Welcome to my guest page. Here, every few days, I’ll be sharing a conversation, over tea and cakes, or maybe a glass of something stronger, if they are not driving, with a friend about their work in progress, or latest book release. I’ll be talking to all sort of writers and authors at different levels of their writing careers.
Welcome to the clubhouse tearoom, Jenni.
Hi Paula. Thank you for inviting me over for a cuppa. I’d like a smokey Lapsang Souchong without milk, if you have it?
Of course, we have everything here.
It sounds posh but basically tastes like the mugs of tea I remember having around the campfire with my boys when they were younger. That smokiness brings back great memories, especially now those boys are growing up and becoming young men, and I long for those days back.
What lovely memories to have conjured up by a simple cup of tea. While we waiting for our drinks may I start by asking you When you first begun your writing journey what drew you to your chosen genre?
Two factors influenced my choice of genre, and they were what I enjoyed reading and what I thought I was capable of writing. I’ve always enjoyed a good romcom, and reading the Katie Fforde’s and Milly Johnson’s got me through a tough few years when I had four boys under five. They were uplifting and fun, not too heavy for my exhausted brain, and they were familiar. So that’s what I started writing – heart-warming romantic fiction. I do enjoy a dark thriller, but didn’t feel my lighter authorial voice suited this genre. However, as I grow in confidence, my voice has changed, and I have moved to include more historical threads in my novels, so I wouldn’t rule a darker me coming out in the future.
Tell us a little about latest writing project. Is it a new idea, or one you have been mulling over for some time?
As I’ve just said, my writing is evolving, and, ironically, the two romcoms picked up by Harper Collins were the only two books I’ve written that didn’t include an historical element. I have now returned to the dual timelines I was writing when I got my first publishing deal and have written two new books with historical threads. These are currently out on submission and I enjoyed writing them so much I have dared to go a little darker with my current WIP. It’s the story of a bitter man who had a dysfunctional childhood (which we see in flashbacks) who suddenly has a naive young woman drop into his life. She makes him reassess his attitude and learn to move on, as between them they battle to solve an age-old mystery in a very curious house indeed…
Do you write a synopsis first or write the first chapter? Do you plan your story, or let the characters lead you.)
This is pantser/planner question and comes at an interesting time in my writing journey. I’ve hitherto been a pantser all the way – starting with the bare bones of a story and winging it from there. A couple of times I’ve tried to plan, in awe of fellow authors who do, because I see it as a much more efficient way of writing, but have never been able to do so successfully. For this new book, however, I’ve planned my chapters out for the first time ever. I still have my character profiles to sort, and some country house and board game research to do, but hope to start writing the novel in September. I will let you know if it enables me to write faster and if I manage to stick to the plan.
When reading your work through do you ever find that your daily mood swings are reflected in your writing?
I suspect my mood does affect my writing. Sometimes, it means I can’t write at all. I’m too distracted or not in a cheery enough place to write funny scenes. I either plough on regardless, knowing I can tweak in the edits, or I try to influence my mood through music. I choose a cheery playlist for upbeat scenes and a dramatic songs for emotional areas of the book – and it really works.
Were any of your characters inspired by real people?
Most of my characters have elements of real people in them but no one character is an exact replica of a real life person. The only possible exception is in Maisie Meadows – the flamboyant auction house owner was definitely inspired by a friend. In my head, he even looks identical. Other than him, my other characters are purely fictional with various character traits drawn from people I know. I usually find pictures online that resemble the characters in my head, and print them off to give me a visual aid when writing the book.
What did you learn when writing your book ? In writing it, how much research did you do?
I LOVE RESEARCH and absolutely try to ensure everything I write is as accurate as it can be. Although we are told to write what we know, I read somewhere that the real trick is to know what you write. Consequently, for Lucy Baker I spent a long time researching knitting, to the point that several readers have assumed I can knit – when nothing could be further from the truth. If I’m writing about something I am not an expert in, I always run that scene past someone who is, so I have consulted knitters, auction house owners, solicitors, district nurses, veterinary assistants, and so on, to ensure things read correctly. I also try to get out to see my settings; country houses, auction rooms, old churches, working farms… to help me visualise things better. So, in answer to your questions, I’ve learned an awful lot because I’ve written about things I had very little prior knowledge of. Two of the most interesting things have been Arts and Crafts architecture at the end of the 19th century, and my World War One research. I knew nothing about the Great War, so it really was a thrilling research journey.
Is there anything about you your readers might be surprised to find out?
People who follow me on social media probably know this, but I dance. I do not have the body or energy of a dancer, but I love it and have been going for over ten years, and have passed national dance exams and am part of a formation team. We cover disco, street, rock and roll, slow and a bit of Charleston. We even flash-mobbed a friend’s wedding. All good fun and helps me to work of that writer’s bottom.
Do you set yourself a daily word count?
Yes I do, because it can be hard to motivate yourself in any self-employed occupation. I’m not a fast writer, largely because I don’t plan, and because I tend to research as I go. Sometimes, I spend a morning researching for just one paragraph. I set myself a target of 1000 words a day, and this is seven days a week. Sometimes that can take a couple of hours and, occasionally, all day. Then I factor in a few days when I won’t get to the laptop and aim for 25k a month.
It takes me between 6-8 months to write a book from scratch. There is the ideas stage, the writing stage, and then the editing stage. I enjoy editing and this can take me several weeks. The finished 100,000 word book then gets sent to my agent, who may have more editorial suggestions. Finally, it goes out on submission – which is where I am now. It will be interesting to see if I am any faster with this current novel, as I have planned it.
How do you select the names of your characters? & do you know everything about them before you start writing their story?
Character names are important and the first thing I do is check that the name is appropriate for the age of the character and time period they live in. I do a search of the top 100 names for the decade in which they were born. Sometimes a name comes first, like Hester in my WW1 book, and sometimes a name takes ages and I will change it after the book is written. For example, I wrote Maisie Meadows as Rae, but the publisher changed it. I occasionally find I’ve got several character names beginning with the same initial and have to alter some.
I always have a basic idea of the character but I don’t start to get to know them until I write them. Also, as plot ideas come to me, aspects of their character change or need to be added. For example, it was only halfway through Lucy Baker I realised that giving George allergies would make the book much funnier – especially as he ends up with a cat. I then go back to the start to weave this into the story.
Thank you so very much for join us, Jenni I know you’re a busy lady.
Thanks so much for having me over, Paula. It’s been an absolute delight. And thanks for the smashing cup of tea.