As a pitifully struggling writer myself, I’m fascinated by the writing process of actual published authors, and when possible, avail them to allow me to pick their brain for insight. It’s a wholly selfish act, I confess, and I am thrilled that Jan Newton, author of Remember No More – a superb crime thriller set in rural Wales – kindly agreed to my tomfoolery.
You can find my review of Remember No More by clicking HERE.
Please join me as I talk to the lovely Jan Newton!
1. WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR THE STORY?
The real inspiration behind the story is an area of mid Wales, between the Brecon Beacons and the Cambrian Mountains, where we moved to in 2005. It’s wild and woolly (plenty of sheep) and very, very beautiful. Just across the valley from where we live is an upland area called Mynydd Epynt. It has such a sad history which few people know about and I was determined to tell its story to a wider audience.
2. WHAT IS YOUR WRITING METHOD? DO YOUR CHARACTERS “SPEAK TO YOU”, WHERE YOU JUST WRITE AND GO WHERE THEY LEAD YOU, OR DO YOU CAREFULLY PLOT THE SCENES IN THE BOOK SO YOU KNOW WHERE IT IS HEADED?
To be absolutely honest I had no idea at all where things were headed when I first started to write. I had always written short stories which seem to arrive fully-formed (after much deliberation in a random sort of way). I knew writing a novel would be a very different prospect, but decided to stick with my short story formula which has served me well.
I have to find a place for the story to be set first of all – this is as important as characters and plot for me, and I have to know the characters before I even put pen to paper. I have an idea of where I want to end up, but how I will get there is a mystery. It was so nice to be able to spend more time with my characters too. When you write short stories, two or three thousand words later you have to say goodbye to them, but it’s been a real pleasure, getting to know Julie Kite and her colleagues well. It’s true what they say though, if you let them, they do take over and decide where the story will go.
3. THIS IS YOUR DEBUT NOVEL, BUT YOU HAVE WON VARIOUS WRITING COMPETITIONS. WHEN DID YOU START WRITING?
I wrote my first ‘novel’ when I was seven years old. Our primary school teacher asked us to write a story on the space race after a visit to the Jodrell Bank telescope in Cheshire. I wrote about a little green spaceman called Fred, who crash-landed his small spaceship (as luck would have it) in my own suburb of Manchester. The teacher barely flinched when I asked for my fourteenth exercise book, and the finished ‘book’ earned me two gold stars.
Soon afterwards I discovered horses and I didn’t write for more years than I like to count. Around five or six years ago I was looking for courses to complete an Open University degree and found their creative writing courses. Once I graduated from the OU I was lucky enough to study for a Masters in creative writing at Swansea University as a very mature student. It was a fantastic experience, which broadened my knowledge and imagination enormously.
I started with short stories, and have had some success in competitions, but the course led me into nature writing and other non-fiction as well as radio drama and poetry. Each module added to my confidence and I was finally able to take the plunge and I began to write Remember No More shortly after I graduated from Swansea.
When I moved from the process of writing to getting published, I and others found having help with your query letter and knowledge regarding the ways in which literary agents work to be highly beneficial.
4. WHERE DO YOU WRITE? (I’M SO NOSY.)
I always have a notebook with me and I’ve written in cafes, in the car, on benches at the seaside – anywhere really, but I have a writing shed in the corner of a field now, with a lovely view down the valley towards the Epynt across fields full of sheep. It’s quiet and inspiring – a real bolt-hole to escape to.
5. SO…WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING ON? (WILL THERE BE ANOTHER DS KITE BOOK?)
I’m working on the second DS Kite book, which will be set a little further north in the Elan Valley. Again, it’s a very beautiful area which has a sad history – the valley was drowned for reservoirs which provide water for the City of Birmingham, over the border in England. I’m also tinkering with another novel which I’ve been thinking about for years, about walkers on a long distance hike – their experiences and relationships. That gives me a real chance to examine how people interact when they’re ‘thrown together’. I’m a terrible people-watcher and eavesdropper, which is a huge help when deciding on characters.
6. WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?
My reading habits are eclectic. At the moment I’m re-reading Sightlines by Kathleen Jamie, which is an amazing collection of essays about the author’s life and vast knowledge of the natural world in Scotland. Funnily enough, my current fiction choice also has a Scottish connection: Cold Earth by Ann Cleeves, set in the Shetland Isles. I’m a huge fan of Ann Cleeves, but my absolute hero is Alan Bennett. Keeping On Keeping On, the most recent collection of his diaries, is something I dip into constantly.
Jan’s debut novel is currently available in print and e-book format and can be purchased by clicking on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk, as well as through Honno, an independent co-operative press run by women and committed to bringing you the best in Welsh women’s writing.
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