Okay, I know what you’re thinking: Rebecca forgot to include the name of today’s interviewee in the title of this post; Rebecca’s finally lost it after trying to organise so many of these interviews over the last few months.
But I haven’t (yet) and I didn’t forget to tell you who today’s interview is with.
There was a reason for that and the reason is I’ve been trying to keep today’s guest a secret, because she’s one of my favourite authors and I’m so, so happy that she’s here and I wanted to keep this a surprise for you.
And now the wait’s over, so today’s guest is…
Jean is the author of a plethora of pre-teen novels including Strawberry Crush, the Frank Foster trilogy, and Boys Beware, and very generously agreed to be today’s author guest.
Hi, Jean. Welcome to Read A Lot.
You’ve published over 100 books since you were 16 and published Dance For Two. Was writing something you always wanted to do, or was it something you fell into because it seemed like fun?
Yes, definitely something I always wanted to do. I have been scribbling ever since I can remember. I have a distinct memory of boasting to a school friend, when I was about 9 or 10 years old, that I’d had a short story published in Enid Blyton’s magazine.
Absolutely not true! The friend wanted to know what it was called, and I promptly replied, “Jam Pot Jane.” No idea why this has stuck with me – a sense of shame, perhaps. I was brought up to be a truthful child …
Has your opinion on writing changed since you first started?
I don’t think so, though I’m not really sure that I had any opinion in those early years – or that I have now, if it comes to that. Writing was just something I did, almost as naturally as I ate or breathed.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced over your career and how did you overcome them?
I suppose the greatest challenges were having to switch genres. For a time in my early twenties, being determined to earn some kind of living by writing, I knocked out romantic novels for Corgi Books, supplemented by translating French books into English – which was far more lucrative but not very satisfying.
When the market dried up for my brand of not-very-romantic romantic novels I first turned my hand to Regency romances a la Georgette Heyer and then to teenage novels. I grew to thoroughly enjoy the teen scene, only to have that dry up on me about a decade later, necessitating yet another change of genre. This time I moved a few rungs down the age ladder and tried writing books for pre-teens.
Each time I had to bid farewell to a previous genre I felt a definite sense of bereavement, because it’s impossible – for me, at any rate – to write books if I don’t actively get a sense of satisfaction from it.
Fortunately the pre-teen market has so far held up and I’m still having fun, though I am at the moment engaged on yet another new enterprise, attempting an adult novel set to the background of the typhoid epidemic in Croydon back in 1937. I say attempting as this is something quite new for me and I am currently still feeling my way. Almost like being back at the beginning again!
Have you ever considered giving up writing?
No. Never. Can’t imagine a life without writing.
What’s the most constructive piece of criticism you’ve ever received?
Cut, cut, and cut again! Although having said that, it is always satisfying to go back to your first draft and invent new scenes or flesh out others.
How much of your stories do you plan before you start to write them?
Oh, I plan. How I plan! I not only have the basic story line fixed but I actually decide on the content of every chapter throughout the book, deciding what the point of every chapter is and how it carries the story forward.
It’s a task I dread as it takes a lot of hard work and creativity, imagining scenes, hearing conversations, ironing out problems, with very little reward. But for me it definitely pays off as it means I have a pathway through the book – a series of stepping stones, if you like, which keep me on course, stopping me floundering or veering off in the wrong direction.
Can you choose a favourite character from your books?
No! Absolutely impossible, I’m afraid.
How easy do you find creating titles? Do you know the book’s title before you write it?
I really like to have a title before I start writing the book; guess it gives me a sense of safety. Titles can be difficult, especially when there’s a difference of opinion between author and editor.
For instance, I wanted my first published book to be called Castanets and Ballet Shoes but my editor insisted on the rather dreary Dance for two.
Editors can be very helpful, though. The title of Lemonade Sky was dreamt up by one of my editors. It had absolutely no relevance to the book whatsoever but I liked it so much that I felt inspired to go back to the book and put in a key scene which actually made it relevant.
What is your favourite part of the writing process?
Going back over my first draft and making it as good as I possibly can.
The planning process.
What’s your favourite place to write?
In a room at the back of the house, by hand, surrounded by all our cats and dogs.
What are your top 5 favourite books?
Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Write, write, write!
Practice may not make perfect but you rarely get anywhere without it. Never EVER submit a manuscript without having read it through several times and got it into as good a shape as you possibly can.
Study other people’s books, especially in your chosen genre, to see how they get their effects. Try always to have an arresting first line, or first paragraph, to grab the reader’s attention. Accept that unless you’re a genius or you just strike lucky you’re going to face rejection to begin with.
Almost all of us have been there. Nothing to be done save stick a few pins into wax effigies, weep a few tears, swear a few oaths, then pick yourself up and carry on.
You can visit Jean’s website here.