Today, I have caught up with Jen Baynham to talk to her about her long awaited novel Her Sister’s Secret which is set in the summer of ’66.
Hi Jan and welcome to my blog “A Story About A Girl” I’m so excited to get to sit down and chat to another member of the Ruby-Lit family and learn about the summer of 1966.
What inspired you to write “Her Sister’s Secret?”
I have always been fascinated by long-held family secrets and skeletons lurking in cupboards. Many years ago, I was told of one such secret that only came to light when someone I knew was applying to go to college. Her Sister’s Secret was inspired by the story that has always stayed with me. The ‘what ifs?’ began and I wondered how the girl felt when she found out. How would she react? What would she think about the people who had kept her in the dark for almost eighteen years? As with all my novels, I wanted it to tell two stories so that I could explore that special bond between mothers and daughters and how the actions and decisions of one impact on the other. In 1966, my character, Jennifer Howells, reacts badly to finding out that, in her eyes, she has been living a lie and that her life is a sham. At first, she rebels and becomes a wild child unrecognised by her parents. She puts her life on hold until she endeavours to find answers and heal the wounds that fractured her family back in 1947. Having lived all her life in rural mid-Wales, Jen’s journey to find the truth takes her to first to the city of Cardiff and then to Sicily.
What made you decide to submit with Ruby Fiction?
The manuscript for my first novel was also with three other publishers when I received the offer of a three-book deal with Ruby Fiction. Their slogan, ‘Stories That Inspire Emotions!’, appealed to me and I knew my family stories would fit their remit. I contacted the others to let them know that I was going to accept Ruby Fiction’s offer and each one kindly replied to wish me well.
If you could go back to when you first started writing what one piece advice would you give yourself?
To write often and every day if possible. That piece of advice is something I still find difficult to follow even now. If I don’t, it always takes me longer to get back into my writing.
If you weren’t writing what would you be doing?
If I hadn’t begun writing when I retired, perhaps I would have taken up painting or pottery again. I studied art and specialised in pottery and ceramics and although I’ve dabbled in painting a little over the years, I haven’t done any clay-work. I don’t have a kiln or access to one since giving up teaching ceramics. I joined a small writing group at a local library as soon as I gave up my job in education and from then on, I haven’t looked back. Alongside my writing, I enjoy reading and Pilates. I also co-organise Cariad, our local Chapter of the RNA.
How did you deal with rejections when you started out?
I’ve always regarded rejections as something to learn from. Once they moved from being general comments with no indication of the reason for the rejection to ones where details were given, I felt I was making progress. With ‘Her Mother’s Secret’, my debut novel, I got a great deal of helpful feedback from one publisher after finally being rejected by a submissions panel. I then used those suggestions for improvement as a list of things to work on before submitting again, and I received the offer from Ruby Fiction shortly afterwards.
What would you say to someone who wants to write?
I would say to go ahead and start writing. Join a group and enjoy the support and friendship of fellow writers. It’s a lonely business on your own. The next thing I did was to join a writing class at the local university run by a published author. I would also recommend becoming active on social media, especially Twitter.
Do you have any writing routines or rituals if so what are they?
Not really, apart from reading through what I’ve written the day before. I always try not to finish mid-scene and if I can end with a cliff-hanger or something for the reader to wonder about, all the better.
Which authors inspired you to write?
Rosie Thomas is one. I have enjoyed many of her novels but ‘The Kashmir Shawl’ stands out for me. I remember thinking how wonderful it would be to write like that.
Another author is Honno writer, Judith Barrow, whom I met not long after I started writing a novel, and she has become a supportive writing friend ever since. In her Howarth trilogy and its prequel ‘A Hundred Tiny Threads’, I have the perfect models for creating characters who are true to the times in which they live.
Who would you want to play the main characters in your book if your novel was optioned for tv / film?
Now there’s a wonderful thought. I took ages to pick these actors, but I had great fun choosing these:
Rose has auburn hair and sage-green eyes and in the end, I decided on Karen Gillan, the Scottish actress and film maker. She played Amy Pond in Doctor Who, as a companion to the 11th doctor played by Matt Smith. More recently she portrayed Ruby Roundhouse in the Jumanji film series (2017-2019).
Jennifer (Jen) has long dark hair and brown eyes. To play her, I chose Jenna Coleman for her early roles as Jasmine Thomas in the ITV’s Emmerdale and Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who.
Marco was the hardest to cast. In my head, he has black hair with brown eyes and an olive skin. There were so many handsome actors who could fit the bill but, in the end, I chose Michele Riondino who plays the young Montalbano in the detective series set in Sicily. What a coup that would be for my story!
What can we expect to see from you in the future?
My third novel is planned and partially written. It’s another mother daughter story with a secret at its heart. It’s set at the beginning of World War 2 and the second story is twenty years later in 1959. This time, the contrasting setting is Northern France, an area I know well.
More About Jan
After retiring from a career in teaching and advisory education, Jan joined a small writing group in a local library where she wrote her first piece of fiction. From then on, she was hooked!
She soon went on to take a writing course at the local university and began to submit stories for publication to a wider audience. In October 2019, her first collection of short stories, ‘Smashing the Mask and Other Stories’ was published.
Following a novel writing course, Jan began to write her first full length novel. She loves being able to explore characters in greater depth and delve into their stories. She writes about family secrets and the bond between mothers and daughters.
Originally from mid-Wales, Jan lives in Cardiff with her husband.
How far would you travel to find the truth?
It’s the 1960s and Jennifer Howells is a young woman with the world at her feet, just on the cusp of leaving her Welsh village for an exciting life in the city.
Then the contents of an inconspicuous brown envelope turn Jennifer’s world upside down. The discovery leaves her spiralling, unsure who she is. Overnight, Miss Goody Two Shoes is replaced by a mini-skirted wild child who lives for parties and rock’n’roll.
But Jennifer’s experience with the excesses of sixties’ culture leaves her no closer to her true identity. She soon realises she’ll have to travel further – first to Cardiff, then across the ocean to Sicily – if she wants to find out who she really is …
Check out Jan Baynham’s other book on the Ruby Fiction website