Saturday, 21 April 2018

Guest Interview With Katherine Stansfield
© Keith Morris
Today, I’m delighted to be chatting to novelist and poet, Katherine Stansfield. I first met Katherine when I attended her excellent crime writing workshop at the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea. On the strength of that, I enrolled on her ten week ‘Writing Crime Fiction’ course at Cardiff University last Autumn. Her latest crime novel, ‘The Magpie Tree’, is the second in her Cornish Mysteries crime series. 

Katherine, welcome. Please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your writing journey to date.
Bodmin Moor
Thanks so much for having me, Jan! So, a bit about me to start. I grew up in a very rural place: Bodmin Moor in north Cornwall. You could see our nearest neighbours across the fields, but only just. It was quite an extreme landscape in many ways – great open tracts of land on which animals grazed, no trees to speak of, huge outcrops of granite, abandoned mine and quarry workings. But it was also beautiful and a place of great freedom for me growing up. I spent a lot of time walking, exploring, being by myself, and reading. I was one of those children who read by torch under the duvet after being told to put the lights out. It seemed the most natural thing in the world to write my own stories and I’ve been scribbling for as long as I can remember. It wasn’t until I went to university, which also marked my leaving Cornwall, that I started writing seriously. After my undergraduate course I did an MA in writing, followed by a PhD, and then I went into university teaching while writing alongside. I’ve been living Wales since leaving Cornwall and it’s home for me now, but I can’t seem to stop writing about Cornwall. It’s become an obsession and the roots must be in my childhood experiences.

Perhaps, you’d like to tell us about your road to publication.
My PhD was in Creative Writing and as part of that work I wrote my first novel. I’d been focused on writing poems up to that point and, bar the odd short story, had never attempted any fiction. But I really wanted to write a novel – it’s such a huge challenge! So I had a go and the result was The Visitor – a historical novel set in a coastal village in Cornwall between 1880 and 1936. It’s about an elderly woman suffering from dementia who starts to believe she has the answers to a mystery in her youth: what happened to her lover Nicholas who disappeared in the aftermath of a riot? I was pleased with the book, though it was a steep learning curve to write it, and set about trying to find an agent, with no luck! I submitted to something like fifty-five over a year and didn’t get anywhere which was very demoralising, but the book did eventually find a home with Welsh indie press Parthian who published it in 2013.
I started writing a new book, a crime novel that eventually became Falling Creatures, and I was determined to get an agent. I’d published two books without one but those experiences had only shown me how necessary an agent was for trying to get anywhere with writing fiction. Not everyone feels that way and it’s important to make these kinds of decisions for yourself and your own work. For me it was the next step so once I had a solid draft of the novel I submitted it to one agent, someone I really wanted to work with. He said he liked my writing but the book needed a lot of edits. He gave me his ideas and said see what you think, and I loved them! So I got back to work and went through three more major re-writes over the course of a year, and at the end of that process the agent signed me. It was hard-going, I won’t lie, and very much an act of faith. But I believed in the book and I trusted the agent’s judgement so I kept going, and it worked out!
       I’d planned Falling Creatures as having the potential to be the first in a series, and it was pitched that way to publishers. I was thrilled when Allison & Busby signed me for the book plus the sequel as the series fits perfectly in their list: they publish lots of long-running historical crime series. The sequel became The Magpie Tree, which is just out.

Although 'The Visitor' is historical and set in Cornwall, it’s not a crime novel but a love story. What attracted you to change to the genre of crime writing?
Rather naively, I didn’t even realise I was writing a crime novel when I started Falling Creatures. I really should have done because it’s about a murder . . . But it was the story that attracted me rather than the genre. The case at the heart of the book is based on real events that took place near to where I grew up but way back in 1844: a young woman was found on the moor with her throat cut. It was only after I had a really dreadful 150k first draft with a pair of detectives who didn’t do any detecting that I thought, I should probably learn more about crime novels. Once I did, it was eye-opening, and my writing has changed quite a bit. The plotting expectations of crime fiction are quite demanding but it’s taught me a great deal about storytelling.

This is the second in the series. Can you tell us what was your inspiration for ‘The Magpie Tree’?
Clouties left for St. Nectan
When I was a teenager I came across the story of a pair of mysterious women who moved to a wooded valley near Boscastle. The time-frame is unknown – it’s one of those tales that’s been drifting around forever – and I’ve been haunted by it ever since reading it. Nothing is known about the women but strange and unsettling things start happening once they arrive, and they meet a sad end. The valley has long been associated with an early Christian saint, and I’ve been interested in beliefs involving these figures, their holy wells and ‘clouties’ (charms or offerings) left for them, for as long as I can remember. That definitely comes from growing up in Cornwall – there are holy wells everywhere! I’ve wanted to write about the women for years and when my detective duo Anna and Shilly got a second outing, I knew they’d be headed for the woods. The question of why the women were there was a good way into a new detective case. The setting is in north Cornwall again, where Falling Creatures takes place, and I’m enjoying bringing the stories and places of that part of the county to readers. Lots of people know about the south coast and the Poldark re-boot has made the mining heritage famous again, but people don’t know much about the north of Cornwall. It’s become my mission, through Anna and Shilly’s adventures, to tell everyone what an amazing place it is!

Can they stand alone or do they need to be read in sequence?
They’re standalone books in terms of the stories so you don’t need to have read Falling Creatures to enjoy and follow The Magpie Tree. If you’re looking for the background to Anna and Shilly’s relationship, it’s in Falling Creatures.

I’m fascinated by the character of Shilly and her working relationship with Anna. Is there a character in Cornish folk-lore on whom she is based?
I’m glad you’re a fan! Shilly has an unusual provenance. When I was researching the murder case that Falling Creatures explores, I read about a probable error in one of the witness transcripts. The owner of the farm where the murdered girl, Charlotte Dymond, lived and worked is recorded as having said there was a second girl working there at the same time, and that she sent her to fetch some washing after Charlotte had gone missing. But we know that Charlotte was the only women living at the farm then aside from the owner so it’s likely that whoever was transcribing the witness statement made a mistake. When I read the statement, for a heartbeat there was someone else working at the farm alongside Charlotte, someone who could mourn her, avenge her. And that someone became Shilly.

The setting of Victorian Cornwall with its legends is a very important feature of your novel. How much research did you do and how much did you know from having been brought up there?
Trethevy Woods
Both novels started life with something I already knew and had carried around with me for years. In the case of Falling Creatures it was a real murder, and for The Magpie Tree it was more of a legend without a basis in historical fact (to my knowledge). With The Magpie Tree I let the things I did know guide me to the things I found out. For instance, I knew St Nectan is the saint associated with the valley but I didn’t know much else about him. I read up on the stories about him and worked the things I learnt from those into the story of the mysterious women. I did lots of text-based research for the book but I’m also a great fan of old maps and getting out and about. I visited the wooded valley of Trethevy twice (both times in terrible weather!) but didn’t take any notes. I just walked and looked and things, touched the trees and smelt the air, and then trusted my brain would start the alchemical process that transforms those experiences into the world of the story.

The local dialect and vocabulary used by the characters appears to make them more authentic and takes us back in time. Because the book is set so long ago, where did you go to get help on this?
The way the characters speak is actually based on the way many people in Cornwall speak today so the voices of the characters are actually very modern in some ways. I don’t go in for trying to render the accent on the page – lots of errs and zurrs would be really tedious to read. I’m more interested in the actual words people use and that’s where the dialect comes in, and there’s a bit of Cornish in there too.

Are you a planner or a pantser? If the former, how did you set about planning the novel?
For each novel I’ve written since my first, I’ve always been a planner, and the plans keep getting longer. For the new novel I’m working on I’ve got a fifteen page plan which is really a scene-by-scene breakdown and even includes some lines of dialogue that have occurred to me in the planning stages. I can’t imagine starting a novel without a plan now, especially for crime fiction where the plot has to be so tight. When I’m on contract for a book there isn’t usually time to do huge amounts of re-writes if the plot goes wrong so I tend to front-load the work to try and guard against problems later. It doesn’t always work of course and what seems perfectly believable for a character to do in the abstract can make no sense at all once you actually get to the relevant scene. So I plan and then the plans change, but without having a plan I don’t think I’d have the confidence to start. Novels are so daunting.

On a more general note, do you have a particular writing routine when writing and where do you write?
I try to do 10k words a month and as long as I get that done then I can meet my deadlines. Sometimes I’ll do it in a couple of feverish days and other times it will take longer, with more gaps between stints. I’m constantly getting up from my laptop and wandering off but that seems to help with knotty plot problems so I’ve stopped fighting it. I tend to write at the kitchen table as I haven’t had enough space for a desk for the last few years. One place I absolutely can’t work is a cafĂ© – too much distraction.

Thank you so much, Katherine, for taking time to chat to me about your wonderful book. I wish you good luck with the sales of 'The Magpie Tree'. 

‘The Magpie Tree’ is published by Allison and Busby.
Links to the book on Amazon: 
Twitter: @K_Stansfield

My thoughts on 'The Magpie Tree': 5 stars *****
I loved this book. The second in a series of crime mysteries set in 1840s Cornwall, it has everything to keep the reader turning the pages - an intriguing mystery, fascinating characters, witchcraft, local myths and folk-lore. It gives us an insight into life in Victorian Cornwall. All this is set against an atmospheric Cornish landscape with all its contrasts so beautifully evoked in the author's prose. We are transported into the world of eerie dark shadows and unexplained happenings. As readers, we are right there accompanying the detective duo, Anna Drake and Shilly, as they investigate the crime, based on a real events in Cornish history. The multi-layered character of Shilly is particularly well-developed. She has an empathy with her surroundings and nature and is learning to trust her instincts and judgments. The story has so many twists and turns that the reader is gripped until the last page. An excellent read, highly recommended!

Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed learning more about Katherine and her writing. Have you written or read any novels based on real events? Have you given your novel a sense of place that impacts on the actions/mood of the characters? I'd love to read your comments. Thanks.

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

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Guest Interview with Jill Barry
My guest this week is no stranger to the blog. She has appeared on a number of occasions before and is my very good writer friend, Sandra Mackness, who writes under the name of Jill Barry. She has had over twenty novels published, as paperbacks, ebooks and Linford Romance large print paperbacks. Her latest novel, Love Thirty was published by Endeavour Media on 16th February.

Welcome to the blog again, Sandra.
It’s great to be back! Thanks for inviting me here again, Jan.

After seeing so many of your novels in print, how exciting was the publication of Love Thirty for you?
My new novel began life in 2009 and went through the RNA’s New Writer Scheme, receiving a positive and helpful response. While in the process of submitting it and receiving rejections, I was of course working on another novel and Love Thirty was consigned to my ‘virtual drawer.’ I was kept so busy writing pocket novels for D C Thomson, and longer length novels for Ulverscroft Linford Romance and Endeavour Press that Love Thirty languished! Last summer, I wanted to submit a book to Endeavour Press (now Endeavour Media) and, luckily, my editor was taken with Love Thirty. So, yes, it was very exciting, after completing a lot of revisions, to see the novel published and I’m now exploring paperback options for it.

Can you please tell us about the inspiration for the novel?
I fell in love with tennis at around age nine and watched every possible moment of Wimbledon’s TV coverage from my teenage years upwards. Having been fortunate enough to attend on several occasions, I’ve observed the crowds and the celebrities in the Royal Box. I’ve also wandered around Queen’s Club and exchanged greetings with tennis stars and personalities plus watched Andy Murray practising when not bantering with his competitors! It’s a fickle world and I knew it would be challenging to create a tennis player hero as athletes are, justifiably, intensely driven and often lead lonely lives on the ATP Tour. I’ve been heartened by some of my reviewers’ comments about hero Nick Pereira and it’s great to know I succeeded in making him ‘real.’ 

Where does the book fit in with your other novels?  
With the exception of The House Sitter, all Jill Barry novels and novellas contain that old thing called romance, although in varying degrees from raunchy to tender teenage love. However, I enjoy giving my heroines a poignant back-story, e.g. early widowhood, although in Georgia Lyle’s case, marriage to Nick (as a tennis wife) causes her to question her own career ambitions as well as the ticking of her biological clock. So, the title Love Thirty reflects not only the tennis theme, which isn’t overwhelming, but also Georgia’s feelings about motherhood.

Something that makes the novel differ from my others is the strong bond between the heroine and her male colleague. They really are good buddies. Photographer Andy eventually falls for an enigmatic character so the plot also follows this rather rocky relationship. There’s also a lot of humour when Andy’s around and when Georgia’s new career catapults her into the celebrity chef zone.

I admire authors like Jilly Cooper and the late, much loved, Penny Vincenzi, so Love Thirty gave me the opportunity to create a longer cast list than I normally provide and to take my heroine to some rather exciting places. Failure to communicate their deepest needs to one another almost destroys any chance of a happy ending for my leading man and lady but…I’ll say no more! 

As well as being a love story, as you say, Love Thirty deals with a number of other issues. Would you like to tell us what they are?
How people can jump to the wrong conclusion plays an important part in the plot. Georgia is convinced Nick can’t possibly love her any more and there are times when I felt like knocking their heads together. But I needed them to go their own ways before bringing them together again, a meeting that resulted in a life-changing situation. A traumatic childhood has made Andy’s girlfriend the person she is and because he’s such a favourite of mine, I wanted to give him a happy ending too. There are also dark issues underpinning Nick’s parents’ marriage and when the full truth is revealed to Nick and his older brother, it makes the two much closer than they were.

Why was it important to you to raise these issues?
People often envy others their lives, simply because they so often watch celebrities moving in exalted company and athletes enjoying adulation. But behind the glitz lie much hard work and failure before success arrives. Tennis players, in particular, are vulnerable to injury and their top ten playing career is usually quite short, unless you’re Roger Federer of course! I think I’m trying to say that behind all the flash photography and the ritzy restaurants, the love and comradeship two people share is the real driving element in a relationship. That’s why I wanted to make Love Thirty into more than a love story.

I know you are a huge tennis fan - and you've confirmed this earlier - so I wasn’t surprised to find that your hero, Nick, was a top tennis player. How much research into the lives of professional tennis players did you have to do?
Fortunately, I had already read the autobiographies of several of my favourites and followed the careers of our most recent top ten British players. After I planned Nick’s rise through the rankings, I contacted the International Tennis Federation to see if it was plausible. So the person who replied to me gets a mention in the acknowledgments. I came face to face with former Wimbledon champion, Pat Cash, a couple of years ago in London at Queen’s Club and on another occasion my courtside seat gave me a great view of Ivan Lendl and David Beckham sitting in the British Number One’s box. I tried to recreate that kind of atmosphere for the Wimbledon scene where Georgia waves to the wife of a well-known player.

And finding out about the world of high-class restaurants and chefs?
Sandra's lemon drizzle cake. 
Working in hotels alerted me to the personality clashes amongst chefs and their colleagues, not to mention the waiting staff. When I needed a menu for the delicious French chef who admires Georgia in the celebrity cooking show, I recreated something I’d enjoyed while travelling through French-speaking Canada a few years ago. I like cooking fresh produce and baking delicious cakes that aren’t loaded with refined sugar. You should taste my healthy lemon drizzle! So Georgia’s aims were close to my heart.

The characters in your book are real and rounded so I felt I’d got to know them very well by the end of their story. Which came first the characters or the story itself?
Heroine Georgia arrived first and I always knew her colleague Andy had more than a soft spot for her. Bringing in Nick offered the chance for her to escape her misogynist boss and, eventually, for her to branch out in a very different direction from the tennis and journalistic worlds.

Would you consider a sequel to Georgia and Nick’s story?
What are you currently working on?
Well, that’s a tempting thought, given I was sad to leave my characters, but I don’t think there’ll be a sequel. Currently I’m working on a Christmas novella (sorry to mention that word) and I’ve begun mapping out the first book of what I hope will be a trilogy, drawing on the lives and loves of three women from the late 1930s until present day. So, mother, daughter and granddaughter. Whether I’m writing a contemporary novel, or going back to past times, it’s always an exciting journey.

What has been your proudest writing moment to date?
I suspect no author forgets the joy of seeing his or her work in print for the very first time. But, after applying to study for my MA in creative writing, decades after I passed my A Levels, I was thrilled to be accepted purely on the strength of work submitted.

Thank you so much for taking time to chat to me, Sandra. I wish you good luck and lots of sales with your lovely book.
It’s my pleasure, Jan. I’ve enjoyed our conversation very much. Here are some links to me and my books:

Love Thirty is published by Endeavour Media - my author page gives details of my novels and novellas, the themes of which are reflected in my book covers.

Jill Barry also has her own Facebook author page:
It would be great if you could come along and ‘Like’ my page.

Twitter: @barry_jill
It would be lovely if you’d follow me and mention Jan’s blog so I can follow you back.

My thoughts on ‘Love Thirty’: 5*
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Love Thirty. It has all the ingredients of a pacy well-crafted romance story between Georgia and Nick to be savoured for its ‘feel-good’ quality. In it, you’ll find fun, humour, passion and emotion. However, in addition, Sandra explores a number of other issues: the pressures that being in celebrity limelight puts on personal relationships, friendship, developing careers and taking advantage of second chances. She has created authentic well rounded characters that come alive on the page. You are made to feel how they feel, see what they see, and, in the restaurant scenes, taste what they taste!  Love Thirty takes us into the world of tennis, media and food as well as transporting the reader to the romantic city of Paris where part of the story is set. Highly recommended.

Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed finding out about Sandra and her writing. 

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

Monday, 19 March 2018

A New 'Future Learn' Course
Some of you may remember I took a 'Writing Crime Fiction' course at Cardiff University in the autumn. It was an excellent course run by Dr. Katherine Stansfield. I don't intend switching genres but the knowledge I gained from her over ten weeks has and will prove invaluable when dealing with crimes in my family sagas. Already I feel that Detective Leo Gianopoulis in 'Whispering Olive Trees' is all the more authentic because of me having taken the course. A free 'Future Learn' course on 'Forensic Psychology - Witness Investigation' run by The Open University was recommended back in October and I signed up there and then. It lasts for eight weeks and it is recommended that you spend three hours a week on it. 

At the end of the course, you should be able to:

  • investigate and understand the psychology of eyewitness testimony
  • develop your own investigative skills
  • explore human cognition and discover the mistakes your own brain can make
  • discuss concepts of criminal investigation
  • explore and consider the relationship between limitations of the human brain and miscarriages of justice
The main thrust of the course will how to try to solve a crime using nothing but eyewitness evidence. Despite advances in forensic science, eyewitness testimony is still a vital part of police investigations. However, research has proved that there are dangers in relying on this testimony and police must be careful when interviewing witnesses. Through videos of real witnesses, the course will explore the psychology of eyewitness testimony. As my novel is set before the advent of DNA, I'm sure finding out more about how the human brain reacts to recalling what has been witnessed will prove useful. 

The course starts today so wish me luck. I'll let you know how I get on. Have you undertaken any courses that complement the genre in which you write? Have you followed any 'Future Learn' courses? 

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

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Skeleton in the Cupboard
I have always been fascinated by the dynamics of families and the relationships between family members. Perhaps this is why I love reading sagas and try to write them myself. The way family members act and react towards one another is fascinating - often surprising and sometimes shocking! Is it nature or nurture that makes a person behave in a certain way?  Can you inherit someone's personality and temperament in the same way as you do their physical characteristics? Are those personality traits embedded from birth or can they change in a different environment?
Many novels, not necessarily only sagas, involve a secret - 'a skeleton in the cupboard' -   that is never discussed and is hidden away for generations. The big reveal is often the crux of the story and is what makes the reader keep turning the pages. For some years, I subscribed to 'Your Family Tree', a family history magazine. In each publication, the back page feature was always devoted to a 'Skeleton in the Cupboard!' Readers were invited to send in an article of 700 words telling of a secret in their own families. They ranged from keeping mistresses and adultery, bigamy, murder, imprisonment, debt, sexual and physical abuse. The list was endless. In the past, secrets about illegitimacy, disability and insanity were all considered to bring shame on the family and family members who were disabled or suffering from mental illness would be hidden away. Fictional accounts of similar family situations find their way into many of our stories.
Here are a few novels I've thoroughly enjoyed reading that have secrets at their heart: 

'A Time for Silence' by Thorne Moore.
Publisher: Honno Welsh Women's Press
ISBN -13: 978-1906784454 
The main character, Sarah, stumbles across her grandparents' ruined farm and begins to delve into her family history. She learns that her grandfather had been murdered but no one had told her. She determines to find out what happened but perhaps there are some family secrets that should never be revealed. 

'A Simple Life'  by Rosie Thomas
Publisher: Harper Collins (now an e-book)
The main character, Dinah Shepherd, has a shameful secret that has haunted her for fifteen years. She has a comfortable family life with her two sons but a choice she and her husband made all those years before is never referred to. She finally decides to confront the truth and risks everything to claim what is rightfully hers. 

'The Kashmir Shawl' by Rosie Thomas
Publisher: Harper Collins
ISBN: 978-0007285976
When Mair Ellis clears out her father's house, she finds an antique shawl with a lock of child's hair wrapped up in its folds. Tracing her family history back to a time spent in Kashmir where her grandparents were missionaries, Mair uncovers a story of doomed love and great sacrifice.

'The Hand That First Held Mine' by Maggie O'Farrell
Publisher: Tinder Press
ISBN: 978-0755308460
A dual narrative, the story tells of Lexi Sinclair carving a new life for herself in London, at the heart of the 1950s art scene. In the parallel story, fifty years later, Ted is disturbed to realise that memories of his childhood do not tally with his parents' version of events. His search for answers lead to uncovering a secret that had been hidden from him.

In my own novels, secrets play an important part, too. In 'A Mother's Secret', details about forbidden love, illegitimacy and imprisonment for Black Market dealing are kept well hidden from the younger generations of the family. In novel two, 'Whispering Olive Trees', secrets about a young woman's time spent in Greece involving a love affair, murder and drug dealing only come to light after her death when she bequeaths her diary to her daughter. 

What novel involving a family secret or 'skeleton in the cupboard' have you read and enjoyed? I'd love to hear your recommendations. Thank you.

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

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

A Hundred Years On 
Yesterday was the centenary of the Representation of the People Act that was passed on February 6th 1918. It gave women aged over thirty and 'of property' the right to vote for the first time. There is still a long way to go but it was very important to mark the momentous occasion and remember the women who fought so hard to achieve partial suffrage for women. The Act paved the way the Equal Franchise Act a decade later and this gave all women over twenty one the right to vote - property owners or not.

Back in 2013, when I’d just started writing fiction, a new magazine, 'Pretty Nostalgic', invited writers to choose a character from history they admired and with whom they'd have liked to have afternoon tea. I chose Emmeline Pankhurst and I'm pleased to say the piece was published. Before I could write 'Taking Tea with Emmeline Pankhurst', I researched how she'd been taken to her first suffrage meetings at the age of eight by her mother and how that had influenced her to do the same with her own daughters. I read the harrowing details of the ways the suffragettes had been treated  - the imprisonment, the hunger strikes and the force- feeding. Because of their sacrifices women like me could cast their vote in the ballot box.

Here are two books involving the suffragette movement I thoroughly enjoyed reading:

The White Camelia by Juliet Greenwood.

Published by Honno
ISBN: 9781909983502
The novel, set in Cornwall and London, gives a wonderful insight into the time before World War I when women had the courage to seek economic independence and the right to vote. Finding herself in London, Bea stumbles upon the White Camellia tearoom and finds it to be a gathering place for the suffrage movement. For Bea, it is life-changing as she is swept up in the struggle. Through her story, we learn of the treatment handed out to the protesting suffragettes. It is beautifully crafted and stayed with me for a long time after I finished reading it.

A Hundred Tiny Threads by Judith Barrow
Published by Honno
ISBN: 9781909983687
The novel's main character is Winifred Duffy who in 1911 leads a very sheltered life and is dominated by her uncaring mother. When independent Honora O'Reilly enters her life and talks of a better life, Winifred is persuaded to join the suffragette movement. She becomes an active member and is swept along by the fight for women's rights. As readers, we are witnesses to the bravery of the movement  and the violence meted out to those involved. A superb novel with memorable charcters. For my interview with Judith about 'A Hundred Tiny Threads' and my full review of the book please click HERE.

There is much, much more in both novels than the suffragette movement to which I've referred, but I felt it was appropriate to recommend them in the light of the centenary. What novels with characters involved withe suffragette movement have you enjoyed and therefore recommend? I'd love it if you left a comment telling us. Thank you for reading.

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

Monday, 22 January 2018

RNA South and West Wales Chapter

It was good to start the year with a meeting for the South and West Wales Chapter in Cardiff. Although we have twenty five members listed, our homes are very spread out, some members living on the west coast of Wales and others coming from mid and east Wales.  Although every third meeting is arranged to take place in Swansea, it still entails long journeys for some. Because of this, numbers are often small but we agree that it's worth meeting up whenever possible and members are happy to travel when they can. We now meet in Barker Tea Rooms in one of Cardiff's famous arcades where it's informal and very welcoming. As long as we top up our teas and coffees and maybe buy a light lunch as well, the management seems happy to let us stay and chat for a couple of hours.  Last year, as a group we decided that if people were arranging to take time out from work and writing, it would be better to have a theme or topic so that members would benefit. 

After catching up with everyone and finding out where they were with their novel writing, editing or submitting, the topic discussed this month was 'Author Branding'. Catherine (Burrows) had attended an excellent presentation on the subject at the 2016 Conference in Lancaster and was able to share what she'd learned. Thank you, Catherine. It gave us a great deal of food for thought. We went away to work on our USPs so that we can share them next time.

On her website, The Creative Penn, author Joanna Penn states that your brand may be thought of as your promise to your reader. It's the words, images, and emotional resonance that people have when they hear your nameAs writers, it's important to raise our profiles.  

Since the meeting, I've read a number of articles like this one on branding and the general message seems to be we need to think hard about who we are trying to reach, what we want to say to our readers and how we will say it. What will they think of us as a result? The brand is us.

Even though I am unpublished, there appears to be a common theme of identity running through the two novels I have written. As well as dealing with characters falling in love, both stories explore mother and daughter relationships and the dynamics of family life, both fit into the family saga genre, both are dual narratives and the actions of the characters reflect the social conventions of the era in which the story is set. Parts of both novels are set in Mediterranean countries, 'A Mother's Secret' in Sicily and 'Whispering Olive Trees' in Southern Greece. I like to think that if my novels are ever published - I'm trying hard! - my readers would expect to be moved by the roller coaster of emotions the protagonists go on. I have a long way to go to get the branding right but I've made a start. 

Every now and then, you read a book that you didn't want to end and one that you wish you'd written yourself. That happened to me this week when I finished 'Letters to the Lost' by Iona Grey. It was the winner of the Romantic Novel of the Year in 2016 and I can see why. It moves effortlessly from wartime to present and in both narratives, the characters come alive on the page. You are drawn into their emotions and get glimpses of times past and today. As reader, you become wrapped up in a beautiful tender love story. 

Thank you for reading. What novel have you read recently that you wish you'd written yourself? What is your brand? I'd love it if you left a comment. Thanks.

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

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

A New Year, A New Start!
A belated Happy New Year to you all!
The blog is now four years old and although I haven't always kept up the posting as often as I'd like, it's something to celebrate. The idea for starting the blog was to track my journey as a writer and I think it's achieved that. Alright, the journey is slow but there have been things to celebrate along the way. I've got to 'meet' so many other writers and value their support. Since I started in 2014, I have written 129 posts and there have been 1,279 comments including my answers to the comments. There have been 43,065 page views and many of these are from far flung corners of the world. I think this proves that lots more people are reading the blog than the relatively small number who comment. A big thank you to those who do, of course. One of the highlights for me has been when other authors have agreed to be guests and be interviewed about their newly published books. I already have more planned in 2018.

Each January, it has been a tradition on the blog for me to reflect back on the previous year and set out what I'd like to achieve in the one to come. In 2017, short story writing came to a halt but two stories written previously were published by Alfie Dog Fiction and Severance Publications. I was very pleased that my short-listed Flash Fiction piece, Deception Dawning, appeared in the 2017 Worcestershire LitFest anthology of flashes, WiredI belong to a small writing group and we have given ourselves the task of writing a flash fiction piece by the time we meet up each time. I don't always manage it but at least I had a piece to send to Worcester again this year! The reason for the lack of short stories is because, last year, I concentrated solely on my novel writing. All my efforts went into editing novel one and writing as much of novel two as I could. As a result, I received a very favourable critique on my partial manuscript, Whispering Olive Treesfrom a lovely RNA NWS reader who gave invaluable guidance and advice when I come to the editing stage. I began submitting A Mother's Secret to publishers and some asked to see the whole manuscript. Although the novel was eventually rejected, one in particular gave very helpful feedback. I attended the 2017 Conference in Telford and gained a lot from that experience, from the presentations, workshops, 1-1s and meeting more lovely writers. In the Autumn, I took an excellent ten week course on 'Writing Crime Fiction' at Cardiff University.

My journey may be slow but I've learned a lot in 2017. Being a member of a very supportive critique group, where we meet up every few weeks, has been invaluable. We are all at different stages with our novels and this year two members of the group secured publishing deals. Sharing their successes with them has been wonderful.
What does this coming year hold for me, I wonder? 
would like to:
  • find a home for novel number one by approaching agents and publishers. One of the hardest things is learning to be patient while waiting to hear back from publishers so I intend to move on to the next submission more quickly than I have been doing.   
  • having rejoined RNA NWS, finish the first draft my second novel, edit it and submit for a critique 
  • write new short stories and flash fiction and submit them to a few competitions, in between novel drafts
  • attend the 2018 RNA Conference in Leeds in July
  • support other authors by inviting them onto my blog 
  • continue to enjoy my writing and learn more about the craft.
Thank you for reading. What are your intentions this year? I'd love it if you left a comment. :-) Good luck in achieving your goals in 2018. 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 Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.