Monday, 9 March 2020

That Was the Week That Was
Last week was an exciting time for me and one I never thought would happen. After teasing with a partial cover a few days earlier, my lovely publisher, Ruby Fiction, revealed the whole cover of my debut novel to the world on Tuesday. I'm sure no one had guessed that there was a 60s camper van hidden away on the teaser! The timing of the cover reveal couldn't have come at a better time. It was #TuesNews @RNAtweets day on Twitter and the support I've received from RNA members together with so many other generous writers in the writing community has been overwhelming. Thank you to every one of you! It suddenly all became very real for me. My book was out there and I was going to become a published novelist. Publication date is April 21st, just six weeks away, and my novel is available for pre-order. I also have Jan Baynham Author Page on Amazon.

How important are book covers? The old saying 'don't judge a book by its cover' certainly doesn't ring true for me. I am a visual person and when selecting books, my imagination goes into over-drive when looking at a cover. In May 2016, I wrote a blog, Judging Books By Covers, and eleven people commented. Most agreed with me that together with reading the blurb on the back of the book, covers can influence you whether or not to select a book. As I said in that post, I like to make up my own mind about what characters are like through reading but the mood of a story can be suggested by the colours and atmosphere suggested in an image. I hope you agree that Ruby Fiction has done that with my cover, especially when you read the blurb. I love it. 

The blurb on Amazon says: 

It's 1969 and free-spirited Elin Morgan has left Wales for a sun-drenched Greek island. As she makes new friends and enjoys the laidback lifestyle, she writes all about it in her diary. But Elin's summer of love doesn't last long, and her island experience ultimately leaves her with a shocking secret.

Twenty-two years later, Elin's daughter Alexandra has inherited the diary and is reeling from its revelations. The discovery compels Alexandra to make her own journey to the same island, following in her mother's footsteps. Once there, she sets about uncovering what really happened to Elin in that summer of '69.

 Thank you for reading. What makes you order a book?
            - cover alone
            - cover and blurb
            - blurb only
            - word of mouth

I'd love it if you shared your thoughts. Thank you

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

Thursday, 20 February 2020

On Saturday, I attended the 'Love Writing Manchester' event put on by the Research in Arts and Humanities department at Manchester Met university in collaboration with the RNA. It was part of the association's 60th Anniversary and the special guest author was Debbie Johnson. 

After introductions, Alison May as chair of the RNA gave an excellent presentation entitled 'Then, Now and into the Future'. She gave us insight into why the RNA was formed and the original aims of the organisation which were to:

  • to raise the prestige of Romantic Fiction, a genre sometimes views with prejudice and outdated stereo types
  • to nurture authors
Presently, there are over 1000 members of which 300+ are members on the New Writers' Scheme. There are now annual awards recognising authors writing across all sub-genres - from traditional romance, historical fiction, sagas, fantasy, romantic comedy, romantic thrillers. In all these different genres, there is a love story thread. Looking to the future, the RNA is becoming more inclusive. Alison encouraged us to be proud of the breadth of authors and their fiction. and to celebrate what we do. 

Next was Jeevani Charika/Rhoda Baxter who writes romantic comedy. She took us through some tips for writing in this genre. One of these was, she suggested, 'the bigger the build up or tension, the bigger the laugh.' All the basic rules of romance such as the happy ever after ending will still apply in a rom. com. She said that when comedy arises organically from the characters that is far better than trying to force it. Her message to us was to have fun!

Liam Livings, gay romance author and RNA Diversity and Inclusion Officer, spoke about his life in writing giving insight into how he developed his writer's voice. As well as photographs of his early life, he treated us to some excerpts of his diaries and poetry that were part of his journey to becoming the multi published author he is today. 

After lunch, Kirsty Bunting of Manchester Met, who writes as Kiley Dunbar, was in conversation with the special guest, Debbie Johnson. We learned of Debbie's journey from writing short stories to winning the Harry Bowling prize for New Writing in 2010, joining the RNA through to becoming a highly successful author of romantic fiction. She was asked what she likes about being a writer and she explained how satisfying it is when fans message her and readers get in touch. She deals with big life issues in her books and readers often contact her to say how her books have helped them when dealing with the same things. 

'Troubleshooting Tips for Writers' by Katherine Fox of Manchester Met was another excellent session. Her talk centred on the following points:

  • the slow start
  • not enough tension
  • the backstory
  • cliches
  • show don't tell
  • keeping it real
As she went through each one and gave examples, I found myself reflecting back to my own writing to identify if and when I'd been guilty of them.  

A very interesting session was chaired by Alison May when she asked questions of members of Hera Books, a new all female publishing house established in 2018. The panel consisted of Lindsay Mooney and Keshini Naidoo, the publishers, and Jeevani Charika and Kiley Dunbar, two of their authors. They gave an insight into the world of publishing from submission through to publication. 

When the Writing School's One Thousand Word Meets Cute Competition winners were announced, it was great to hear that fellow ChocLit/Ruby Fiction author, Lucy Keeling was highly commended with her story, 'Getting the Shot'. Congratulations, Lucy!

All too quickly, the day came to an end. All that was left was to sample a glass of bubbly and some delicious cup cakes and say our  goodbyes. Congratulations to the organisers for such an enjoyable and informative day.  

Thank you for reading. Have you and your writer friends have any plans to celebrate the RNA's 60th anniversary in 2020? I'd love to hear what they are. 

You may aslo follow me on Twitter @JanBaynham and on my Jan Baynham Writer page.

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

The Sunshine Blogger Award

The Sunshine Blogger Award empowers bloggers to celebrate other bloggers who are creative and bring positivity to the blogging community.

I was surprised and delighted to be nominated by Jessie Cahalin for the Sunshine Blogger Award. Thanks, Jessie! It was just what I needed on such a grey blustery day. Having started my blog in January 2014 to trace my writing journey, I am thrilled to receive this accolade from such a prestigious blogger as Jessie, whose ‘Books in My Handbag’ blog is well known and followed globally. I’ve got to know Jessie over the last twelve months and value her support, enthusiasm and, above all, her friendship within our local RNA Chapter.
Here are the 11 questions set by Jessie for her nominees, with my answers:
Which three photographs would you present to capture your life? 
In my grandad's garden. I was extremely lucky to have a very happy childhood growing up in rural mid-Wales.
Walking on a beach in Crete on one of our many holidays in Greece. It came as no surprise to set my first novel on a fictional island there.
Holding my very first book in my hands.
Amazon Link
I believe laughter is one of the best tonics in life.  When was the last time you could not stop laughing?

The silliest things set me off laughing. I love Christmas cracker jokes, the cornier the better, and puns. This is a typical Facebook post that made me laugh from ex-colleague and writer, Paul Manship. Go on, you know you want to sing it.

Explain the last act of kindness you showed to a friend or stranger.
I consider myself to be a good listener and people have said it helps when they're able to share something that's worrying them and know it won't go any further.
Do you prefer the winter sun or the summer sun?  Explain your response.
Although I love crisp sunny days in Winter, especially as this year there haven't been very many, I much prefer the long days of summer with lots of warm sunshine. I would love to live in a country with guaranteed summer sun. Every year we try to spend our main holiday somewhere in Greece. The wall to wall sunshine is my idea of heaven. 

Describe your perfect Saturday evening.
It depends on the time of year. Last Saturday, it was horribly wet and windy so we ordered a Thai take-away meal cooked locally and then settled down to watching a new-to-us Scandi Noir series starring Rebecka Martinsson on the TV. 
What sorts of characters do you prefer to meet in novels? 
I like to meet well rounded characters with whom I can empathise. To be authentic, they may have some flaws but they will be people I'm rooting for to overcome the obstacles set in their way. Above all I need to like them.    
Give one sentence of advice to yourself when you were sixteen.

I would tell her to smile more! I seem to be pouting in every photo taken at that time. Perhaps I thought it made me look more interesting, ha, ha.

Is there a friend from the past you would love to get in touch with and why?
My friend, Pauline, and I were inseparable until she left for Art College after Form 5 (Year 11) and we lost touch. These days I'm sure we would have kept up the friendship with social media. 
What is your food heaven and food hell?
My food heaven is fish. I like all kinds of fish especially sea bass, maybe garnished with succulent juicy prawns, too. Food hell would be kidneys. It would be offal - boom, boom! (I told you I like silly jokes.)   
Share your favourite recipe.
My husband, Alan, does most of the cooking in our house and is good at it. However, I do like to make Welsh cakes using my mum's recipe. When our three children were in university, they often received a parcel containing Welsh cakes from their Nan. Nowadays, our grandchildren are learning how to cook them and then enjoy sampling them.

If you could travel back in time where would you visit and who would you take with you?
I'd love to go back with Alan to any Greek island before tourism arrived and sample the real Greece. We'd live a simple life, spending time in idyllic fishing villages and mixing with the locals. 

And now it's my turn to nominate 11 lovely bloggers whose blogs I enjoy:
I know how busy everyone is so please don't feel obliged to respond. Just enjoy your nomination. If you do choose to accept, here are a few rules to follow:

  • Thank the blogger(s) who nominated you.
  • Answer the 11 questions the blogger asked you.
  • List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award in your blog post.
  • Nomin ate 11 new bloggers and their blogs. Do leave a comment on their blog to let them know they have received the award and ask your nominees 11 new questions.

Here are the questions for my nominees. I look forward to reading your answers.
  • What is your favourite room in the house and why?
  • What is your proudest moment?
  • What is your biggest fear?
  • What would be the biggest compliment a reader could give you about your writing?
  • What question would you ask your main character at the end of your novel?
  • Where would you take a guest visiting your home town for the first time?
  • What song has a special meaning for you?
  • If you could choose to be a famous person in history, who would it be and why?
  • Name a treasured possession.
  • What is your best quality and what is your worst?
  • Are you a lark or a night owl?
I hope you have enjoyed reading the blog and hope that my nominations will lead you to these other bloggers and find out more about their books.

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

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Looking Forward
The year ahead is a very special one for the RNA. It's the sixty year Diamond Anniversary of its existence and there are already many events being arranged around the country. 
2020 is also a very special year for me as a writer. It's the year when my dream of becoming a published author will come true. I was very late starting to write any type of fiction and especially when attempting to write full length novels in the last five years. I'm looking forward to 'Whispering Olive Trees' entering the world in April. So, what are my plans for the coming year?

 I hope:

  • to work with the editor from Ruby Fiction to get my debut novel ready for publication. Having submitted novel number two to my publisher, too, I hope to hear more about that one soon and be working on edits for that as well before the end of the year.
  • to research novel three before completing the first draft. This has stalled somewhat this year and I need to knuckle down to finishing it. Part of the novel involves one of the characters working for the French Resistance during WWII so I'm hoping to visit parts of northern France for location research. That's my excuse, anyway! It's a bit daunting as, now I'm a full member of the RNA, this will be the first novel I've written without the support of the wonderful New Writers' Scheme.  
  • to attend RNA events - the 'Love Writing Manchester' event in February, the RNA Conference at Harper Adams in July and the York Tea in September, for starters. It will be fun planning an event for our own Chapter with our members, too.
  • to read more, especially books in my genre.
  • to continue with the blog, now fortnightly. It's my way of supporting other authors through interviews and guest posts as well as logging events that happen on my own writing journey.
  • to continue to enjoy my writing, write more often and learn more about the craft.
Wish me luck! 

Thank you for reading and your generous support last year. I hope you achieve your writing goals in 2020. How do you prioritise what you want to achieve? My goals have changed over the six years I've been writing my blog. They are more general now, referring to the whole novel perhaps rather than one short story to be shortlisted, for example, but maybe they're bigger goals to achieve. How have yours changed? I'd love it if you shared your ideas. Thanks.

If you are at any of the RNA 'Diamond' celebrations, please introduce yourself and say 'Hi'. If you have a new book coming out or would like to share some writing news, please message me.

You may also follow me on @JanBaynham and on my Jan Baynham Writer page.

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Reflecting Back On the Decade
January 1st this year was not only the start of a new year but the start of  a new decade. When I looked back to January 2010, so much has happened in those ten years personally and from my writing perspective. We'd just lost my dear mum at the end of October 2009 and spent the first Christmas without her. She left a huge hole in our lives and I still miss her terribly. However, on a happier note, we've gained two more lovely grandchildren - Ellis in 2016 and Autumn in 2017. They are great fun to be around and keep Nana on her toes!  It's hard to believe that back then I hadn't written any fiction at all. I joined a local library writing group, meeting once a month, in September 2010 and that was when my very first short story was written.The prompt was 'She peered inside the church...' Not much to go on but soon my imagination led me to this scenario.
Emma peered inside the church. Her eyes took a while to adjust to the shadowy gloom of the unlit building. She looked at the note in her hand again but didn’t know what she was supposed to be looking for. She walked towards the altar where a stained glass window cast jewels on the polished tiles. Nothing could have prepared her for what she found. Lying in the lid of a battered brown suitcase, a baby was fast asleep on the chancel steps.

Since those tentative beginnings, I've gone on to write many short stories and flash fiction pieces. Through the group, I found out about writing courses offered by Cardiff university and over the decade I have taken ones on short story writing, novel writing and another on writing crime fiction. All were taught by published authors and not only have I learned a lot, I have made many writing friends along the way. Gradually, I gained the confidence to submit my writing. Several stories and flash fiction pieces were published on-line and in anthologies, others were short and long listed in competitions.

The novel writing course convinced me that I wanted to write longer fiction and in 2016 I became a member of the RNA when I was accepted onto its excellent New Writers' Scheme. The organisation has offered so much, not least the annual Conferences where I've come to value the support and friendship of the writing community. 

Looking back on my goals from a year ago, I'm so pleased that I've been able to realise most of them. I did:
  • find a home for my Greek novel, 'Whispering Olive Trees'. I was thrilled to sign a contract with Ruby Fiction for three books in 2019 and it will be published in April - in just four months time! 
  • completely restructure and edit my wartime novel and submit it as the second novel to Ruby.
  • attend the 2019 RNA Conference in Lancaster. And what a fantastic time I had there! Sharing a flat with writers I'd met at previous conferences was a bonus.
  • try to support other authors on Facebook and Twitter. I was delighted when Jessie Cahalin, Polly Heron and Jill Barry appeared as guests on my blog. 
  • enjoy my writing, but I need to write more often, and I certainly learned more about the craft.
One goal I only partly achieved was:
  • to plan and research my new novel set in war-time France. I did write a detailed chapter plan of the three sections of the novel and sorted the scenes already written into the time line but I haven't done the research I hoped and need. I submitted the first war-time novel in its new guise to the NWS instead. I received a very positive critique giving me plenty of advice and ideas. 

A real bonus in 2019 was the publication of my first collection of short stories by Black Pear Press. 'Smashing the Mask and Other Stories' came out in October and it was a great feeling to hold my first book and read some excerpts aloud at the launch in Worcester. Weeks later, I was invited to give an author talk in a library - another first. Again this year, three of my flashes appeared in the WorcestershireLitFest and Fringe annual anthology, but for the first time I was placed in the top three. I attended the launch of the literary festival in June to read out my second placed piece and receive my cash prize! 

I look back on the decade as one when I became a writer. I've learned so much already with much, much more to master, making many friends from experienced authors to writers like myself knocking on the door of publication. The writing community is a very supportive one. 2019 has been a brilliant year for me and I do hope it has for you, too. I wonder what the next decade has in store for us. Next week I will share my goals for 2020 with you.

Thank you for reading. What has the last ten years meant for you and your writing? I'd love it if you shared your thoughts with us. Thank you.

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

Monday, 9 December 2019

Guest Interview With Jill Barry
This week I am delighted to welcome back my very good writer friend, Sandra Mackness, who writes as Jill Barry. Sandra is multi-published in the romance genre with over twenty novels, but her new novel is a psychological thriller entitled ‘The House Sitter’ and was published on December 5th by Headline Accent. 

Welcome to the blog again, Sandra.
It’s great to be back, Jan. Many thanks for inviting me.

Wow, a new genre, a new publisher. What was the inspiration for the novel?

A very good friend of mine who lived nearby decided to put her house on the market. I realised I would miss her very much, and for some reason, maybe my weird writer’s mind, Ruth, the house-sitter character began to take shape. The remote mid-Wales village where I once lived offered the perfect setting for The Sugar House, in which Eddie and Suzanne live.
The character of Ruth is very different from your usual characters and she’s essential to making this a much darker tale than we’re used to from Jill Barry. What did you enjoy about creating 'a delightfully horrid villain', as one reader described?
Ruth has an interesting back story and is both a loyal friend and an unpleasant enemy. Without giving any spoilers, it was fascinating to describe her evil tricks and how she uses her caring image to fool people into believing she's sincere in wanting to help her friends to move away if they wish. 

How did you get into her head and her way of thinking?
It helped to have once lived in a remote community. Once Ruth’s obsession became clear, her devious actions followed.

The novel is set in mid-Wales, an area that you and I know very well. How important is the setting to the story?
My fictitious village is one which some people fall in love with, while its remoteness terrifies others. The forests and the nearby ranges controlled by the Army, would appeal only to a certain type of house buyer. And I, like Ruth, have looked out of my window to see the horizontal rain sweeping across the landscape…

In the past, you’ve been complimented on creating authentic well-rounded characters. Which came first in ‘The House Sitter’, the characters or the story itself?
The story presented itself first. This is interesting, as it now occurs to me this never happens in my romantic fiction where I always begin with ‘a heroine’ in mind.

Are Suzanne and Eddie based on real people?
Great question! Hand on heart, they are not. But I think they’re an amalgam of people I’ve met over the years.

How much plotting did you do before starting to write the novel?
Not a great deal. But as the different situations cropped up, it was important to make them credible and there is a device I used which made Ruth even more fascinating to write.

Will there be a sequel?
I’ve been asked this question before! Some people say the novel’s ending begs for one. I did start on a sequel but other projects caused me to put it aside. We will see.

What would be the best comment a reader could make about your new novel?
Probably that they couldn’t put it down.

There are a number of issues explored in the story. What questions do you think would make for a good discussion at a Book Group meeting?  
  • What motivates Ruth into plotting to keep her friends from moving away?
  • Why is Ray, who wants to buy The Sugar House, so appealing?
  • Did it seem likely that Ray and sales negotiator Bethan (in an unhappy marriage) would begin a relationship? Did you hope they would?
  • Would you like to have met Ray’s partner, Claudia, the vocalist who entertains cruise passengers?

Thank you so much for taking time to chat to me, Sandra. I wish you good luck and lots of sales with ‘The House Sitter’.
‘The House Sitter’ is published by Headline Accent @AccentPress
Please use the following link to see all Jill’s books available on Amazon:
Blog and website:
Twitter: @barry_jill

About the book
When Suzanne and Eddie decide to put their house on the market and move closer to their daughter, they neglect to tell their friend and house sitter Ruth. When Ruth finds a ‘For Sale’ sign perched outside their house, she’s outraged, having never imagined they would leave. What follows is a series of events that are set to ruin the couple’s plans – with dramatic and shocking consequences that no one could have predicted …

Quote from Sally Spedding, crime author: 'A powerful, psychological chiller to keep you turning the pages, but keep a light switched on!'

I hope you enjoyed hearing about the new Jill Barry novel. As a reader, do you like to read a variety of genres? As a writer, have you switched genres? Do you have a favourite genre that you return to?

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

Monday, 2 December 2019

Another Launch
Last night, I travelled to Worcester for the launch of the annual WorcestershireLitFest & Fringe anthology of flash fiction. I've been going every year since I first entered the competition in 2014 and read out my work to an audience for the first time. This year, three of my flashes appear in the anthology, one 'The Girl in the Looking Glass' had been placed 2nd and another, 'Dark Smoky Eyes' was shortlisted. It always amazes me when I start reading the flashes how varied they are in subject matter and writing style. Some are funny, some are sad, some quirky or obscure and others have a twist you didn't see coming. But they all tell a story in 300 words or fewer.

Our picture prompt, selected by
I've written about flash fiction on the blog before. The brevity of the pieces means you can write them in between longer stories and novels or when you're editing and missing the creative thrill of writing something new. Every word counts and the tight word count is perhaps a very good discipline for a waffler like me. This week, our local Chapter is holding its annual Christmas lunch at Cote Brasserie in Cardiff. Continuing with an idea we started last year, we have been given a picture prompt, selected by Sue McDonagh, for a flash fiction piece of no longer than 300 words to share after the meal. Does the image spark any ideas for you?

If you are a member of the RNA, a writing competition has just been announced. Romance Matters is launching a flash fiction competition. It's free to enter, max word count of 250 words on the theme of New Beginnings. The winner will be published in the next edition of the magazine. Deadline 13th December. You should email them to GOOD LUCK!

Thank you for reading. Do you enjoy reading or writing flash fiction? I'd love to hear why if you do. You may also follow me on @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.