Joanna Bogle is a writer and historian, the author of several books, and a regular broadcaster with EWTN.
She has a degree in theology and is currently Visiting Research Fellow at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham, London. She is also a visiting lecturer in apologetics at the Maryvale Institute, Birmingham.
Her books include A Book of Feasts and Seasons, about celebrating the feasts of the Church’s liturgical year; The Emigrant’s Friend, a biography of Australian pioneer Caroline Chisholm; and A Heart for Europe, a biography of Blessed Charles of Austria written with her husband, James. Her latest book is John Paul II: Man of Prayer, co-authored by Clare Anderson, with whom Bogle has also made TV programs about St John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. She has written numerous articles and essays over the years for many different publications, including Catholic World Report.
Bogle lives in London, is a former Borough Councillor and parliamentary researcher, and regularly leads Catholic History Walks around the city. She is also a speaker at Catholic events and conferences in Britain, the USA, and Australia. She was appointed a Dame of St. Gregory by Pope Benedict XVI in 2013. She recently spoke with CWR.
CWR: You have written so much and so broadly—what is your favorite writing form?
Joanna Bogle: Probably historical biography, 19th and 20th centuries—especially of a British figure, relating to people and places that have shaped the world that I have come to know.
CWR: How long does each project take from conception through to completion? Does this differ depending on what the subject matter is?
Bogle: This is difficult to say. One book—a children’s story—seemed almost to write itself. I just sat at my desk day after day and it was done within a fortnight. But that was extraordinary. Mostly it’s a couple of years of writing, preceded by maybe several years of pondering the topic while doing other work.
CWR: Do you find it easy to write?
Bogle: Essentially, yes—it’s just like talking. At another level—well, you have to check and correct and shape the thing. And writing a book or feature article is work—there can be the human desire to put off the task. The ironing, or tidying up the garden, can suddenly seem so much more attractive.
CWR: In general, how much time is spent on research compared to actual writing?
Bogle: With modern possibilities—access to the Public Record Office, libraries, academic sources, to say nothing of the Internet—research is easier than it has ever been. And I live in London, which makes many things easier still. But I suppose two-to-three years research, and one-to-two years of writing, would be about right.
CWR: When and where do you write—is there a set routine?
Bogle: I use my laptop, and work in my bedroom at a desk. I have easy access to the kitchen and mugs of tea. I like to know that everything is all right—husband contented, no major household tasks pending—before I get to grips with serious work on a book. For journalism, I often work in a coffee shop. I quite like the sense of buzz and busy-ness. But that doesn’t work well for getting deeply into work on a book.
CWR: Where and when do ideas come to you?
Bogle: For journalism, it will of course be connected with something topical: the latest idiotic attempt to crush Christian values in public life, or whatever. For biographies, it’s a person from the past with an inspiring story, a life worth recording.
CWR: Have you ever suffered writer’s block?
Bogle: Yes. I plough on, but the resulting drivel is useless. Better to tackle the ironing or clean the bathroom or, in summer, go out and pick blackberries.
CWR: How much, if at all, does other media—music, film, art—feed your creative process?
Bogle: Films can inspire me. Glorious music of course stirs me. I don’t think I have ever related these things to a particular writing project.
CWR: Who are your favorite authors?
Bogle: C.S. Lewis, Jane Austen. Paul Johnson’s journalism, also Bernard Levin’s. I love Kipling’s poetry, Joseph Ratzinger’s theology.
CWR: What books would you recommend to writers?
Bogle: Probably it wouldn’t be books. Read some good journalistic writing: T.E. Utley, Johnson and Levin, as above.
CWR: What do you understand by the writer’s vocation?
Bogle: Truth. Nothing is more important than writing truthfully. Fiction can be connected with truth, too—the truth about human beings, the truth about God and people and relationships—things as they really are.
CWR: If writing has taught you anything, what is it?
Bogle: That I am not as important as I used to think. Much—most? all?—of what I have written will be forgotten. That doesn’t mean that I should not work to make it as good as I possibly can. But what lasts is love, goodness, relationships to God and to other people. Writing a book is really of no greater achievement than any other useful task: it’s important, and I sometimes worry that we in the West may lose the ability to write, as we are failing to teach children any history and we are not given them any grounding in grammar or connecting them to good literature. But at the personal level, writers shouldn’t get grand ideas about themselves.