Interview with Jenni Ogden, Author of Call My Name

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What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write Call My Name?

I had multiple inspirations for this novel. I had a “What if?” question first, and that happens about the middle of the book. But a ‘what if’ has to happen in a context, and for that my inspiration was the novel, “Crossing to Safety” by the American writer, Wallace Stegner. This, I think, is my favorite novel of all time. It follows the friendship of two couples over decades. In today’s world gentle novels like that one are apparently not popular, so my own version became more and more dramatic as Olivia, my protagonist and narrator, was put through life events that many women have to face. But hopefully they don’t have to face as many as Olivia!

In this book as in my previous novels, location is also central and often I start with a location I know and love and want to sink back into. Killara in the Australian Tropics is such a place. Then I think about characters I would like to know and put them in the location. Then I give them a story which evolves as I imagine my characters and their pasts, and as they develop they almost tell me what their dreams are and my devious mind comes up with rocks to throw at those dreams (always hard to do to these people I have become so attached to).

Another of my inspirations was the song of the seventies “You’ve Got a Friend” which became a sort of theme song for the close friendship of my four central characters (this is where the novel title, ‘Call My Name” comes from.) To me this is so important; to have friends that, even when the skies grow dark and full of clouds, will come when you need them.

If you had to pick theme songs for the main characters of Call My Name, what would they be?

Well my central characters had a real theme song, “You’ve Got A Friend” and of course that was shared and characterizes their deep connections with one another, their families and their friends, and underlies the main theme of this story (and my previous two novels as well): what makes a family?

What’s your favorite genre to read? Is it the same as your favorite genre to write?

I am a wide reader and read one to two books, mainly novels, a week across many ‘genres’. But if I were to pick a favorite it would be book club fiction, which is not officially a genre, but readers of these kind of books know what it means! Another term for it is ‘accessible literary fiction’. And this is the best fit for “Call My Name” (although it also has a ‘recent historical’ flavor as it is set across the 1960s to 1990s).

For me the main features of book cub novels is that they are well written; the characters are layered or three-dimensional; the story is strongly character driven; and there are moral or ethical questions embedded in the story which both the characters have to think hard about, and also, hopefully the readers! Of course none of these features are exclusive to book club fiction, but if these features aren’t all there then I don’t see it as being in this category. All my novels are ‘book-club’ fiction which fits nicely with my long career as a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist!

What books are on your TBR pile right now?

Well rather than TBR books (too many), these are my most recently read and reviewed favorites: ‘Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow’ by Gabrielle Zevin, ‘Carrie Soto is Back’ by Taylor Jenkins Reid, and ‘Abominations’ ( a book of essays) by Lionel Shriver.

What scene in your book was your favorite to write?

This a hard one as in a way, I find the most challenging and confronting scenes, told from ‘Psychic Distance 5, or PD5’ ie: the character experiencing those feelings/events in real time, my favorites to write. Having said that, I did enjoy writing the tense Court scenes (Not in PD5) near the end of the book. These seemed to write themselves with no effort from me.

Do you have any quirky writing habits? (lucky mugs, cats on laps, etc.)

No, not really, unless my habit of doing a lot of my book planning while walking, or sunbathing on our deserted, beautiful beach on the off-grid island we live on could be called quirky!

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

I’m not really into ‘mottos’ or quotes to inspire the way I live my life, but I do find something positive in pretty much everything and everyone, and always have. This does not mean I close my eyes to the terrible state of our world right now; I definitely don’t, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t positives to be found. Incidentally, there are many scientific studies that show that a positive attitude to life protects against mental health problems more than just about anything else.

If you could choose one thing for readers to remember after reading your book, what would it be?

Reviewers who say they couldn’t stop thinking about it after closing the book, and that it made them sob. That makes made me feel that all the hard work was worth while.


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