I’m delighted to be welcoming Jan Birley today for the first post of 2016!
And it’s good to have a Dorset author to welcome in the new year of blogging 🙂
Jan has recently published her first novel with the second one to follow shortly. The third one is still in the process of being written. All of them are stand-alone books.
She has spent most of her adult life in Wandsworth, London but now lives in Sherborne, Dorset. However, unwilling to give up totally on city life, she still works there one day a week at the London School of Economics where she is a dyslexia support tutor. In Sherborne, she works at Sherborne Girls and because of the lovely, long holidays is able to spend a good part of the year with her family at their holiday home in Italy.
Married to the Deputy Mayor of Sherborne, they have three sons, two of whom are twins and one elderly dog who also enjoys her time in la bella Umbria.
Although she has been writing for many years, it never seemed a possible financial option as a career and so she has worked in other worlds before finally realising that if she didn’t pursue her dream right now, it was going to remain a dream forever.
The result is ‘The Lost and Found Life of Rosy Bennett’.
Connect with Jan
Welcome to JJ.
Please summarise The Lost and Found Life of Rosy Bennett in 20 words or less.
Rosy’s life crumbles into poverty and loneliness before she succeeds in transforming her family’s lives into unexpected happiness.
Please tell us about the characters in your novel.
I have tried to make my characters as normal as possible. This doesn’t mean boring. Yes, they make mistakes. Don’t we all? Yes, her sons, well certainly one son, can be trying to say the least. But as a mother of three boys I know all about that. What I have attempted to avoid is making my characters annoying. I always find it intensely irritating when protagonists insist on doing something really stupid. Rosy is an amalgamation of my friends – and quite likely me too – with good and bad points. The men range from being duplicitous, to being a tad worthy and therefore rather dull – to the serious player, the alpha guy. All of the characters are struggling to achieve, making the best of what they have been given and getting on with life.
Was there anything about your protagonist that surprised you?
Although secretly Rosy fears Theo is out of her league, she surprises herself – and also me – by how feisty she becomes. Having to be the sole adult in charge of the family brings a new steeliness to her. She grows up through grieving. Having said that I think all my characters have the ability to surprise me. This is because although I’m a plotter and know exactly where my next chapter is going, it very often doesn’t work out that way. Time and again, off they go and do something completely different. I vainly try to rein them in, but no, they’re not having it and they seem to merrily go on their way paying absolutely no attention to me at all. I love it when that happens. I can hear them talking in my head and I simply have to write down what they’re saying, which is probably very scary and bonkers.
What scene was the hardest to write Jan?
Sex scenes without a doubt are the Everest. Whatever I say seems to sound trite, banal or ridiculous. I spent the first half of my life worried and embarrassed that my mother would read such scenes and now that she has died, I am spending the second half embarrassed that my sons will read them. The only way I can attempt them is with a bottle of red wine beside me.
Do you have a favourite book? What is it about that book?
I have several favourite books but they are written by authors of some time ago. Nancy Mitford for Love in a Cold, Climate, The Pursuit of Love …, Stella Gibbons for Cold Comfort Farm and Dorothy Sayers for her Wimsey books. Cold Comfort Farm never ceases to make me laugh and the other books have the common thread of a sophisticated, urbane gentleman in the truest sense of the word. Fabrice de Sauveterre in Mitford’s books and the delightfully, self-deprecating Wimsey himself. The prose is elegant and succinct – apart from Cold Comfort Farm, of course, with its glorious parody of the romanticised rural novel. Makes me chuckle just thinking about it. Chuckle’s a lovely word isn’t it? Onomatopoeic. These books are the ones I return to time and again – when I’ve nothing else on the go and want something familiar and trusty.
What are you reading now Jan?
I am reading Jackie Collins’ last book, The Santangelos. I am a catholic reader and quite happy with many genres, veering between literary to chick-lit to thrillers. Lucky Santangelo is a stalwart protagonist, she is largely demanding of herself and not the reader which I find relaxing and enjoyable. Of course, she finds herself in the most impossible situations as far removed from me and my life as could remotely be envisaged but I like this. I want to be taken somewhere I’ll never go, it’s fun. What I really hate is book snobbery. And many critics would rather be boiled in oil than read Jackie Collins. I hate any cultural snobbery really, whether it’s people sneering that Wagner is the only opera to listen to or that anyone who doesn’t rate the Turner and Booker prizes somehow has a genetic malfunction, makes me mad.
Have you done any writing courses that you would recommend to others?
Some years ago I went on a writing course run by the Arvon Foundation at Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire. It was for five days and the resident writers were Elizabeth Jane Howard and Nell Dunn. I have never had a great deal of faith in myself, and certainly no talent for self-promotion, so the sense of vulnerability that comes with others reading my work is always a challenge, especially so when it is read by well-regarded authors. However, they were encouraging and positive and I think I learned a great deal. I also think that being with other novice authors and realising that everybody has the same issues helps. Nothing helps your writing more than getting on and doing it, even if every page needs countless edits. I would certainly recommend the Arvon Foundation to others.
Finally Jan, what are you currently working on?
I am a third of the way through my next book. It is set in London and Italy where we are lucky enough to have a home. It is about Dil who is an interior designer and takes on an Umbrian challenge which almost defeats her. Of course men are involved and as usual, mistakes are made. Perhaps the biggest one is trusting someone she shouldn’t who causes her life to shatter. Although I think I know where I am going with the plot, I never quite know how it will end.
Thank you for being my guest today Jan.
Wishing you success with all your writing projects.
Rosy loved her London life – her job in a designer shop, her gorgeous West London family house and of course her gorgeous family (although young sons are enough to test anyone at times). All that disappears when, one unremarkable morning, after one unremarkable school run, her husband collapses on a crowded tube carriage and subsequently dies.
As she struggles her way through the grief, she discovers her husband’s secret life: secrets accounts, secret deals that their solicitor knew nothing of, secret debts and what looks like at least a secret “very close friend” at least.
Totally unprepared and suddenly in debt, Rosy is forced to leave London to start a new life with her incredibly reluctant boys in the countryside. Can angsty urban teenagers cope with farm life, let alone enjoy it? More to the point, can their mother? It’s certainly not going to be easy but when you are at rock bottom the only way is up.
Betrayed – by a husband Rosy thought to be
Swapping her Fulham mummy existence for mud,
wellies and Alpacas in Dorset
Trying to deal with a difficult preadolescent
boy who misses his Dad
Creating a new business from long forgotten