Thursday, 9 January 2014
Author Spotlight: Jenny Harper
I’m delighted to welcome talented and lovely writer Jenny Harper as my first guest author of 2014, particularly since she has taken the leap into self-publishing with her new contemporary novel, Face the Wind and Fly. I’m thoroughly enjoying reading it at the moment. As well as a great cast of characters, it features the controversial subject of wind farms and the varying attitudes they evoke. First, here’s a little about the story.
Face the Wind and Fly
She builds wind farms, he detests them. Can they ever generate love?After fifteen happy years of marriage, Kate Courtenay discovers that her charismatic novelist husband is spending more and more of his time with a young fan. She throws herself into her work, a controversial wind farm that’s stirring up tempers in the local community. Sparks fly when she goes head to head against its most outspoken opponent, local gardener Ibsen Brown – a man with a past of his own. But a scheme for a local community garden brings the sparring-partners together, producing the sort of electricity that threatens to short-circuit the whole system.
Face the Wind and Fly is available from Amazon UK and US – grab a copy while it’s still at its introductory price of £0.95!
Welcome to the reading and writing blog, Jenny, and thanks for the interesting answers to my questions.
Tell us a little about your background as a writer
Like many other writers, I’ve been writing since I was a child. My mother thought I had such a talent she bought me one of those correspondence courses when I was about fifteen! I was put off writing creatively, however, by doing a degree in Literature – I just knew I could never write as well as the great authors I was studying. So I became an editor (at Collins, in Glasgow, then with the Scottish arm of Cassells).
When my son was born, I went freelance, and was offered the chance to write a number of books – non fiction. I also wrote a children’s novel, which was published by Hamish Hamilton and a holiday romance. The big secret about this is that I co-wrote it (under a pen name) – with now-famous author Alexander McCall Smith! Around this time, I also came runner-up in the BBC Woman’s Hour/Woman’s Weekly Romantic Novelist of the Year competition and was flown down to London for a tour round the Woman’s Hour studios and a lunch at the magazine’s offices. Heady stuff! Sadly, I didn’t make enough money to make a living at it, so I turned to journalism instead – in particular, producing magazines for big companies (which paid real money!).
What made you self-publish this novel?
I’ve been learning the craft of writing novels for around eight years, during which time the market has changed out of all recognition. I have had two agents who have worked tirelessly on my behalf, and have had many kind comments from editors – but always with a ‘but’ at the end. As I have a story coming out in February in the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s new anthology, Truly, Madly, Deeply, I felt it would be a complete waste not to have any work available should anyone who likes my story look for more from Jenny Harper. So it’s been a kick up the backside! Face the Wind and Fly was published on Boxing Day and Loving Susie will follow in mid February. I will probably publish another later in the year.
Did you have to do a lot of research for Face the Wind and Fly?
I didn’t know much about wind farms, except that they have a polarising effect. I read up a lot about them and tried to understand the arguments on both sides. I spent a day at a huge wind farm in Perthshire with someone from SSE, which was fascinating – as was the conversation with one of their community liaison officers the same day. You need a special kind of personality to do that job – diplomatic, empathetic and thick-skinned! I worked in business for many years, so I didn’t need so much help on that, though my daughter-in-law, who works in HR, gave me some advice about how a disciplinary hearing would be conducted.
How will you promote your book?
Ah. That’s the hard part. I’ll do what I can on social networks, and I’ll happily take part in and host guest authors, but to be honest, I’d much rather be writing something new. The good news is that there’s plenty advice out there that the best thing you can do to improve sales is to write another book. I’m hoping for a boost when the anthology comes out, but there are some big names in there who will get a lot more attention than I will. There’s a part of me hoping that people will like my work enough to tell lots of others about it, but I know that’s just wishful thinking!
What is the most difficult part about starting a new book?
All of it! I find the early stages of a new novel exciting, but also a form of purgatory. It takes me some time to get to know my characters, and I can’t write the book before I write the book (by detailed plotting), but at the same time, I can’t just sit down and write either. Well I can, but I know I run the risk of wasting thousands of words and countless hours. Once I get to around half way, though, it’s a different matter – I can rip through in days rather than weeks. I wrote the last 30,000 words of my latest novel in four days!
Do you have a favourite writing place?
I have chronic back, neck and shoulder problems (probably from far too many years at a computer), so I have to be really careful about how I sit. I can no longer just curl up with my laptop, as I used to love doing, I have to have everything at the right height, and sit in a good chair. I have a wee den upstairs, which is lovely and bright and if my den isn’t too untidy, I like working there. If it has silted up (I’m horribly lazy about filing), I try to colonise the dining room before my husband nabs it to spread his stuff out. It’s a lovely bright room with a door to the back garden, and it’s usually tidy. An uncluttered space seems to unclutter my brain. (I’m sure there’s a lesson there somewhere).
Do you have time for hobbies?
If I sit for too long, everything seizes up, so I do an aquafit class twice a week, and I’ve started doing FitSteps (a dance class based on Strictly, but without a partner, sadly). I love it! I also power walk most mornings, about two miles, with a friend. I love walking, and try to do a long walk with a group of friends at least once a month. I also confess to being a bit of a bridge addict, though years of play haven’t improved my quality much! For me it’s a good excuse for a chit chat with an intellectual challenge thrown in. I’m in good company – Maeve Binchy was a bridge player, and made sure it got mentioned in most of her novels.
What are your current writing plans?
I’ve had to do quite a lot of work to get my novels into shape for publishing, which has been a real distractor. I’ll start planning another novel soon. I like to tackle real issues, so I’ll look around for something current that grabs me, then start weaving it into my characters’ stories. My latest novel (which is still with my agent), deals with the fallout from a family’s grief at the death of a brother/son, and also features a character with dementia. My mother suffered from this terrible disease for years. It can be quite funny, and also heartbreaking. I’d like to make it more central to a novel sometime. I also have a friend who became paraplegic a few years ago and I’ve learnt so much about disability – there are many issues around that I’d like to look at. But in the end, I like to think I deal with these things with a light touch.
Any tips for new writers?
Develop a thick skin! Rejection and criticism is extremely hard to deal with and you have to be prepared for it. Don’t think you can just sit down and write a bestseller, most writers have to work through four or five books before they mature as a writer, so persistence is key. And find yourself a good network of other writers to give support. Writing does not have to be a lonely business these days, and most writers are happy to share their experience.
And so, thank you Rosemary, for sharing your platform with me!
You’re very welcome, Jenny – it’s been a pleasure.
I was born in Calcutta – hence my fascination with this buzzing city – but I now live in Edinburgh, Scotland. I’ve seen all sides of the publishing business, as a commissioning editor, journalist and novelist. My published books include a children’s novel and a romantic novel, as well as a number of books on Scotland and Scottish themes. My history of childbirth, With Child, Birth Through the Ages - (written as Jenny Carter), is used as a reference by many historical novelists. It’s still available on Amazon!
Jenny has received the following Awards:
Runner up in BBC Woman's Hour/Woman's Weekly 'Romantic Novelist of the Year' competition and winner of the RNA’s Elizabeth Goudge Award. Numerous awards for feature writing and magazine design.
She also designed the RNA magazine Romance Matters 2006-2012, and Fabulous at Fifty, the RNA memoir. She then oversaw the subsequent RNA rebranding.
Jenny’s new novel, Loving Susie, will be available mid-February.