Meet bestselling author, journalist, interviewer, tutor, agony aunt and speaker, Jane Wenham Jones

Welcome, Jane!

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You grew up with quite a varied and strong literary heritage in your family. Were you encouraged to write and develop your own ideas from childhood, surrounded by books and such talent?

Yes, I was always encouraged to read and to write. My father wrote some textbooks (he was an English teacher), my mother writes poetry, my grandfather Frank Brookesmith had a memoir I Remember the Tall Ships published in his 80s (Foyles put on a window display!).  And his daughter, my aunt Shelagh Macdonald, won the Whitbread Prize (as it was then) for the Children’s Book of the Year back in 1977. Sadly,  she now has severe dementia and her decline was the inspiration for the mother in my last novel, Mum in the Middle. Uncles various have also been published in different ways and a couple of cousins are journalists. So writing was always seen as A Good Thing.

When did your first break as a published writer happen? Was it non-fiction or fiction first?

Short stories for women’s magazines. I started writing these when I was at home with a toddler and my brain had all but atrophied. When that toddler locked me in a cupboard and I had to talk him through phoning 999* to get me out, I realised how many stories there are all around us. And ended up publishing about a hundred of them. (For the full dramatic saga see my first non-fiction book Wannabe a Writer?)

Of all the impeccable research you have completed, is there one project or person that has intrigued, touched or surprised you more than you expected?

I often seem to include a storyline about some form of mental illness. That is in my family too.

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Picture by Encade

Many of the real issues such as dementia and cancer included are very serious and are given total understanding and respect for the impact they have on the character diagnosed and those supporting them. How do you balance this with the overall tone of your books which is humorous and optimistic?

It’s odd isn’t it, really? But humour has always been my way of getting through. There is a lot of black comedy in the worst things that happen to us, if you know where to look. And I think it is possible to still find humour and optimism in everyday life even when the chips are really down. So I suppose I don’t have any problem writing about bleak issues and amusing encounters side by side.  I recently found some parodies I wrote for my sisters after  our parents had split up in my late teens, and everyone was being even more bonkers than usual, and they made us all laugh hysterically all over again  – even though it was all quite appallingly  dysfunctional at the time.

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You capture the essence and conflicts within strong female friendship groups well. Have you been strongly influenced by female friends/peers in your own life?

Friends are everything. Both the male and female variety. But I have some wonderful women friends who have been amazingly supportive to me. Both in the publishing world – lovely pals in the RNA for example – and in my personal life.

Over the course of your novels have you noticed the social trends affecting women changing dramatically such as: the boomerang effect, empty nesters, and the sandwich effect between younger and older generations?

Absolutely! I was very aware of this when writing both Mum in the Middle and The Big Five OWomen in their forties and fifties can no longer be pigeonholed. I wrote recently that my earliest memory of my grandmother was of  a tiny, silver-haired old lady who wore a pinny, was keen on gardening and polished the teapot a lot. I calculate now that at the time, she was younger than I am! Her parents were long gone and all of her four children had their own homes. Today women of this age will still have ambitions for their careers, might have teenagers at home, or kids even younger, or be supporting adult offspring who can’t afford a place of their own. They’ll still expect to scrub up well for a hot night out, will probably go to the gym, or dance classes or be training for a marathon, and may well be online dating.  Just at the time when their elderly parents start kicking off! We are the stretched generation – in more ways than one!

I’ve also had reason  to revisit my third novel that was published in 2005 – One Glass is Never Enough. Re-reading the opening pages – which is a party scene –  for the first time in a decade, I was struck by how some of the sexual banter I had included would be considered  unacceptable in the current climate. The world has moved on a pace since I started writing – which rather dates me, doesn’t it? 🙂

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What has being a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association meant to you over the years?

A great deal. Prominent members like Katie Fforde, Jill Mansell and Judy Astley have been exceptionally kind and supportive to me and when I first pitched up to a conference knowing nobody, Catherine Jones made me laugh till  I cried.  So many, many lovely RNA members have become good friends  and are a constant source of inspiration and joy. I have especially loved acting as compere at the RNA awards for the last eight years. It is one of the  annual highspots.

What was the most important piece of advice that you were given that you would like to pass on to as yet unpublished writers?

 “Get the story down.”

But my own best piece of advice is: Marry someone rich!

Each author has their own favoured way of working. Do you have a strong work ethic: rise early, write late, or with such a hectic and varied schedule work as you move from event to event?

Oh it’s utter chaos. If I’m on a deadline, I get myself out of bed early and glue myself to the chair – out of sheer panic. But generally, on a day at home, I potter about, and tidy the airing cupboard, think I’ll make some bread, send emails and then suddenly – EEK – it’s 4pm and I’ve not even opened the manuscript. But I do do a lot of different things – so it is quite hard to stick to a rigid routine. I usually get there in the end.

How and when did you venture into interviewing and public speaking?

The speaking came about from being asked to talk to a local  “Ladies’ Dining Club” when my first novel was published.  I think they were a bit shocked – usually they had someone talking about flower-arranging or the history of the rubber stamp. But I had a really fun evening and then I got other bookings from word-of-mouth. The Rotary and Rotarians and such-like .

The interviewing started when I’d been on a panel at the Guildford Book Festival and the then director, the late Glenis Pycraft, invited me to chair a similar panel the following year. It grew from there and now I work at several different festivals each year and am a founder member of BroadstairsLit here where I live, which is huge fun.  I really love interviewing on stage. And I’ve been lucky enough to chat to a lot of top authors.

Do you embrace technology and social media with enthusiasm?

I would like to! But I’m not the best at it. I enjoy twitter (@JaneWenhamJones) but I’m a bit sporadic about it – so I’ve never really built that  up. And I’m hit and miss with facebook also – it’s all feast or famine.  I don’t fully understand how to best utilise my author page either (yes I know I should find out but it’s too easy to lose your life in this stuff.)  I’m envious of people who seem to just slide it in to their lives and have zillions hanging on their every word.  For example, I love Instagram –  which I came late to – but still haven’t properly grasped this “my story” business. I need a friendly seven-year old to instruct me…

What has been the highlight of your writing career to date?

I always think that the wonderful thing about this game is that every day there is the potential for something uplifting to happen. A foreign rights sale or a lovely review or a little surge in the amazon ratings. The are all highlights at the time.  It was exciting when Prime Time was shortlisted for the RNA awards some years ago and when Perfect Alibis was optioned by the BBC. Tho unfortunately that came to nothing in the end. Playing the chat show host for Peter James at Brighton’s Theatre Royal to an audience of over 700 was pretty fab…

What are your inspirations or ambitions now?

Oh the screen rights, my own TV show – you know the usual modest stuff… 🙂

 What project are you currently working on?

                             A 10th book and the 2020 programme for BroadstairsLit

 

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I love your hairstyle and wondered if there was a point when you decided that you were going to redefine your image, or if it was something that has just developed over time?

It started with my very first novel Raising the Roof.  I thought it would be a laugh to dye my hair the colour of the book jacket – which was turquoise and purple, as they all were then! You couldn’t get the fun colours you can now, so I had hair extensions put in, in the right shades and thus begun my love affair with multi-coloured locks. Everyone’s at it these days but I was a pioneer! People used to stop me in the street to comment on it.

What do you do to keep yourself fit away from the computer and to relax?

Yoga, walking, reading – of course. In the summer I play bad tennis if I can find anyone equally bad to join me. Two years ago I took custody of a tiny, flea-ridden, runt-of-the-litter black kitten and I have turned into a mad cat lady with bells on. Much time is spent admiring the now-huge-and-glossy creature that is Nugget (named by my son after a hop they make real ale with – spelled with two Ts – and not a deep-fried chicken snack) and attending to his every whim.  He totally rules the roost and has brought me huge pleasure. I definitely feel calmer and happier since he’s been around. Even when he wakes me at 3.am with a mouse in his jaws…

What is next for Jane Wenham-Jones?

A nice glass of Macon blanc villages I think…. possibly with some crisps….

Many thanks for taking the time to answer all of my questions and sharing some insight into your amazingly varied world.

I wish you every success in 2020 – Merry Christmas, Jane!

And to you – thanks for having me xxxx

OAPSchat goes from strength to strength!

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Catching up with Janice Rosser founder of OAPSchat!

Jan’s motto is ‘ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!’ which seems to be the way her brainchild, OAPSchat the community site targeted at over 55’s, is going.

So here is Jan to tell us about it…

Since you interviewed me in 2014, OAPSChat has grown and grown! In June 2014 I was delighted to be one of the recipients of The Independent on Sunday Top 100 Happy List Award. I wrote a blog for the website describing the experience.

My mother passed away on September 1st 2014 and fortunately Margaret my sister and I were both at her side when she died peacefully in my house.

Suddenly I was no longer a carer. Mum’s words to me when she was dying are still with me. “Make an even bigger success of the website love and bring people together to try and end loneliness. You and Margaret have looked after me so well and I have been really lucky having you both.”

Congratulations on The Independent on Sunday Top 100 Happy List Award, but I am very sorry that you lost your mum. She must have been very proud and appreciative of both you and Margaret and the loving care you took of her.

So…… since then, so much has happened. I have been on local radio twice, interviewed my folk hero Ralph McTell, along with Dr Mark Porter, the owner of Laithwaites Wines, and many more celebrities. I appeared in Wetherspoons magazine in March 2015.

I evaluate many products for companies and send out a monthly newsletter to over 480 people.

I have 126 wonderful contributors now and over 1130 articles for people to read and comment on. Ranked at just over 12,000 in UK website rankings as at 11/11/2016, 2016 is drawing to a close better and busier than ever.

So what do you plan for 2017?

My aim is to hopefully be in the top 5,000 UK websites and to be the most popular online community magazine. The purpose for starting the website was to help combat loneliness and bring together people from all walks of life to forge new friendships and online companionship. This has certainly happened, but there is still a long way to go. My ‘baby’ born in November 2013 is now a toddler at three years old this month and true to toddler behaviour is more demanding and growing at a rate that I never thought possible!

I hope you hit the 5,000 ranking!

I love what I do and have met and am meeting new people all the time. One never stops learning and almost every day I receive a new article or write about a different topic myself.

I hope you have a very Merry Christmas Valerie and a Happy and Healthy New Year and thank you for inviting me back for an update.

It is inspiring to read about your progress with this extremely valuable site. I wish you, your family and OAPschat community a Merry Christmas and a very happy, prosperous and healthy 2017!

Click to read Jan’s original interview

An Interview with Mirren Jones

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‘Mirren Jones’ is a unique partnership of writers Marion Duffy (left) and Elaine Atkins (right).

Did your partnership form and grow through the collaboration as writers or did your published work evolve as a result of your friendship?

A bit of both! In 1999, we had co-authored two books of non-fiction, published by Radcliffe Medical Press (‘Facilitating Groups in Primary Care’, and ‘Facilitating Organisational Change in Primary Care’), while employed by The University of Dundee. That activity, along with several years of co-tutoring and joint research and consultancy, developed our working relationship and eventually led to our being friends as well as boss and junior!

Our fiction writing partnership – and ongoing friendship – is something newer and different, as we are no longer in a formal work situation. We’ve been writing and working together for 16 years in total and are still great friends, despite now living 500 miles apart.

Please tell us something about ‘Eight of Cups’?

front cover high resolutionThe novel is certainly not chic-lit, and is not intended to be literary; rather it fits the genre of well-written contemporary women’s fiction, although many male readers have told us they’ve enjoyed reading it and learnt a lot about women’s minds in the process! It’s a saga spanning over thirty years, beginning in 1972, as the six main characters arrive at Edinburgh as new undergraduates. After leaving university, their roads lead to England, Wales, Ireland, America and the Middle East; lives intertwine and paths cross.

The story is told from two perspectives. One, from the first-person narrative of the primary character, the rather too selfless (as becomes evident) Scottish lass Diane. The other, third person narrative interlocks all six characters in a brindled strand of narrative priorities. The women are all very different personalities: Nancy, the risk-taking country-loving girl from Yorkshire, Alix, the hedonist from Aberdeen, Carys, the studious one from the depths of West Wales, the quietly anxious Lesley, from Cardiff, and bossy, religious Patricia from Dundee.

The book explores the effects of the various attachments each character possesses on their lives: dreams, ambitions, pleasures, plans, obsessions and fears, and asks the question, “What will it take to set them free?”

Where or who did the inspiration and desire to write the novel come from initially?

Marion (Mirren) describes the impetus as being a combination of challenge and opportunity, with a significant event in her social life providing the seed for the story. She was moving to live part-time on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland when her husband took up a post there in the island dental services. He was concerned that she would be bored (does he really know her??) and challenged her to ‘write that novel you’ve been banging on about for years’. Co-incidentally, she attended a reunion of old university friends where one of her old pals divulged a shocking secret to the group. That set her thinking of how life affects plans and attitudes. On hearing of Mirren’s novel-writing plans, Jones was very keen to join in, making a strong case that if we were able to write non-fiction successfully then we ought to be able to do the same with fiction! So after discussion and negotiation, Mirren Jones was born and ‘Eight of Cups’ quickly began to take shape.

Do you split tasks when you approach producing a novel or do you write alternate chapters, swap them and then smooth out the writing style in redrafting?

 We work in a highly iterative way – creating, structuring, planning, revising, over and over again until we are happy with the product. Interestingly, we always sit down together and read through all the dialogue before signing off the final draft – this does give unique insights. In the end, the finished work is an amalgam of our ideas, plot lines, character development and physical writing (Mirren’s straight on to computer, and Jones on paper first), critiqued and then polished according to our own standards and preferences, as well as feedback from selected trusted reviewers.

You both have had careers dealing with people within the health sector. Do you think this experience has helped you to feel deeper empathy for the characters you create?

alyth town hall - CopyOur work in the NHS, in academia and as organisational development consultants has required us to be attentive listeners, adept at interpreting information from others via all our senses, able to feedback sensitively and imagine ourselves in others’ shoes. We have gained experience over many years of the effects of ill-health on people, and how life impacts on well-being. Hopefully our innate vein of empathy has been enhanced by our real-life experiences which then give us insight that we can apply to our characterisation. Perhaps being co-writers has an advantage over writing solo, in that with our combined life and work experiences we are able to bring a very wide range of knowledges and contexts to our writing, thus giving credibility to our characters and their settings.

How do you keep up the much needed energy and momentum for the projects you start when living so far apart and having such varied commitments and interests?

We put no pressure on each other in terms of deadlines and accept that life will get in the way, as it has done since we became Mirren Jones. We try to fulfil our promises to each other, and to ourselves as best we can, and both would love to have more time to write. Neither of us are the kind of writers who can squeeze in an hour before bedtime, or get up early and write before going to work. But what does help is if one progresses the story and reignites the flame for the next chapter to be written.

Please tell us something about your next novel, ‘Never Do Harm’.

It is a psychological drama about two doctors, friends since childhood, living in the same part of Scotland, but operating in very different settings. Alan is a GP in a busy medical practice, Hugh is a senior hospital consultant in a big teaching hospital. Professional in their working lives, they are rivals as well as friends in their personal life. Alan’s French wife Simone, a sculptress, is the third player in their relationship. Her presence will generate the potential for harm, something the two men promise never to do in their role as doctors, but which doesn’t of course apply outside of work. Our old NHS colleagues will be more than a little worried that we’ve used some real-life experiences to fuel our writing of this novel – and they may well be right!

What is next for Mirren Jones?

Finishing ‘Never Do Harm’ is our immediate aim – we are committed to reaching this goal before the end of the year. Then we have to navigate the world of Indie publishing which has changed considerably since we produced ‘Eight of Cups’, with the advent of digital books on multiple platforms, and embrace marketing with renewed enthusiasm!

As for the future – we have no problem generating ideas for stories, so when we decide to work on a third novel, it will probably progress much as this one has – in a stop-start fashion, with many twists and turns in both the writing and the lives of the writers. Given our personal experiences to date, we can anticipate unexpected changes which might throw up a range of other possibilities. In the meantime, Mirren continues in her role as Practice Manager in her local health centre, and Jones with her work as an Energy Psychology practitioner (humans and horses) / MD of CareandCompare.com – a charitable insurance price comparison website.

More from Mirren Jones

Website: www.mirrenjones.co.uk

Blog: www.mirrenjonesblog.com

Twitter: @MirrenJones

Facebook: Mirren Jones

Google+: +Mirren Jones

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/mirrenjones/

Kindle worldwide: http://authl.it/1qs