Welcome to the two hundred and twenty-seventh of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with author of ‘mum lit with a dash of dark humour’, columnist and journalist Jane Bidder (pennames Sophie King, Janey Fraser and Jane Corry). 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: I was an early reader, apparently and I started writing stories and poems when I was very young – about four or five. It was – and is – as natural to me as breathing. I wasn’t very good at anything else! I grew up in north London and read English at Reading University. I was then lucky enough to get a place on the Thomson Newspaper graduate trainee scheme. I earned a living as a journalist for many years and then my first novel was published in 2005. At the same time, my marriage broke up so I also took on other writing jobs. One was as a writer in residence of a high security (male) prison. I also became a tutor at the continuing education department at Oxford University.
Morgen: So many of my interviewees started when they were young. I used to envy those who knew what they wanted to do with their lives but I finally realised a few months ago that nothing could beat the thrill of creating something new. 🙂 What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Jane: I describe my genre as ‘mum lit with a dash of dark humour’. The next book like this is written under my other pen name (Janey Fraser) and is called The Playgroup. It’s about the lives and loves of people who run a playgroup and also the parents. Great fun! Funny you should ask about other genres. I had an idea for an historical in my head for ages and last year I wrote it. It’s called The Pearls and it’s about three generations of women who are artists and inherit the same strand of pearls. It was number eight in Italy this year and is being published in Germany next year.
Morgen: As you know (because we met up a couple of times) I went to Winchester Writers’ Conference this July and I had three agent pitches and they all wanted more historical (and crime) so definitely the write time, I’d say. What have you had published to-date?
Jane: I’m going to enclose a bibliography for this one! My first book was non-fiction about helping children to go to sleep. I was asked to do it, wearing my journalist hat. My first novel The School Run was published in 2005. Yes, I do remember it being on the shelves. It felt very unreal! Here’s the bibliography:
NOVELS UNDER JANE CORRY: THE PEARLS.NEWTON COMPTON (ITALY) AND RANDOM HOUSE (GERMANY). CURRENTLY NUMBER EIGHT IN ITALY
NOVELS UNDER SOPHIE KING:
THE SCHOOL RUN. Hodder & Stoughton 2005
SECOND TIME LUCKY. Hodder@Stoughton 2006
MUMS@HOME. Hodder & Stoughton 2007
THE SUPPER CLUB. Hodder & Stoughton. 2008
THE WEDDING PARTY. Hodder @ Stoughton 2009 (also in large print and audio). Shortlisted for Love Story of The Year 2010
NOVELS UNDER JANEY FRASER
The PLAYGROUP. Random House 2012
NON FICTION BOOKS UNDER SOPHIE KING:
How to Write Short Stories for Magazines – and Get Published. How To Books 2009
How to Write Your First Novel for How To Books 2010
How To Write Your Life Story for How To Books 2010
NON FICTION BOOKS UNDER JANE BIDDER
Mothercare Guide From Birth to Five. 1994. Conran Octopus.
‘Baby and Toddler Sleep Programme’ for Professor Pearce. I997. Vermilion.
Partners for Life. Orion. 2002.
When Mum Was Little/When Dad Was Little/When Gran Was Little/When Grandad Was Little – series of non-fiction picture books. Published by Franklin Watts 2004
Everything A Parent Needs To Know Before Their Child Goes To University. Published by White Ladder. June 2005.
Tidy Your Room; how to get kids to do jobs they hate. Published by White Ladder. July 2005.
Everyday Inventions; a series of four fact books about modern day inventions (ranging from mobile phones to vacuum cleaners). Specifically aimed at 7 – 11 year olds. Published by Franklin Watts 2006.
Everything a Parent Needs to Know Before Their Child Goes to Secondary School. White Ladder. 2007
Morgen: Wow, that’s some list. 🙂 What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Jane: ‘The School Run.’ Yes. Being accepted is still a thrill, especially in today’s publishing workplace where it is so hard to get in and also stay in. But it also carries that strange feeling; that sense that it isn’t really happening to you!
Morgen: That’s so lovely to hear after so many books that you still feel like that. Have you had any rejections? How do (or did) you deal with them?
Jane: I wrote ten novels before The School Run was published. Three went into editorial meetings but didn’t make it because they were too similar to other books that were about to be published. I felt hurt and bruised and worthless for a few days. But then another idea would come into my head and I’d start writing. It’s the only antidote to rejection. I also tried to learn from my previous books. For instance, I would look at plot and character more carefully.
Morgen: And presumably you still have them to do something with. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Jane: Yes and yes! I won the Elizabeth Goudge short story competition in 2004. My last novel The Wedding Party was short-listed for Love Story of the Year in 2010. I was a runner up in the RNA New Writers Scheme and also in the Harry Bowling competition for unpublished writers. And back in 1997, I came second in The Lady short story competition. Part of the prize was lunch with Arthur Hailey and Rosamunde Pilcher at The Savoy. That was an amazing experience. They help because it boosts your confidence and shows agents and publishers that you have something. So always enter competitions!
Morgen: I have done and do plan to again. I’ve had some wins and shortlists but even if I’ve not come anywhere, it’s usually got me writing something new so I then have them to do something else with, nothing is wasted. 🙂 Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Jane: Yes. My agent is Teresa Chris and she is very on the ball. Nowadays, it’s hard to be taken seriously by a publisher unless you have an agent.
Morgen: And apparently it’s more difficult to get an agent than a publisher these days, which is why so many new authors are going the eBook route. Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? Do you have any plan to write any eBook-only stories? And do you read eBooks?
Jane: Some of them are available as eBooks. I’ve left it up to my publishers, to be honest. I’m not very techy! However, I wouldn’t mind some help with publishing my short stories as eBooks! I must look into this.
Morgen: I can certainly help you with Smashwords (their 70+-page guide is scary but so thorough and user-friendly that it’s easy to whizz through and now I have the template to work from). I will be going on Amazon next year but one of their options (KDP Select) demands 90-days exclusivity so it’ll have to be ‘new’ stuff. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Jane: My publishers (Random House) are very good at marketing. However, authors today are also expected to help as much as possible. Twitter etc is vital.
Morgen: It is, and it’s fun (although often far too time-consuming!). You write under pseudonyms, is there a particular reason for this and do you think they make a difference to an author’s profile?
Jane: I wrote under Sophie King to distinguish between my work as a journalist and my work as a novelist. But readers expect the same kind of books from one name. So if you want to do something different, like a historical, you have to write under another. The Pearls, for instance, is under my married name Jane Corry. I’m writing The Playgroup under Janey Fraser because I have a new publisher, Random House.
Morgen: If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Jane: I’ve often daydreamed about this. Hugh Grant has to take the leading male role in all of them. And maybe Jennifer Aniston, with Diane Keaton as gran/mum.
Morgen: I really like all three so let’s hope so. 🙂 Did you have any say in the title / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Jane: Very important! Usually, I think of the title myself. The publisher will come up with the cover and ask what I think. On the whole, I feel that publishers know best.
Morgen: I think they do know their markets… most of the time. 🙂 What are you working on at the moment / next? Do you manage to write every day?
Jane: I’ve just finished the second book in my two-book deal for Random House. It’s ‘mum lit’ with lots of humour. If I don’t write every day, I get scratchy! I prefer to write first thing if possible.
Morgen: Me too. Morgen means morning in German and I’m definitely a morning person. 🙂 What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it?
Jane: When my children were young, I didn’t have time for writer’s block. Even though I have more time now, I still don’t get it. The ideas are always flying around. If I did get it, I would do what I teach my students. Sit and write the first thing that comes into your head for ten minutes and then make yourself stop. You’re bound to want to go on. It doesn’t matter if it’s rubbish, by the way. The point is that you started writing again….
Morgen: Exactly, you can’t edit a blank page. I’m the same, I have so many ideas I’m not sure if I’ll use them all (although fortunately I write more short stories than anything else so maybe I will). At least if I get stuck (which happens rarely) it’s easier to move to something else. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Jane: I get the spark of an idea and then work out characters who would fit into it.
Morgen: Do you have a method for creating your characters and what do you think makes them believable?
Jane: No method. They just come. Some are like me with lots of other character traits. I like using pictures in magazines too.
Morgen: It’s a ‘trick’ we use in our Monday night writing workshops and is really helpful. Google’s image page is wonderful if I’m looking for a character when on the computer. Do you write any non-fiction or poetry?
Jane: I started by writing poetry from an early age. I wrote non-fiction as my living for years. Now it’s a joy to just write fiction.
Morgen: 🙂 You also write short stories for magazines, have you ever thought of writing / releasing an anthology?
Jane: Yes. Would someone like to help me?
Morgen: I adore short stories so I’d gladly be a small cog. 🙂 Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that your writing is more fully-formed these days?
Jane: I didn’t edit enough in the early days. Now I do about five revisions. I think it’s vital.
Morgen: I do three or four then let my editor, Rachel, pull it apart because I know she’s going to anyway. Do you have to do much research for your books?
Jane: That depends. For ‘The Playgroup’, I sat in on some playgroup sessions and also drew on the experiences of my own children. For ‘The Wedding Party’, I interviewed women vicars and wedding planners.
Morgen: That sounds like fun. Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc., do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Jane: Total silence. Ask my family about that one!
Morgen: 🙂 What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Jane: Third person for novels; first for short stories. The second person reminds me of my Latin classes at school. Not for me any more…
Morgen: Oh dear. Yes, it’s am acquired taste. I love it but then it lends itself to being very dark and I do like dark (and light :)) but it’s rarely accepted, which is a shame although understandable. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Jane: Yes. Some might be resurrected one day. Others were part of my self-imposed apprenticeship.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Jane: Favourite – losing myself in another world. Least favourite – editing. Surprising? That I was right to edit because the work is better that way.
Morgen: My favourite / least favourite are the same (editing and research, although I think I’d enjoy your kind of research). What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Jane: Write about what you feel passionate about. Don’t write about the obvious. Write every day. Don’t show it to your family. Read. Believe in yourself. Walk around the room in the way that one of your characters might. Talk like he or she does.
Morgen: Sometimes I’m glad I just share my house with a dog as anyone else would think I was mad as I wave my arms around picturing what my character would be doing – it’s surprisingly helpful. What do you like to read?
Jane: A mixture. I’ve just finished a collection of short stories by Alice Munro. My daughter did her for A-level and didn’t like her. I read the text so I could grill her over breakfast and fell in love with Munro. I also love Anne Tyler. Right now I’m reading The Help. Isn’t everyone? I love the multi-viewpoint slant; my books are multi-viewpoint too where you see the story from the point of view of three or four characters. It moves the plot along and helps you get under your characters’ skins.
Morgen: I’ve not read The Help (yet, I have it) but saw the film – superb, helped greatly by a wonderful cast. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook?
Jane: Jane Austen. Yeats. Chaucer. It would have to be fish pie; I only make three main dishes. I did Latin instead of domestic science at school….
Morgen: Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Jane: All things must pass. Clare Rayner gave me that quote when I was working for Woman magazine. ‘It applies to good and bad things in life,’ she said. I’ve shared this phrase with several friends (and strangers on the street) going through a difficult patch.
Morgen: I’ve just helped my (soon-to-be-former) bosses move office and kept saying that it would all work out as we moved all our clobber from a spacious office to one just over half the size – it was a great excuse for a purge. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Jane: I used to be writer in residence of a high security prison. After that, I was asked to be a judge in the Koestler Awards which are given to people in prison. I also run occasional writing courses. I quite often look at people’s work free of charge.
Morgen: I first met you at a prison writing day course and it really opened my eyes to the work that writers-in-residence do, it was a fascinating day. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Jane: Walk with my husband and dog. Be with my children. Play tennis. Do tai chi and belly dancing. Cycle. Go to the gym.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Jane: Google! Someone told me about a book called ‘Self-editing for Fiction Writers’ by Renni Brown and Dave King. I glanced at it and found it useful but to be honest, my inspiration comes from my head and learning from my experience.
Morgen: I have loads of ‘how to’ books but I found the in-person courses (I’ve been on loads :)) so rewarding, although the books are really useful to dip into. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Jane: I need to do more of this!
Morgen: I’m on a few (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Goodreads etc) and am hoping that post-day job will allow me more time to contribute to discussions, although it’s very easy for the hours to get swallowed up so I think I’ll have to be disciplined as I’ve left to do more writing. 🙂 What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Jane: We have to accept that eBooks are going to get bigger. I think it’s going to continue to be a tough market in mainstream publishing. But if you’re a real writer, you can’t give up.
Morgen: Absolutely. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Jane: Just write. Don’t get too bogged down in websites. Write for the joy of it.
Morgen: And it is. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Jane: Are you going to write a novel about a group of bloggers?
Morgen: That’s an idea. 🙂 I certainly have enough experience of my blog and some of being a guest on other sites… I’m sure a comedy could come out of that.
Thank you so much Jane, hope to see you again somewhere next year.
I then invited Jane to include an extract of her writing and this is from the forthcoming novel ‘The Playgroup’ which will be the first book released as Janey Fraser…
THE PUDDLEDUCKS PLAYGROUP NEWSLETTER
Welcome back, everyone! If you’re new, we’d like to give you an extra special hello! Here, at Puddleducks Playgroup, we understand that your first day might seem daunting. But we’re here to make sure you settle in – and that includes nervous parents!
‘We’ve got all kinds of activities to keep you amused and also help you learn! There’s our new Pyjama Drama group and our weekly Wriggle and Giggle Musical Movement group. This term, we’re very fortunate to have Kitty Macdonald (of Britain’s Best Talent fame) who will be running a music workshop morning and helping us with the end of term nativity play!
‘Please also put the following date in your diary: on September 30th, there will be a Parents’ Social in the main hall so book your babysitter now!’
On the next page, you’ll find some advice to make the autumn term go with a swing.
VITAL DO’S AND DON’TS
DO make sure every item of clothing is clearly labelled – including underwear!
DO fill in the enclosed medical form, especially the allergy section.
DO fill in the Emergency Contact form together with your doctor’s details.
Please be aware that this term, we have a new security code which has been fitted onto the main door. If you are late, you will need to ring the bell so one of the staff can let you in.
Right! That’s it! We hope your little Puddleducks will have a splashing – sorry, smashing! – start. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.
THE PUDDLEDUCKS SONG
‘We are the little Puddleducks,
We love to learn through play.
It keeps us bright and busy
All (two beats) through the day!’
‘Mrs Merryfield, Mrs Merryfield. We went to More-ishus. And it rained.’
‘Hi, Gemma! Nice tan! Listen, I’m pretty certain Molly is dry now but just in case she’s not, there’s a spare pair of pants in her sandwich box. That’s the one with the picture of a giraffe on it – sorry I didn’t have time to label it.’
‘Morning, Miss Merryfield. Had a good break? Darren, have you said hello to your playgroup leader?’
‘Gemma, I’m so sorry. But we’ve just had Beth checked again and it turns out she’s allergic to wheat as well as salt, sugar, any kind of additives and – get this – any food that’s yellow. Weird, isn’t it? So can you make sure she doesn’t have any biscuits at breaktime?’
The stream of traffic on the first day of term was always hectic with the children running up to swing on her arms, wrap their small, warm bodies round her legs, bobbing up and down, unable to stand still for a second and announcing in breathy excited voices exactly what they’d been up to in the holidays. It was like lots of different hands playing piano notes at the same time.
Morgen: I love that image. 🙂
Sophie King (also Janey Fraser) has been a journalist for over 25 years. She has written five best-selling novels including The Wedding Party which was shortlisted for ‘Love Story of The Year 2010’. She has also written a series of children’s books called ‘Family Memories’ as well as several non-fiction books. In addition, Sophie has had hundreds of short stories published in magazines such as Woman’s Weekly and My Weekly.
Sophie gives regular talks at bookshops and literary festivals including Winchester and Guildford. She runs nationwide workshops and has led a writing course on Thomson Dream, a cruise ship. Until her recent move to Devon, she tutored at Oxford University and West Herts College. For three years, she was writer in residence at HMP Grendon. She has also appeared several times on breakfast television and Woman’s Hour, including a recent Christmas programme on rivalry in the kitchen!
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