Finding A Sense of Place with Jane Lythell

13 Oct 2014 Author picOur 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,FINAL After the Storm_JANE 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.

LOY Paperback Cover‘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.

Jane Lythell

Find out more about more about the Avron Foundation and Jane’s books at the links below:


AFTER THE STORM – on Kindle from 1 December and in bookshops from 7 January is available here.

THE LIE OF YOU is available here.

Wednesday Wondering – Rescue Me!


As romance writers, you’d probably expect that we’re fans of romance films and particularly those that might fall into the rom-com bracket. I personally absolutely love them. Can’t get enough of them. And when I find one I love, I’ll watch it over and over and over again.

There are some absolute classics (such as Pretty Woman, Bridget Jones’s Diary and pretty much anything by Richard Curtis), some misses (New Year’s Day was one of those for me) and some that grow on you with repeated watching (He’s Just Not That Into You).

P1050243One of my favourite rom-coms of recent times is the wonderful Leap Year with Amy Adams and Matthew Goode (nom nom). If you’ve seen it, you’ll know that he asks her what she’d stop to collect if her house was on fire and this is ultimately the crux of her realising her life needs to change. So, my question (in a month that has nothing to do with leap year) is if your house was on fire and your family and animals were all safe, what item(s) would you rescue before you fled to safety?

Note how I added an ‘s’ onto the end of item(s)? That’s mainly because I knew I wouldn’t be able to just pick one! I’d need the fire to be pretty slow-burning and in the right part of the house so I could grab my computer and my husband’s. He has all the photos of the munchkin on his Mac although I suspect he has them backed up somewhere remotely so we might be ok. I have all my writing on mine. Hmm, maybe I should try some remote cloud-y type stuff just in case! If it was night-time, I’d have to grab my wedding, engagement and eternity rings as I don’t wear them to bed. I’d also need to raid my bear cabinet. I collect proper jointed mohair collectable bears. Realistically there’s no way I could get them all so I’d make sure I rescued two very special ones: Mark Elvet and Paddington. Mark Elvet is the first bear I ever made when I had my teddy bear shop in 2005-07. I named him after my husband who I’d met 2 months after opening the shop and the street name in Durham (Elvet Bridge) where I attended my workshop). The Paddington is a Steiff and was my wedding present from the hubby. I love all my bears but these two are very special. Finally, I’d collect the munchkin’s favourite teddy, Pinky, because she’d be devastated if she lost him.


Let’s hear what the others have to say:

Deirdre says …
Interesting question, and not so easy to answer as I first thought. To begin with I came up with a list of ‘essential’ items, went through it again and realised that, actually, hardly any of them are essential at all. Now there’s a surprise! So, I would rescue my handbag and address book, our photo albums, and my USB stick which contains all my writing, just in case Dropbox lets me down. Oh, and I’d grab a couple pairs of comfortable shoes in case I can’t get the same ones again. My feet must not suffer!

P1050235Helen P says …
Gosh I hate to even think about this because my house is full to the brim with so many of us living in there but if it was on fire and everyone was safe I would have to rescue my small Cath Kidston tin full of pen drives on which I have various ideas for novels stored on and my current works in progress. I’d be so lost without them.

Alys says …
It’s probably a bit sad but I think I’d save my laptop. Not just because the MS for Beltane and the work I’ve done on my second novel, Lughnasa are on here. They’re all backed up so that should be alright. It’s also my work computer and it would be tricky to do the day job without it. But the main reason is because photographs, music and so many happy memories are stored on here.

Helen R says …
Leaving behind the sensible approach which would be to grab the file with passports, birth certificates etc, I would grab my box of photo albums. These would be irreplaceable…memories from my childhood and memories of my own girls as babies through to the ages they are now.

Jay says …
I expect almost everyone will say this, but for me it would be photographs and videos. The irreplaceable ones would be of the children growing up and, even more than that, of my Dad who died almost 14 years ago. I have some hilarious video of him riding a bike for the first time in about 30 years, shortly before he was diagnosed with cancer. He’s laughing, in fact we all are, and that is something I couldn’t bear to lose. If there was time, I would also grab my laptop, as I am rubbish at backing up my latest WiP and I would likely lose thousands of words if I lost that… in fact, I might go and get a pen drive and a fire proof box right now, just in case! P1050239

Lynne says …
I love anything shabby chic and handmade using strong, natural elements like copper, linen, leather, wool, willow. I have a small collection of Mulberry bags made with chunky leather like animal hide, some clothes made of linen so thick that it is almost carved rather than sewn, and deep red copper, rich with natural pigments. I cook with vintage copper and love thick, chunky pieces that are made with ancient dovetail joints not the modern pressed stuff so I guess it would be whatever I could grab from that little gathering.

Rachael says …
If family and pets were safe and I could rush back in and rescue just something, it would be…… This is a hard one as I’d want to rescue everything, but just one thing would be external memory device for both the farm computer and my writing computer. At least that way I’d have all my writing and cow records.

Jaxx says …
Strangely enough my daughter was talking about this, the other day and there was no room for manoeuvre. It was family (she would push me out of the window if I was incapacitated, apparently- thanks for that!) Then it was Pushkins the cat, then Cheddar the hamster and then her iPad mini. I guess I would go with the same kind of thing and add my laptop as most of my writing is backed up to Dropbox, now. Haven’t seen my jewellery box since I hid it in the loft last summer before going on holiday so I guess that shows I don’t need the contents of that! Would quite like to take the piano and my guitar too but think that might be getting silly.

Over to you. What would you grab (whilst touching wood and hoping that none of us are ever really in this situation)?