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Q & A With Author Jan Birley

Hi, Jan! Thanks for joining me! What are your ambitions for your writing career? What would your career look like in an ideal world?

Success, obviously - but for others to enjoy reading about my characters as much as I enjoy creating them. I think success to me would mean feeling validated. I think writers worry constantly that what they are writing is trite rubbish. I know when I re-read my work I think… oh dear. You’ll have to do better than that. I would imagine it’s a little like being an actor, watching your performance and wincing at your perceived inadequacies when actually, the rest of the world thinks you are doing just great.

In an ideal world my career would have zoomed me to the dizzy heights of achievement. This would, of course, include financial security. Above all in this dream nirvana, everything would be taken care of. All those inescapable, tedious everyday chores, leaving me free to write and I wouldn’t be able to procrastinate by thinking things like when I’ve been to the supermarket/rung the dentist/put the washing on then I’ll go and write. As if … but you did say it was an ideal world. 

Those sound like great aspirations! What’s your guilty pleasure TV show?

Gogglebox. This is a UK show where several households of different ethnicity/backgrounds/gender/relationships etc are filmed watching TV programmes and their subsequent comments. This sounds deadly dull but it so funny. They are perceptive, not afraid to speak their minds and hugely entertaining.

Do you believe in fate or love at first sight?

I believe in serendipity. Things sometimes happen for a reason which is not necessarily apparent at the time but can lead to life changes. I don’t think I really believe in love at first sight. Lust and attraction, yes, all those heavenly flirty glances – the seeds of love. But not love, that takes a while longer.

Which writers inspire you?

Nancy Mitford for insights into life for the upper classes in the thirties, portrayed by her light brittle banter which reads effortlessly but demands a great deal of the craft of writing. Dorothy Sayers for Wimsey whom I have always had a soft spot for, along with her spiderweb plots and Penelope Lively for her immaculate style. It always takes an age to read Penelope Lively because her prose is so fine that I have to re-read descriptive passages twice to savour the words.

Give us an insight into how you create your main characters. 

I hear them talking in my head. Weird or what? Sometimes I have conversations with them when I’m out walking which makes me look quite mad. I also always have a notebook with me so when I see something that I know is exactly right for one of my characters - it could be a dress, hair, shoes, I jot it down.

Inspiration does have a mind of its own. What are you working on right now?

I am having great fun writing about a London based interior designer, Dil, who takes on a project in Umbria, Italy. We are lucky enough to have a house there and are shortly going for three weeks and so I am going to write the entire time. Well, that’s the plan. Dil gets herself into a difficult situation, not helped by her Italian being even worse than mine.

What draws you to writing chick lit books? Is that also your favourite genre to read?

Escapism with a happy ending. That draws me to writing chick lit books although it makes chick lit sound anodyne. My tastes are very catholic; I love thrillers, historical fiction, detective novels - anything that’s well written and anything that makes me laugh. 

Do you have any advice for someone wanting to publish their own book?

Persistence, especially initially when you really don’t know if what you’ve written is even worth publishing. Getting truthful friends to comment helps. Many years ago, my husband read something I’d written and basically said, ‘don’t give up the day job.’  I was truly hacked off. Hm. But – now when he says something is good, I believe him because he was honest with me all that time ago.

That's reat advice! What book(s) are you reading currently?

I have just finished First Response, a thriller by Stephen Leather and I didn’t see the ending coming at all. That is always a joy – and ingenious too. I am about to re-read Room by Emma Donoghue because I recently saw the film and it reminded me of how clever the book is. If it had been told from the mother’s point of view it would have been a very sombre read/film but because it was told from the boy’s viewpoint it had great charm and innocence.

I loved Room - both the book and the movie! Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?

Thank you for including me in your website and I hope you enjoy The Lost and Found Life of Rosy Bennett.

You're very welcome! How can readers discover more about you and you work?

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