Saturday 22 April 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember No More’ is published by Honno Press 

Here are the buying links for Jan's book:


You may also connect with Jan on:

Blog and Website:

Twitter: @janmaesygroes

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

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

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

Monday 10 April 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 1 April 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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