Hi Jenni, thank you for joining me today. Your novel is called The Hopes and Dreams of Lucy Baker. Can you tell me about it and what inspired the story?
You are very welcome – it’s lovely to be here. Your virtual sofa is very comfy!
Hmm… how to sum up my book. I guess The Hopes and Dreams of Lucy Baker is a heart-warming story with a variety of themes. I set out to write a romance but the book became so much more and, in a way, is two love stories; Lucy and George, but also Lucy and Brenda. It was the powerful intergenerational friendship between these two women and how they deal very differently with Brenda’s dementia diagnosis, that became the central theme. For the romance, I was initially inspired by a locket of my mother’s and my working title was Lucy’s Locket until it was picked up by the publisher. This mysterious piece of jewellery leads to lots of mishaps and comedy moments for Lucy but also makes her reassess her romantic options in life. It was a fun book to write.
What’s your typical writing day like? Do you need coffee? Silence?
I weave my writing around part-time work, care for my mum and the hectic taxi service I appear to be running for my four teenage sons. My most productive times are during the school day – when the house is silent, and evenings – when it is not. I also work at the weekends when I can. I’ve developed a cunning strategy that involves wearing enormous headphones as a signal that I’m writing. If there is a lot of noise, I play music (I have a playlist of familiar songs so I’m not distracted by them) but I also cheat and pretend I’ve got music on so the boys leave me alone. It’s coffee during the day, and wine or tonic water at night – although the wine is only for weekends. Interestingly, some of the best comedy scenes have been wine-fuelled.
The other thing I do, to combat the isolation and to spur me on, is to meet up with my writing buddy, Clare Marchant, in our “virtual” office. It means we check in throughout the day with wordcounts and this accountability helps us both to focus. I do hate it when she leaves the virtual biscuit tin empty though…
Do you have a certain place you like to write?
I have an office – which is actually a desk in the corridor between the living room and the downstairs loo. I’m lucky to have this permanent space as a lot of writers work on the kitchen table or on their laps. It’s a total mess, like Lucy’s desk, but it’s mine. I have two screens set up (invaluable for editing) so it’s tricky for me to move. Research and planning I can do anywhere.
What’s your writing process like from planning to editing?
Planning – ha ha ha. You are funny. I am such a pantser and every time I begin a new novel I’m determined to plan. My second book for Avon (out next summer) was the first time I’d had to write a synopsis before writing the book and boy was that hard – but I did it. I’d like to get better at planning, but my brain doesn’t work that way and I’m what I like to call “an onion writer” – I write in layers. I get a rough first draft down and then I go over and over and over it, perfecting, editing, adding description etc. until I’m happy. Luckily, I love editing and always see it as an opportunity to make the story even better. Some of my best ideas come right at the end of the process and then I have to go back and weave it all in. I honestly don’t know how people plan.
What’s your favourite word and why?
Am I allowed to cheat and say my favourite three words are Be Kind Always – and that’s why I put them in the book as Brenda’s favourite three words? We need more kindness in the world and, although I do try, sometimes I’m not very kind. When you are tired or stressed or angry it can be hard to see the other person’s point of view. I’ve taught my children that words cost nothing and can really make a difference to someone’s day (or even life) and I try very hard to say nice things whenever I can – even when I’m not thinking them.
Which song best describes you?
This is a toughie. I honestly can’t think of a song that describes me. The only thing that springs to mind is my husband sings Queen’s Fat Bottomed Girls in reference to me quite a lot. This is, of course, a joke as my bottom is so thin it is practically invisible.
What elements do you think make up a good novel?
I suppose the simple answer is the hook – regardless of genre. A good book is one you want to read and it’s only when you have questions that need answering do you keep turning the pages. Once you have that, then the other elements are like the pick’n’mix section of Woolworths (yes, I know the Woolworths reference dates me). One day I might fancy romance, the next humour, the day after that a gripping thriller. Personally, I like a happy ending and for the majority of the threads to be tied up.
How do you pick the names of your characters?
Sometimes I don’t actively choose the names – they choose me. Because of the nursery rhyme “Lucy Locket lost her pocket…” the protagonist of this book was always going to be Lucy. I knew George was George – don’t ask me why – and I could picture him very clearly from the start. Brenda I had to think about a lot more. I tried a few names within that generation and eventually decided on Brenda and it just worked. Interestingly, this is my mum’s name but I know so many Brenda’s that she wasn’t particularly named after my mum. Other names I’m not precious about and they change during the writing process. For example, Adam started out as Trevor but I decided he was the wrong generation. I often look up popular names for the year my character was born, but I also take into account background, ethnicity, etc. I don’t mind changing names if there is a good reason. When I’d finished this book I realised I had a lot of names beginning with “E” so renamed some minor characters. So, I suppose the short answer is sometimes they tell me their name and sometimes I have to work at it.
Do you have some advice for anyone going through writer’s block?
I’ve never suffered from this and my only advice is move on to another part of the story as soon as you realise you’re spending too long on something. I jump about with scenes when one becomes tricky or I need to do further research. Because I write humour, I often think there is a funny line to be had but can’t quite get it right, so I leave a row of stars and come back to it another day. If it’s proper writer’s block (as in you can’t even think where to start) I would suggest you sit in front of the keyboard and type anything – what you’re thinking, something you saw… just get those grey cells working. I’ve done this when writing short stories and after a while the magic just happens.
Any other advice for new writers?
For writers of romance my advice is to get yourself on the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme (details on the RNA website). I don’t think I would be in this amazing position without their love and support. I would also say that if you are serious about writing you need to be realistic. I knew it would take several years to achieve my dream and I’m fully aware I won’t earn life-changing sums of money. You also need a hefty dollop of perseverance. You only fail at something when you stop trying. (Goodness, I’ve come over all wise and knowing…)
Thanks for having me and asking such thought-provoking questions. Do you mind if I take these virtual choc chip cookies home with me? You know, for the long journey? NK: Of course. If you could leave the jammy dodgers though. Haha.
My verdict on The Hopes and Dreams of Lucy Baker:
Meet Lucy, aged 25, and Brenda, aged 79. Neighbours and unlikely friends.
Lucy Baker is not your usual 25-year-old. She is more at home reading and knitting in her cluttered little flat than going out partying and socialising.
79-year-old Brenda is full of wise and wonderful advice, but when she’s diagnosed with dementia her life begins to change. Before her memories slip away for ever, Brenda is desperate to fulfil one last wish – to see Lucy happy.
Gifting Lucy the locket that helped Brenda find her own true love, she hopes to push her reticent neighbour in the right direction. But is Lucy Baker ready for the opportunities and heartbreaks of the real world? It’s about time she put her knitting needles aside and found out…
Lucy works in sales for a local toy company and lives alone in a small flat next to her elderly neighbour and friend, Brenda.
When Lucy and Brenda gain a new neighbour, George, Brenda gives Lucy a locket and tries to convince her that it will bring love. Along with her friend, Jess, Lucy agrees to try and make George fall in love with her but does anything go to plan?
I immediately liked Lucy. She sounds like someone I would get on with. Brenda was also a wonderful character and one I immediately warmed to.
George, in my opinion had Mr Darcy like qualities and I (without giving too much away) knew there was going to be more to him. Misunderstood rather than grumpy.
I loved the magical aspects of this novel. It added additional romance to it. It’s a reminder to have faith in what you’re capable of and what you can achieve.
There are so many endearing qualities to this novel. The friendship between Lucy and Brenda proving that age is just a number and that shutting yourself off to that kind of friendship means you potentially miss out. I wanted so much to be able to talk to my late Grandmother whilst reading this novel.
There are plenty of laugh out loud moments along with heartfelt and bittersweet ones. Overall though, this book has a life affirming message.
The Hopes and Dreams of Lucy Baker is just a feel good novel that is certainly worth picking up although I was already sold when I saw the cover and the cat. In my opinion, it handles the subject of Dementia in a sensitive manner.
If you want a novel that will have you smiling pretty much all the way through, I recommend this one.
More about Jenni:
Jenni Keer is a history graduate who embarked on a career in contract flooring before settling in the middle of the Suffolk countryside with her antique furniture restorer husband. She has valiantly attempted to master the ancient art of housework but with four teenage boys in the house it remains a mystery. Instead, she spends her time at the keyboard writing women’s fiction to combat the testosterone-fuelled atmosphere with her number one fan #Blindcat by her side. Much younger in her head than she is on paper, she adores any excuse for fancy-dress and is part of a disco formation dance team.
The Hopes and Dreams of Lucy Baker by Jenni Keer was released by Avon and is available to buy. Click on the links below to view via Amazon.