Earls in Devon and Aunts in Wales: author interview with Regency Romance writer Jayne Davis

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Cover reveal for the first book in the Marstone Series

I’m delighted to host an interview today with Jayne Davis, author of the Marstone Series, historical romance spanning the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries with a big dash of adventure. The first of the series, Sauce for the Gander, came out on Kindle yesterday. A standalone book which is loosely linked to the series, The Mrs MacKinnons, debuted last year and has already built up a firm fan base. Jayne, welcome to Queens, Quotes, Quills and Quests. Tell us more about the Marstone series.

Jayne: I started writing fiction for fun, and had drafts of novels called Playing with Fire and The Mrs MacKinnons done before I decided to take things seriously and knock them into shape to be published. I dealt with The Mrs MacKinnons first, and in that process I learned a lot about marketing books.

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Jayne’s debut, a standalone novel that links with the Marstone series

One of the things I learned was that books in a series sell well – readers like familiar characters. An important secondary character in Playing with Fire also has a walk-on role in The Mrs MacKinnons (the Earl of Marstone, for anyone who has read the latter). I thought he would make a good linking character for the series, so I went back in time and wrote the story of how Will, who later becomes the Earl of Marstone, falls in love and ends up in the position we see him in later (I’m not going to say what that is as it’s a bit of a spoiler for the novel). His story is in Sauce for the Gander. Playing with Fire is set 16 years later, so I want to write about one of Will’s sisters for Book 2, and Playing with Fire will become Book 3. I have ideas for one or two more books after that as well.

Lynden: Excellent. The series is growing. What made you choose historical romance as your genre?

Jayne: I enjoyed Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen in my teens, and always wanted to write stories in this era. There are a lot of restrictions on the characters that we do not have, and these can provide great possibilities for stories. I’m not only talking about things like lack of women’s rights, but also more mundane things like no analgesics, letters taking days to reach their recipients, going abroad taking weeks or months, if you weren’t shipwrecked on the way, and so on.

Lynden: That’s very true. I’d not looked at history quite like that before. Now, you’re clearly very productive (I know this because I can view all Jayne’s draft novels on Scribophile, the online forum we both belong to.) What’s your way of working? Do you have a daily routine, or does writing fit in with other commitments?

Jayne: I started off as an engineer, then became a teacher, then a publisher of school science text books. During this third career I started writing some of the text books and discovered I was quite good at it. So after only a few years in that job I went freelance, and I’ve been earning a decent living by freelance writing ever since. I’m lucky in that I can accept work or not, and can usually say I only want to work half days – this leaves me half of each week for fiction writing, and even more time when I haven’t any science writing on.

Sadly, I’m still very poor at making use of my time. I waste too much time on the internet instead of buckling down and getting on with it. I do try to buckle down and get some writing done each morning, but it doesn’t always work!

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Jayne hard at work. It’s research!

Lynden: Ah, that’s a very common problem among writers. How about ideas? Where do you get your ideas from?

Jayne: I don’t know – they just come! Not always when I want them to, though. Odd things can set off a train of thought. For example, I was on a walking holiday in Wales last year – 5 days across the middle of Wales in beautiful countryside. I got to thinking about a few Regency Romances I’d read where a heroine was threatened with the punishment of being sent to an aunt in Wales or, in one of Heyer’s books, going to said aunt for protection against a horrible father. So the ‘aunt in Wales’ of this trope appears to be rather dragonish (quite appropriate for Wales, really). Then I got to wondering what would happen to my heroine if she found when she got there that the aunt wasn’t the dragon that her father thought, and the plot for An Embroidered Spoon was born.

Lynden: I wonder why so many Regency aunts lived in Wales? How curious. My next question is, what’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received? And what’s the worst?

Jayne: Best – first drafts can be fixed, just keep writing and get on with it.

Worst – that’s harder. Probably the most useless and irritating was an American critiquer who ignored my comment about the work being written in British English, and added a . after every Mr and Mrs in the chapter.

Lynden: Mmm, that doesn’t sound wildly helpful. Whose writing do you admire most? I’d be interested to see if it’s an author in your genre or not.

Jayne: That’s a difficult question! At the moment most of my reading is within the genre I write, or non-fiction books about the period. So I’ll give you a fiction answer – Courtney Milan and Emily Larkin both write excellent stories with characters I can believe in, and both good for period detail. Larkin has some paranormal elements in her stories that I don’t normally like, but she does it well.

Lynden: I’m not familiar with Emily Larkin. I’ll have to look her up. Tell us more about your freelance work. What are the similarities and differences between writing fiction and non-fiction, in your experience?

Jayne: My non-fiction is all commissioned. School textbooks these days are a huge undertaking, with all sorts of teacher support materials and worksheets, so the authors are very much part of a team. There is a detailed writing brief that sets out not only what needs to go in each section (based on the curriculum), but also the educational features needed, how many illustrations I can use, and so on. And a schedule for when each bit has to be delivered. So in many ways that is far easier than fiction writing, and someone else does all the proofing, publishing, marketing and sales.

But it’s nowhere near as much fun as thinking up characters and telling their stories (and in some cases having what were supposed to be very minor characters elbowing their way into the story!)

Lynden: That’s so true! So, Jayne, thank you for visiting. If this piece has whetted my readers’ appetite, where can they find your books, and for those of us who are suckers for a shiny cover, is paperback an option as well as Kindle?

Jayne: The Mrs MacKinnons is available in Kindle, Kindle Unlimited and in paperback from Amazon. It can also be ordered from bookshops in paperback.

At the time of writing, Sauce for the Gander is only available in Kindle and Kindle Unlimited, but will be available in paperback soon.

You can find out more about Jayne by:

checking out her website

following her on Facebook @Jaynedavisromance

following her on Twitter@Jayndavis142

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Writer’s Progress – revising

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What editing should look like. I didn’t get much written that day, but the coffee was excellent.

I’m editing. Again. I’ve just finished an edit checking plot consistency, at the same time tidying up repeated or unnecessary words or unclear sentences. I’m bored with revising. I want to get a novel out there, and write something else. But I don’t think my book is the best it could be.

Now, I might be aiming too high. As someone who’s never paid more than £10 for a writing course, and has had only stories published, it’s probably unrealistic of me to expect to write smooth prose with cunning leitmotifs, brilliant plotting and masterfully handled unreliable narrators. BUT – there are certain things I really need to get in place if my book’s got half a chance of being read by an agent: a plot without holes, a protagonist desperate for something, high stakes. Why haven’t I got these in place already?

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What my editing actually looks like, only it got messier

I started off fairly confidently. I had a theme, a story-line with a start, middle and resolution, each with some detail. But when I’d written it all, it was far too short to interest any traditional publisher. It was only a novella, in fact.

So I followed the advice of a writer friend and added a sub-plot. This got me up to a very thin novel.

I asked my husband to read it. He did. He liked lots of it, made various suggestions for improvement, and expressed incredulity at my plot twist. It relied on my protagonist being young and naïve, having grown up in a sheltered upbringing. But no, it was too far a stretch. Oh. Half my story replied on this twist.

So a significant rewrite was needed. Draft three.

Trying out my revised chapters on Scribophile, an online forum (this site has been invaluable to me) I found I had a new issue. Readers assumed that, because my protagonist was fourteen, it was a YA novel. I didn’t feel I could put it out as YA seeing as the sub-plot was only of interest to adults, but I was very attached now to this sub-plot and didn’t want to abandon it. Besides, I didn’t see myself as a YA author – it wasn’t the way I wanted to go. The solution? Upgrade the sub-plot to a parallel plot.

In one respect, I saw this could work out very well. To complement the foundling searching for a mother I had a mother who had lost a daughter. I enjoyed weaving the two together. The woman who protects my first protagonist became the sister of the second protagonist. The pauper boy who gives the first protagonist directions for escaping her cruel mistress became the son of the beggar who gives a dangerous illness to the second protagonist. However, the sub-plot had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the spotlight. It was planned thinly, because it was quite thin – being secondary. As a sub-plot, Meriah’s story lacked shape, drama and high stakes. So I added and added to it. This built up the word count, but now I had a bit of a mishmash. I had a ghost story, a romance, a mystery and the story of a woman trying to keep her job. I really needed to decide what I was writing. I went over and over the story-line to decide what was my main thrust and to get the other themes to submit to it.

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Rethinking the shape of my plot, complete with tissue for rubbing things out

 

Next, there was the shape of Meriah’s story. As a main plot, it needed definite peaks and troughs. About this time, I started reading John Yorke’s Into the Woods, and discovered the concept of the direction twist in the middle. I spent days playing round with Meriah’s story, writing out the plan in different ways, using my whiteboard and colour coding. Moving on, I rewrote her thread extensively. As I’ve worked, I’ve constantly questioned, tweaked, doubted. As a sub-plot heroine, Meriah could be quite passive. As a main protagonist, is she strong enough? And so I go on patching, and fearing I will never get to the end of it.

Would I have avoided all these problems if I’d planned in more detail? Even after putting away my outline for a few months?

I’m not sure. I think I could have avoided the issue of audience by thinking that through carefully. And now, after drafting the third novel that’s then fallen apart due to plot holes and story-lines that beggar belief, I might finally have a nose for them.