said that I am multi-genre, as I have some fantastical, ‘magic realist’ stories (about mermaids, witches, etc) mixed in with some dark humour and some stories with a twist.
My latest book – just published – is a contemporary light read and is more accessible than an average short story of mine. I did this intentionally, in part to challenge myself, and also because the idea of something ‘feel good’, following a difficult couple of years, was appealing.
I wrote this book – The Landlord of Hummingbird House – under a pen name (Jane Harvey) to distinguish this ‘brand’ from my previous work, but I haven’t kept my identity a secret. I have set up a couple of social media accounts as ‘Jane’ and ensured that this work is branded completely differently – I have a colour scheme and style for any marketing associated with this.
To be completely honest, it has been fun to have a second genre and style – I work fast and hard and enjoy variety, so this has been great for me.
What is your most recent book about?
The Landlord of Hummingbird House is about an eclectic group of neighbours who all rent flats/ apartments in a converted house. The story focusses on April, who has had to move following a relationship breakdown, and it begins with her point of view and impressions of the neighbours, including her thoughts on her grumpy, attractive, mysterious landlord. However, as the book continues, her first impressions are dismantled, and a little mystery is solved. Oh, and there’s a sprinkle of romance, and a twist, too.
The book appears to be like a classic ‘chick-lit’ tale, and in some ways it is, but I hope I have succeeded in undermining some of the stereotypes and tropes that you might usually find. It was important to me to have a strong, imperfect female lead and diverse group of characters.
Are you close to other writers and how does that help you?
I have a lot of contacts who are writers, in various ways: people I have never met but that I know via social media, friends who write nonfiction, local writer friends that I know through various means. These people are an amazing source of support as they can empathise with the journey. They are always helpful to share ‘good news’.
Writing and publishing is a steep learning curve; you need to learn about a number of different platforms, about social media marketing, about formatting, some basic issues with legislation and copyright, etc, book covers, beta readers etc. – and my writing contacts have been a wealth of information about all of this. We are all very keen to share ‘what not to do’ stories so that others don’t fall into the same traps. Oh, and which too-good-to-be-true opportunities to avoid (sadly!).
If you could tell your younger writer (no matter how recently that might be) anything, what would it be?
What are your future writing plans and especially, when can we expect a new book from you?
With my change of role, I have slightly reduced hours, and I hope that I will be able to focus on writing and have it as a secondary career. One way in which I plan to do this, is to complete a proof-reading and editing course to gain an accredited qualification in this arena. I’ve enrolled on a course but need a clear chunk of time to settle down to it. That will benefit me, but also would mean I could start to offer author services – this, plus some marketing and media services in Book Trailers or ‘book teasers’ (images).
I have also started to collate some of my poetry into a short chapbook, which I plan to publish before the end of the year. My poems are accessible, and some are light-hearted. I have had poetry published previously in magazines – including Mslexia – but have never pulled them into a book and am looking forward to doing something completely different.
My biggest project – or at least the one closest to my heart – is a novel. In 2020, I wrote two novels – this one, and a second which is more serious and closer to my usual style. I will be returning to this novel shortly and have scheduled in to work with my editor on it during September. This novel is from the point of view of a middle-aged woman whose adult daughter has died. She is the only person who does not believe this was an accident. I want to polish this novel, and as yet am undecided as to whether it will be self-published or if I will query agents with it. Watch this space!
Prize-Winning Author of Short Fiction
Contemporary Fiction as Jane Harvey
Dreena Collins was born in Jersey. She has a background in English teaching and Special Educational Needs. She lives with two males and a dog.
Dreena has been listed and placed in a number of writing competitions, including first place in the international Flash 500 competition in May 2020.
Published in a number of magazines and online platforms, she has also had work included in anthologies such as The Bath Flash Fiction Award and Reflex Press anthologies. She has published several short story collections of her own, most recently She Had Met Liars Before – Six Short Stories of Strength and Survival. Her 2019 flash fiction collection, Bird Wing, was a finalist in the 2020 International SPR Book Awards,
Dreena has always loved words, especially peculiar ones. She writes character based, modern fiction, exploring the challenges of the modern world. Her hobbies include eating spicy food, unintentionally waking at 2.30 am, and falling over.