Tuesday 5 December 2017

November Done and Dusted
NaNoWriMo is over for another year. Well, the main event is anyway. Last Thursday, November 30th, I logged 33,086 words. It was not the 50,000 I'd hoped for but I was very pleased that my second novel, 'Whispering Olive Trees', now stands at over 74,000 words.  

Should I be pleased that I'm 16,914 words short of my goal? The month started well but life then got in the way and I could have given up. However, apart from a day at the launch of the Flash Fiction anthology in Worcester I wrote about in the last blog post and a whole weekend when the family visited, I wrote every single day. Sometimes, it may have only been five or eight hundred words but they all added up. When I opened up my NaNo page the day after it had finished, I saw this:

I wasn't a NaNo winner but I was NaNo Writer. I'd got back into the novel, re-acquainted myself with my plot and got to know much more about my characters. Being with them in the warmth and sunshine of southern Greece certainly lifted my mood on some of those grey November days. The positive message from the NaNoWriMo team was this:

Wherever you're at in your novel, or energy-wise, you did something important this month: you took time to be a creator. You planned out new worlds and brought new characters into being. You followed your creative vision, and gave your story a voice.

What made this year special was a group of buddies who were there throughout supporting and encouraging me to keep going. Some, like me, didn't get to be 'winners' this time but all achieved so much over the thirty days; the interaction within the group was both motivating and inspiring. Thank you all. Special congratulations to those who did achieve their 50,000 goal! I'm so thrilled for them - Susanna BavinKirsten Hesketh, Tara Greaves and my local Cowbridge buddy, Catherine Burrows

THE BUSINESS OF BOOKS: IGNORING NOVEMBER – Jane Cable considers NaNoWriMo I was very pleased to contribute to Jane's article along with Susanna, Kirsten and another RNA member, Laura James. Click on the link to read what we had to say and how our experiences of NaNo differ. 

Before next November, there are other events during the year. Camp NaNoWriMo takes place every April and July. It's a 'lighter' version of the official NaNo. The rules are the same, except participants may choose any word count and may work on any writing project. It doesn't have to be a novel. A feature exclusive to Camp Nano is the cabins. These are virtual places for four to six participants. Writers have the option of inviting specific Wrimos into their cabin or joining a cabin where there are other writers of the same age, activity, word count goal or genre. They may also opt to join a random cabin or not join a cabin at all.There is a message board on which other Wrimos post messages for the other campers in their cabin. 

It has been said that NaNoWriMo is like marmite. Do you love it or loathe it? Did you take part in it this year? How did you get on?

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

Wednesday 15 November 2017

A Break From NaNoWriMo
Today is half way through the month and it's looking very unlikely that I will achieve my goal of writing 50,000 words in 30 days. Last night my total stood at 18, 241 words and if I carry on as I am I will reach my target on December 9th! I shall do everything I can to close the gap but I know there's a lot on in the next few days and life gets in the way. 

Last Sunday was the first and only day so far when I didn't write at all. I had a good reason. I attended the annual launch of Worcestershire LitFest & Fringe Flash Fiction anthology to read out my piece that had been shortlisted back in June and included in the collection. It was held in the Drummonds Bar of the The Swan With Two Nicks in Worcester, reputed to be the oldest pub in the city. This was my fourth visit and my flash fiction stories have appeared in each anthology since 2014. This year, instead of my hubbie coming along to support me, I was accompanied by writing buddy, Helen Beckett, who had three pieces included in the anthology, including two that had been shortlisted. Congratulations, Helen!

Photo courtesy of Polly Stretton and Black Pear Press

Photo courtesy of Polly Stretton and Black Pear Press

Nothing beats listening to a story being read by the author him/herself and this year was no exception. There was a huge range of subject matter. The event was ably organised as always by Polly Stretton. The event celebrates the genre of Flash Fiction.

"Flash fiction is a difficult craft to master. The best flashes have to invite one into another world, intrigue us, make us wonder . . . in three hundred words or fewer! We want to understand the characters, learn about their lives and feel their emotions . . . Every word must count, and what is not said is as important as what is."  

Here are Helen and myself reading out our pieces. We were both nervous but hoped it didn't show. The audience was very supportive as always. 

The anthology, entitled 'Wired' after the winning story of the same name by Christine Griffin, is well worth a read. You may buy it HERE: https://blackpear.net/2017/11/13/2017-flash-fiction-anthology-wired/

So, how is NaNo going? It was back to the novel for me on Monday. Having written something every day beforehand, I found I could easily return to my characters and immerse myself in the story without that 'starting again' feeling. Having NaNo buddies is a wonderful support as well and it helps when you see that they have life distractions, too. All our situations are very different but we all seem to agree that we have written more in the last fortnight because of our commitment to the project. I have more days ahead when I shan't be able to write but I hope to make a concerted effort on other days to close the gap. Will I reach my goal by November 30th? We'll have to see.

How about you? Are you participating this year? If so, are you happy with the writing you've produced so far? Are you itching to stop and edit? I'd love to hear about what NaNo is like for you. 

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

Tuesday 31 October 2017

NaNoWriMo Counting Down . . .
Yes, it's that time of year again and many writers all over the world are asking themselves, 'Shall I?' or 'Shan't I?' For some, spending November taking part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has become an annual event but for others, it would be their idea of writing hell. Participants try to write a 50,000 word manuscript between 12 a.m. on November 1st and 11.59 p.m. on November 30th. In order to achieve this, they need to write an average of 1,667 words per day. Of course, this means that the emphasis on the length of the work and not on the quality and it is this fact that some writers can't cope with. The saying, 'Don't get it right, get it written', is the philosophy at the heart of  NaNoWriMo. It encourages writers to finish a first draft so that it can be edited later. The project started in 1999 with just 21 participants; by 2010, over 200,000 people took part and wrote over 2.8 billion words! By 2015, this number had risen to 431,626 writers from 633 different regions and of those, 40,000 were winners, achieving the goal of 50,000 words.  
This will be my fourth NaNoWriMo. I've only 'won' once but even on those occasions when I fell short of the magic 500,000 word total, I know I wrote far more than I would have done without the push the event gave me. As someone who takes a long time to write a novel and overthinks things, NaNo works for me in that I get immersed in the story, and really get to know my characters and their actions. By writing the first draft, I have a complete novel to edit. I usually put the draft away for a few weeks and return to it with fresh eyes in the New Year. My current WiP stands at 45,000 words so if I could write the second half during the next month, I would be delighted. Luckily, I have a very detailed plan to follow that I
submitted with my partially written novel to the RNA NWS in August so that my reader would know the whole story. Intending to set my alarm for an hour earlier, I'm hoping I can make a prompt start in the morning. I'm looking forward to supporting and receiving support and encouragement from some new NaNo buddies this year, as well as the lovely writers I've 'met' in previous years. Good luck to everyone! I shall be cheering you all on.

A few weeks ago, saga writer and NaNo buddy, Susanna Bavin, kindly invited me and other writers onto her blog to talk about our experiences of NaNoWriMo. You may read what we had to say HERE .

Have you ever taken part in NaNoWriMo? What did you think? A help or a hindrance to writing your novel?
Thank you for reading. You may also follow me on @JanBayLit and my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.

Tuesday 17 October 2017

Guest Interview with Judith Barrow
Today, I’m delighted to welcome back saga author, Judith Barrow. Those of you who read my blog regularly will know that I’m a big fan of Judith’s Patterns trilogy. Patterns of Shadows and Changing Patterns are set during and just after WW2, with Living in the Shadows set in 1969. Her latest book, A Hundred Tiny Threads was published by Honno in August.

Judith, welcome back. Please tell us a little about A Hundred Tiny Threads.
A Hundred Tiny Threads is the prequel to the Haworth trilogy. It’s the story of the parents of Mary Haworth, who is the protagonist in the trilogy. Her mother, Winifred, is a young woman eager to find a life beyond her parent’s grocery shop. She battles against her domineering mother. When her new friend, Honora, an independent Irish girl, persuades her to join the Suffragettes, Winifred defies her mother and seeks a life away from home. But her head is turned by her friend’s brother – and she finds herself in more trouble than she can handle.
Unbeknown to Winifred, she has another admirer, Bill Howarth, a troubled man who bears the scars of a difficult upbringing. Despite his determination to make Winifred his wife his experiences in WW1 and his time in the Black and Tans in Ireland make him bitter and his ability to find trouble wherever he goes affects his life, his work, his relationships and his health.

After completing your highly acclaimed trilogy about the Howarth family, why did you feel the need to write the prequel that tells us about the early lives of the parents, Bill and Winifred ?
Well, with the two characters screaming out at me to tell their stories, I felt I needed to write more about the Howarth family. I knew I wanted to explain why Bill and Winifred are as they are in the first of the trilogy, Pattern of Shadows. I think that, when we reach a certain, say, mature age, we are what we have lived through as much as what we are through our genes definition. Does that make sense? Bill is mostly not a nice father; he certainly is a hard man. I wanted to show what he has endured in his early life; what has caused him to be so hard. As for Winifred – I think she has used up all her spirit, all her determination to change her life by the time we meet her in Howarth trilogy. She just accepts her lot and any defiance she has is turned inwardly, against herself.

What challenges did that pose for you?
The only real challenge was the time line; everything needed to fit into the timings within the trilogy; the ages of Bill and Winifred, the births of Tom (Winifred’s illegitimate son) and Mary (the first born of Bill and Winifred). But, as a writer this was an exceptionally exciting challenge to be able to research and write about the world events that is the background of A Hundred Tiny Threads.

When I was reading your novel, that's what struck me - how well you've researched those events. And that brings me on to my next question. Because the book is set in Lancashire in the 1900s and Ireland at the time of the Black and Tans, how much research did you have to do for the novel?

As with all my novels I have huge files of each era I write about on the shelves in my study. It’s important to me to immerse myself in the world my characters move around in, so I have folders on the politics of that time, the world situation, what was in the news. The research for the setting of A Hundred Tiny Threads was both fascinating and time consuming; so much was happening at that time. And quite a lot of it was so distressing I sometimes found myself crying; for the dreadful situations those young men endured during the First World War; for the awful injustices and cruelty that the people in Southern Ireland had inflicted on them. And, as a woman, and knowing these were the years when women were fighting for the vote, I felt it important I show their struggles as truthfully as possible.
On a more prosaic level, it’s the kinds of houses, furniture, fashions, hairstyles, children’s’ toys and games played, music and films, radio or television programmes depending on the times, even the weather if I have a scene where I’ve also put the dates in a certain chapter. The list is endless but necessary, I think.

Well, it certainly paid off. Your novel has been described as ‘gritty’, 'laid bare in a language which is forthright and at times, brutal'. Even though you've said how you were often distressed as you were writing some scenes, how important was it for you not to shy away from those horrors of WWI, the atrocities of the Black and Tans or the violent punishment of the Suffragettes?
My genre is family sagas and what I try to show is that in fiction, as in real life, none of us live in a vacuum. What is happening in the world around us, affects us in one way or another. The beginning of the twentieth century was a brutal and horrific time in so many ways. I have to be true to myself with my novels; to put down what I feel, to portray the truth of the world backdrop of my characters. If I don’t do that, how can I show their feeling, their reactions as people dealing with real life? It’s the only way I can write.

Your characters are very real and come alive on the page. How do you feel their experiences of life at the time and the awfulness of what they saw influenced the kind of parents they were to become?
I think Bill is a father of his time; the parenting of the children is the mother’s responsibility. But his upbringing, his time in the army, his involvement in the Black and Tans, has instilled in him a sense of angry inferiority; of questioning the unfairness of life. Although he knows that it is his duty to obey, ultimately he can’t help rebelling – often without thinking of the consequences. And this is what he struggles with as a father; he demands absolute obedience and when it is not forthcoming he acts on his frustrated reactions. He uses his fists. It isn’t that he doesn’t love his children in varying degrees (depending on which one it is) but they have to fit into his life the way he wants them to – and when he wants them to. Basically his innate sense of inferiority makes him defensive, even in his relationship with them and he is forever striving to be seen as the head of the family, whatever the circumstances.

And, as Bill is a father of his time, so is Winifred the mother of her time. She has borne the children, looks after them to the best of her ability, given her limited influence on them and the financial situation. She especially strives to be the opposite of her own mother, a bullying, self-centred woman, trying instead to emulate her loving grandmother. But, at was often the case in that era, she knows it is in her (and even her children’s) interest to put the well-being of her husband first before anything else. If he is satisfied his needs are being met then there is relative peace in the house. It’s a fine line that Winifred treads. And not one her children always appreciate.

I have to ask. Is this the last of the Howarth family?
Hmm, I’m not sure; there is one of the younger generation who keeps mithering me to tell her tale. And I have written eight short stories of the minor characters in the trilogy whose lives seem to be taking up a lot of my thoughts. So the Haworths could pop up as supporting characters there, I suppose.

What are you currently working on? Another family saga?
For a long time I’ve been working on a book that is slightly different. It’s a story of a mother and daughter – so is a family saga in a slightly different way - and more contemporary rather than historical. It keeps drawing me back. But at the moment I’m actually writing the life story of one of the minor characters in the trilogy. Where it will lead I’m not sure (which is rather unusual for me) but I’m going with it for now.

Thank you so much for taking time to chat to me, Judith. I wish you good luck and lots of sales with your wonderful book.

A Hundred Tiny Threads is published by Honno Press  http://www.honno.co.uk/

Links to all books on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2klIJzN
Blog and website: https://judithbarrowblog.com/
Twitter: @barrow_judith

My thoughts on A Hundred Tiny Threads: 5*
As a lover of family sagas, I eagerly awaited the arrival of A Hundred Tiny Threads. I had thoroughly enjoyed all three of Judith's books in the Patterns trilogy and I was not to be disappointed! The story gripped me from the first page and I couldn't put it down. For me, the strength of the writing is the creation of memorable characters who come alive on the page. These are real working class people. I can hear the authentic dialogue in my head; I can imagine meeting them and having conversations with them. I particularly warmed to Winifred who wanted so much more than her sheltered life in her father's grocers's shop with a mother who clearly didn't love her. Although hard to read at times, I admire the way that the harsh reality of the violence and brutality Bill experienced wasn't glossed over. Getting both viewpoints throughout the novel allowed us to enter the psyches of both Winifred and Bill. This was a time of social and political unrest and, through what I know is very thorough research, Judith takes us right into the midst of it. I have no hesitation in recommending this novel that's raw, gritty and makes an excellent read. A superb 'must' for lovers of family sagas and historical fiction!

Thank you for reading. Do enjoy reading or writing family sagas and historical fiction? What is it about the genre that appeals to you?

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

Saturday 7 October 2017

Carol Lovekin talks about 'Snow Sisters'
© Janey Stevens
This week, I am delighted to welcome Honno author, Carol Lovekin, back to the blog. She first appeared when she gave an interview here about her debut novel, Ghostbird, in March 2016. For me, Ghostbird was one of the best books I read last year - I loved it! - and I'm a huge fan of Carol's writing. Imagine how thrilled I was when she asked if I'd like to be part of her blog tour for her second novel, Snow Sisters. The tour has been running since publication day on September 21st and the book has been receiving amazing reviews. Rather than another interview similar to the one we had last year, I asked Carol if she'd like to write a guest post instead and here it is: 

Second Book Syndrome & Ghost Writing
Received wisdom insists the second novel is the tricky one. Since Snow Sisters is the easiest book I’ve ever written I could be forgiven for arguing the point.

With the small success of my first novel Ghostbird, there was an expectation that a second book would at the very least be as good as its predecessor. Telling myself being published at all was sufficient unto itself, I imagined I was resisting the pressure. Right? Wrong! I’m a writer and one of the things being traditionally published did for me was confer a level of validation. It gave me permission to write; I was good enough and there was no reason not to write another book. Nevertheless, it was scary – I scared myself thinking about it – the difficult second novel.

After Ghostbird was released my publisher asked me what else I was working on. I told her, held my breath, concerned she might consider the subject matter too much like Ghostbird. Having been reassured that ‘in a similar vein’ was the way to go, I breathed out and scurried off to carrying on writing the story that was to become Snow Sisters.

But here’s the thing: technically, it wasn’t my second novel. Languishing in limbo was a story I affectionately referred to as ‘River’ book. I’d completed several messy drafts long before Ghostbird was accepted and before Snow Sisters was even a glimmer. The problem with it was, however much I liked the story – and I did – I’d never been convinced of its credibility. Writing it had been challenging and laborious. Text book second book syndrome, right? Right.

With Ghostbird accepted, I’d set River aside, assuming I would pick it up and continue wrestling with it once my writing life returned to normal. Meanwhile, the idea for Snow Sisters came unexpectedly and out of left field. Even before my publisher confirmed it, I sensed it could be the perfect follow-up to Ghostbird. River wasn’t a ghost story and Snow Sisters most definitely was. Janey, my friend and writing co-conspirator, read the outline and insisted it had muscle. To my surprise, I wrote it in record time.

And a small ghost-voice whispered, ‘Why are you so surprised? It’s your third…’
When people ask me if I believe in ghosts I tell them I believe in the possibility of them. The same way I believe in the possibility of magic – the kind found in the everyday, requiring little more than a suspension of disbelief to render my reader temporarily enchanted.
The truth is, I never set out to write ghost stories. When I began conjuring Ghostbird, my ghost was a vague shadow. She was little more than a device; a tenuous link between her twelfth century mythical origin and my contemporary setting. It was only when my mentor, Janet Thomas, insisted the ghost needed to be heard that I began to understand I might be writing an authentic ghost story. And so it proved – as I fleshed out the ghost’s voice I realised how much I was enjoying myself.

How I envisage Angharad
Looking out through a Victorian
window at the snow
When it came to writing Snow Sisters, it was the ghost who came first – insistent and vocal. Angrier than little Dora in Ghostbird, and with an agenda, there was nothing tentative about Angharad’s voice. Woken by an act of kindness, her ghost dominated the narrative from the beginning and her story pretty much wrote itself.
As for River – what can I say? Already another ghost is nudging me – leaving her irresistible, half-voiced agenda in the outer reaches of my consciousness. She ‘keeps up her hauntings by day and night’* and I know who she is; I know what she wants. I know where she lives and who she’s going to haunt. And it’s nowhere near a river.

* Virginia Woolf

Carol reading from Snow Sisters
at the book launch in Lampeter
Two sisters, their grandmother’s old house and Angharad, the girl who cannot leave…
Verity and Meredith Pryce live with their fragile mother, Allegra in an old house overlooking the west Wales coast. Gull House is their haven. It also groans with the weight of its dark past. When Meredith discovers an old sewing box in a disused attic and a collection of handstitched red flannel hearts, she unwittingly wakes up the ghost of Angharad, a Victorian child-woman harbouring a horrific secret. As Angharad gradually reveals her story to Meredith, her more pragmatic sister remains sceptical until Verity sees the ghost for herself on the eve of an unseasonal April snowstorm. Forced by Allegra to abandon Gull House for London, Meredith struggles. Still haunted by Angharad and her unfinished story, hurt by what she sees as Verity’s acquiescence to their mother’s selfishness, Meredith drifts into a world of her own. And Verity isn’t sure she will be able to save her…

Thank you, Carol. I love the fact that, in Snow Sisters, it was the ghost of Angharad who  came first and that there's now another one already waiting in the wings for you in your 'River' book.

My Thoughts on Snow Sisters: 5 *****
Snow Sisters is a superbly crafted novel, written in figurative language that often borders on poetry.  I was captivated with the story from beginning to end. Throughout the book, stunning descriptive settings transport the reader straight into the world of sisters, Verity and Meredith. I loved the sound of Mared's blue garden, with its back story of the blue poppy; the snow-angel scene that takes place there is magical. Carol has created memorable, well-rounded female characters, exploring the relationship between sisters as well as between mothers and daughters. Allegra often exasperated me in her ineptitude as a mother and the effect her selfish decision to move to London had on Meredith, especially. The parallel stories of the present day and that of Angharad, the ghost of a previous inhabitant of Gull House who has a tragic secret, are woven together seamlessly, enabling the novel to flow. Written in the first person, Angharad's story reflects her class and the time in which she lived. This is storytelling at its best, delivered in beautiful prose, by a very talented writer. I highly recommend Snow Sisters and look forward to reading more of Carol's work. 

Honno: www.honno.co.uk/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Snow-Sisters-Carol-Lovekin/dp/1909983705/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Website: Making It Up As I Go Along

Twitter: @carollovekin 

Thank you for reading Carol's post. Do you believe in ghosts or, as Carol says, maybe in the possibility of them? Are you a writer, writing your second novel? I'd love it if you left a comment.

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

Sunday 1 October 2017

Narberth Book Fair 2017

Tenby Book Fair had already become a permanent date in my diary and each year it grew in size and success. Because of that, its organisers, authors, Judith Barrow and Thorne Moore, moved the venue this year to bigger premises. It was held at the Queen's Hall in Narberth, a market town in Pembrokeshire, eleven and a half miles north of Tenby. Appropriately for writers and readers, perhaps, the town plays a high-profile role in Welsh mythology, where it is the chief palace of Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed, and a key setting in both the first and third branches of the Mabinogi.

Judith, Thorne and Honno crime writer, Jan Newton
The day was jam packed with events from the time the fair opened at 10 a.m. until it closed at 4 p.m. These included talks, readings, workshops, a raffle, competitions and a children's corner. Forty authors attended, a number of those offering recently published novels, and each stall had an array of attractively displayed books.

Wendy with her children's books
 alongside 'Not Thomas'
Checking my prompt cards before we begin!
I was very pleased to lead one of the events to interview Wendy White about her fantasic debut adult novel, 'Not Thomas', written under her pseudonym, Sara Gethin. You may read her guest interview on my blog back in July HERE. Since then, 'Not Thomas' has been nominated and shortlisted with the largest number of public votes for the Guardian's 'Not the Booker' prize. I was very nervous but once we started, it seemed to be like an informal chat about the book. After the initial questions about the inspiration for 'Not Thomas' and its road to publication, the conversation turned to being part of the 'Not the Booker' experience.

Sally Spedding
In the afternoon, my writing friend, Helen, and I attended two excellent workshops. The first was a crime writing one, entitled 'Fear is the Key - Creating the darkest places for the darkest hearts' with Sally Spedding. The second was 'Building a Short Story' with Judith Barrow. Both sessions inspired us to come back and get writing. 

It was so good to chat to authors throughout the day and talk about their books. The whole event ran like clockwork and was a testament to the amount of hard work and preparation put in beforehand by Judith and Thorne. Congratulations to both of them!

Roll on 2018!
Thank you for reading. Have you been inspired by a book event lately? Do you have a literary festival you'd recommend? I'd love it if you'd leave a comment. Thank you. 
You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer facebook page.

Tuesday 19 September 2017

A Novel Setting
Apologies to everyone for the gap in blog posts but I've just come back from two weeks in beautiful Crete. Before that, I was desperately trying to get as much of novel two written to send off to the New Writers' Scheme for a critique. In the end, I managed just under forty-seven thousand words and added a detailed outline of the second half of the book

The basic idea for Whispering Olive Trees started as a short story. It was shorted listed for a competition and then published as Whispers in the Olive Trees on Alfie Dog Fiction. Like my first novel, A Mother's Secret, it's a dual narrative - one story set in 1977 in the Peloponnese, Southern Greece, and the other in 1999 in both rural mid-Wales and Greece. The fictional island of Péfka is very loosely based on the island of Spetses where my aunt and Greek uncle had a home and where we visited them a number of times.

Although we didn't return to Spetses itself, spending a holiday in Greece again this year proved to be a wonderful way of immersing myself in the country where my novel is set. We managed to get away from the tourist crowds of Rethymnon and get out into some Cretan villages. Elin, one of the novel's main characters, lodges at a taverna for the whole of her stay in Greece. By visiting a typical Greek taverna, and sampling rustic Greek dishes, I hope this will add authenticity to my writing. 
I took lots of photographs again this year. An ancient olive tree with its gnarled trunk plays an important part in the story and I was able to photograph one that fits the bill perfectly. Walking through the narrow streets of one little village, I imagined Elin and her daughter, Lexi, twenty years later, walking up from the harbour in the heat of the summer sun and finding shade from the narrow cottages.

On her first walk up through the village, Elin passes the 'Villa Anastasia' where a red setter comes bounding up to wrought iron gates just like these.

Bouganvillea blooms everywhere in vibrant pinks, along with oleanders and scarlet hibiscus and these are all mentioned in the novel.

This is how I imagine the view from Péfka over to the mainland and the fictional town of Porto Nikos. No cars are allowed on the island and it is across this strait of water that my characters travel by water taxi to the port where they arrived by hydrofoil, The Flying Dolphin.

Having visual images of the places in my novel and experiencing real Greece will, I hope, help me when it comes to the editing stage. The sights, sounds, smells and tastes I have encountered on holiday will make the setting all the more real - well, that's what I hope anyway. 

Thank you for reading. How do you make your settings authentic? Does it help you if you have a collection of photographs and images? 

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

Blog Tour for Snow Sisters
I'm very pleased to be part of the blog tour for Snow Sisters, Carol Lovekin's second novel. It's to be published this coming Thursday, 21st September, by Honno. Look out for Carol's blog post here on Sunday 8th October. I can't wait!

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.
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