A Look Behind The Book With Lynsey James.

me in jumperA school careers adviser once told Lynsey James that writing wasn’t a “good option”.

Six books later, I suspect she has something to say about that – and she’s still only in her 20s.

Her latest novel, A Winter’s Wish Come True, is a follow up to A Season Of Hopes And Dreams, which I was delighted about, as it marks a return of one of my favourite heroines of the year.

I was excited when Lynsey agreed to talk to me for my final Behind The Book post of 2017 as it was a chance to find out more about Cleo Jones and the inspiration behind her.

What a cracker to end on, as I hope you’ll agree.

Despite what the careers adviser told you, here you are a full time writer (yay!). Where did the confidence to follow your dreams come from? Has it been as you imagined?

Wow, what a brilliant first question to kick things off with. I think support from my family has definitely contributed to my confidence to follow my dreams. They’ve always believed I could do it, even when I didn’t. Apart from that, I genuinely couldn’t imagine loving anything as much as I love writing. It’s like oxygen to me. It’s been different to how I imagined, but in a good way. I’ve learned so much and made lots of amazing friends along the way.

What does your day look like? Do you treat it as a 9-5pm job? You’re still in your 20s, can you imagine doing anything else?

I get up, have breakfast, watch a bit of telly and then crack on with my writing. I don’t treat it as a 9-5 job as such, but I do structure my writing time and do some writing every day. If I don’t, things don’t feel right! I can’t imagine doing anything else, if I’m honest. Writing has always felt like the most natural thing in the world to me; I love it and I’ll do it forever if I can.

Can you talk about your path to publication? Did you submit your first book to agents or publishers? Was it an immediate hit?

I submitted my first book to agents first of all, and was lucky enough to get some amazing constructive feedback. Although they said no, I used the feedback to improve my draft and sent it off to Carina UK (now HQ Digital). A couple of weeks later, I got that wonderful email saying they’d like to publish me! It really was a dream come true. I signed with my awesome agent Sarah a year or so later. She’s a dynamo and truly the best in the business.

 

You now have an amazing SIX books under your belt, is there anything you know now that you wish you had known with your first novel? Are you ever tempted to go back and change something?

Wow, I know! Six books feels absolutely insane to think about. That’s a difficult question to answer because on the one hand, there are things I’d change if I was writing my first book now but on the other hand, I’m proud of how it turned out. And it’s kind of fun to see how my writing’s changed from book one to six.

I became a fan of your work after reading A Season Of Hopes And Dreams. I loved that your heroine had real struggles that she was still in the thick of. How much research did you do on the sensitive issues you tackle? What made you write her as still in the midst of them rather than having had them in the past?

A lot of the research actually came from my own experiences with body dysmorphia. It’s been in my life since I was teenager, but it got really bad a couple of years ago when I was trying to lose a significant amount of weight. I felt like I couldn’t trust my own self-perception and it really affected my confidence. It’s less severe now, but it really informed my decision to write Cleo as being in the midst of her struggles with it. I thought the journey would be an interesting one to write, and hoped it might help people going through similar things in their own lives. Body dysmorphia isn’t something I’ve seen a lot of in books, so to me it felt important to tell the story and to show how things can and do get better.

Your most recent book follows Cleo again. Can you talk about why you chose to continue her story (I’m thrilled you did).

In all honesty, I absolutely love Cleo. She’s one of my favourite characters I’ve ever written and I didn’t feel ready to say goodbye to her. I was talking to A L Michael, one of my best friends, and she told me to go for it and write a second part to Cleo’s story. I’m really glad I did!

I’m interested in the books you read – from your blog reviews you seem to have eclectic taste. Will there be a switch in writing genre for you in the future?

Never say never! I love to read a whole mix of books, so I’m really open to trying new things. As long as I’m creating stories for people to hopefully enjoy, I’m happy.

Did you ever consider using a pen name?

I haven’t so far, but if I decide to switch genres then I would.

Are you able to share what you working on at the moment?

I wish I could! All I’ll say is it’s top-secret and will be out next year. Watch this space for more announcements…

Do you have any writing tips you can pass on?

Read as many different books as you can. Have fun and don’t be afraid to experiment.

lynseyquote

 

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Thank you very much to Lynsey for answering my questions so honestly, I really appreciate her opening up about her own struggles – and I have no doubt that Cleo Jones is an inspiration to many people, myself included.

You can find out more about Lynsey via her website, on Twitter or buy her books via her Amazon page here. Her latest, A Winter’s Wish Come True, is currently £1.99.

I’m looking forward to posting some more Behind The Book interviews in the New Year but, just in case you have missed any, you can find the archive here.

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NaNoWriMo 2017 – I did it!

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Taking part in this year’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) hadn’t even crossed my mind – until the author Susanna Bavin suggested it.

Susanna, who has appeared in my Behind The Book series, wrote a blog post featuring quotes from her writer friends about their experiences of NaNo. Having completed it in 2015 (just), I added a comment and thought that was the end of it.

It wasn’t until a Twitter conversation later where Susanna invited me to be her buddy this year – and some of her friends and mine encouraged me – that I first thought ‘maybe I should do this?’ I talked it through with Mark because I knew from last time that I would need his support if I was going to manage it. He was all for it (I moan about him but he’s a good one really), so I signed up.

Did I mention it was already October 22nd and NaNo starts on November 1st? Not only that but I was just about to head off on holiday for half term week so not much time for prep. I decided to continue with the book I’ve been working on for Friday 500 – and luckily I convinced my writing buddy, Kate, to join in.

We began our Friday 500 project in September 2016 (the idea was that we would email each other a minimum of 500 words each week of our respective novels). It’s worked really well. I’ve had a lot of fun trying out different things. I’m writing third person but alternate between characters. I started with two main characters, went up to three, went back down again and then tried writing first person. I also realised that I really REALLY needed to have some sort of plan. So I stopped and spent a solid couple of weeks plotting and then I started again, almost from scratch.

By October, I had two chapters and a really quite detailed idea of where my story was going but I would have happily continued to plod along had Susanna not offered to be my buddy for NaNo.

I was really excited to get started. I didn’t include any of the words I had already written but, because I had spent so long thinking about the story (even dreaming scenes some nights), the words really flowed. I was still getting up at 5am and writing some days so I could get my word count up but, unsurprisingly, having Freya at school all day this time was a big help.

Nano stats

As you can see, some days were better than others. I realised at the start that I really needed to get some words in the bank because there were days, particularly weekends, where it would be a struggle. Once I had that safety net it pretty much sailed along. I even managed to finish a couple of days early – unlike last time when I was almost still typing up to deadline.

I actually found it quite emotional writing the final chapter, maybe because I had actually written all the chapters before it (I only had six and an ending last time and the rest were scenes).

What’s also been really great this time is having a supportive group of writing buddies to talk to via Twitter DM every day. Writing can be a lonely pursuit but they always gave me something to smile about.

And here it is, my certificate (isn’t it nice that it goes with my blog colours). I think even those who didn’t reach the 50k are winners. We all had our own goals but more importantly we all wanted to write – and that’s what we’ve done.

NaNo-2017-Winner-Certificate 2

Thank you very much to everyone who has supported me – and especially Susanna. I’m very excited to have an actual draft. Now on to editing.

Did you take part in NaNoWriMo this year (or in the past)? How did you get on?

 

 

 

A Look Behind The Book With Jan Baynham.

jan baynhamWhile currently searching for a home for her debut novel, Jan Baynham is already hard at work on her second.

It could be that she’s making up for lost time – having only really been bitten by the writing bug since she retired.

I was so inspired by Jan’s story that, while I normally feature authors who are either about to be published or already in print in my Behind The Book series, quizzing Jan about her experiences seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.

Here’s what she had to say.

Can we start by talking about how you got into writing? Has it always been a passion? When did you start to write for publication?

I’m always full of admiration for people who are so passionate about writing that they have always written and found time to write while working full time. My writing journey has not been like that. Other peoples’ writing has always been a passion for me, in that I’ve loved reading from as long as I can remember. As a teacher, it was teaching pupils to write stories and poetry that gave me the most pleasure. Often, I modelled the writing and you could say that was when I first began to write stories. This continued when, at the end of my career, as a teacher adviser for English, I trained other teachers in the art of teaching writing.

When I retired, I joined a local writing group and began writing short stories. I was hooked. Very soon, I took a Telling Tales short story course at the university, followed by one on novel writing. The tutor for both the courses was a published author and it was after these that I began to submit my writing for publication.

I know you write novels, short stories AND flash fiction (I think you have also written some non-creative work for teachers, too). Do you have a favourite? How difficult is it to switch between them?

I think my choice of favourite has changed over the time I’ve been writing. At first, I loved the fact that in a short story you can complete a story in relatively few words and feel the satisfaction of having achieved something. However, my stories tended to be becoming longer and longer and I often found it difficult to keep to the word counts specified by a competition, for example. Certainly, after the novel writing course, I began to think that maybe I could attempt something more involved. I’d have the opportunity to write a more intricate plot and develop more characters to interact with one another. My tutor, Lynne Barrett-Lee, instilled that confidence in all of us. So, now, I think my favourite has to be the novel. I love getting immersed in the story and thinking about my characters all the time. However, in between writing and editing, I still like the freshness of writing shorts, especially flash fiction,

You are currently looking for a home for your debut novel. Can you tell us about it? How long did it take to write?

My debut novel is entitled A Mother’s Secret and took me a number of years and several drafts to write. It had a major re-vamp after an editor I met at the Romantic Novelists’ Association Conference in 2016 kindly sent me some suggestions for tightening the structure. It is a dual narrative family saga set in rural Radnorshire in 1946 and 1965. The novel follows three generations of Jenkins women, who are part of a family torn apart by secrets of Black Market dealing, forbidden love, illegitimacy and prejudice. When one of those secrets is exposed, Angela Jenkins’s life is thrown into turmoil. A year long journey to find her true identity takes her to Sicily and an Italian family she didn’t know existed. Only when she knows who she really is can she move on with her life. I hope the novel is a reflection of the social history of both eras and explores the role of women for whom the conventions of the times meant family secrets were deeply buried for fear of disgrace.

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Are you able to talk about the experience of submitting it? Do you try and find a publisher who you think fits? Have you considered self-publishing?

I’m in the process of submitting directly to publishers who are looking for family sagas and to agents, especially those who are looking to build their list of authors or are open to new writers. I haven’t considered self-publishing because I don’t think I have the confidence to be in charge of every stage of the process. With a very limited experience of working with an editor or a critique partner, I don’t know if I could make all the critical edits myself. I know there are people that you could get to do that with you and I very much admire those writers who do self-publish successfully.

I submitted one of my stories for publication, it was rejected and it felt like someone had trampled on my dream. I was a proper drama queen about it. Have you experienced rejection and, if so, how do you handle it?

Yes, I have experienced rejection many times and you never get used to it, do you? However, last week, I received what I like to call a ‘positive rejection’. Last month, I took part in a Twitter pitch where writers were invited to pitch their novels in 140 characters. Along with novel number two, both pitches were ‘liked’ by the publisher and I was invited to submit the first three chapters and the synopsis of each. Novel two didn’t get any further but the publishers then asked for the whole manuscript of The Mother’s Secret. I was delighted!

When the rejection came, the email contained a number of very positive comments – they liked the dual-narrative structure, the strong characterisation, the way the women’s experiences differ so markedly makes their linked tales all the more gripping for readers with a suggestion of how it could be improved further. The novel’s complete manuscript is currently with two other publishers so I’ll have to see what they say.

What about that all-important synopsis? I’ve read so many “how to” posts and they all seem to say different things about length, style and detail. How did you decide what to do?

I find writing synopses hard. I follow the synopsis guidelines for each submission as what each publisher or agent asks for may be different. Generally, getting the synopsis down to one side of A4, single spaced, is what I aim for.

You joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers Scheme in 2016, how useful has that been? What do you get out of it?

I’d heard from various writing friends what a wonderful scheme this is and I’m now in my second year. My first critique of the completed draft of The Mother’s Secret was very detailed and helpful, and I was able to undertake a full edit with the readers’ points in mind. This year, I was only in a position to submit a partial manuscript of my second novel, Whispering Olive Trees, (46,000 words) but I added a detailed outline of the second half. I have recently received a very positive and encouraging critique from my reader. The main advice is obviously to finish the novel but she has given many helpful suggestions and ways forward when I come to the editing stage. So a big thank you to her.

What about social media? I know you’re connected to other writers. How important has that been to your personal journey?

Social media has played a vital part in my writing journey. It’s through FaceBook and Twitter that I’ve ‘met’ other writers who have been such a support to me. Several of these I have now met in person, too. I’m thinking especially of Susanna Bavin, Susan Jones, Judith Barrow, Carol Lovekin and Wendy White. I started a Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page to keep anything ‘writerly’ away from my personal FB page and my Twitter following has increased considerably since it started, too. I also run a blog about my writing journey and although the comments are often from a very loyal band of writer friends who regularly comment, I’m amazed to see how many people read the blog from all corners of the world. Just as I appreciate their support, I try to reciprocate when other writer friends have some exciting news to share by tweeting, re-tweeting and inviting them onto my blog.

Lastly, do you have any tips for writers?

Just to keep going. Enjoy your writing and keep writing. I also recommend finding a writing group or, as we did, forming your own. I love meeting up with a few writing friends and we’ve become very close. After every meeting, we all go home enthused, ready to get writing again.

Jan quote

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Thank you very much to Jan for answering my questions. I love how she is inspired by her friends’ successes. I’m the same. I have everything crossed that soon we will be raising a glass to Jan. A Mother’s Secret sounds like a gripping story to me.

You can find out more about her writing by visiting her Facebook page, following her on Twitter or reading her blog.

Thank you also to the wonderful Susanna Bavin, author of The Deserter’s Daughter, which is getting glowing reviews, for introducing us.

Next up I will be chatting to Isabella Davidson about her novel, The Beta Mum: Adventures in Alpha Land.

And, just in case you’ve missed any, you can find all my previous Behind The Book posts here.