As part of the featured author Q&A sessions, I am very pleased to announce that the featured author for the current session is Jane Corry.
Jane Corry is a former magazine journalist who spent three years working as the writer-in-residence of a high security prison for men. She had never been inside a jail before and this often hair-raising experience helped inspire her debut psychological thriller, the Sunday Times bestseller My Husband’s Wife. Jane is a regular life story judge for the Koestler Awards given to prisoners for art and writing. Until recently, Jane was a tutor in creative writing at Oxford University, and she now runs writing workshops in her local area of Devon and speaks at literary festivals all over the world. She has three grown up children and writes the ‘Diary of a First-Time Grandmother’ column for the Daily Telegraph.
What are your ambitions for your writing career? I’d like to continue writing a book a year for Penguin and – hopefully – being a Sunday Times best-seller again. When ‘My Husband’s Wife’ was published this summer, it got to number five. That was truly a magical moment in my life.
What is your most recent novel? ‘My Husband’s Wife’.
Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special? I actually have two main characters. Their stories are told in alternate viewpoints. Lily is special because she is a young woman lawyer who forms an unusual bond with a criminal. (It’s not quite what you think!). Carla starts off by being a little Italian girl but grows up in the middle of the book to become a young woman. I don’t want to give away clues but there is also a first and second wife in the book!
What genre are your books? They are known as ‘domestic noir’: family situations which seem quite normal but then become threatening.
What draws you to this genre? Good question! One of my friends recently said she was riveted by the book because it was ‘quite dark’ and she’d always thought of me as a ‘gentle person’! My own life has been full of ups and downs. I’ve seen what can happen when nerves are strained and boundaries are pushed. I also worked as a writer in residence of a high-security male prison where I helped men write their life stories amongst other things. It showed me that it could be frighteningly easy to break the law without meaning to.
When did you decide to become a writer? It’s what I’ve always done, from as long as I can remember. It feels natural. Like breathing. I’ve still got old exercise books from when I was five, with stories in them. But I can’t do maths! In fact, I come out in a cold sweat when I have to do simple adding and subtracting for my timelines!
Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured? I’ve always written best in the morning but when I was a single mum (for nearly four years), I had to work outside the home during the day. This meant that I had to write at night instead. Actually, I got a second wind – although I was very tired.
Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day? I usually write about 2,500 words a day. This is partly because of my journalist training. But I don’t think people should get hung about quantity. It’s the meaning of the words which count.
Where do your ideas come from? Life. My head. An automatic ‘download’ of ideas which often happens at about 4.30 am. My newish husband is quite used to me switching on my torch and scribbling them down!
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you? I always thought I was one of those people who had a vague outline but mainly allowed myself to go where my characters took me. But I’m beginning to think that a more structured plot outline before you start – with flexibility so you can change things when you know your characters – is better for my kind of genre. My plots are very complicated so I often sketch a ‘tree diagram’ . I have a centre trunk along which I write a one-line synopsis. Then I draw branches going off on either side. Each branch represents a stage in the novel. (Not necessarily each chapter). I write a summary on the branch. The end-result is a mind map, showing how one piece of action leads to another. Very useful.
How long on average does it take you to write a book? I write the first draft quite quickly. About four months. Then I spend at least another two months going through it again and again, checking on plot consistency; character development; setting; dialogue etc.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively? I’m more careful. I have several unpublished novels. I think that’s because I didn’t revise them carefully enough. I remember when the children were small, sitting in the back of a pantomime with them and giving my novel a quick read-through before sending it to an agent. That was the sum of my revision! Now, as I’ve said, it’s a much more through process.
Do you read much and if so which writers inspire you? I read in bed, on most nights – unless it’s one of my ‘grannie duty’ days when I’m absolutely shattered! I’ve just finished Salley Vickers’ ‘Cousins’ – she’s always been a favourite author of mine and I was lucky enough to interview her recently. I’m just about to start Emma Donoghue’s ‘The Wonder’ . Next in the pile by my side of the bed is Anna Hope’s ‘The Ballroom’.
What is your favourite book and why? You might think this is strange but it’s a small book of sayings for every day of the year which my mother left me. She died at 56 from ovarian cancer. The sayings are a mixture of spiritual quotes and plain practical advice. She wrote all our birthdays on the relevant days and it makes me feel she is still here. It’s called ‘Daily Strength For Daily Needs’. Selected by Mary Tileston. Published by Methuen.
If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why? ‘Gone With The Wind’. Such drama. Such amazing characters. Such emotions. You know that Scarlett is spoiled but you can’t help wanting her to win. Recently my newish husband and I did a road trip in America’s deep South. Possibly my favourite experience was visiting Margaret Mitchell’s home in Atlanta. She nicknamed it ‘the dump’. In fact, it was a perfectly nice apartment. The guide told us that Margaret ‘s first husband was a ‘bounder’ – whom she modelled Rhett on. She then went onto marry his best friend. When she hurt her ankle and was unable to work as a journalist, he encouraged her to write her own novel (because she’d read most of the books in the library). Apparently, she wouldn’t tell her friends she was writing a book and even hotly denied it when a publisher visited. Then she changed her mind and ran after him to the station. She thrust her chapters at him (she’d kept each one in an envelope) and said ‘Make of these what you will.’ The result was a publishing deal. I don’t know how much of this is strictly accurate but I loved the story! Margaret died young without having written another big novel. But how wonderful to be remembered all these years later.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers? Write about what you feel passionate about. Write about something different. Or take the normal and give it an unusual twist. Think about your characters’ personalities; their families and friends; their back story; and above all, their challenges. A story needs a problem. Several, in fact. Write every day if you can – even if it’s just for fifteen minutes. It keeps the story flowing. Make a collage of pictures from magazine supplements which remind you of the characters in your head. It helps you to describe them. Think about viewpoint. Whose shoes are you standing in when telling the story? ‘My Husband’s Wife’ and my new book ‘Blood Sisters’ are both told from two main viewpoints. It means the plot moves along and it also helps you to learn things about your main character from someone else’s perspective. Even better, from my point of view, it allows me to creates twists!
Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included? My new novel ‘Blood Sisters’ is about three girls who set off for school one day. It tells the story of friendship, lies, betrayal and love. But don’t believe everything that the characters tell you. I’m a great believer in the unreliable narrator!
Jane, thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to take part in this interview. Thank you so much for having me, Laura.