In conversation with

Rosalind Jana

Author, poet, journalist

Rosalind Jana

Introduction

Introduction

As the daughter of two writers, Rosalind Jana – perhaps unsurprisingly – grew up surrounded by books. What is more striking is how she combined a love of literature with an obsession with clothes, and used the two as a vehicle for new worlds of expression. She says: “Writing and clothes stem from a similar point for me, which is the imagination”.

Rosalind’s early love of reading, writing and dressing up was channelled into her blog Clothes Camera Coffee, which combined editorial-style images with a discerning eye that unpacked the fashion industry. She won Vogue’s Talent Contest at the age of 16, and today is a Junior Editor at Violet Book, while contributing to titles including Dazed, Broadly and Refinery29. Rosalind is a published author (Notes on Being Teenage documents the trials and tribulations of being, well, teenage) and a poet. She continues to dress up in some seriously good clothes.

Question and Answer

What were your reading habits as a child?

Veracious. We had floor-to-ceiling bookshelves on our landing and I used to pick up everything I could off them. Both my parents were writers and my dad worked primarily as a children’s author. He would come back from book fairs with boxes of proofs. That was the most exciting thing in the world for me.

When did you start getting interested in fashion? Was it through literature?

Writing and clothes stem from a similar point for me, which is the imagination. The way in which I used clothes as a child was to tell stories. I would raid my dressing up box and wear the clothes of an orphan or a witch or a Greek goddess. As a teenager I rediscovered that love of dressing up and using my clothes as a means to portray a character. I would find everything at charity shops and in my mum’s vintage stuff. I then started modelling at age 13. It was a combination of things, but I’m sure books played a huge part as they were one of my primary imaginative realms.

“The way in which I used clothes as a child was to tell stories. I would raid my dressing up box and wear the clothes of an orphan or a witch or a Greek goddess. ”

Did you read fashion magazines growing up?

I used to avidly buy ELLE Collections. There was a point at 14 or 15 where I could have looked at any catalogue image and I could tell you which designer it came from. I would occasionally read ID and Dazed from the one shop in the county that stocked it, along with Teen Vogue and Oh Comely. I also picked up old Vogues and Harpers Bazaar from the Fifties and Sixties in charity shops – it’s where a lot of my inspiration came from.

Rosalind-Jana-Wardrobe
"There was a point at 14 or 15 where I could have looked at any catalogue image and I could tell you which designer it came from"

Do you think blogging is still an effective way into the industry?

I think there’s still a lot of value in it. Writing is like a muscle and you develop it over time. Having the rigour of writing weekly is the most amazing practice. However I was very fortunate to come into blogging when I did – when it felt like a relatively burgeoning industry and there was a really strong sense of community, feedback and dialogue. The nature of blogging has entirely changed. Back then it was DIY and quite playful. Now it’s a huge commercial enterprise. It’s still a valid route but it’s not as easy to enter the journalism space from there.

Have you struggled with the transition from blogger to writer?

I think that maybe in my late teens there was a year or two where the nature of the word ‘blogger’ had turned from something positive to something derogative. My reaction to that was really prioritising writing for other publications. Now I don’t really get referred to as a blogger but rather a journalist or author and poet. I’ve always been comfortable inhabiting lots of different roles.

Do you receive any online newsletters?

Anna Kinsella, The London Review of Looks. She writes about an outfit she has seen in London over the past week and uses it to write a beautiful essay about an aspect of style or life. I also love Sophie Macintosh’s Gastric Del Solo which is about her adventures eating alone. There’s something really pleasurable in reading food writing by women. It’s gorgeous and evocative but taps into other things that aren’t necessarily about food. So she speaks about confidence and mental health via food. On a similar theme Sophie Davidson’s Women Cook for Me is also beautiful.

What were the motivations of writing your own book, Notes on Being Teenage?

I was in this ludicrously fortunate situation where a publisher had a gap in the market for the teenage age range and approached me for ideas. Being teenage today is so different to what it was a few years ago and I hadn’t read anything as a teenager that reflected my experiences. The motivation was wanting to create a book which was entertaining but was also a nod that you weren’t alone in what you were going through. I interviewed a tonne of different young women for it partly because I wanted the message to be there’s no one-way to be teenage. We all forge such different paths through adolescence and often felt adults would talk down to us in a patronising way and assume there were set ways to do things.

Notes-on-Being-Teenage
"I hadn’t read anything as a teenager that reflected my experiences"

How did you start writing poetry?

I used to write a lot of poetry when I was a teenager but it was something I didn’t share. I would do it offline. I decided to enter a poem into a contest in my mid-teens and I won. It was the boost I needed to genuinely pursue it. In terms of getting published it was meeting Greta Bellacina and her husband Rob. They had a new publishing project, New River Press and they wanted to publish my work. It’s been so magic and I feel so grateful for them, for using their platforms for championing other people. Poetry is now one of the forms I mostly love. I’m writing a verse novel currently, a tryptic of short stories following the same girl over one year. It’s about sex, desire, intimacy and the complexity and mess of that.

Is there a line of poetry you always go back to?

The line I think about the most is T.S Eliot’s line from the four quartets “at the still point of the turning world.” I’m not even sure why.

“The poets I really admire are emphasising the fact that poetry doesn’t have to just be for a select few. It comes in many shapes and forms and there’s no right way of being a poet. ”

What do you think about poetry in places like instagram?

The poets I really admire are emphasising the fact that poetry doesn’t have to just be for a select few. It comes in many shapes and forms and there’s no right way of being a poet. There are better and worse ways for sure but there’s a real plurality of approaches and that’s what is brilliant about it.

What are some of your all time favourite books?

Ali Smith’s Artful is one of my all time favourites. It’s one of the first books I read that made me realise that you don’t have to stick with one genre. It’s a set of lectures that she first delivered at Oxford about time and form and all sorts of other things which has been woven into this incredible fictional narrative about someone that has just lost their partner and is dealing with grief.

Jenny Diski wrote for the London Review of Books and was also a really great travel writer. I love her book Stranger on a Train which is subtitled ‘Daydreaming and smoking around America with interruptions’. It is about her travelling around on Amtrak trains meeting a weird variety of people. She is so sharp and so self aware and so funny.

Orlando by Virginia Woolf because it is the first Woolf I read where I galloped through it and felt like I understood her prose. Everything it covers – from costume to queerness and gender identity – really resonated with me the first time I read it. But every time I go back to it it feels more relevant and more important to me. It asks so many questions – who we desire, how we clothe ourselves, how clothes are linked to gender. I also love the fact that it was essentially a love letter to Vita Sackville-West.

What are some books that you have recently read that you enjoyed?

Last week while I was away in Norway for SUITCASE I read Chroma by Derek Jarman. It’s an examination of every colour and its position in history, literature and art down to the pigments we use to make paintings. It’s also incredibly moving as Derek Jarman wrote it when he was going blind. It’s a defiant book, one that is also about being queer and the Aids epidemic. It’s both full of life and a reflection on what is being lost. I don’t know if you’ve ever had it where you are so grateful to read an author’s words because it helps contextualise so much for you and opens your eyes. That’s this author for me.

The Modern Muse – This is everything I’m currently interested in and is a great inspiration for a book I am currently trying to write. It follows five different surrealist friendships – everyone from Frida Kahlo to Lee Miller and Valerie Primrose. It centres the female and non-binary surrealist experience. Often the women were producing much more interesting work and the men were misogynist shits. They totally diminished them, treating their wives and lovers as their muses and nothing else. They were the conduit to this great male inspiration rather than being extraordinary painters, writers, creators in their own right.

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