Sunday, 6 August 2017

A Chat With Susanna Bavin
Today, I’m delighted to be chatting with saga author, Susanna Bavin. Her debut novel, The Deserter’s Daughter was published by Allison and Busby on June 22nd. Sue was an early follower of mine on Twitter. She’s always very supportive, re-tweeting and liking my tweets about writing and she never fails to leave a comment on my blog. Thank you, Sue! 
I was thrilled to eventually meet her in person at last year’s RNA Conference at Lancaster. We met up again this year at Telford in July where I was pleased to meet some of her other writing friends, too. In the year between those two meetings, a lot has happened in Susanna’s writing life but I’ll let her share those exciting events with you in the interview.

Sue, welcome. It's lovely to have you back on the blog and congratulations on the publication of your wonderful book.
Have you always considered yourself a saga writer and what attracts to the genre?
I was a saga writer before I knew what sagas were. As a teenager, I lapped up Victoria Holt's novels and started writing gothic stories, but these naturally grew and became what I later found out were sagas. For me, this was just the natural development of my writing style. I was delighted when, as a reader, I found out that other people wrote this kind of story too!

What do I like about sagas? The historical setting, for starters. I love to see the characters having to tackle their problems within the social and legal context of the time. I also enjoy the glimpse of social history, which is a great interest of mine. Clothes, meals, furniture - I love all those domestic details.

I believe you attracted a literary agent before The Deserter’s Daughter was published. Can you tell us about that and perhaps about the relationship you’ve established with her?
I submitted the third draft of The Deserter’s Daughter to several literary agents and although I was rejected by them all, I received positive and encouraging comments. After a few months, I wrote a fourth draft and could see right away that this was better than anything I had written previously. It gave me a real "now or never" feeling.

I made a list of agents to submit to, putting them in order of preference, and Laura Longrigg of MBA was at the top. I submitted to her and two others on a Friday afternoon, intending to do more submissions on the Saturday, but that never happened. Laura read my submission on her way home and emailed me at once to ask to see the full MS.

I'm glad you have asked about our relationship. We get along well on a purely personal level, which I think is enormously important. I trust her implicitly and if ever I had a problem with a book, she is the person I would turn to for suggestions and guidance.

How did you feel when you heard your story was going to be published by Allison and Busby?
I had an email from Laura, headed "some nice news" - nice?! I was thrilled. Actually, the best bit was my husband's reaction. His favourite author, Edward Marston, writes for Allison & Busby, so he thought it was marvellous.

Having both an agent and an editor with your publisher, would you tell us about both sets of editing you had to do before the novel was published?
When I met Laura for the first time, one of her questions was, "Why is The Deserter's Daughter so short?" Well, I had always been advised that you have to keep your book under 100,000 words. "It's a saga," she said. "It's at least 120,000 words."

That was a terrific moment - being given permission to expand the book and dig deeper into the characters. Laura was keen for me to explore the relationships further. And before you ask, the final word count was a little under 127,000.

The only edits that Lesley Crooks, my editor at Allison & Busby, asked for were two small surface-edits. One was to explain the difference between a pound and a guinea (which I worked into the narrative by way of Evadne's snobbery) and the other was to make it clear what date the baby was born.

A lovely position to be in, then - expanding your word count and only two small edits. 
The Deserter’s Daughter deals with a number of social issues pertinent to the time in which the novel is set; your characters are very authentic and come alive on the page. Can you say which came first the characters or the story you wanted to tell?
The chicken and egg question! My initial unformed idea was to do with auctions and something being sold that shouldn't be sold. From that came the antiques shop and after that the characters and the plot arrived in my head pretty much all together. Although the plot and characters developed in the writing, the essentials of both were there from the beginning.

There is a very strong sense of place in the novel and I suspect it is an area you know very well. To get the atmosphere just right for the 1920s, how much research and delving into archives did you have to do?
The Deserter's Daughter is set in Chorlton-cum-Hardy in Manchester, where I, and several generations of my family, grew up. Many of the landmarks from 100 years ago are still there, so I constantly referred to old photos to ensure my descriptions were appropriate to the time.

I also used snippets of information gleaned from talking to elderly people. When Mrs English skins the rabbit and then takes the skin back to get her deposit off the butcher, that is something I was told about by a lovely lady called Dot. It's just a tiny detail, but it's the kind of thing that adds authentic colour.

Are you a planner or a pantser?
I started out as a pantser (don't we all?), but I always knew how the story was going to end, so it was just a matter of getting there. Later, I started doing mini-plans of the section of the book I was currently working on; and this technique has worked well for me, though I don't do it religiously.

When A&B wanted The Deserter's Daughter, they also asked to see a synopsis of another book, so for the first time ever I had to produce a full and detailed synopsis before writing a word. That was a challenge, but there's nothing quite like the prospect of a book deal to concentrate the mind! And yes, they did sign up book 2 on the strength of the synopsis.

On a more general note, do you have a particular routine when writing and where do you write?
Having spent the past six months writing the second novel for A&B to a deadline, I can honestly say my routine has been: get on with it! I also have a part-time day job, so I spent from January to the end of June working seven days a week. The writing was mostly done at home, though I did discover I adore writing on the train.

I have a lovely image of you sitting here writing! 
In easier circumstances, I like to take my writing out and about. The original version of the chase-through-the-fog scene in The Deserter's Daughter was written at seven o'clock one May morning, sitting on the rocks by the sea near the pier in Llandudno.





I believe you have completed the second novel for your publisher. Is it another saga set in the same era in Manchester?
Yes and yes. A lot of people have already asked if it is a sequel to The Deserter's Daughter and no, it isn't. It is called A Respectable Woman and it is the story of a young woman in Lancashire who learns her husband has been leading a double life, so she leaves him and carves out a new life for herself and her small children in Manchester. The plot is full of twists and turns and there is a court case that I hope readers will find gripping. I have also done something I have never done before - I have used a child as a viewpoint character. Posy is a sparky little thing and I hope readers will love her as much as I do.

I’m sure they will, Sue. It sounds intriguing.
Thank you so much for taking time to chat to me. I hope that The Deserter’s Daughter will be a huge success and I wish you good luck with A Respectable Woman when it’s published in June next year, too.  

It's been a pleasure chatting with you, Jan. Thank you for inviting me.

The Deserter’s Daughter is published by Allison and Busby www.allisonandbusby.com/

My thoughts on The Deserter’s Daughter:  
5 stars *****
I love reading family sagas and eagerly awaited the arrival of The Deserter’s Daughter. I was not to be disappointed! Susanna’s story has all the ingredients to keep the reader gripped from beginning to end. It has everything to keep you turning the page – intrigue, characters to love and those that make you angry, crime, heartache and also love. It’s beautifully crafted, at times written with language using vivid imagery and always giving insight to the background and context of the characters. Living in 1920s Manchester in the shadow of the Great War, those characters are particularly well drawn and relationships between them are explored. I was especially fond of Carrie and full of admiration about how she dealt with whatever life threw at her. I have no hesitation in recommending this excellent debut novel and look forward to many more by this author. 

Thank you for reading our chat. I hope you enjoyed finding out more about Sue's newly published novel. Are you a lover of sagas? If so, perhaps you'd like to share with us what it is about the genre that appeals to you? Thank you.
You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Guest Interview with Sara Gethin
You may remember my blog post back in June when I attended the launch of Not Thomas, an exciting debut adult novel by Wendy White, writing as Sara Gethin. At the time, I promised you an interview with Wendy. It's been a very busy few weeks as readers have taken her book and little Tomos to their hearts so I am especially delighted to be chatting to her today.

Wendy, welcome. Please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your writing.
Thank you for inviting me to chat about my writing, Jan – it’s a real pleasure to be here.

I live in Kidwelly, in West Wales, and moved there 23 years ago with my husband, Simon, and my two children, Rebecca and Jonathan. I grew up in nearby Llanelli and studied Theology & Philosophy at Lampeter University – a strange choice of course for someone so interested in English!

Since college, all my jobs have been child related – I worked in Mothercare, I’ve been a childminder and also an assistant in Llanelli’s children’s library. I loved that place when I was growing up, and working there was a dream-come-true. I left the library to train as a primary school teacher and I absolutely adored teaching. Sadly, I had to give it up ten years ago due to a heart problem and now I write full time. I’ve written three children’s books and a novel for adults.
  
Your children’s books are very well received in schools and with your child readers. In fact, I understand your first book Welsh Cakes and Custard won the Tir-nan-Og Award in 2014. What made you begin writing for adults?

I suppose it’s fair to say that writing for children was my first love. I studied creative writing with DACE (the Department of Continuing Education) at Swansea University back in 2001. It was a ‘Writing for Children’ course, and while I was studying there I wrote what would become the basis of some of my children’s books.

But I was also writing other stories, too, about a little boy called Tomos who was being badly neglected by his mum. I’d first started writing them in response to a ‘homework’ request from our tutor and they were meant to be for children, but these stories didn’t fit the brief, they were too dark. I’d had a particular story about a neglected child at the back of my mind for years, and the ‘Writing for Children’ course helped me to unlock it.

I'm fascinated to know how you manage to write for children and for adults? Do you write separately or do you have WiPs for both genres? 
I compartmentalise! I was writing my novel for adults, Not Thomas, in dribs and drabs for years while I was writing my children’s books. I would set aside a few days from writing for children to allow myself to read through parts of my adult novel and get back into the mind-set of little Tomos.

When I decided to start working seriously on Not Thomas, I set aside time purely for that. I did find myself editing St David’s Day is Cancelled, my latest children’s book, one day and editing Not Thomas the next, but editing is a different process to being creative. I couldn’t have switched between them so easily if I’d been using my imagination.

Why did you use a pseudonym for your adult book?
My children’s books are light-hearted and fun and suit the alliterative qualities of the name Wendy White, but my novel for adults is quite dark, so I decided to use a pen name I’d had in mind for years. In that way, I keep my two styles of writing very separate – and I always wanted an excuse to adopt a nom de plume!

Can you tell us what was the inspiration for Not Thomas?
I began with an image. It had been in my mind since my very first teaching post back in the late 80s. A fellow teacher told me about a little boy who always got himself ready for school while his mum stayed in bed. He was five and couldn’t tell the time, so he’d stand in the window for hours waiting for older children to pass on their way to school, and then he knew it was his time to leave too.

That image of the child in the window became my starting point for Not Thomas and the character of Tomos just grew from there.   

I know you’ve worked as a primary school teacher, Wendy, and you've just said about the image of the little boy in the window. But is the character of Tomos and the detail of his desperate situation based on a real pupil?

He’s not based on any one child in particular – not even that child who waited in the window. He’s a mixture of children I taught and heard about when I was a teacher. My first teaching post was in a very deprived area and sadly there were many families living in poverty, and there were cases of child neglect too. I’ve pooled the problems of children I knew and heard about and I’ve created a character that embodies them all. Poor Tomos!
  
In spite of what Tomos sees and experiences, the stability of school and the care and kindness of his teacher shine through. How important was it for you to balance the harrowing story-line with the compassion and hope illustrated in the relationship between Tomos and Lowri?
I’m so glad you found compassion and hope in Tomos and Lowri’s relationship, Jan. With hindsight, it seems extremely important to balance out all the despair of what was happening at home with what happened to Tomos in school, but I’m not sure I set out to do that. I did want to portray how important school is, and also to flag the other teacher who wasn’t so sympathetic to Tomos, but it somehow happened naturally in the story.

I know school is often the only place of solace for neglected children, and school holidays can be a living nightmare for them. My own teaching experiences taught me that we sometimes expect the impossible of children like Tomos. We expect them to sit quietly in class, to behave like every other well-cared-for child and to be able to learn. What real chance do they have of achieving any of that? 

That's such a good point, Wendy. 
Can you say which came first the characters or the story you wanted to tell?
It was totally character driven. I started with the child and then the story fell into place.
  
How do you view the character of Tomos’s mother, Rhiannon, and the possibilities of the reader’s conflicting reactions to her?
Oh, how I’ve struggled with Rhiannon! At the start I didn’t want to think about her at all. I wrote Tomos’s story first and foremost. Of course, Ree was always there in the background, but she was simply someone who made Tomos’s life so much worse. I knew she had a story too, and I had it all ready in my head, but I didn’t thread it into the novel until the very end.
I knew if I gave her too much lee-way, the novel could shift towards being about Ree and I wanted it to be about Tomos. Ree has had a terrible childhood and she’s damaged. A child who has a child. Tomos still loves her despite everything. I hope my readers don’t blame her too much.

I certainly felt conflicting emotions towards her because of her damaged past. 
Perhaps, you’d like to tell us how you got the book published.
I so enjoy telling this part of my story. A friend from my wonderful writers’ group in Llanelli suggested I approach Caroline Oakley of Honno PressNot Thomas had been turned down by one publisher at this point, and I know one rejection shouldn’t have been too off-putting, but since the novel is written in such an unusual style and I already believed it was unpublishable, I was despondent.

The day after our circle’s meeting, I received the Honno Press newsletter email which said there were places left on their ‘Meet the Editor’ scheme with Caroline Oakley. It seemed like a fortunate coincidence, so I rang immediately, before I could chicken out, and booked a place.

I met with Caroline in Aberystwyth. She’d read the first 30 pages of my manuscript and when she asked to see the whole of it, I was pretty shocked as I was certain she wasn’t going to be interested. From there the process was very quick, and Not Thomas was published more or less one year after that meeting. So I would always say: if you’re a woman, are Welsh or live in Wales, do try Honno with your manuscript – you may be very pleasantly surprised too.

I'm so glad Caroline did publish Tomos's story, Wendy. Telling the story through the eyes of a five-year-old little boy is quite different, or as you say'unusual', for an adult novel. How important was it for you that the publishers kept that feature?
It was very important to me that the story was told in the voice of Tomos. It would be a totally different novel if it was told from another character’s point of view. I had written the very first story about Tomos, back in 2001, in the third person, but I instantly realised that it didn’t have the effect I was looking for. Making it a first person viewpoint turned it into a more powerful story. 

Anyone who has had dealings with young children would relate to the authentic language and the intonation in the dialogue used by Tomos. Were you able to do this by direct observation in the form of research or by remembering your time with young children as a classroom teacher ?
I didn’t research the language I used, but Tomos’s voice was always very clear in my head.
  
How much planning did you do for the novel?
I planned the whole book before I started writing it – that’s to say, I had it all in my head as a complete story before I began. I wrote it in a random order, as the mood took me, and the very last line was one of the first I wrote.
  
On a more general note, do you have a particular routine when writing and where do you write?
I write at the kitchen table, unless I have a pressing deadline and then I have a little upstairs office I use with no windows or other distractions. I don’t have a particular writing routine, although I often wish I did. I’m not creative in the mornings and find afternoons and evenings best for writing something brand new, but I can edit at any time.

Do you have plans for more adult novels as Sara Gethin?
I have another adult novel complete in my head at the moment. I just need the opportunity to begin writing it down.

I'm sure there'll be many other readers like me hoping that opportunity comes very soon!  
You must be very excited about the response to Not Thomas.
I am – thank you, Jan. It’s so odd to send a book out into the world without knowing what reaction it will have, especially when it’s in the voice of a child. I had many sleepless nights over it. But I’ve been delighted with the reviews Not Thomas has had so far, and people seem to have taken little Tomos to their hearts, which is particularly rewarding.

Thank you so much for taking time to chat to me, Wendy. I wish you good luck with your debut adult book.
Thank you, Jan – it’s been an absolute pleasure to chat with you.
  
Not Thomas is published by Honno Press 
Links as Wendy White
Twitter: @Wendy_J_White
Links as Sara Gethin
Twitter: @SGethinWriter

My thoughts on Not Thomas: 5 stars *****
Wow! This book is one that pulls on your heart strings. Told in the voice of five-year-old Tomos, the story takes the reader on a roller-coaster emotional journey ranging from absolute despair, anger at the shocking human depravity to delight in the na├»ve innocence of a five-year-old and hope in the form of his teacher’s love and compassion. We are taken right into the world of Tomos where he is neglected by his young mother. He observes things no child should ever have to witness and has to fend for himself. Sara Gethin has created very believable characters and I was particularly impressed by the multi-layered character of his teacher, Lowri. My attitude to Ree, his mother, Rhiannon, ranged from intense outrage at her actions to sympathy for her background and plight at various stages in the book. I kept asking myself, ‘how can Tomos’s situation be allowed to happen?’ but sadly, we know that it does happen all too often. Beautifully crafted, this book is a must read and should be dedicated to all children like Tomos. I was pleased that there was a satisfying conclusion to the story in the form of hope for him. That little boy stayed with me long after I’d finished reading the book. I can’t wait to read more by this author and cannot recommend Not Thomas highly enough.

I do hope you've enjoyed hearing about Sara (Wendy)'s unique book. Has the plight of a book's main character ever affected you so much that you can't stop thinking about him or her after you've finished reading?

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

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

RNA Conference 2017
Over the next few days, I'm sure there will be many blog posts about the RNA Conference that took place last weekend. Many will be more eloquent than this one. However, as this blog is about my progress as a writer, I wanted to tell you about the wonderful few days I spent with fellow writers at Harper Adams University, Telford. 

The programme for the weekend was excellent and varied. It had been difficult to choose between the workshops and speakers but I'd tried to select those which were most relevant to the situation I'm in at present. I'm submitting my first novel to agents and publishers and currently about a third of the way through my second. These were some of the excellent sessions I attended:
  • The role of an agent and how to write the perfect submissions letter - Felicity Trew of the Caroline Sheldon Agency. This was particularly useful as Felicity gave us a letter checklist about setting the right professional tone, giving a sense of who you are and why you write. She requires a three line pitch at the beginning of the letter and reminded us that the letter is the first example of our writing the agent sees.
  • Plotter vs. Pantser - Alison May and Bella Osborne. In this session we were given the traits of both ways of writing, together with the advantages and disadvantages of each. Alison the Pantser and Bella the Plotter spoke passionately about why their styles work for them. We had to decide where we were as writers. I'm definitely a plotter to start with but once I start writing, I sometimes veer away from what I'd planned when ideas just appear. I suppose that means I am somewhere between the two. 
  • Building characters from the inside out - Fiona Harper. This was an excellent session where Fiona talked about deciding on the Goal, Motivation and Conflict (both internal and external) of the characters before you start writing. In order to 'dig deep', she recommended ten character questions that will show the character's journey as he or she changes. This will be particularly useful as I have two stories and two protagonists again in novel 2, 'Whispering Olive Trees'.

  • How to sell a story in two lines - Catherine Miller. In this session, Catherine talked us through how to make our books stand out from the rest. Titles need to reflect the story and genre and where possible provide a Unique Selling Point. Succinct details should give insight into the story and including names can reflect era, class and place. She showed us how the two line pitch can extend to the blurb and how the synopsis should answer the questions created in the blurb. Congratulations to Jane Cable whose pitch was chosen by Hattie Grunewald, agent at Blake Friedmann. Hattie will now read Jane's synopsis and full manuscript.  Congratulations, too, to Georgia Hill and Sue McDonagh whose pitches were also shortlisted. 

All I have to do now is remember everything I learned and put it into practice! If only it was that simple. :-)
As well as learning a lot and taking loads of notes, I was fortunate to attend 1-to-1s where professionals in the industry gave me very helpful advice on the synopsis and chapter 1 of novel two. Armed with their positive suggestions, I can't wait to get back to the WiP. 

For me, meeting up with friends made last year at Conference as well as making lots of new ones is what is wonderful about the RNA events. Established, successful authors mix with debut and unpublished writers and are generous with their time and advice. Here are a few photos of the socialising (or should I say, networking!) I did:
With Sue Cook (Susanna Bavin)
With Jane Cable
Jackie (Jacqueline) Farrell, Kirsten Hesketh, Jane, Sue, 
Sue McDonagh, Eva Balgaire, Kitty Wilson, Alison Knight, me
Sue, me, Sue, Eva
Jackie, Kirsten, Jane, Sue, 
Sue, Eva, Kitty, Alison
With Sue and Vanessa Savage 











A big thank you to the organisers especially Jan Jones, Nicola Cornick and Alison May for making the conference such a success and to Elaine Everest for arranging the Industry Appointments. I'm already looking forward to Leeds 2018. :-)

Thank you for reading. What have you gained by attending a conference such as this? If you were at Telford, what was the highlight for you?

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

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Debut Novels
It's only two days until I leave for the RNA Conference 2017 at Telford and I'm looking forward to catching up with lots of writer friends whom I met in person for the first time last year at Lancaster. It made me think about how many of these have now published their first novels and the list is growing weekly. I can only imagine the excitement they feel as publication day looms and they send their books into the big wide world. Every time I read the news of another debut novel, I'm delighted for the writer; it motivates me to work harder and get back to the WiP. Not all the debut novels I read are of the romance genre but as a member of the wonderful RNA New Writers' Scheme, it's so inspiring to know that many of debut novelists started out on that, too. Over the summer, I'm hoping to invite writers onto the blog to talk about how they got their first novels published. Two debut novelist interviews have already been arranged so look out for them over the next few weeks.


'Not Thomas' is the debut adult novel of Wendy White, writing as Sara Gethin. Her book was published by Honno in June and is already receiving excellent reviews. I wrote about attending the launch of the novel in my last blog post and told you that book is told through the point of view of five-year-old Tomos. Since then, I have read the book and was blown away by the writing which takes the reader on a roller coaster of emotions. The character of little Tomos stayed with me a long time after I'd finished reading it. I won't say anything else but let you find out more from the interview in a few weeks' time.


The second interview will be with debut novelist, Susanna Bavin. Her novel, 'The Deserter's Daughter'was published on June 22nd by Allison and Busby. I met Sue for the first time last year at Conference after enjoying her friendship and support on social media for a long while before that. I'm well over half way through her family saga set in 1920s Manchester and loving it. Sue is a graduate of the NWS and I'm looking forward to hearing all about her first few weeks as a published novelist when we meet up at Telford.


No post about debut novelists would be complete without a mention of the news that broke this week about writing friend, Vanessa Savage. Her novel, 'The Murder House', a haunting psychological thriller, will be published by Sphere and I can't wait to read it.
http://www.thebookseller.com/news/sphere-signs-debut-crime-writer-vanessa-savage-six-figure-deal-582246




- What debut novel has impressed you? What genre is it? Please leave your recommendations as comments and I'll add to my To Be Read pile! 
- Are you a debut novelist? How did you feel when you saw your book in print for the first time?

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

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:

Amazon.co.uk:  http://amzn.to/2k1kGJx

Amazon.com: http://bit.ly/2jqC7CB

Honno: http://bit.ly/2jqDilL

You may also connect with Jan on:

Blog and Website: https://jannewton.wordpress.com/

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.