Our guest on the blog today is the lovely Jane Lythell. Jane lives in Brighton and is a sea-lover, star-gazer, film and football fan. She was formerly a Producer at TV-am and Commissioning Editor of Features at Westcountry Television. Jane left to become Deputy Director of the British Film Institute and later Chief Executive of BAFTA before joining the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for seven years. She now writes full time and her second novel has just been published by Head of Zeus. Write Romantic Jo was lucky enough to meet Jane at a writers’ lunch organised by the equally wonderful Kerry Fisher. It was a day filled with laughter, fun and some brilliant advice for new writers, so we are really lucky that Jane has agreed to write a guest post for us, to tell us all about the inspiration for the setting of her second novel, her experiences with the first and to share her top writing tips. Here’s Jane to tell us more…
I’ve been a bookworm since primary school and wanted to write all my life, but I was a single parent with a small daughter and a large mortgage. For years I worked in the kind of jobs that didn’t end at six pm. There would be calls and emails deep into the evening and very little thinking and writing time. My great treat was to go on Arvon residential writing weeks. Arvon is a terrific organisation and those courses certainly helped keep my writing flame alive. In May 2011 I finally got into a financial position where I could give myself two full years to write. At last I had the time to do the one thing I’d wanted to do for years.
I’m interested in the dark side of people and what makes them do extreme things. My first novel ‘The Lie of You’ explores jealousy that deepens into full blown obsession. My second novel ‘After The Storm’ also has one character in the grip of psychological trauma.
‘After The Storm’ opens in Belize City and then moves to an island in the Caribbean called Roatan. An English couple, Rob and Anna, have just met an American couple Owen and Kim who have a handsome old wooden boat. Owen suggests they charter his boat and he will take them to Roatan, where the diving is sensational. Anna does not want to go at all, but Rob is really keen and he persuades her. Unknown to them Kim is desperate to go home to Florida. It is Owen who is determined to continue their life on the boat. So straightaway we have conflict of wishes between the four characters and a boat can be a very claustrophobic place when tensions start to build.
They set off. With only the four of them on board it should be paradise: lazy afternoons spent snorkelling; long nights enjoying the silence and solitude of the sea. But why does Owen never sleep? Why is he so secretive about his past? And why does Kim keep a knife zipped into her money-belt? Anna, who is a speech therapist, can usually get people to talk… but this time does she want to?
I wanted ‘After The Storm’ to have a strong sense of place. I’ve been to Belize and to Roatan and I always felt they would make a great setting for a novel. Roatan is beautiful but it also has a kind of frontier feeling to it where the normal rules don’t seem to apply. I kept a journal when I was there and took lots of photos and I used these to help me create the atmosphere of the island. I try to write character driven stories rather than plot driven stories. My aim is to let the plot develop from how a particular character reacts to circumstances given their history and their psychology.
The shoutline on the cover is ‘Some Secrets Destroy You…’ It took us a while to get to this but I think it’s a very apt one because there are all kinds of secrets in the novel – some are trivial, some are serious and some are deadly.
‘The Lie of You’ has had over a hundred reviews and I can’t thank readers enough for taking the time to write down their reactions. These reviews are pure gold for a debut writer. And yes a few of them are negative but you learn from these ones too. One of the points that emerged was a difference of opinion about whether or not to sympathise with Heja by the end of the book. This definitely divided people. In ‘After The Storm’ there are four main characters and I’m so looking forward to hearing what readers make of them all because you do become attached to your characters.
Quite a few readers said they found ‘The Lie of You’ very ‘filmic’ and I hope ‘After The Storm’ has this same quality. This could be because I worked in film and television for fifteen years. I do see the scenes in my novel unspooling as film sequences as I’m writing them.
My top writing tips
For me it’s all about creating characters that readers will believe in. I try to think about what food they would eat, what flat they would live in and what single thing they fear most in life. You don’t have to put this in but it will help make them real to you as you write them.
Don’t worry if your characters are flawed or have some nasty sides to them. Flawed people are interesting. It doesn’t matter if your readers dislike them or adore them. But it does matter if they don’t believe in them.
Show your drafts to people you respect. I asked two close friends and my partner, who is a TV writer, to give me some frank and honest feedback. You can only learn from that and their comments helped me so much.
Take the time to edit your writing again and again. Your first draft is just that – a first draft. You only get one chance with a publisher so you need to get your book into as perfect a form as possible. Never submit too early.
And finally, I find it helps me to write standing up! I’ve rigged up my laptop to be the right height and it certainly makes me feel more alert.
Find out more about more about the Avron Foundation and Jane’s books at the links below:
ARVON FOUNDATION http://www.arvon.org/
AFTER THE STORM – on Kindle from 1 December and in bookshops from 7 January is available here.
THE LIE OF YOU is available here.