Hi everyone, and this evening on the blog I’m delighted to welcome my writer friend Jen Faulkner. Jen’s debut novel Keep Her Safe launches this Friday. I highly recommend you go and buy. Jen and I met on Twitter, and I was thrilled when she agreed to come on the blog for an interview about her writing. Her advice for unpublished authors, like me and you, is an absolute must read.
Over to you, Jen…
1) Did you always want to be a writer?
When I was really little I wanted to be a librarian. I loved books and my favourite lesson at primary school was always a trip to the local library. I wrote stories and poems from an early age. I even made up my own language, and embarrassing though it is to admit, I spent so long filling out notebooks full of this new language that I actually became fluent in it for a time. I also wrote diaries from the age of ten, although I’m not sure anyone else should ever read them! So that’s a very long winded way of saying, yes. Yes, yes, yes I always wanted to be a writer, and I always have been.
2) When you were a child, did you have a favourite author?
Unsurprisingly, I read a lot of Enid Blyton when I was a child. I loved the Faraway Tree and Magic Wishing Chair stories, as well as the Famous Five and Adventure stories too. Another one of my favourite books was The Magic Finger, by Roald Dahl and I read and re read The Twelve Dancing Princesses by Jacob Grimm over and over again.
3) What made you decide to settle on crime fiction as a genre?
My debut is psychological suspense, and so comes under the crime/thriller umbrella – spoiler, no-one gets murdered! I don’t think it was an active choice to write in this genre, but I read a lot of crime and thriller novels, and am fascinated by people and their behaviours and actions. Plus, I am a hideous over-thinker and so I can never fail to see the threat or danger insomething or someone, which definitely helpswhen plotting a thriller!
4) What comes first for you? Is it plot, character or theme? How do you then progress to planning?
Good question! It varies from novel to novel for me. My debut is actually the third novel I’ve written. For the first, I knew the theme I wanted to write about and then found the right characters for that theme, and with the second the protagonist was the part that came first. For Keep Her Safe it was a mixture of both. I knew the theme and then saw a painting of a woman and just knew she was the daughter of the main character. It all fell into place from there. I use the Save the Cat beat sheets to help me plot and plan and then adapt if needed. My first two novels were pansted and it shows. From now on, I am without doubt going to be a planner.
5) How did you find the querying process? Do you have any advice for the subbing author?
Querying is hard. There is no getting away from that fact. It is a long, painful process filled with numerous rejections and even the odd ghosting and it can be exhausting to keep picking yourself up from it all at times. One thing that helped me was following Elizabeth Gilbert’s advice from her book, Big Magic – for every rejection I received I immediately sent out another one. I was lucky enough to receive some really positive and encouraging rejections and held onto them, they helped keep me going. Plus, the writing community on Twitter have always had my back and I am also fortunate enough to have some amazing writer friends who just would not let me quit. My advice to a subbing author would be set up a spreadsheet (it can be very easy to lose track!) and send to at least five agents at a time and be patient. Do your research, there is no use sending a science fiction book to an agent who specifically says not to send them science fiction. Also, persist. Just bloody persist. It’s the only way.
6) What was your first draft of your novel like? How long did you leave it before you read it back?
Well, all first drafts are a mess, right? At leastmine are. I kind of see it as me getting to know the real bones of the characters and their stories. I don’t dwell on the rubbish writing or poor plotting (although I do often have a rough plan outlined) during a first draft and I power on through to the end, making notes of questions that arise or things I might want to look at in more detail on the way. For me, I simply have to get to the end and have something to play with and mould into an actual novel. Mostly I leave it for at least a few weeks before looking back and going in for an edit. It’s always good to give you and your manuscript some space I think.
7) What was your revision process like, first on your own and then with your publisher?
I always send my first draft out to beta readers before I revise and edit and am blessed with some lovely authors and friends who read my novels for me and are honest and constructivewith their feedback. I usually find after reading their comments that my gut knows what bits I need to work on and then I get cracking. I also did a Curtis Brown selective novel writing course when writing Keep her Safe and the feedback from my peers and tutor on that was incredibly helpful in shaping the final draft. Withmy publishers it has been a really enjoyable process and I am very lucky to have the editor I do. First there were structural edits, then more detailed line edits, and then a proofread. Thewhole journey with Bloodhound has been brilliant and I’ve felt very supported by them.
8) What is the post submission process like? How does it feel when you have a deadline and edits?
Post any submission I always try and start to write something new while I wait to get my edits back, or I read as much as I can, both fiction and non-fiction. Then, when editingdeadlines are looming, I can enjoy coming back to the novel again. I work well under pressure, thankfully and relish a deadline!
9) Do you enjoy the editing of your book? Is rewriting fun for you?
Hmmm sometimes I love it, especially when I know I’ve improved the writing or fixed a plot issue, and sometimes it can be frustrating. Also, I’ve found that reading your novel a million times during the editing process can get a bit tedious! And you can lose perspective;hence it’s good to get distance whenever you have the opportunity to. Personally, my favourite bit of writing is the first draft; it’s where I am most creative and most excited.
10) What was the last fiction book you read and did you enjoy it?
The last book I read and loved and am banging on about to everyone was a proof of Amazing Grace Adams by Fran Littlewood. The main character, Grace, resonated with me so much and I found her utterly compelling. Plus the writing is brilliant. It’s out early next year and so keep your eyes peeled.
11) When you write, do you listen to music? Away from writing, do you have a favourite band or artist that you like to listen to?
It has often been said that I don’t have the best taste in music – the first concert I ever went to was Chesney Hawkes, which I think says it all – but yes I do listen to music if I need some motivation and energy when writing. Part of my current work in progress is set in the 1990s and so I am having fun revisiting my favourite tunes from then, mostly boybands and a bit of 90s rave and dance music. I listen to such a huge variety of music that I don’t have one favourite band, but Pendulum always put me in a good mood and Dire Straits are epic. I am off to see The Backstreet Boys in November, purely for research purposes for the next novel, of course.
Thank you for your time this evening Jen, it has been a pleasure to interview you.
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Bio: Jen Faulkner completed an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University in 2015, where she was shortlisted for the Janklow and Nesbitt Prize. Since then she has run creative writing sessions for a charity in Bristol and volunteered at MothershipWriters, a year-long programme of writing workshops for new mothers run by the novelist, Emylia Hall. She also teaches English Language to college students. When she’s not writing or teaching she enjoys karate. She is currently plotting and writing her next book, about how a shared traumatic event can affect two people in very different ways. Keep Her Safe is her debut novel.