Friday, December 15, 2023

Author interview with Jane Jesmond

My next author interview is with the talented Jane Jesmond who has penned four novels in the genres of crime, mystery and thriller, so let's meet her:

'I have lived in France for the last 33 years, currently in Finistère (the end of the earth). I used to work in the events industry but am now semi retired splitting my time between writing, travelling and local life. I have the obligatory cat and a husband.'

I love the visual 😁 She's traditionally published, her first book launching in 2021. According to the Sunday Times, she is (tweet here) "an original voice in crime fiction" - what an accolade! Then this week (13th December) The Times reviewed her latest book, 'A Quiet Contagion' and said it was 'one of the best thrillers of the month' - I think that makes her writing royalty!

What inspired her to become a writer? 

'I've always loved reading. I was one of those people who thought they could write a book if they had time. Decades later, I finally did have time and my mother's death made me realise life doesn't go on for ever, so I took the plunge and discovered how much I loved writing...'

I do think the best writers are keen readers first but I am sorry it took the passing of her mum for her to take the leap, that's tough. 

What does she consider the best money she's ever spent as a writer? 

'The self-edit course run by Debi Alper ((Jericho Writers). It taught me the foundations of how to write.'

And does Jane have a daily writing routine? 

'It does depend a little what stage of a book I'm at but, by and large, I get up, make a large cup of tea and head upstairs to my writing eyrie, take a brief look at the sea and then start writing, only descending from time to time to make more tea until lunch. If I'm first drafting, I'll stop at that point. If I'm writing further drafts or editing, I might carry on during the afternoon.'

Oohh, my imagination is in overload, I'm pretty sure I need a writing eyrie! Does it help her to write?

'We live in the North-Western tip of France and the influence of the sea is everywhere. That certainly made itself felt in the first two books of my Jen Shaw series. 'On the Edge' starts off with Jen Shaw hanging off a lighthouse in the middle of a storm and 'Cut Adrift' features a dramatic escape in a smuggler’s boat. But I think it is the way in which the view is different every morning that most makes itself felt in my writing. 

On a day like today, thick cloud and rain obscures the view and the sea is a grey/white void whereas yesterday the low winter sun picked out the dull greenness of the water and the ruddy brown of the winter bracken. 

Setting is very important to me as a writer. As important as character and plot. The three of them weave in and out of each other to create the story. What I also love about the view is that, apart from the occasional boat on the sea, it is empty of people. I like the feeling of solitude and quiet when I’m writing. I’m not someone who can write in a coffee shop surrounded by people.' 

Oh my, I would love a writing hidey hole like that! What does Jane enjoy the most about writing? 

'I don't think there's anything I don't enjoy. Coming up with the initial ideas and first drafting is always a bit of a roller-coaster and I have good days and bad days. If I had to pick a favourite moment, it's when I know the characters have started to come to life.'

And what's the hardest part? 

'Dealing with imposter syndrome. There's always a little voice whispering in my ear that what I'm writing is utter rubbish.'

Wow, and with such high-profile reviewers liking her work too? It just goes to show this feeling never leaves you, no matter how much success you've achieved! Do reader reviews help her overcome this? 

'I do skim read reviews. Strangely, given how much I suffer from imposter syndrome, I don't mind the bad ones. I really do understand that not everyone will enjoy my books or any writer's books. I love the good ones when they pick up on something I tried very hard to achieve. It's that moment of communication!'

Very true. What does she find the most difficult thing about writing characters who are very different from herself? 

'The hardest part is avoiding cliches. I think you have to find a point of commonality between yourself and the character to be able to write them and to explore the ways in which they are different to you and unique in themselves.'

Interesting, because she writes in crime, a genre that (I guess) lends itself to more cliched characters than most - did she work in this field before retiring?

'I don’t have a ‘crime’ background at all unless enjoying reading crime fiction counts. However I have avoided writing anything with a police-procedural format. There’s plenty of opportunity to write and solve crime in fiction without involving the police and, in fact, I rather enjoy seeing the problems my amateur sleuths face as they try to solve mysteries and escape danger without the power and expertise and back-up of the police force behind them. 

Phiney and her step-grandmother, Dora, the main investigators in A Quiet Contagion, are the most unlikely pair of detectives. Although I’ve avoided having to learn too much about police procedures, that’s not because I don’t enjoy research. I love it. Researching the 1950s generally and specifically in Coventry was hugely interesting for A Quiet Contagion. I started off with very little idea as what the setting for this novel would be and by following where the research led me ended up with the pharmaceutical industry and the 195 Coventry Polio Epidemic.'

Okay, this sounds fascinating - we need to talk about 'A Quiet Contagion'! Can she give us a short synopsis?

'Yes, it's an unsettling contemporary mystery with a historical twist and fast-paced plot. Six decades. Seven people. One unspeakable secret.

1957. A catastrophe occurs at the pharmaceutical lab in Coventry where sixteen-year-old Wilf is working for the summer. A catastrophe that needs to be covered up at all costs.

2017. Phiney is shocked by the death of her grandfather, Wilf, who has jumped from a railway bridge at a Coventry station. Journalist Mat Torrington is the only witness.

Left in utter disbelief, with a swarm of unanswered questions, Phiney, Mat and Wilf's wife, Dora, begin their own enquiries into Wilf's death. It is soon clear that these two events, sixty years apart, are connected - and that Wilf is not the only casualty.
But what is the link? And can they find out before any more lives are lost?'

Oh wow, I love it! I asked for a tweetable version (tweet here):

'A book with a secret at its heart. A secret kept by 7 people who worked at the same pharmaceutical lab in 1957. Some have gone on to success but others have suffered. 60 years later, one of them wants to tell all... with fatal consequences.'

She mentioned undertaking research, what's her process and where did it take her for this novel?

'I research all the time when I'm writing - before and during. I did a lot for this book looking at: the pharmaceutical industry and its early development; medical research; the polio story, Coventry in the 1950s; the 1957 Coventry Polio Epidemic; breast cancer; journalism; assistance dogs.'

That seems a lot to me, but it always adds authenticity to a story when a novelist has put in this level of research - my hat goes off to her. Can she give us a quick extract?

'Illness runs through my family like a pulled thread puckering its fabric and leaving a line of holes behind it.'

That's powerful, I need to know more! Which scene did she find the hardest to write? 

'The very last scene was the hardest to write because I couldn't decide how to end it. Or to be 100% accurate, I couldn't work out what Phiney, the protagonist, would decide. I tried every possible way at least once but if you want to know what I finally decided, you'll have to read it!'

I do love a tease! Crime often attracts series-writing, so is this something Jane has considered, or does she prefer a clean slate and the fun of starting from scratch again? 

''A Quiet Contagion' isn’t part of a series and I have no plans, much as I love the characters, to make it into one. 'On The Edge' and 'Cut Adrift', however, are the first two books in a series and I am currently writing the third, which will be published next year. 

So the answer to your question is that I like both writing series and writing standalone books. It’s lovely to write characters you already know well and introduce them to different problems and places. However I also enjoy starting from scratch and inventing new characters. I’m very lucky to be able to do both!'

I don't know about you, but she's definitely whet my appetite. If you'd like to learn more about this talented writer, you can visit her links below:

Twitter: @authorJJesmond
Facebook: JaneJesmondAuthor
Instagram: authorjanejesmond

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