Sunday, 11 June 2017

Book Launch of 'Not Thomas'
I couldn't go off on holiday without telling you all about an amazing afternoon I spent yesterday. The pre-launch of 'Not Thomas' by Sara Gethin (Wendy White) was held in the Ffwrnes Theatre, Llanelli. The atrocious weather did not deter people and the event was very well attended. 

'Not Thomas'  is written from a five-year-old boy's viewpoint when 'he's returned to the care of his mother. His mother's hiding a drug addiction and she badly neglects him. Despite the subject matter, the novel does have plenty of lighter moments.' 

Wendy read passages from the book that were poignant and atmospheric. I'm so looking forward to reading it but am expecting tears, too. Published by Honno, the cover looks and feels wonderful, drawing you inside to get into the head of little Tomos. 

Look out for a guest appearance from Sara in a few weeks time when she will tell you more about how she came to write the story of Tomos and how it was picked up by Honno Press. 

No blog for a week or so now. I am flying to Madeira in the morning. Thank you for reading the blog. 

You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page. 

Monday, 5 June 2017

Listening to Authors
Apologies for a lack of blog posts over the last few weeks. As well as editing a fifty page sample of novel two and trying to write a synopsis ready for submission, I've attended a number of events where I've listened to some fascinating author talks. I enjoy hearing about other writers' journeys to publication and about the way they organise their time for writing.

The first event was the regional NWR conference held in Newport on May 13th. NWR stands for National Women's Register. Its mission statement is to 'connect women who are interested in everything and talk about anything'. The organisation is interested in all issues but particularly those relating to women's lives. Imagine how pleased I was that a conference 'Celebrating the Heritage of Women's Writing in Wales' was being held on my doorstop. Wales is particularly rich in independent publishing houses and three of the authors speaking - Judith Barrow, Bethan Darwin and Carol Lovekin -  were from Honno, the Welsh Women's Press. All three gave very interesting yet differing accounts of they got published and their lives as writers. Lleucu Siencyn, CEO of Literature Wales, spoke of her support for women authors and literature in Wales and Penny Thomas, editor at Firefly Pressended the day by sharing her experiences of the Welsh publishing scene. 

The next event was hosted by Bargoed Library. Crime writer Graham Hurley gave a lively talk about he made the move from a successful script writer to full time novelist. His series with DI Joe Faraday is set in his then home town of Portsmouth and ended after twelve novels. His spin off-series is set in the West Country where he now lives and features DS Jimmy Suttle.

Jo, my daughter, and I went to The Hay Festival again this year. I wrote about the festival two years ago so this time I'll just tell you about two events we thoroughly enjoyed. We'd pre-booked tickets as many of the popular authors' and speakers' events sell out way before the festival opens. Our first event was Rosie Goldsmith's interview with Victoria Hislop about her latest book, 'Cartes Postales from Greece'. As a true 'GrecophiIe' - is there such a word? - I have enjoyed all of Victoria Hislop's books that have a Greek setting. The fact that this new book features wonderful photos from around Greece would seem to be an added bonus. She has described the novel as 'adult fiction in full colour' and has proved that 'photography can add rich atmosphere and authenticity to a story'. Through Rosie Goldsmith's insightful questions, we learned much about the inspiration for the novel. We learned about the characters encountered by the author as she travelled around Greece. She visited all the places mentioned and wrote much of the book on that journey. As some of you know, part of my second novel is set on a fictional island in Greece and was inspired by the one where my aunt and uncle lived. While I was listening to Victoria Hislop, I became convinced - or rather day-dreamed - that perhaps the best way would be to go back out there and become immersed in the place and the Greek way of life for months at a time! The next best thing is that 'Cartes Postales' is top of my holiday reading for next week. 

Graham Norton's interview by Viv Groskop was also a sell-out. His debut novel 'Holding' was published by Hodder and Stoughton last year. It is set in a remote Irish village where very little happens until human remains are found on an old farm. He talked about writing about characters and lifestyles that bear no resemblance to his own. He discussed that he wanted the writing to be judged in its own right and not by the fact he is a celebrity. Viv Groskop handled the interview superbly and as well as the novel, there were questions about Eurovision and 'The Graham Norton Show'. It was a highly entertaining event but there was enough information about 'Holding' for me want to read it. The reviews are very positive.

Jo and I had a brilliant day and vowed to return again in 2018.

Thank you for reading. What author events have you attended lately? I'd love to hear from you. Thanks. 

You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook Page.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Opening Pages
Everyone tells you that you have to hook the reader in the first few pages of your novel. Or is it paragraphs? Or maybe lines? Publishers and agents say that they know from the outset whether the book is going to be a good one. As someone who is in the process of submitting novel number one and writing the second one, I'm very conscious that the opening of each book has to be intriguing enough to make whoever is reading it want to read on and find out more. At the industry appointments at the RNA conference last year, agents and publishers asked for the first chapter and a synopsis of the novel prior to the appointments. The submission process varies with each publisher and agent. Sometimes it's the first three chapters, the first ten thousand words, first fifty pages but whenever the whole manuscript is asked for, you know that there was an interesting enough hook for the person to want to read the whole novel. And then you play the waiting game!

Stephen King reflected on the importance of a novel's introductory sentence. He said, 'An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say; Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.' Here are some famous opening lines:

  • 'It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.'  Nineteen Eighty-Four - George Orwell (1949)
  • 'It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.'  Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen (1813)
  • 'All children, except one, grow up.' Peter Pan - J. M. Barrie (1911)
  • 'It was the day my grandmother exploded.' The Crow Road - Iain Banks (1992)
  • 'Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.'  Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier (1938)
  • 'It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York.' The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath (1963)
  • 'My suffering left me sad and gloomy.' Life of Pi - Yann Martel (2001)
  • 'There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.' The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman (2008)
A short while ago, I read a post written by Nina Harrington on the 'Revising and Editing' blog where she reflected on why the first few chapters of a novel she was reading had failed to engage her. She stressed how important structure is. There needs to be conflict or an inciting incident which will make the reader want to read on, she said. She summed it up simply:

"No stakes and no conflict = no interest."

She then came up with a list of ten points that will help the writer build "a compelling opening scene and then a first chapter which will capture the attention of any reader." These include setting the context, selecting the PoV, goals, conflict, reactions - both emotional and physical, dilemmas, new decisions and new goals for the character. Each point is expanded upon and I recommend you click HERE  to read the full post. Nina's ten-step process could be used it as a checklist when editing opening chapters, perhaps.

What makes you want to want to engage with the characters straight away when you begin reading a book? What will stop you reading? How do you start writing the first chapter of a new novel? Do you write a prologue? I'd love to read your comments. Thank you for reading.

You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer FB page. 

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Interview With Crime Writer, Jan Newton
As promised, I’m delighted to be chatting to crime author, Jan Newton. Her debut novel ‘Remember No More’ was published by Honno on March 16th. It's a particular pleasure for me as I was born and brought up in the area where Jan's novel is set.

Jan, welcome. Please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your writing.
I’m originally from Manchester and spent my childhood in Lancashire and then on the Cheshire/Derbyshire border.  When I wasn’t exploring on a pony I would be reading, much to my mother’s disgust.  Most of my reading had to be done with a torch under the bedclothes.  I loved to write stories, but once I got to secondary school there never seemed to be enough time and my writing fell by the wayside. 

Then a few years ago, I found the Open University creative writing courses and things developed from there.  In 2015 I graduated from Swansea University with an MA in Creative Writing.  That was a glorious experience.  It forced me to try poetry and non-fiction, nature writing and radio drama in addition to my usual short stories.  It also made me think that it might be possible to write a novel.

What attracted you to the genre of crime writing?
I have always loved crime fiction.  One of my earliest forays into fiction for grown-ups was Agatha Christie’s 4.50 From Paddington.  I think I was probably seven or eight.  I borrowed my Grandma’s large print library book and I adored it. 

I love the way crime writing can study some of the problems in society and even within families, but woven into the solving of a mystery. Crime novels over the years also provide a mini social history of the way things were when the book was written.

Can you tell us what was your inspiration for ‘Remember No More’?
In 2005, we moved from Buckinghamshire to a village in deepest mid Wales.  The area is glorious and the people are amazing, but few people visit.  I wanted to try to bring it to a wider audience.  I think place can almost be a character in its own right, especially in crime novels.  Rebus is synonymous with feisty Edinburgh, Morse and Lewis with intellectual Oxford and Vera with more tranquil Northumberland.  I wanted to bring the same sort of recognition to mid Wales.
Perhaps, you’d like to tell us how you got the book published.
When I finally had a draft I was happy with, I decided to send the first few thousand words plus a synopsis to Honno.  They were, and still are, looking for more crime fiction authors.  They asked to see the rest of the manuscript and it was a tense wait, to see what they would say.  After a meeting with them, they offered me a contract and the rest, as they say, is history.  There was an editing process to go through, including general and copy edits and a final ‘pick up all stray speech marks’ edit, which was probably the most challenging of all.
Can you say which came first the characters or the story you wanted to tell?
That’s an interesting question.  I knew I wanted to tell a story about this area, especially about the Epynt and its history, but Julie Kite first appeared as a policewoman in another project.  I had help from a lovely editor, Janet Thomas, while I was on a course at Ty Newydd in North Wales, who suggested my original idea for a novel, in which Julie was a minor character, would not work.  Janet asked me which character from the original I couldn’t bear to lose and I knew then that Julie Kite was the ideal character to tell this story of my part of mid Wales.

Are any of the characters based on real people?
No.  They are an amalgamation of everyone I have ever met, I think.  I’m fascinated by people and how they react in tricky situations, the real ups and downs of life.  I’m an inveterate people-watcher (and eavesdropper) which provides me with so much information.  As I write I can imagine the characters acting out the story in my head and I draw on all this stored knowledge and pathological nosiness to determine how and who they will be. 

The idioms used and the intonation in the dialogue of the local people seems to make your book more authentic. Were you able to do this from observation alone or did you ask people for specific help?
I’ve always been fascinated by accents and dialects.  After I left school I qualified as a bilingual secretary, with French and German and I used the German for many years.  Apparently I speak German with a Frankfurt accent.  I spent two holidays with a penfriend there while I was at school.  I wonder whether having an ear for music (I play flugel in a brass band) also helps to really hear how people speak, as well as listening to what they say. 

I'm sure you're right.
How much planning did you do for the novel?
I thought about it for months before committing pen to paper.  I had the location and some of the characters in my head, but I had no idea where it was going to go.  Up until that point, I had concentrated on short stories and I had no idea whether I would be able to write ‘long’.  I didn’t know if I would just stop when I got to three thousand words or when I had a long short story.  Once I started writing though, it just seemed to flow.

I did a huge amount of research beforehand.  I knew a lot about the history of the Epynt, having worked as a Teaching Assistant in the Welsh unit of the primary school in Builth Wells, and I have a passion for Ordnance Survey maps which was useful.  I knew I wanted to include factual information, but to weave it in with the story.  People have already asked which bits are real and which are imaginary.  I’m leaving that to the reader to work out.

Did you know who the murderer was before you started to write your first draft?
No.  I had absolutely no clue.  It came as a bit of a surprise to be honest.  I used to think when writers said their characters decided on the plot that it couldn’t possibly be true.  I was wrong.  I think if I had over-planned it might have made it more difficult to write.  When I write short stories I never plan, they just seem to go where they will.  I didn’t think it would be possible with an 85,000 word novel, but fortunately it worked.  I know what I want to say, what point I want to make with the writing, but everything else seems to evolve.

The stark contrast between the urban area of Manchester and rural mid-Wales comes across very vividly in the book. Did you draw on your own experience when conveying how newly promoted DS Julie Kite felt to the reader?
It certainly helped.  I grew up in an area not unlike this, with hill farms and moorland, but even for me, it was a culture shock when we moved here from hectic Buckinghamshire.  It felt very much as though we had moved to another country, with different rules and traditions.  I hope I’ve respected both ‘countries’ in the book – Manchester and mid Wales.  They are both very special places with amazing people.

How much research did you do for the police procedures and the background to some of your characters?
Several years ago I went on a course for crime writers (or aspiring ones in my case).  It was run by a newly-retired Detective Inspector at Wakefield police headquarters, and it was absolutely invaluable.  For two and a half days, Kevin Robinson gave us facts and anecdotes which made everything so real.  Sometimes too real – but it gave me a feeling for the people who do an amazingly difficult job under tremendously challenging circumstances.  I felt it was important that the characters in the book were true to the dedication and professionalism of our police officers, but that they were also portrayed as rounded human beings.

I’m full of admiration for the fact you are a fluent Welsh speaker, Jan. How important was it for you to include some basic Welsh phrases and words in the dialogue?
'I'm speakingWelsh'
Many of my husband’s family are first language Welsh speakers.  His lovely Mum came from a village on the north coast of the Lleyn Peninsula and I’ve always loved the language.  We were invited to a 60th birthday party in Portmeirion in 2003.  We were the only English speakers in the room, and yet everyone spoke English for our benefit.  I was mortified that their celebrations had to be in their second language, and straight afterwards, even before we knew we were going to move to Wales, I began to try to learn a few words of Welsh.

In this area, Welsh is not as prevalent as it is in the Lleyn, but it once was.  Part of the tragedy of the Epynt is that its Welsh-speaking community was scattered when the land was taken over by the MOD during the war and the language was lost.  Fortunately, the local schools are doing an amazing job and I felt it was important to represent the fact that Welsh is still here and being used on a daily basis.

On a more general note, do you have a particular writing routine when writing and where do you write?
I really do need to establish a routine.  It’s a very hit and miss affair, when I write and for how long.  I spent many years doing Open University courses, and snatching moments to study and revise wherever I happened to be.  Writing tends to be the same, although now I do have a writing shed.  My husband calls it a garden room, but whatever its title, it’s a lovely place to go and tap away at the computer, gazing at the glorious countryside for inspiration. 

On the Honno website, it mentions that this is ‘the first DS Kite novel’ so what are your plans for subsequent novels? 
One of the joys of writing a novel is that you get to stay with your characters for much longer than you can in a short story.  Writing a series is even better.  I have made a start on the second DS Kite novel and have ideas for more. I hope Julie Kite will be around for a long time to come.

You must be very excited about the response to ‘Remember No More’.
I’m overwhelmed by the response.  People have been very generous with their feedback and many of them have said they can’t wait for the next book in the series, which is so rewarding.  I feel a huge sense of responsibility, asking people to invest their valuable free time in reading what I write.  It’s so nice to know that they think it’s time well spent.
Thank you so much, Jan, for taking time to chat to me. I wish you good luck with your book and look forward to seeing you again at Llandeilo Book Fair next weekend. 

Remember No More’ is published by Honno Press 

Here are the buying links for Jan's book:


You may also connect with Jan on:

Blog and Website:

Twitter: @janmaesygroes

My thoughts on 'Remember No More': 5 STARS *****
I eagerly awaited the publication of Jan’s book, a crime novel set in the area of mid-Wales where I was born and grew up. I was not to be disappointed and was gripped by the story from the start. For me, the setting of the novel is a strong feature of the writing, and by keeping to the actual place names of the area I felt I was there with DS Julie Kite at every turn of the murder investigation. The place comes alive. I could empathise with the characters and the contrast between her colleagues in Manchester and Builth Wells is very well drawn. I particularly like the way Jan gives us some false leads with events that happened previously and I love the twist at the end. Intrigued to know more about DS Kite, about her marriage and her personal life as well as more cases that she’ll solve in the mid-Wales force, I can’t wait for the sequel.

Thank you for reading my blog. Have you read a book where you know the setting so well that it adds an extra dimension to your reading?

You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Writing Crime Fiction
Two weeks ago, my writing friend, Helen, and I attended a crime writing workshop. It was held in the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea and an added attraction was that no previous experience was necessary, just a murderous imagination! Neither of us are writing crime novels per se but crime does play a part in both our stories. 

The presenter was Katherine Stansfield, a novelist and poet living in Cardiff. She is a lecturer in creative writing at Aberystwyth University in Wales and an associate member of the Institute of Cornish Studies at Exeter University. Katherine made us feel very welcome and it was clear from our introductions that the writers attending varied widely in experience. However, we were all there to learn more about this very popular genre of crime fiction.

Over the course of the afternoon, through discussion of various examples and linked writing exercises, we explored the characteristics of both detectives and criminals. It was interesting to examine the classic detective as well as non-traditional sleuths. When creating detective characters we looked at the balance between their skills and flaws, their greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses. It was suggested that a great flaw is someone who doesn't think they have any flaws. We were given plot generator envelopes containing possible settings and characters. In pairs, we brainstormed what kind of crime it could be with the character and setting. 

As for the criminal in a story, it is worth thinking about incidents in their past which have impacted on who they are in the present when the crimes have been committed. Thank you to Katherine for the following quote in one of her handouts:
"Don't neglect your criminal. Even the villain is the centre of their own story as they see it and believes that what they do is in some way justified. This is especially true of thrillers. A deranged killer with no moral sense, killing at random, may be interesting news, but does not make good fiction because we cannot empathise." Rosemary Rowe, Masterclass: Writing Crime Fiction (London: Hodder, 2014), page 38.

We covered a lot in a short time and it certainly whetted my appetite to enrol on Katherine's ten week course, Writing Crime Fiction, at Cardiff University next Autumn. Thank you to Katherine for an excellent workshop and to Helen for her company. 

Katherine's crime novel, Falling Creatures, is based on a murder that took place in Cornwall in 1844. It was published by Allison & Busby in March this year, with a sequel to follow in 2018. You may find details of the book HERE.

Look out for my interview in a few weeks' time with debut crime novelist, Jan Newton. Her book Remember No More was published on March 16th by Honno.

Are you a crime fiction fan? Who is your favourite detective? What flaws does he or she have? Do you write crime fiction?

Thank you for reading. You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Pocket Novels
My guest on the blog this week is Sandra Mackness who writes as Jill Barry. She’ll be talking about her passion for pocket novels. She's the author of eight romantic fiction novels, a writer of erotic fiction (Toni Sands - Xcite Books) and has written one psychological suspense novel.

Welcome to the blog again, Sandra. I know you’ve just published your seventh pocket novel for The People’s Friend. Have you also written them for My Weekly? I believe they are both D C Thomson magazines.
It’s a pleasure to talk to you and your readers again, Jan. Yes, my latest pocket novel, Mallorcan Magic, brought some sunshine to the bookshelves earlier this year. I’ll say more about My Weekly below and, could I say, please, back copies of all D C Thomson pocket novels are available by ringing FREEPHONE 0800 318 846

Can you tell the readers what a pocket novel is?
A pocket novel is a complete work of fiction, contemporary or historical and, as the name suggests, is the perfect fit for pocket or handbag. Titles change fortnightly, on a Thursday.

I remember you saying you attended a workshop on pocket novels by Sally Quilford. Is that when you started writing them?
I had one rejection before attending Sally’s excellent online course. (This book was revised and published as Love on the Menu by Endeavour Press). As part of this course, I began planning and writing a pocket novel and learnt a lot both from Sally and from my fellow-students. I’m still in touch with writers I met online.

Do you write them alongside your full-length novels?
Sometimes, yes, I’ll set up a new document where I jot down ideas for the next book, maybe write a scene while it’s fresh in my mind. Meanwhile, I can be fine-tuning another work ready to submit. I’m currently hoping to find a publisher for a new novel called Love Thirty while writing a new pocket novel for The People’s Friend.

How would you sum up the differences between your pocket novels and your full- length novels apart from the obvious one about length?
Good question! With the longer version, I think it’s possible to introduce more characters. An author can also afford to give more oomph to a minor character, provided he/she is integral to the plot. I’m not talking about padding in order to increase the word count but I once successfully introduced an extra character when asked to produce a further twenty thousand words. It sounds daunting? Yes, but it got me out of a hole!

Are there any ‘ingredients’ that are essential for a pocket novel?
There are indeed. As in a longer novel, you need strong characters that the reader will identify with. Emotion is particularly important in a romance or family saga and a little humour always goes down well. Dialogue should still push the plot along and reveal character aspects. It’s also important for the author to keep the readership in mind, when hoping to impress the experienced team who’ll be reading the submission.

Does the reader get to know the hero’s point of view as well as that of the heroine?
I think it’s important that the hero gets his say, especially when the other half of the couple is seeing things differently from him, thereby adding to the conflict. It’s good writing practice to begin another scene or chapter when switching to a different viewpoint. But another author might prefer to stay with a single point of view.

Are there any subjects that are taboo when writing pocket novels?
Thanks for raising this, Jan. A pocket novel is aimed at readers for whom family and traditional values are important. So, sordid or offensive subjects should be avoided. This doesn’t mean all sweetness and light and flawless characters! Disappointed dreams in different forms can happen and send a character or family in a different direction to rediscover happiness or success. Thrills and spills, particularly when writing for My Weekly, are a definite plus, but readers enjoy being surprised, delighted and intrigued rather than horrified and saddened.

Is there always a happy ending?
The Happy Ever After, or the promise of one, is a given!

Is there a difference between the pocket novels of The People’s Friend and those of My Weekly? If so, can you tell us what that is?
The links included below will give you the criteria for both. My Weekly pocket novels require a word count of 50,000 while The People’s Friend request a maximum 38,00 words, this difference due to the larger print size of their publication.

Where are readers able to buy the pocket novels?
UK Supermarkets stock them, also W H Smith, but an independent newsagent should be able to order in advance. To take out a subscription, you can contact the FREEPHONE number above.

Are there Kindle and eBook versions of pocket novels?
Readers might find these websites helpful if they wish to download titles to their devices.

Where do you get your ideas?
My career history is pretty varied so four of my stories are (loosely) based on my own experiences and I always ensure my fictional characters are multi-faceted and not carbon copies of people I’ve met over the years! When I wanted to try my hand at ‘cosy crime,’ my other half came up with the concept of pedigree dog theft in a chocolate box village so the result was Puppy Love, a longer, large print version of which is also available in the public library system. Sometimes I draw on holidays to give a sense of place. My latest (awaiting a response from My Weekly) was inspired by my trip to Australia last November, when I attended my son’s wedding. So, prepare for sunshine, kangaroos and more than one gorgeous Aussie male if I receive the editor’s thumbs up! Somebody I meet might trigger an idea because I usually write character led stories. So, perhaps a woman performing a role we might generally perceive as a male one, is perfect for contemporary fiction. The changing role of women from WWI onwards can inspire some interesting historical stories and there’s something comforting about writing in a former era where mobile phones and computers were mere glints in the eyes of inventors yet to be born!

On average, how long would it take you to write a pocket novel?
I’d say three to four months but, if I could concentrate solely on that work in progress, I could probably complete a first draft in four to six weeks. Fortunately, unless writing to meet a deadline, I can choose my own hours but I like to include visits to the cinema as well as meeting other authors and looking round museums, galleries, etc. You could also say Andy Murray is responsible for interruptions to my writing time over the tennis year…

What advice would you give someone about to embark on writing his/her first pocket novel?
It’s important to read what other authors have written so do get hold of more than one pocket novel. The People’s Friend or My Weekly? Decide where your strength lies. Are you more of a saga writer, enjoying family-based dramas? Or do you identify with thrills and spills, twists and turns? A developing romance, of course, is always popular though do, please, respect the individual criteria so you don’t cause an editor to blush! Anything too graphic is strictly taboo.

Please tell us about your current WiP. Is it a pocket novel?
It is. Revising my latest full-length novel has taken my time lately and I also have an idea for a series set in a former era but this latest Pocket Novel is aimed at The People’s Friend. All I can say is, tracks and tickets will be involved on this rocky ride to true love.

Are the submission guidelines for both magazines available on the relevant websites?
Links for both The People’s Friend and My Weekly guidelines are included below.
My Weekly
The People’s Friend

Thank you so much for taking time to come on the blog again, Sandra. It's been fascinating finding out about pocket novels from you. Good luck with your current WiP. I do hope your editor approves and readers will find it on the shelves very soon.
I've enjoyed it, Jan. Thank you.

Thank you for reading my blog. Do you read or write pocket novels? I'd love it if you left a comment about what it is that appeals to you. Thanks! :-)

You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Taking Note
I've just returned home from a lovely holiday in the sun in Los Gigantes,Tenerife. As I walked down the narrow streets, I felt that any minute I'd meet seven year old Mia and her parents, Lucy and Mark, walking towards me. It was the strangest feeling because, you see, they are fictional characters in my short story, 'Burning Our Sardine'. Our first visit to the town two years ago coincided with the annual carnival and the 'burying the sardine' ceremony. It inspired a story where I'd imagined what would happen if a little girl got lost in the crowds whilst watching the colourful procession. It got me thinking back to how I'd sat on my balcony with a bird's eye view of the spectacle making notes of the colours, the dancers, the crowds and the music. When I'd returned home, I'd used my notes to help me write the story. This time, I didn't use my notebook to make notes for a short story but visits to the small marina, carefully looking at the flowers and shrubs, together with our cliff top walks will give the setting in my newest novel authenticity I hope.
My collection of notebooks and journals.

I've been thinking about the importance of notebooks and journals as part of my writing journey. On every course or workshop I've attended, keeping a notebook has been recommended and I do try to take one with me wherever I go. It's surprising what you hear or see when people-watching! I've been looking back through my journals and I started using my first ever journal in September 2012 when I began a short story course at the university. Each week I would add notes of my own as well as annotating the hand-outs from the tutor. Although I tend to write straight onto the computer, there were some short extracts from stories I'd started in class or at a workshop. In another, two years later, it contained pages of notes I'd made while watching on-line seminars on crime writing and writing popular fiction. Reading through them again, I realised how useful these tips were. At this time, I was regularly meeting with a writer friend where we set ourselves a writing task to write freely for the first half hour or so of our time together. Reading back through these extracts, I realise that a number could be developed into something more. The journal also contains notes I made while watching real-life stories on the TV programme, 'Long-Lost Families'

This beautiful notebook, with its matching pen, was a present from our daughter, Jo, who happens to love stationary even more than I do. Its cover is magnetic so it remains shut but what I love about it is the secret wallet at the back where you can store letters, photographs, paper or cuttings. This journal starts with notes I made about soldiers writing home during the Great War and it gives an insight into what life was like for the young men at the front. It also contains notes I'd made during an excellent 'Write Foxy!' workshop with Miranda Dickinson, Julie Cohen , Rowan Coleman and Kate Harrison. As well as jottings made during meetings with writing buddies and at writing groups, this is the journal that contains detailed notes made on a visit to Abbey Cwm Hir Hall, the inspiration for Greystone Hall in my first novel. Although now it's a tourist attraction, its interior layout, the collection of the staff photographs and especially the kitchen utensils were all worth seeing.

This is the notebook I bought especially for the RNA Conference last July. It contains many happy memories with notes about workshops attended, contacts made and suggestions from the industry experts about my writing. Next are the notes I made at the Tenby Book Fair workshops, the workshop at the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea, the Choc Lit. library event and various meetings with writing buddies. It even contains a possible brief outline of a third novel when I was having a crisis of confidence about novel number two, mainly about the structure - again! Eight thousand words in and I was thinking of abandoning it. I talked things through with writing friends and returned to novel number two full of enthusiasm. 

This is the novel number two notebook. I'm using it most of the time now as you can see by its worn appearance. To be fair, the Woodland Trust notebook never did have a glossy cover. There is a journal/sketch book belonging to the main character, Elin, at the heart of the novel. She bequeaths it to her daughter, Lexi, who reads it after her mother's death and finds out about secrets that have remained hidden all her life. Elin's, like my journal from Jo, has a secret pocket at the back where she has hidden letters from her Greek lover.

In this notebook are notes about the Greek island where parts of the story are set, a map of the area, notes on each event of the story as well as notes on Greek food and customs. Along with character studies on coloured postcards and time line events on post-its, I'm well equipped to write my novel. I hope!

I may not use my notebooks for complete stories but I wouldn't be without them. Looking back through each one, I realise I have recorded a wealth of information and ideas. I'd love to hear how you use your notebooks:

  • Do you write a whole story or chapter in long-hand and treat your notebook as the first draft? For planning a story?
  • Do you use it for recording research, making notes at workshops and meetings?
  • Do you record observations when you're out and about?
Thank you for reading. You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Talking It Through
Those of you who follow my blog may remember that I spent quite a time planning novel number two back in the autumn. I got to know my characters really well. I plotted the story, another dual narrative, and felt I was well prepared to start writing. After a break when I had edits to do for novel one, the writing is now going well again especially after meeting up with the wonderful members of my little writing group last week. As always, I came back inspired and couldn't wait to get back to my novel. As I get immersed in the story in the company of my characters, I soon find they are telling me snippets of information, letting me know their innermost thoughts and doing things that I hadn't planned for. For me, this is the exciting part about writing but sometimes I get carried away and the expression 'losing the plot' takes on a literal significance for me! It got me thinking back to an excellent blog post from Susanna Bavin on December 10th last year. It was entitled The Day I Did The Impossible. Writing A Synopsis Before Writing The Book. She'd been asked by her editor for a synopsis of her new novel that she hadn't actually written. In the blog, she questions whether that can even happen but by the end of the post she has shown us that it most definitely can. The bonus was that she then had a very detailed view of the plot and characters that gave her extra confidence and motivation to write the novel. Please  CLICK HERE to read the whole post. Sue's debut novel, The Deserter's Daughter, is a 1920s saga and will be published this summer by Allison and Busby. On the strength of her synopsis for the second book mentioned above, the offer was for a two book deal. 

What triggered my thoughts back to Sue's post was a meeting planned with writing friend and Honno author, Judith Barrow. I knew we'd be talking about what we were currently writing and decided that instead of rambling and telling her the gist of what my novel was about, I'd attempt to do exactly what Sue had been asked to do. I started by summarising what the novel was about in a short paragraph. Then, I outlined the novel giving details of what happens when, how the characters interact, right through to the end. I didn't have the pressure of getting it right for an editor to scrutinise but what I did have to take with me was a story in its entirety that I could talk through with Judith. We talked about the characters, where they fit in and how they move the story on. For example, I couldn't show that Lyra, a young Greek girl who appears in both narratives, does that and the story would still be the same without her. That hadn't been clear to me when I just had my basic outline but by writing the detailed version, I could see my novel as a whole rather than a series of incidents.  Judith was generous with her time as always and the afternoon flew by. It was good to hear that Judith's latest novel, a prequel to her Shadows trilogy, will be available from Honno press in August 2017. Set between 1910 and 1924, it's the story of Mary Howarth's mother, Winifred, and father, Bill. Judith is currently running a series of blogs about saga writers and you may find the latest interview with Terry Tyler HERE.

My new detailed outline is going to help me no end and hopefully make the writing of a one-page synopsis much easier in the future. However, I also know that I'll enjoy the 'light-bulb' moments that strike when I'm busy writing away. Since meeting Judith, I have gathered much more evidence about the death of Stavros. I was shocked when I found out the identity of his murderer. It's not who I planned it to be at all! 

How detailed are your outlines or are you a true 'pantser'? I'd love it if you left a comment. Thank you for reading.

You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.