Hi Jenni, it’s great to be welcoming you back to Novel Kicks.
Thank you so much for having me back. I can’t believe my second book is out already. I had a real thrill ride with The Hopes and Dreams of Lucy Baker. The book had so many amazing reviews and I was delighted to get an Amazon bestseller flag. Let’s hope The Unlikely Life of Maisie Meadowsis as enthusiastically received.
Which fictional character would you like to spend the day with? What would you do?
This is such a hard question. In fact, I left answering it until the end because there are so many characters I could have chosen. I considered people from historical novels where I would get the opportunity to spend some time in an exciting period of history – perhaps with a Regency lady or a certain Victorian cotton mill owner *wink*. I thought about characters with special powers, like Harry Potter and various superheroes (flying through the air with Superman would be a blast). I considered the simple rural idyll that would be spending a day with Anne Shirley at Green Gables, or Miss Marple in her beloved St Mary Mead. Perhaps I could pamper myself and spend the day with someone wealthy or influential, perhaps party with Jay Gatsby, or Holly Golightly? So many fabulous characters, so many choices…
In the end (wait for it…) it’s a toss up between Mr Daydream (who could give my imagination a boost and therefore some fabulous material for my novels) and Mr Impossible (so I can do EVERYTHING and ANYTHING) from the fabulous Mr Men. These were the very first books I read by myself and they have a special place in my heart. I’m sure I could have some up with something more intellectual but I’m embracing my inner child. Besides, I’m curious to see how they mange to drink a cup of tea with those stumpy little arms (Mr Tickle being the obvious exception).
Which songs would be on a playlist for The Unlikely Life of Maisie Meadows?
This is quite an easy question because Theo, who works with Maisie at the auction house, has a particular penchant for the 1980s. Although he is an expert in modern design (i.e. post-war) that’s the decade that really interests him, and this is reflected in his music taste. He plays a lot of The Jam, The Police, The Clash (late Seventies/Eighties) so a soundtrack would have to include these bands. This contrasts with the flamboyant Johnny (Maisie’s boss) who has more classical tastes, so perhaps some Mozart and a sprinkling of Shostakovich (as it is mentioned in the book). And then, to keep the author happy, I’d have to throw in a few recent dance tracks – which is largely what I listen to when I write. So it would be quite an eclectic mix.
How did your writing process differ from your previous novel?
In many ways it was quite similar. I’m a pantser, not a plotter, so apart from the bare bones of the story and a definite idea of the ending, I do tend to launch myself in rather randomly, not even writing chronologically. However, for Maisie I had to produce a synopsis for the publisher before I began writing and this did help me focus my ideas a bit more. There was also a time pressure for Maisie, whereas Lucy was written before I had a publishing deal so I had longer to play about with it. However, deadlines are Good Things. They help you focus.
The only thing I really did differently was a mid-book plan. I always refer to my first draft as the Bowl of Dropped Spaghetti stage – because in my head that’s what it feels like. After that, I need to pick all the jumbled spaghetti up and sort it out. Writing Maisie was the first time I’d produced a coherent plan but it was only at this post first-draft stage. I put all the scenes I’d written on Post-it notes and then planned the book – a bit backwards but it worked. My clever techie son set me up with two screens and I simply pulled across sections in order onto a blank document. I am at the Bowl of Dropped Spaghetti stage with Book 3 now so shall employ this method again.
Which authors have inspired you?
Too many to name and all for different reasons. Jane Austen for writing what she did without a word processor – way to go, girl! (I am the queen of editing. I would have got though entire forests if I’d written everything long hand.) Harlan Coben for always making me want to turn the page. Heidi Swain for an amazing work-ethic and such wholesome, heart-warming stories. Ruth Hogan and Iona Grey for writing books I wish I’d written. Milly Johnson for being so gracious and normal, and proving you don’t need to be an ex-journalist with wads of money to be a bloody good writer. Bella Osborne and Rosie Hendry for being the organised planners I wish I was. Enid Blyton for getting me reading in the first place. Roger Hargreaves for being off the wall and making me laugh – creating a whole series based on “what does a tickle look like?”. Terry Pratchett for being a total genius… The list goes on an on.
What inspired you to be a writer?
I fell into writing rather late and by accident. Always a prolific reader and always with a thousand story scenarios in my head, it didn’t occur to me to put them down on paper or to consider writing as a career until a friend and I were discussing sex scenes in books we’d read. One of us pointed out, and I now can’t remember who, that it was easy to criticise something you’ve never done yourself, so we should have a bash at writing one. I failed – my attempt was pure romance with absolutely no dangly bit descriptions at all – and hers would have made E L James blush. It was great fun, and for me a light bulb moment. I had a whole cast of characters and a backstory in my head. Once I got going, there was no stopping me…
What comes first – character or plot?
A bit of both and each book has been different. For my debut novel, The Hopes and Dreams of Lucy Baker, it was a locket that my mum owned that started the thought processes – so here it was plot. The idea for a series of charms that would lead Lucy to find her true love came a long time before I’d decided on her character. And one of the strongest themes – her friendship with her elderly neighbour, came very late in the whole process – yet it is the most beautiful and enduring things about the book. With Maisie, it was plot and setting. I knew I wanted to write about an auction house and was inspired by T W Gaze – our local auctioneers. But with the book I’m writing now, it is character – and that is because I’m writing about Ella – who features in The Unlikely Life of Maisie Meadows. She was such a lovely and interesting person that I decided to give her a whole book to herself.
What’s the most important part of the writing process for you?
Hmmm… I guess it’s coming up with that first spark of an idea. I have them all the time. I read something, watch something, or overhear something and start thinking “what if… ?” Then I jot my thoughts down and have to decide which ones have legs. This basically means can I get a hundred thousand word novel from it? More recently, I’ve had to ask myself will it be commercially acceptable? I like things to be a little off the wall, so I have to assess whether it’s something a publisher would go for. I dream of stumbling across that genius idea that takes off – like “what about a woman married to a time traveller?” or “how about a little boy that can see dead people?” – but, of course, these have already been done.
What’s the best bit of writing advice you’ve received?
To be realistic. I think this applies to so many elements of writing – from the personal goals you set yourself in those early stages, such as how many words you want to write a week, all the way to your publishing ambitions. I always knew that getting published would take me several years (it actually took nine) and that very few writers get their first novel published. Each time I finished writing a book, I immediately started writing another. I also knew that author’s incomes were small and you put in a massive amount of hours for a tiny financial reward. But then for most authors, it’s not why we write. I was also realistic in that not everyone will like my books and there will be some harsh criticism along the way. I was (and still am) very positive when it comes to criticism and try to take it all on board. If you want to succeed, it will mean long hours, hard work, frequent tears and a lot of gin. Don’t expect an easy ride, even after you have a publishing deal. You have been warned…
Thank you for inviting me over. Your virtual sofa is extremely comfortable and I’ve enjoyed your challenging questions.
NK: It’s been my pleasure, Jenni. Come and visit again soon.
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 was published in January 2019. Click to view the novel on Amazon.co.uk
The Unlikely Life of Maisie Meadows was published by Avon on 8th July 2019. Click to view on Amazon.co.uk
About The Unlikely Life of Maisie Meadows:
When Maisie Meadows finds herself single and jobless on New Year’s Day, she resolves that this will be the year she focuses on bringing her scattered family back together. Romance is all very well, but it’s the people you grew up with that matter the most.
But a new job working at an auction house puts her in the path of Theo, a gorgeous but unattainable man who she can’t help but be distracted by.
As their bond begins to grow, Maisie finds herself struggling to fulfil the promise she made to herself – but the universe has other ideas, and it’s not long before the Meadows family are thrown back together in the most unlikely of circumstances…
Can dealing with other people’s treasures help Maisie to let go of the past, and teach her who she ought to treasure the most?