Thursday, 12 January 2012

Author Spotlight: Jenny Twist

I’m so pleased to welcome Jenny Twist to my Reading and Writing blog today to talk about her novel Domingo’s Angel. This was one of the most absorbing and heart-warming books I read during 2011. From the moment English woman, Angela, enters the seemingly idyllic Spanish village and captivates Domingo, the reader is introduced to a wonderful cast of characters. The author brings the whole area and people to life, especially the matriarchal Rosalba who takes charge of the villagers in an entertaining way.

One of the strengths of this novel is the way the romantic setting is interspersed with strong historical background and details of the terrible troubles the villagers suffered during the Civil War. More than a light-hearted Mediterranean romance, Domingo's Angel explores the lasting power of love and forgiveness.

Welcome to my blog, Jenny, and thank you for answering the following questions

You write short stories and novels - which is easier?

I find it easier to write short stories, perhaps because my first attempts were in short story form, but it might be something to do with my penchant for horror stories, many of which are shorts. Maybe I have the format stuck in my brain. I have a tendency when writing novels to go at a breakneck pace and then I wonder how I got to the end so quick and only have half the length I intended. I think I'm getting it under control, but I always have to go back and add more in.

Why did you choose Spain for Domingo's Angel?

I live here, in the open countryside between two of the famous Pueblos Blancos, the white villages of Southern Spain. The life here is still very old-fashioned, more like England in the 1950s than present day Europe. The people are now very used to foreign tourists, but fifty years ago these villages had hardly been touched by tourism, if at all. There was some, but not much, incursion of foreigners on the coast.

A friend of mine who has been coming to this part of Spain for years said twenty-five years ago there was no pathway to the beach in Torremolinos, now a thriving British resort. You had to walk across a farmer's field to get to the sea! It is even more true of these villages. Twenty-five years ago there were no roads between the villages, just dirt tracks. Transport was mainly by mule.

I thought, What would they have thought of a foreigner arriving here just after the war? And the idea for Domingo's Angel was born.

Are any of the characters based on real people?

I don't believe any of them are based on real people, although I can see resemblances to people I know. Rosalba is probably an amalgam of real Spanish old ladies that I know, but with a good dash of my own grandmother, who was a matriarch of the old school. She had six children and twelve grandchildren and we were all in awe of her, but adored her at the same time.

Angela looks a bit like a dear friend of mine in England, who isn't afraid of anything and would certainly not have baulked at setting off alone to live in a foreign country, but there the resemblance ends. Some of her experiences relate to those of my own mother, who would have been her age at the time. Domingo is an archetypical Spanish boy. Full of good humour, ingenious, a little larger than life. He resembles a wonderful goatherd I know who is given to large gestures and likely to burst into song at a moment's notice, but I don't think I modelled him on my friend particularly.

And Guillermo the Mayor? Now there's an odd character. I know a few pompous officials in Spain, but he is a bit over the top. I had no idea why he was so obsessed with money and status, but as the story developed he told me himself and I grew to love him. And where did the marmalade cat spring from? I know of no such cat. He came straight out of the left field.

Was it difficult to find a publisher?

I thought it was terribly difficult to find a publisher. I must have sent out dozens of submissions before I found Melange and I had some unpleasant experiences on the way. One publisher received my book with great enthusiasm, wrote a glowing critique and said they would love to publish it. I almost signed the contract before my husband pointed out that in the very small print it said 'author-funded.' I read the contract again. It mentioned vast sums of money but at no point specified who was paying whom. I contacted them to query this and they admitted that they were, indeed, a vanity publisher (between clenched teeth, I suspect). What a scam!

I now know it is very rare to find a publisher straight away and that my experience was, if anything, easier than most.

What next?

I've just finished a novel, tentatively entitled All in the Mind about an old woman who starts getting younger. This is the synopsis:

Tilly wakes up in a strange room inexplicably furnished in 1940s style. At first she thinks she has somehow slipped into the past, but it is even stranger than that. She is part of an experiment working on a cure for Alzheimer's disease. It seems to be working, but it has a strange side effect. Tilly and her fellow experimental subjects appear to be getting younger. (Sounds great!)

Any tips for new writers?
  • Read Stephen King's On Writing.
  • Write about what you know.
  • Keep your paragraphs short and don't get carried away with purple prose.
  • DO write in grammatically correct English. Spell check everything and get other people to proof-read/edit your work before you send it anywhere.
  • DON'T listen to anyone who tells you should:
  • A) Stick to only one point of view. The whole point of writing in the third person is so that you can tell the story from more that one viewpoint. Or
  • B) The story should be told through the thoughts/speech of the characters. This advice has resulted in some dreadful passages where the author either makes the character talk to himself incessantly or writes reams of conversations where the characters tell each other vast chunks of information that they must already know. For example, a character telling his best friend whom he has known for years that he has a daughter.
  • Before you even begin to send your story to publishers and agents, join author groups on the web. Other authors are incredibly supportive and helpful. They will tell you who the good publishers are, how to set up a website, how to promote. Some will even give you a critique or review. A lot of publishers put out submission calls on these sites and when you submit in response to these, the chances are your story will actually be read. If I had known about them before I got published, I would have joined the sites before I even began to approach publishers and agents.
And finally, don't give up. Most publishers and agents don't even read your stories, so getting rejected doesn't say anything about how good they are. Stephen King, who is surely one of the best-selling authors of all time, papered his wall with rejection slips when he was just starting. I've just used all mine for scrap paper for my grandchildren to scribble on. Ha-ha!

Brilliant advice, Jenny. Thanks again, and all the best with your future writing.

Here is the blurb for Domingo's Angel and buy links:

When Angela turns up in a remote Spanish mountain village, she is so tall and so thin and so pale that everyone thinks she is a ghost or a fairy or the dreadful mantequero that comes in the night and sucks the fat from your bones. But Domingo knows better. “Soy Angela,” she said to him when they met – “I am an angel.” Only later did he realise that she was telling him her name and by then it was too late and everyone knew her as Domingo’s Angel.

This is the story of their love affair. But it is also the story of the people of the tiny mountain village – the indomitable Rosalba - shopkeeper, doctor, midwife and wise woman, who makes it her business to know everything that goes on in the village; Guillermo, the mayor, whose delusions of grandeur are rooted in his impoverished childhood; and Salva the Baker, who risked his life and liberty to give bread to the starving children.

The events in this story are based on the real experiences of the people of the White Villages in Southern Spain and their struggle to keep their communities alive through the years of war and the oppression of Franco’s rule.

Available from Amazon (UK); Amazon (US)

Find out more about Jenny on her website

Jenny Twist was born in York and brought up in the West Yorkshire mill town of Heckmondwike, the eldest grandchild of a huge extended family. She left school at fifteen and went to work in an asbestos factory. After working in various jobs, including bacon-packer and escapologist’s assistant, she returned to full-time education and did a BA in history at Manchester and post-graduate studies at Oxford. She stayed in Oxford working as a recruitment consultant for many years and it was there that she met and married her husband, Vic. In 2001 they retired and moved to Southern Spain where they live with their rather eccentric dog and cat.

Jenny's first book, Take One at Bedtime, was published in April 2011 and the second, Domingo’s Angel, was published in July 2011. Her novella, Doppelganger, was published in the anthology Curious Hearts in July 2011, Uncle Vernon, was published in Spellbound, in November 2011, Jamey and the Alien was published in Warm Christmas Wishes in December 2011 and Mantequero was published in the anthology Winter Wonders in December 2011.

Huge apologies to Jenny and all other people leaving comments - I can't get in to leave a reply on my own blog! It keeps freezing when I try to go to comments, so this is the only way I can thank you all for visiting. Hope it's a temporary glitch as I love replying to comments!


Joanna said...

I loved this fascinating interview. All the advice for writers is very helpful and I like Jenny's positive tone. I agree about the Stephen King book, On Writing. Mine is always on the table right beside me and I have re-read it many times.

Jenny's books sound marvellous and it was interesting for me to note that she found the transition from short stories to novels tricky. I am finding it hard to get used to and keep going back to my short story writing when I should be moving on with the novel!

Many thanks, Rosemary and Jenny.

Emily Harvale said...

This is a really good interview and Jenny's enthusiasm shines through. Well done Rosemary.

Jenny Twist said...

Hello, Joanna. It's so nice to find that other authors have the same problems.
Stephen King IS marvellous, isn't he. I keep going back to him over and over again.
Hi Emily
What a nice comment. Thank you, Hun.
And Rosemary, I DO appreciate this opportunity to visit your delightful site.
Thank you so much.

ManicScribbler said...

Hello Rosemary and Jenny,
What a great interview!
As a top fan of 'Domingo's Angel', I was fascinated to read Jenny's answers to these questions, which helped fill in more background detail.
And the tips were really useful and interesting - especially the one in relation to POV.
Thank you both and good luck. I'll come back to your blog for more, Rosemary.

Michael Malone said...

Great interview, Rosemary. Liking the sound of that book.

Jenny Twist said...

Thanks Lyn. I'm so glad you enjoyed the post.
And thanks Michael.

Patsy said...

Interesting interview and some great advice - thanks.

Jenny Twist said...

Hi Patsy
Pleased to meet you. Glad you liked the blog

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Hurrah! I've managed to get into the comment box by changing it to a pop-up box! Don't know why it suddenly wouldn't let me comment.

Thank you so much for all the lovely comments on Jenny's great post. And it's lovely to see a few new faces visiting and following - thank you!

Paula Martin said...

Hi Rosemary and Jenny
I tried to leave a comment yesterday but couldn't (just got a blank window!) so I'm glad you managed to solve the problem, Rosemary.
Great interview, Jenny - I enjoyed reading about the people on whom you based your characters, and the marmalade cat too! Loved your tips, especially (B). Look forward to reading Domingo's Angel.

Jenny Twist said...

What a nice comment, Paula. Thank you
Love Jenny

Jenny Twist said...

Sorry, Rosemary, I forgot to say how impressed I am by your technical expertise (as well as all the other things I'm impressed by). I wouldn't have the faintest idea how to set up a comment box in the first place, never mind change it to a pop-up.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Glad you managed to leave a comment, Paula!

Jenny - thankfully, I suddenly thought of this. At least it might make it easier for everyone!

Anonymous said...

I found this post very helpful which I found on yahoo.Thank you for sharing this information.

Jenny Twist said...

Hi, Anonymous
Glad you liked it

Tara Fox Hall said...

I loved Domingo's Angel, and look forward to more amazing stories from Mrs. Twist in 2012 :)

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for visiting, Tara and anonymous - I agree Tara!

E. Ayers said...

Hi, Jenny.

I can't wait to read this. I'm constantly bombarded by new books, but this is standing out as a must read. I love a good story and you've obviously woven a special one.

Write what you know. Write what you love.

Jenny Twist said...

Thank you so much, Tara and E Ayers. It's people like you who keep the sun shining

Talli Roland said...

A big congrats to Jenny on 'Domingo's Angel'. Sounds like a very interesting read!

myra duffy said...

As a hispanophile I'll most certainly try this one!

Jenny Twist said...

Hi Talli and Myra. Lovely to meet you and thank you for your comments

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for commenting, E, Talli and Myra!

Bianca Swan said...

Jenny, good advice for writers. Domingo's Angel sounds like an engaging story.

Jenny Twist said...

Thanks, Bianca. Nice to meet you.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for visiting, Bianca!