Author Spotlight no.100 – Jane Wenham-Jones

Complementing my daily blog interviews, today’s Author Spotlight, the hundredth, is of novelist, speaker, journalist, tutor, presenter and writing guru Jane Wenham-Jones.

Jane Wenham-Jones is the author of four novels and two non-fiction books.

As a freelance journalist, Jane 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 columns for her local paper – The Isle of Thanet Gazette, Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special and Writing Magazine, where she is the agony aunt.

A member of Equity, Jane has presented for the BBC on both TV and radio and has hosted the award ceremony for the RoNas (Romantic Novel of the Year Awards) for the last two years. She is not the sort of writer to remain in her garret, shunning publicity, and has also done her fair share of daytime TV, particularly when promoting her controversial second novel Perfect Alibis (subtitled ‘How to have an affair and get away with it…’). It was those – sometimes hair-raising – on screen experiences that inspired Prime Time, her new novel.

Jane is an experienced tutor who is regularly booked by writing conferences and literary festivals to run workshops, give talks and chair panels. In recent years she has interviewed dozens of best-selling authors and celebrities including Julian Clary, Richard Madeley, Victoria Hislop, Bel Mooney, Helen Lederer, Amanda Ross, Kate Mosse, Kay Burley, Jenny Éclair, Katie Fforde, Veronica Henry, Fiona Walker, Jill Mansell and Tim Bentinck.

Her two non-fiction books are: Wannabe a Writer? – a humorous look at becoming a scribe – featuring contributions from a wide array of big name authors and journalists including Jilly Cooper, Frederick Forsyth and Michael Buerk with a foreword by Katie Fforde;

and Wannabe a Writer We’ve Heard Of? – a guide to the art of book and self-promotion which includes tips from a variety of celebrities.

And now from the author herself with more about the inspiration behind her latest book:

My new novel, Prime Time, is the story of Laura, who is persuaded onto a TV discussion programme which has life-changing consequences.

I’ve done a few TV shows now – often on little-watched channels with three viewers – and one of the things I’ve learned is that you need to be ready for anything…

On Loose Lips on Living TV, I was called upon to give off-the-cuff relationship advice as part of a live phone-in.

I’m not sure what sort of counsel I cobbled together – the woman in question was having an affair I seem to remember, so I probably said: For God’s sake don’t get caught – but it was the first in long line of situations where I’ve had to think on my feet.

I once nearly spluttered on air having just heard myself introduced by one regional radio station (clearly desperate to fill five minutes before the travel news) as a “relationships expert” and finding I was being called upon to offer guidance to Helen who felt Kevin no longer loved her, when I’d thought I was just there to plug a novel.

I rose to the challenge though, trawling my memory for every cliché from every agony aunt page I’d ever read, suggesting quiet nights in and heart-to-heart chats over candlelit dinners, even though I knew that Kevin, if he was like most blokes, would probably much rather watch the football than have any sort of discussion about his feelings, and would be totally aghast when Helen switched off the TV and served up chicken a la mode in the dark instead.

In fact, I obviously showed a bit too much enthusiasm for her plight because they then rather misguidedly kept me on the line and offered me Veronica and her problems with her mother over which I was utterly lost – “put the old dragon in a home” evidently being not quite what they were looking for.

On another occasion I got involved in a “documentary”. Again, I was supposed to be talking about affairs, but this time, how to get away with them (it was when my second novel, Perfect Alibis, which deals with that exact knotty issue, had just been published).

When I got there –”on location” to a frighteningly expensive house in North London – they wanted me to shave my legs on camera. The director – who looked about twelve – was the creative type.

They were also filming a Betrayed Wife, the suitably scary Lady Sarah Moon – she who cut her husband’s bespoke Savile Row suits to ribbons and distributed his vintage claret collection around the village.

We met in the hall.

“What are you angry about?” she asked me. I opened my mouth to explain only to find it covered by one of the crew’s hands.

“For God’s sake don’t tell her you’re promoting affairs,” he said, as she was taken down to the kitchen to hack off chickens’ legs with alarming savagery, and I went upstairs where it was considered jolly arty to have me sitting in the bathroom half-dressed (the cameraman squashed uncomfortably in the bath with the lighting man on top of him) pretending to get ready for a night out.

I haven’t shaved my legs for years (this is not an admission of German ancestry – I have them waxed) and was apparently not much cop at pretending.

As I sat there under a weight of shaving foam doing Take Fifty-three, repeating the same sentences over and over again, I not only drank all the rest of the Lady Chicken-chopper’s cooking wine to get me through the ordeal but persuaded the runner to go out and get me another bottle.

This was, on balance, a mistake. I will spare you the rest of the story but it involved slurring, agreeing to greater states of undress and nobody telling me my make-up had run.

Most of the footage ended up on the cutting room floor – thank the Lord – but in the bit I saw, I looked utterly deranged and in need of a good social worker.

Nothing is lost however. I drew on that very experience to inform Laura, my heroine in Prime Time, who, one way and another, ends up feeling pretty bonkers too….

For more information see www.janewenham-jones.com and http://janewenhamjones.wordpress.com (the latter built by yours truly, and lovingly crafted by us both. :)). Jane travels extensively and she may be appearing at a venue near you (she’ll be visiting us in Northampton in September for our first ever gay literature festival – the gay festival for everyone :)) – see all her dates on her blog’s events page. You can also see Jane in action on youtube. I challenge you not to laugh. 🙂

The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with novelist and scriptwriter Veronica Henry (whom Jane panelled with at the recent Chipping Norton Literature Festival) – the four hundred and twenty-fourth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything… and follow me on Twitter where each new posting is automatically announced. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at SmashwordsSony Reader StoreBarnes & NobleiTunes BookstoreKobo and Amazon, with more to follow. I have a new forum, friend me on Facebook, like me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn, find me on Tumblr, complete my website’s Contact me page or plain and simple, email me.  I also now have a new blog creation service especially for, but not limited to, writers.

Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

Guest post: The Perfect Writing Retreat by Helen M Hunt

Tonight’s special guest blog post, on the topic of writing retreats, is brought to you by short story author and creative writing tutor / columnist and interviewee Helen M Hunt.

The Perfect Writing Retreat

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut with your writing, and sometimes it’s good to remove yourself entirely from your home surroundings and distractions in order to refocus on your creativity. If you can get away from the washing up, the kitchen floor that needs mopping and the lawn that needs mowing, you’ll be able to clear the space in your mind that you need to concentrate on your writing.

At the end of last month I had the opportunity to attend a course at a writing retreat in France, and I had a wonderful time.

Chez Castillon is an amazing 18th century townhouse in Castillon la Bataille near St Emilion, and Mickey and Janie Wilson, the proprietors, have turned it into the most fantastic retreat for writers and artists.

What makes a perfect retreat?

  • Beautiful surroundings – Inspiring surroundings make a huge difference to the success of your retreat. From the town of Castillon with its bustling market, to the River Dordogne and Bordeaux wine-making region, Chez Castillon couldn’t be in a better location.
  • Hospitality – Not having to stop writing to cook and wash up is a huge advantage. Mickey and Janie are the perfect hosts and the food and drink on offer is fantastic.
  • Comfort – It’s vital to have comfortable surroundings in which you can relax and get on with your writing. Chez Castillon has beautiful guest bedrooms (all named after different wines), but there is also a brilliant self-contained classroom, a luxurious salon and a plush library. It even has a swimming pool if you’re feeling energetic.
  • Great tuition – A course leader to inspire and instruct is when I was there, we were lucky enough to have crime writer Adrian Magson as our tutor. Adrian led sessions throughout the week on various aspects of writing and gave us exercises and prompts that were helpful inspiration for free writing sessions.
  • Support of fellow writers – one of the great things about going on a writing retreat is meeting other writers, being able to share ideas and support each other. I was lucky enough to meet a great group of fellow students at Chez Castillon and we are keeping in touch and continuing to support each other by email.

Adrian Magson, our tutor, said: “I have to confess that Chez Castillon was my first ever writing retreat-style session, and I found it surprisingly easy to actually put down some ideas, even though I wasn’t there specifically for that, but to lead the course. Perhaps it was mixing with wonderfully funny, like-minded people, being relaxed, away from the phone, away from the normal daily round of things to do – maybe having mentally crossed that misty line into a semi-holiday mood, which released some constraints and allowed the mind to wander.”

A lot, though, in fact most, had to do with the location; the house itself, which was incredibly roomy and atmospheric (and that library, a writer’s paradise, which I wanted to take home with me – where was Calvin’s transmogrifier when I needed it?), the garden (with swimming pool), which was beautifully secluded, even though it was right in the middle of a small town. And the food! (God, I could go on a lot about the food. And the wine. And the food. And if that wasn’t enough, the Palace of Sin which was the combined chocolaterie / patisserie RIGHT ACROSS the street and I mean about 30 yards away.) Waistline alert!

Mostly, though, any location like this needs good hosts who understand what a retreat is all about. And we didn’t simply get good ones – we got great ones in Janie and Mickey, without which it would have been just a large house in a small provincial French town. Magnificent.”

How do you get the most out of a writing retreat?

  • Go with an open mind.
  • Be prepared to think and write outside your comfort zone.
  • Participate and contribute as much as you can in sessions. The more you put in the more you’ll get out.
  • Don’t forget, you can learn from your fellow students as well as your tutor.
  • Make sure you take some breaks from writing while you’re on your retreat. Allow yourself to be inspired by your new surroundings and by talking to different people.

Mickey and Janie, who run Chez Castillon, said: “We think that one of the most important things about Chez Castillon is that from the moment you step through the blue door into the hallway you can abdicate all responsibility – everything is taken care of and you can concentrate solely on what you have gone there to do. Breakfast lunch and dinner are all provided and the only decision you have to make is what colour wine to drink!

All the bedrooms are en-suite and large. Equipped with tables and chairs, toiletries and even a kaftan for lounging around the pool. They have glorious views over the back garden or the charming street at the front. Every room has WIFI.

Lunch and Dinner provide you with the chance to chat to fellow scribblers… and the terrace echoes with the sound of laughter. To give you a break (and further inspiration) we are happy to organise wine tastings; trips to nearby St Emillon and any of the surrounding market towns.

There is a very special feel to the house, it is a magical place which is why we fell in love with it in the first place and what makes subsequent visitors feel the same.”

Previous guests said:

“Fantastic! The perfect place to be creative and inspired.  There is time to work, to rest, to play.  Come here, you will achieve so much and yet go away feeling as if you’ve been on holiday.” Katie Fforde

“I have had the absolutely best time with the absolutely best people…let me come back.” – Judy Astley

“I am supposed to be good with words, but I don’t have the right ones in my lexicon to describe how I laughed…had fun…wrote…drank…ate and enjoyed myself.” – Kate Lace

“I had now idea it would be this fantastic…I have had a wonderful time.” Jane Wenham-Jones

You can find out more about Chez Castilon here.

They’ve got an array of writing courses coming up, including:

  • ‘Writing Commercial Women’s Fiction’ with Veronica Henry – Saturday 9th June to Friday 15th June 2012
  • ‘Writing Romantic Fiction’ with Louise Allen – Saturday 29th September to Friday 5th October 2012
  • ‘Is There A Book In You?’ with Jane Wenham Jones – Saturday 6th October to Friday 12th October 2012

In addition Katie Fforde and Judy Astley hope to return to lead a retreat, and people are also welcome to organise their own group and then just sort out dates with Mickey and Janie.

Now where did I put my passport? 🙂 Thank you, Helen.

Helen Hunt writes short stories and features for magazines. Her short stories have appeared in Woman’s Weekly, My Weekly, The Weekly News, People’s Friend and Take A Break Fiction Feast in the UK, and That’s Life Fast Fiction in Australia. She also writes articles for Writers’ Forum and Writing Magazine and runs short story writing courses, including a totally flexible online course. You can find her website at www.helenmhunt.co.uk

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with YA fantasy / paranormal author L Filloon – the three hundred and seventy-sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything… and follow me on Twitter where each new posting is automatically announced. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at SmashwordsSony Reader StoreBarnes & Noble, iTunes BookstoreKobo and Amazon, with more to follow. I have a new forum and you can follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, like me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn, find me on Tumblr, complete my website’s Contact me page or plain and simple, email me.  I also now have a new blog creation service especially for, but not limited to, writers.

Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

Short Story Saturday 010: Sexy Shorts charity anthologies

Welcome to the Short Story Saturday review slot and the tenth review in this series. This week’s is of the Sexy Shorts charity anthologies by Accent Press.

Anyone who knows me or has been following this blog will know how much I love my short stories and none more so than funny ones (and dark ones) and the Sexy Shorts series are just my thing. Although the stories are predominantly written by women (and quite probably for women), Robert Barnard, Bill Harris and David Wass to name three of the male contributors, they have something for everyone. Each book is themed and I have…

  • Sexy Shorts for Summer: including stories by Cathy Kelly, Fiona Walker, Adele Parks, Carole Matthews, Jane Wenham Jones, Lynne Barrett-Lee and over thirty others. One of my favourites (and not because she’s a prospective interviewee but probably because it’s about two writers :)) is short story author, novelist and writing guru Della Galton’s story ‘Waiting’. As you would expect these stories are written with a summer theme but in most cases this is just timing and with titles such as Julie Cohen’s ‘Whipped Cream Dreams’ (I’ll never see Sainsbury’s and stationery binders in the same light :)) and Sara Sheridan’s ‘HP Sauce’ just make sure you’ve eaten before you start reading them. Julie Cohen did a talk last weekend, by the way, at the Chipping Norton Literature Festival, on writing sex scenes – it was fantastic! 🙂
  • Staying on the topic of food is the Sexy Shorts for Chef collection, foreworded by Anthony Worrall Thompson. As you would expect they revolve around food but are so varied that you get caught up with the story not the theme. Top names such as Adele Parks, Sophie King and Veronica Henry mix with lesser known authors and that’s what I love about these collections, even if you think you know an author’s writing, there are still pleasant surprises in store… occasionally perhaps where a novelist is outside their comfort zone (although this is not a bad thing).
  • Jane, Katie Fforde and Sue Moorcroft appear amongst many others (including better-known-for-her-crime-writing Lesley Cookman) in Sexy Shorts for Christmas and although you would expect all the stories in this collection to be Christmas-themed (and best read at that time of year) surprisingly they’re not; Jane’s (hilarious Carla’s Gift) and Lesley’s (Wedding Day) being two of the exceptions and like the others in the series they’re so varied that they needn’t be themed at all.
  • Sexy Shorts for the Beach is another light read and as ‘Woman’ magazine put it, “A fine collection of heart-warming stories”. Of course there are levels of heart-warming but suffice to say they all have a degree of ‘sexy’. Regular short story authors in this collection include Jan Jones, Linda Mitchelmore and Sally Quilford.

With each story averaging less than 10 pages they’re perfect for a coffee (or my case, tea) break. Whatever your taste in short story, there’s something for everyone here and with a contribution from every new copy sold going to Cancer Research, even if the book sits on your shelf you’ll have had a warm glow from knowing you did your good deed for the day… or in my case four of them. 🙂

If you’d like to submit your story (50 to 2,500 words) for review take a look here.

Mystery / suspense author and interviewee Patricia Gligor’s spotlight follows shortly then the blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with short story author, article writer and 30-day challengee Christopher Starr – the three hundred and fifty-forth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything… and follow me on Twitter where each new posting is automatically announced. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at Smashwords, Sony Reader Store, Barnes & Noble, iTunes Bookstore and Kobo. My eBooks are also now on Amazon, with more to follow. I have a new forum and you can follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, like me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn, find me on Tumblr, complete my website’s Contact me page or plain and simple, email me.

Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.