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.

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.