Honno: “Great Women, Great Writing, Great Stories.” Today with Jan Newton #TuesdayBookBlog

My greatest support has come from the group of authors published by Honno. We have a Facebook group where we can chat and ask for help, information and generally boost moral when it’s needed. And we’ve met up in real life on many occasions. About three years ago I shared interviews with some of them. Since then there have been other women writers who have become Honno authors. So this is the first of a new set of interviews and today I am with the lovely Jan Newton

Please tell us a little about yourself

Where to start? Well, I spent my first eleven years in Manchester, where I developed a distinctive accent and sense of humour. Along with my sister, I also developed a huge love of horses, which came from our Dad. He grew up in Salford, and used to wait every morning to be able to go and talk to the milkman’s horse when the milkman was on his rounds. We were lucky enough to move to a smallholding in Mellor, a small village between Marple in Cheshire, and New Mills in Derbyshire and increase our horse and pony collection to four.

I spent every spare moment on the back of a pony, exploring the hills and moorlands and used to get into terrible trouble for climbing out of the bedroom window armed only with a piece of baler twine, to go and ride before school. The baler twine made a makeshift bridle. Not quite as good as the real thing for directional purposes, but much easier to hide.

I still have a horse – this one has been with me for 25 years, and we don’t go exploring these days, but there isn’t a better listener than a horse. These days I explore the breath-taking scenery of deepest mid Wales on foot, with a Labrador and a barmy collie.

When did you start writing?

I loved reading before I could walk (according to my mother). My grandma encouraged me to read her large print Agatha Christies and westerns, which she got from Marple Library. I loved Agatha, but never took to the westerns. I galloped through the readers at primary school by year three, and my teacher suggested I should write my own stories and let the others catch up.

One afternoon she suggested we should all write a little story about space. Her brother, of whom she was very proud, worked at Jodrell Bank on the huge telescope, and I think she really wanted tales of star systems and the space race. What she got from me was the story of Fred, a little green one-legged spaceman, with an aerial in his head, who landed (fortuitously) during the summer holidays, in my garden in Middleton. Our adventures coursed through six Lancashire Education Committee exercise books, before Mrs Richardson gently suggested we might need a conclusion. I still find it hard to finish a story.

I didn’t write for many years (too many to admit to), until, ten years ago, I was looking for two courses to finish my second Open University degree. A friend said she was doing Creative Writing, so I signed up too, and that was it. From the first page of the course book I was completely hooked. I went on to do the third level course, and then to Swansea University to be a (very) mature student on the Creative Writing MA. It was an amazing experience, with fantastic tutors and some gifted fellow students, and I’ve been writing ‘properly’ ever since.

What genre do you write in and why?

I began my writing career with short stories, and they are still my favourite thing to do. I won several short story prizes, which persuaded me to keep going, and made me think that perhaps I might be able to sustain the writing and produce a novel – something which I had dreamed of since I was that child, reading to Grandma. My two novels are crime – police procedurals – set in rural mid Wales, but the crime genre was almost accidental.

I’d had what I thought was a marvellous idea for a novel, which I took to a wonderful course at Tŷ Newydd in Llanystumdwy. There, I was very gently told that my plot would never have worked. I had two options. I could either go home and re-think the existing novel, or I could choose one character who I couldn’t bear to be parted from, and write the beginning of a completely different novel, which included that character. Fortunately, I chose the latter option. Strangely, the character I couldn’t leave was a fairly minor one in the original novel – a police sergeant from Manchester, by the name of Julie Kite.

That evening (and into the small hours) I wrote the first two chapters of Remember No More, my first crime novel, which was published by Honno in 2017. This was followed in 2019 with Rather to be Pitied, which follows Julie Kite’s story as she settles into her new life as a detective sergeant in mid Wales.

How important is location in your novels?

Location is always the first thing to be decided for me, whether I’m writing short stories, novels or indulging in nature writing, which I love. I’m particularly lucky to live where I do, with its amazing scenery, a huge sense of history and its wonderful people – all fantastic prompts for any sort of writing. Even as a child I would spend hours with Ordnance Survey maps, plotting rides and marvelling at how contours translated into actual hills and mountains and how those tiny pictorial trees – spiky or rounded – were actual woods and forests on the ground.

For me, location is almost a character in its own right. The psychogeography of both urban and rural environments is fascinating – and guides the actions of the people who live there. I find it hard to imagine characters fully if I haven’t imagined where they are in the world and where they feel at home.

Who is your favourite (non Honno) author?

I have so many favourite authors. If I had to narrow it down, then the honours have to be shared between Alan Bennett and Kathleen Jamie.

I love Bennett, because he manages to tread that shaky tightrope between humour (though subtle, not the more on-trend custard-pie type humour) and real pathos. His writing shows a true understanding of the human condition and the complicated ways in which we interact with each other. His use of language and his eye for detail are forensic. I could read his diaries over and over, and see gems each time which had passed me by before.  Talking Heads, the two series of monologues written in the 1980s and 1990s, are a masterclass in subtle understatement.

Kathleen Jamie is a Scottish poet and essayist. Her essays are just amazing. I can’t decide which of her three books – Sightlines, Findings or the latest one Surfacing – is my favourite, but one essay, Skylines, in particular sticks in my mind, where she describes Edinburgh, with its collection of weather vanes and clocks. She has such a unique way of looking at things, a different, sometimes surprising, angle which draws you in.

Where do you write?

I have a rather lovely shed in the garden. It takes me away from the barking dog (rescue Labrador who thinks it’s his job to alert me to a quad bike four miles away) and the ‘are you disturbable?’ requests from him indoors. It has a wonderful view over the Epynt and across to Abergwesyn, and unless I keep the door shut, it’s often invaded by a small and very nosy goat. But, and maybe this is a throwback from my Open University days, when I could revise while walking round Tesco, I can really write anywhere. I’m a PhD level eavesdropper and people-watcher, and I’m always jotting down snippets of mannerism and wonderful snatches of conversation. Writing’s brilliant. It gives you a licence to be absolutely nosy. One short story came from watching the woman at the next table in a restaurant in Aberystwyth. It makes you more tolerant of others’ foibles, if you can use them to your advantage.

Who is your favourite character in your books?

I do like Julie Kite, with her keenness and determination, but I have to say I’m probably a lot more like the pathologist, Kay Greenhalgh. My first degree was in chemistry and geology, and the non-nonsense, not-suffering-fools outlook of Dr Greenhalgh really appeals to me.

What was your favourite bit of research?

My favourite bit of research was undertaken long before I even thought of writing Remember No More. The Epynt, or Epynt Mountain as it’s called locally, lies between Garth and Brecon. It was home to a whole community of Welsh-speaking farmers and their families, until it was commandeered by the MOD in 1940 and the families were removed.

I was working as a teaching assistant in the Welsh Unit of Builth Wells Primary School, and we, along with two other schools, were invited to an open day, where the army and some of those who had lived there as children talked to the schools about how life used to be and what had happened to the people who had lived there.

It was a memorable day, and in the afternoon, all the children met for a farewell on the grass outside the tiny visitors’ centre. As they stood in the sunshine, someone suggested singing Mae Hen Wlad fy Nhadau. It was glorious, a huge gaggle of primary school children singing their hearts out, where Welsh speaking families had lived before. At that moment, the army, in its wisdom, decided to start shelling practice on the other side of the hill. The irony of the moment made it clear to me that the story of the Epynt, and the way its families were treated, deserved a wider audience.

What do you like about being published by Honno rather than a large publishing house?

I love the team spirit which goes with being a Honno author. The other authors are so supportive of each other, and you really feel part of the gang. You get to know everyone who makes Honno work, and feel part of the enterprise, in a way which would surely be very difficult in a larger organisation. I was, and continue to be, overwhelmed at the generosity of everyone involved. It feels like a real joint-venture, which is a pleasure to be a part of.

Links to Jan:

Facebook: https://bit.ly/2VXtpir

Twitter: https://bit.ly/3f9pU09

Website: https://jannewton.wordpress.com/

Amazon.co.uk: https://amzn.to/2Ytptrx

Honno Author Page: https://bit.ly/2KU6vST

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remember-no-more

REMEMBER NO MORE

 BY JAN NEWTON

Genre: Crime

Series: A DS Kite Mystery # 1

Release Date:  16 March 2017

Publisher: Honno Press

A DS Kite novel – a city detective joins the mid-Wales force
bringing new insights and ruffling country feathers

Newly promoted DS Julie Kite is at a crossroads.  Her husband’s desire for a different life takes her away from urban Manchester and its inner city problems to tranquil mid-Wales. It is to be a clean slate for them both. On her first day at Builth Wells police station, Julie is thrust unexpectedly into the centre of an investigation into a suspicious death in a remote farming community.

Back in Manchester, Stephen Collins is set free from HMP Strangeways.  Bible in hand he makes his way to mid-Wales, the scene of the heinous crime for which he was imprisoned, in order to confront those who had a hand in his incarceration.

The twists and turns of the investigation into solicitor Gareth Watkin’s death force

DS Kite to confront her own demons as well as those of her rural community and, ultimately, to uncover the lengths to which we’ll go to protect our families…

My Review:

This is a plot with many twists and turns. The depths of the historic layers are slowly revealed alongside the introduction of the protagonist, Detective Sergeant Julie Kite and her struggles in both her work and home life. I loved the author’s ability to balance  – and juggle – both, and to keep the reader interested throughout the story. For me the genre of crime fiction can only work if there are false leads, clues that baffle or can give a ‘eureka’ moment. Remember No More does all these.

 The story is told from an omniscient point of view, weighted mostly from the protagonist’s viewpoint and this works, as I have the feeling we will be hearing more from DS Kite. But there is also an insight to the other characters and this adds depth to the them; to their struggles, their loyalties, their place in both the community and their families. The characters are well rounded and it is easy to empathise with some of them – and to recognise the weakness and malevolence in others. 

 The dialogue works well, differentiating the Welsh born characters and contrasting with the accent of Julie Kite and other Northern England characters. The internal dialogue gives greater perception to them all. I liked the slow internal acceptance of the protagonist’s change of life and work situation from Northern England to Wales.

I think one of the great strengths in the author’s writing is the descriptions of the settings. If I can’t picture the world the characters live in, it doesn’t work for me. Jan Newton  bases her book in mid Wales. The details are authentic and give a tangible sense of place. I admired  her ability to bring the sense of place alive. I was immediately drawn in by a very early description: ” the road was hemmed in either side by reeds and grasses, which had been bleached by the winter’s snow and were still untouched by the spring sunshine…”.And later, “the car rattled over a cattle grid and a vista of villages and isolated farms opened up below them as the road hair-pinned to the right, before descending along the edge of a steep valley. the tops of the hills were the pale browns of moorland, but the valley bottoms were already lush with meadows and hedges.” Good stuff!!

If I had any reservations about the story it would be about the relationship between the protagonist and her husband. But this is only because I wanted to know the background of their marriage. Perhaps this is just the author being enigmatic; maybe this is something to be revealed in the next story of DS Julie Kite. 

A couple of last mentions; I love the cover, the image is wonderful, I feel it is the scene that the buzzard sees in the Prologue. Oh, I do like prologues!

 I enjoyed reading Remember No More. It’s an extremely good debut novel and I do hope this is not the last we hear of DS Julie Kite and her collegues. 

This is  a book I have no hesitation in recommending to any reader who enjoys a good strong crime mystery.

I’ve also interviewed Jan. Here’s the link: http://bit.ly/2oBcgHY

 BUY LINKS

http://www.honno.co.uk/dangos.php?ISBN=9781909983564

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Remember-No-More-Jan-Newton/dp/190998356X/

https://www.amazon.com/Remember-No-More-Jan-Newton/dp/190998356X/

https://wordery.com/remember-no-more-jan-newton-9781909983564

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ABOUT JAN NEWTON

Jan grew up in Manchester and Derbyshire, spending her formative years on the back of a pony, exploring the hills and moorland around her home.  She lived and worked in London and Buckinghamshire for 19 years until moving to Wales in 2005, where she learnt to speak fluent Welsh. Jan has won several writing competitions, including the Allen Raine Short Story competition, the WI Lady Denman Cup, and the Oriel Davies Gallery competition for nature-writing. She has been published in New Welsh Review.

A WORD FROM JAN NEWTON

I wrote my first novel when I was seven, all about the adventures of a little green one-legged spaceman, who crash-landed his tiny ship in my north Manchester suburb.   We had plenty of adventures, Fred and me, filling fourteen Lancashire Education Committee exercise books and earning me two gold stars in the process.  But when I was eight, a rotund Welsh Mountain Pony by the name of Pixie trotted into my life, and writing was immediately relegated in favour of all things equine. 

It took more years than I care to admit for me to resume my writing career.  In 2005 we moved to gloriously inspiring mid Wales.  In 2009 I stumbled across an Open University creative writing module and the rest, as they say, is history.  After completing my OU degree, I fulfilled a lifetime ambition and enrolled on an MA course at Swansea University.  The whole experience was magical.  It was like being taken by the hand and led back to a place where my imagination could run riot.

I began by writing short stories, which I love, but I always feel disappointed when I have to say goodbye to my characters so soon, and so the next challenge was to attempt a novel.   It’s been a fantastic experience, from its shaky start in a brand new exercise book, but now, finally, I have my second novel.  I still have a horse – this one’s been with me for over twenty years – but these days I seem to be able to allow the two obsessions – books and horses – to run side by side.

Twitter:  @janmaesygroes

Blog:  https://jannewton.wordpress.com

Website:  www.jannewton.net

 GIVEAWAY

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/4be03017222/?

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