Introducing Jan Newton with her debut novel to be published by Honno in March 2017. Jan grew up in Manchester and Derbyshire and spent almost twenty years in the Chilterns before moving to mid Wales in 2005. She has worked as a bilingual secretary in a German chemical company, as an accountant in a BMW garage and a GP practice and as a Teaching Assistant in the Welsh stream of a primary school, but now she has finally been able to return to her first love, writing.
She graduated from Swansea University with a Masters degree in Creative Writing in 2015 and has won the Allen Raine Short Story Competition, the WI’s Lady Denman Cup competition, the Lancashire and North West Magazine’s prize for humorous short stories and the Oriel Davies Gallery’s prize for nature writing. Remember No More is her first novel.
The Blurb for Remember No More
Newly promoted DS Julie Kite is at a crossroads. Her husband’s new job takes her away from urban Manchester and its inner city problems to a new life in tranquil mid-Wales. It is to be a new start for them both. On her first day at Builth Wells police station, Julie is thrust unexpectedly into the centre of a murder investigation in a remote farming community. At the same time, Stephen Collins is set free from HMP Strangeways. He immediately makes his way back to mid-Wales, the scene of his heinous crime, in order to confront those who had a hand in his incarceration.
The twists and turns of the investigation into the death of solicitor Gareth Watkin force DS Kite to confront her own demons alongside those of her new community and the lengths to which we’ll go to protect our families.
Hi Jan, I’m really pleased to be chatting with you today. These must be exciting times for you?.
Hi Judith, Lovely to be here. And yes, I’m thrilled to be having my novel published with.Honno.
Tell us, Jam, how did you become involved with the subject or theme of your book?
Having moved around the country I’m interested in the theme of ‘fitting in’, and the fact that there are different cultures and groupings in new places, but there are also other ways in which we can move into new, untested territory. Remember No More investigates some of these – Julie Kite moves to Wales, but she is also entering a new phase in her marriage and in her work relationships. Other characters have new situations to deal with in their lives. This theme of being somewhere new and different intrigues me.
So why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
I have always loved crime fiction and its adaption for television. The best tv series, for me, combine fabulous production values and a sense of place – this is what I’m attempting to do in Remember No More. I love the fact that writing crime fiction allows an author to comment on contemporary life – it’s all about life and death, the human condition.
Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?
The story goes that it was much easier to teach me to read than to walk. I could read before I went to primary school. The Headmaster interviewed each child before they started in the infants, and when he ran out of reading cards, apparently, he asked me to read a story from The Telegraph. I have always been a voracious reader. I read every Enid Blyton and adored Swallows and Amazons, Black Beauty, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Bobbsey Twins – anything I could get my hands on.
How long have you been writing?
I was at primary school when I wrote my first novel, at the age of seven. It was all about a little one-legged spaceman who crash-landed his spaceship (fortuitously for me) in my own suburb of north Manchester. My teacher, Mrs Richmond, was very encouraging. She baulked only slightly as she handed me my fourteenth Lancashire Education Committee exercise book in as many days. Then, with the arrival of a Welsh Mountain Pony by the name of Pixie the following year, my passion turned to horses. It was a very long time before I took up writing again, in 2008, with an Open University creative writing module. Once I’d finished the OU degree I was lucky enough to go to Swansea University to do a Masters in Creative Writing, graduating in 2015.
What cultural value do you see in writing/reading/storytelling/etc.?
I’ve always felt that storytelling brings people together – whether on a family level, where parents read to their children, or on a much larger scale. Charles Dickens, for instance, had the nation gripped with his serialisations, and JK Rowling (a good old-fashioned storyteller herself) captivated a generation of children with her Harry Potter novels. In the age of the computer game and the soundbite it’s heartening to see that children can still escape into a good book and spend time there, using their imaginations.
How does your book relate to your spiritual practice or other life path?
I’m at my happiest in the great outdoors. I grew up on the edge of the Peak District and spent every spare hour on a horse. Remember No More is set in the same sort of vast, landscape, in mid Wales. People are important in areas like this. They may be few in number, but they are a real community and I have tried to depict that closeness which is, sadly, so rare in our frenetic world.
What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
My main aim was to introduce my little part of mid Wales and to give a flavour of what it’s like to be an incomer. I wanted to show the differences and similarities, the wonderful people and the scenery – as well as solving the crime, of course. I hope people may want to come and see it for themselves.
What do you think most characterises your writing?
People. I’m an inveterate people-watcher. I love the way people interact, their relationships, strengths and weaknesses. Place is very important too. Certain places have had a huge influence on me, particularly Manchester and the Derbyshire where I grew up, but also mid Wales where we have lived for almost 12 years.
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Starting it. I didn’t know if I would be able to write a full-length novel. I was writing short stories and nature writing – essay length pieces – so sustaining it, not paring down to basics was interesting. I also found editing a challenge. When I write short stories, they tend to arrive fully-formed and it’s just a case of writing them down, but to edit over and over requires a certain amount of patience and fortitude.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
I really enjoyed staying with my characters for such a long time. I’ve always felt with short stories, that you go to so much trouble with your characters, to get to know them, to understand them, and then a mere few thousand words later they’re gone. It was a treat to be able to allow them room to grow.
Are there vocabulary words or concepts in your book that may be new to readers?
I’ve used a smattering of Welsh words in the book. This area of Wales doesn’t have a high percentage of Welsh speakers, but I worked as a teaching assistant in the Welsh unit of the primary school in Builth Wells and can confirm that the language is very much alive and well. I wanted to give a flavour of the language, to show that it is still very important.
What inspires you?
All sorts of things inspire me. The scenery in mid Wales is stunning. It’s hard not to be inspired by the hills and valleys of Powys or the Ceredigion coast. People too are a great source of inspiration; they’re capable of so many amazing things. I’m also an inveterate people-watcher and eavesdropper, which can lead to tricky situations, but can also result in stories and even novels, with a little imagination and a huge amount of poetic licence.
How did you get to be where you are in your life today?
I’ve been very lucky. Until I was eleven, we lived in Manchester, which I still think is the best city in the world. Then my father, who was a television cameraman, decided he wanted to take on a run-down farm on the Cheshire/Derbyshire border. We found ourselves in 30 acres and with half a dozen horses. I was never indoors. Fortunately, life has come full circle and we live on a smallholding in the Welsh hills, with an aged horse and a small but very bossy goat.
Who are some of your favourite authors that you feel were influential in your work? What impact have they had on your writing?
I have always loved Thomas Hardy and Jane Austen – Hardy for his ability to paint a scene, to put the reader into Casterbridge or on Egdon Heath and Austen for her wit and her deep understanding of what it is to be human. Alan Bennett is an absolute genius, as was Victoria Wood, both of whom manage to tread the extremely fine line between humour and pathos so brilliantly. I suppose these two, along with Ann Cleeves and Ian Rankin, are the writers who have influenced me the most – Bennett and Wood for their absolute attention to detail and Cleeves and Rankin for their ability to tell a gripping tale.
What did you find most useful in learning to write?
I think my love of reading has been incredibly useful. For me, nothing beats that feeling when I have to stop and re-read something which has been said so brilliantly it takes my breath away. Then I have to work out how it’s done, which words have been chosen and why.
Are you a full-time or part-time writer? How does that affect your writing?
I would love to be a full-time writer. I need much more discipline to do that, and to get over the feeling that it’s not a ‘proper’ job. I find that because people assume it’s a hobby, there are so many demands on my time. I’m hoping that 2017 is the year that I can persuade myself I’m a writer.
What are some day jobs that you have held? If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.
I’ve had a variety of jobs. I qualified initially as a bilingual secretary and worked for a German chemical company. I’ve also worked as accounts manager in a BMW garage, fund-holding manager in a GP practice and teaching assistant in the Welsh unit of a primary school.
I’ve been married to Mervyn for over thirty years. He has supported everything I’ve ever wanted to do – from playing flugel in a brass band to studying (two degrees with the Open University and a masters with Swansea University) to becoming a writer. I think he hopes I might have stopped wanting to learn now, but I’m not sure I know how to stop.
For those interested in exploring the subject or theme of your book, where should they start?
I would be so pleased if people wanted to explore mid Wales as a result of reading the book.
How do you feel about ebooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?
I still prefer to read print books. There’s nothing quite like the smell and feel of a new book, or the sound of turning the pages. I do read ebooks, but for me it’s much harder to escape into them, with e-mail notifications pinging up every couple of minutes. Having said that, if more people read because of ebooks then that can only be a good thing.
What do you think is the future of reading/writing?
I think people will always read. I do wonder whether we’ll go back to reading in instalments, as we did in Dickens’ day, waiting for the next chapter to be published. People seem so short of time this may be an option in the future. I worry that we are becoming so celebrity-obsessed that the quality of what makes it to publication may suffer, but I just can’t imagine a world without books or without writers and readers.
What process did you go through to get your book published?
I was very fortunate. I was on a course at Ty Newydd in Llanystumdwy in 2013 and one of the tutors, Janet Thomas, told me that Honno were interested in crime fiction. I sent them the first few hundred words and then the first few chapters and they offered me a contract. They have been absolutely brilliant, helping me with every aspect of publication.
What makes your book stand out from the crowd?
As far as I know there isn’t much crime fiction based in mid Wales. I hope the location will help it to be memorable.
Do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two? Summarize your writing process.
When I write, it’s as though I’m there, in the story with the characters, so in that respect it’s intuitive. Later, when I edit and make sure it makes sense, the logic kicks in. I do think this balance might be different for different types of writing though. I’ve found that writing a crime novel requires more up-front logic than writing short stories, for example.
What are some ways in which you promote your work? Do you find that these add to or detract from your writing time?
I’ve still a lot to learn about the promotional side of things. I’m not a life and soul of the party sort of person and find it quite difficult to promote myself. I have to say though, that it does make me think about my writing in a different way. It’s lovely to sit on my own in splendid isolation and write, but it’s even nicer to think that people may want to read what I’ve written.
What do you like to read in your free time?
I do like to read crime fiction – Ann Cleeves, Ian Rankin, Phil Rickman, Val McDermid, for example, but I also love good non-fiction. Kathleen Jamie is a favourite, as, of course is Alan Bennett. His diaries are sheer escapism for me – a social history of Britain seen through the eyes of a remarkable writer.
What projects are you working on at the present?
I’m working on two novels. One is based in the north of England and the other is the second Kite novel, a sequel to Remember No More. I’m also working on a collection of nature writing essays, mostly based here in mid Wales, which I’m hoping to publish eventually.
What do your plans for future projects include?
I would love to write a sit com or a really good radio play. There’s such skill involved in plays for radio. I may be some time
I’m sure one day we’ll be listening to a Jan Newton play on Radio Four. Good luck with all your writing and thank you for being here today, Jan.
Thank you for for inviting me, Judith,it’s been fun.
That’s all for today, everyone. Please see below all the links to find Jan and her book, Remember No More.
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