Welcome to the two hundred and forty-ninth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with novelist, humorist, short story author, columnist and writing guru Jane Wenham-Jones. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Jane. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Jane: It started when I was at home with a small baby, my brain slowly atrophying. A writing aunt sent me an entry form for a short story competition. With some effort I finished an entire story and sent it off. It didn’t win.
Morgen: But that didn’t put you off (thankfully). I find with everything that doesn’t get anywhere (she says, as if I submit loads!) that I still then have the story (usually written especially) to send somewhere else so a lose / win. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Jane: I am generally described as writing “romantic comedy” although I like to think it has its dark corners. One day, I tell myself, I will write a “grown-up” book. If I ever do grow up…
Morgen: Please don’t, although do if it gets you writing more. You’ve had four novels published – can you please tell us what they are?
In order of publication date they are Raising the Roof, Perfect Alibis, One Glass is Never Enough and my latest – just out – please buy it – is Prime Time.
Morgen: Yes folks, please do – I have ‘Perfect Alibi’ and to give you a feel for Jane’s writing, here’s the beginning of the Prologue…
‘How to feel happy, strong, uplifted, tingly, light, free and altogether bloody fantastic: Drink champagne, Eat chocolate, And have three orgasms in the afternoon…”
and thereby sets the tone. Jane, can you remember where you saw your first book on the shelves?
Jane: I guess it must have been here in Broadstairs where I live – my local independent bookshop (sadly closed since) made a lovely window display. I also remember the publishers taking me on a stock-signing day in central London just after ‘Raising the Roof’ was published and it was so thrilling seeing the book on shelves there. (I didn’t fully appreciate at the time how lucky I was and that actually being stocked by all the top bookstores is not a given!!!)
Morgen: You’ve provided a recipe for the Official ‘Help for Heroes’ Cookbook does this mean that you’re a good cook and is this any coincidence to your ‘Bugger the diet’ project?
Jane: I’m sure I used to cook… These days, I have to say I don’t do it much but I enjoy the odd encounter with the kitchen I do have. My recipe in this book is for an egg sandwich!
Morgen: A couple of years ago, for my birthday, I was bought a metal plaque saying “I only have a kitchen because it came with the house” – clearly a friend who knows me well – it takes pride of place on the kitchen door.
Jane: I still intend writing the full version of ‘Bugger the Diet’ one day. Pages completed to date can be seen here http://www.janewenham-jones.com/buggerdiet.htm. If you want to read the rest, please lobby your MP
Morgen: My MP (well, next town but one) is Louise Mensch (neé novelist Louise Bagshawe) so I’m sure she’d say “yes”. You’ve written two successful ‘how to’ books: ‘Wannabe a Writer?’ and ‘Wannabe a Writer We’ve Heard Of?’ – were these projects that you created (perhaps because of your novels?) or were you approached to create them?
Jane: It was my own idea – coming off the back of my agony aunt column for Writing Magazine. Journalism started from writing novels – I got into it first to publicise the books – so yes I guess everything has sprung from there.
Morgen: You’ve also had over 100 short stories published in magazines and anthologies (including the ‘Shorts for…’ series, some of which I have). So many magazines have dropped them even since I’ve started writing (Woman, Woman’s Own, Bella, Best, Chat etc). Why do you think that short stories get such a hard time? (boo! – they’re my favourite format)
Jane: I think they’re enjoying a bit of a resurgence actually. I write a regular column – Just Jane – for Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special and they’ve just gone to 12 issues a year.
Morgen: Ah, yes. I did notice that, and People’s Friend went from fortnightly to weekly a while back so that’s a good sign. Also I think eBooks are making fiction shorter. You have regular columns in Writing Magazine and Woman’s Weekly, as you just mentioned – how did that come about?
Jane: I asked the editors!
Morgen: Good plan. What do you think the biggest mistake that aspiring writers are prone to make, perhaps subconsciously?
Jane: Writing for themselves instead of remembering they are there to entertain their readers.
Morgen: (ideally both?) Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Jane: Yes and Yes, they certainly help. I didn’t have an agent for my first two books but I am extremely glad I have one now.
Morgen: It is getting more difficult to secure one. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Jane: A lot of it. You can’t just sit back and rely on the publishers to do it for you. They often simply don’t have enough time.
Morgen: They don’t. Things have changed in the past few months (years?) and (from memory) I’ve only had one interviewee say they have the luxury of letting the publisher promote while they get to do the actual writing (if only). Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Jane: I picked up a few prizes for short stories long ago. Not won the Booker yet!
Morgen: Yet. I met you last July at the Winchester Writers Conference (my first time – and I loved it), where you were the after dinner speaker. You seem a very outgoing person, do you ever get nervous public speaking? What advice would you give someone who has to give a speech / talk about their writing?
Jane: Reinvent yourself! And it gets easier the more you do it. Do read that section in ‘Wannabe a Writer We’ve Heard Of?’ Not just because I wrote it (!) but because it contains lots of tips from other writers about the whole publicity thing – as well as from me.
Morgen: I have it (and ‘Wannabe a Writer’, both from Winchester which you kindly signed, with a huge smiley face )… going there now…
ah yes, Public Speaking p157…
<laughs> I love the bit about the Young Wives. I touched on eBooks briefly, are your books available as eBooks? Were you involved in that process? And do you read eBooks?
Jane: My books are all available as eBooks now. Transworld recently re-released my first novel ‘Raising the Roof’ on Kindle and my fourth novel, Prime Time is only on Kindle so far. The print version won’t be out till next year. And yes I’ve just been given a Kindle and bought my first two e books for it yesterday! (Tho I did have the free Kindle app on my laptop already and had downloaded a couple of friends’ books on that to support them)
Morgen: I have a generic but do like the look of the new dinky Kindle. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Jane: My first ever was a short story for My Weekly – I was beside myself with excitement. Yes it is still a thrill – always.
Morgen: (Mine was Woman’s Weekly ). Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Jane: Of course I have. Depending how serious they are I cry, stamp, throw things, drink too much, eat chocolate, feel very sorry for myself…. But I always, always, then get a grip and send whatever it is, out again…..
Morgen: I’d love to be a fly on your wall. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Jane: Trying to catch up on my emails….
Morgen: Never-ending circle, I bet… if yours are anything like mine, which is lovely in a way but sometimes the pauses between ‘pings’ are bliss. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Jane: I do something work-related every day, even if it’s not contributing to an actual manuscript or column. My record was 9,000 words in 24 hours when I was racing the clock to finish Wannabe a Writer?
Morgen: Wow. I’ve done that a couple of times for NaNoWriMo (not helped by leaving the last 48,000 words to the last eight days!) so I know how tiring that would have been (especially during a 21-hour day). What is your opinion of writer’s block?
Jane: My friend Cari called it Writer’s Can’t be Arsed. We all get that – you just have to write through it.
Jane: A bit of both.
Morgen: Snap. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Jane: I don’t have a method as such but I see them and hear them.
Morgen: Me too. My favourite aspect of writing is now knowing what’s going to come out and I love ‘meeting’ new people, especially weird and wonderful ones. Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Jane: My agent.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Jane: It depends. Particularly with columns or articles – sometimes I write and rewrite and tweak and fiddle endlessly – other times they pretty much come out whole and I just have to de-glitch them and send off.
Morgen: What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Jane: I make a cup of green tea with lemon.
Morgen: I’m a Tetley One Cup. Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Jane: Computer always.
Morgen: If you’re anything like me, you’re much quicker than paper / pen. What sort of music do you listen to when you write?
Jane: Radio Four – unless it’s a play that’s getting tedious or a “comedy” I don’t find funny. Then I switch over to Radio Two.
Morgen: I’m a Radio Two fan (or Classic FM when I’m writing). Although I love Radio Four, I’m rubbish at remembering when things are on. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Jane: Have written two novels in first, and two in third. Depends what the plot calls for really. Have never really understood what second person is!
Morgen: I love second person (Wikipedia has a great explanation), my favourite point of view actually, certainly to write. It’s rarely used (and probably even rarer bought by editors) but I spotted a second person competition runner up recently; in Writer’s Forum Mag – judged by interviewee no.53 and writing friend Sue Moorcroft (who I’m seeing on Wednesday night (18th Jan) for the H. E. Bates competition prize giving, because (a) she was last year’s judge and (b) she’s bringing this years, Katie Fforde – it’s free entry and open to anyone who can get to Northampton’s Moulton Theatre that night – details on http://www.hebatescompetition.org.uk.) Sorry, back to why we’re here, do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Jane: Not many – the odd rubbish short story.
Morgen: Oh, I have loads of those. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Jane: Favourite: Typing “The End”, seeing myself in print, looking at my little row of books on the shelf.
Least favourite: not having made a million…
Morgen: If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Jane: What hard work it is
Morgen: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Jane: Marry someone rich
Morgen: <laughs> I’m working on that one… although I’d really love to end up with a writer (am I mad?) so he’d have to be a successful one. What do you like to read? Any authors you could recommend?
Jane: All sorts. Joanna Trollope right now…
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks?
Jane: Playing the spoons? I like walking, reading, drinking nice wine, seeing my friends, doing the Times Two crossword, talking too much, having my feet rubbed
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Jane: www.wannabeawriter.co.uk – naturally – and I admired both Anne Lamont’s Bird by Bird and Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’.
Morgen: If I had a tenner for every time someone recommended ‘On Writing’ I wouldn’t need to marry a wealth author. You’re based in the UK, do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Jane: Gosh I don’t know – never really thought about it. Wish I had an American publisher too tho – just so I could fly to New York to meet with them…
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Jane: I do the usual twitter etc. And we have regular live chats on www.wannabeawriter.co.uk Sunday mornings from 10.30 a.m. ish if anyone wants to join in…
Morgen: Ooh… I do…
…I’ve just joined and looks like I’m no.500 (or 499).
…I like the S/Cally ideas generator (I guessed Cally would be Cally Taylor) and the S is Sally Quilford (interviewee no.144 :)). Sorry, keep getting distracted (slap wrist!). Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Jane: exhaustion, poverty and despair – but when you do get that deal or that acceptance it is beyond wonderful
Morgen: What would be your ultimate writing ambition?
To hit the Sunday Times best-seller lists and/or get an agony aunt column on a daily newspaper (radical advice offered/not for the faint-hearted)
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Jane: Could you all download Prime Time please? Always get so anxious when a new book comes out in case nobody buys it? You can write and tell me if you hate it – I like it when people are brutally honest email@example.com. Oh and isn’t getting older a faff? Takes so long on the anti-wrinkle front. And if anyone would like to offer me a free facelift I promise to write about it far and wide…
Morgen: To get your own back, is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Jane: How do you manage to be so wonderfully organised about this blog?
Morgen: <laughs> It’s all a ruse. No, it’s thanks to Bill Gates (although I shouldn’t say that, being a Mac user – which is why I love this picture! Thank you so much for sending it over. ). I have a very nerdy Word table which lists when someone contacted me, their name, when I sent the info. pack to them, when I got the relevant bits back, when it’s going live, where they found out about me / the blog (usually Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn) and which country they’re from (so I know that if they’re in the US, for example, I can have a lie in before I have to email with the links – almost everything’s scheduled in advance (usually the night before!) so I don’t bust a gut). The spotlights are in green rows, the guest posts in blue, poetry in yellow, flash fiction in grey, podcast in purple (my favourite colour) and interviews in white… other than the Sunday interviews which are pink so I can see a week at a time easily… so you’re pink. As I said, very (extremely) nerdy.
Thank you so much, Jane, taking part in this blog interview. I’m so grateful for your time. You can go back to your emails now.
Jane: I am very grateful to YOU – thank you xxxx
Morgen: As Jane mentioned earlier, her websites are www.wannabeawriter.co.uk and www.janewenham-jones.com. She also runs (with her able Developer Kevin) http://wannabeawriter.darkskipper.com/wp/events/2011/09/writing-for-pleasure-and-profit which details a writing workshop she is running next weekend (22nd January, with the offer of a get-together the night before!). Sadly I can’t make it (although I’ll not be all that far away) but this is part 2 of 4 so I hope to make parts 3 and / or 4 (dates to be advised).
Jane is the author of four novels and two non-fiction books including the best-selling Wannabe a Writer? featuring contributions from a wide array of big name authors and journalists from Jilly Cooper to Frederick Forsyth to Michael Buerk.
As a freelance journalist she has written for The Guardian, The Daily Express, The Sunday Express, The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun and numerous women’s magazines. Regular spots include a humorous weekly column for her local paper, a monthly column for Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special and a regular advice piece for Writing Magazine where she is the “agony aunt.”
A lively and energetic speaker, she gives humorous talks and lectures on her life as a writer, her experiences of the buy-to-let market – which her first novel was based on, the art of self-publicity and achieving personal goals either as simple entertainment or for inspirational / motivational purposes.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
Alternatively, if you’d like a free Q&A-only interview, I now have http://morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com on which I’ve rerun the original interviews posted here then posted new interviews which I then reblog here. These interviews are Q&A only, so I don’t add in my comments but they do get exposure on both sites.
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