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.


  1. Jan B, you are obviously on the crime trail at the moment! I loved your previous crimey blog and now we have this fascinating interview with Jan N. Jan N - you and I are both from Manchester and have come to Wales via Buckinghamshire. I agree with you that crime writing opens up all kinds of possibilities for both plot and character. The crime genre enables the writer to dig deep into people's lives and minds and the smallest thing can take on a huge significance. How intriguing to think that you wrote your book not knowing who the killer was. I know that novels develop in the writing, but that takes it to a new level! Thank you both for a great post.

    1. Thank you, Sue. I'm so pleased you enjoyed our interview. Like you, I was intrigued to learn that Jan didn't know who the killer was when she started. I'd like to think that I will get some surprises from my characters while writing but generally I like the security of planning things through.

    2. Thank you, Susanna - I'd never really thought about 'proper' planning, which seems strange I know. Funnily enough, I'm in the same position now with the second Julie Kite novel. I've absolutely no idea who did it ... What a coincidence in the Manchester/Bucks/Wales route!

  2. For the record & to be hereon your blog, I'm having another bash at posting!
    Essentially, what I was trying topost was this: I loved Jan's setting not least because I live in Wales, not that far from her, & it definitely enhanced my enjoyment of her splendid book.
    I read a lot of Honno authors - obviously - & as they are all connected to Wales it means the experience is similar.
    I went on to say how I enjoy American contemporary literature too - I've read it for years - & I've learned so much about the day-to-day culture of America & about the landscape. Reading books feeds the brain, the soul & the heart! xXx
    (Now, let's see if Blogspot will let me in!)

    1. I love your last comment about 'reading books feeds, the soul and the heart', Carol. I'm often drawn to books set in Greece, especially Crete, and think that the setting can be a character of a book in its own right. :-)

  3. So, success (via Google ID!) I shall remember that for next time. xXx

    1. Thank you for persevering! It's always great to have your perspective on things. :-)