Interview with Jane Lythell – Author of the StoryWorld Series
Peter: Jane, it was a pleasure to get the opportunity of reading your books, Woman of the Hour and Behind Her Back. I am delighted that we have the opportunity to conduct this interview. Many thanks for making the time available.
Peter: What inspired you to start writing the StoryWorld book series?
Jane: I wanted to try to capture the experience of a woman’s working life. There are many novels about women’s romantic and family relationships and dilemmas. I had seen less about the drama of the workplace. My working life as a TV producer had been full of challenges and drama. I thought it would be interesting to explore that.
Peter: The underlying message in the books is the balance a woman must make between family and work. As a single mother that must be even more difficult. Do you feel Liz provides a great example of how that balance should work and the typical situations she would encounter?
Jane: Liz is warm-hearted, feisty but also has moments of profound self-doubt when she feels she is failing her daugher Flo. In fact she worries that she is a better mother to her team at work than to Flo. She knows that work is taking too much of her. So I wouldn’t say she was a role model. But I hope that she feels authentic. I did want to explore how conflicted one can feel between the demands of work and family and I hoped that readers could relate to that from their own experiences.
Peter: Liz Lyon is a great character and how she manages the potential work problems that are constantly developing with so many egos running riot is wonderful to experience. Did you experiment with how she responded to issues and which gave you the greatest pleasure – and difficulty?
Jane: Thank you. Most of the time Liz plays the role of peace-maker at work. She tries to soothe the ruffled feathers of her demanding presenters and guests and to manage the rivalries at the TV station. People often behave unreasonably but she keeps a lid on her emotions. Sometimes though she is pushed too far and I particularly enjoyed writing the scenes where Liz fights back against her boss, against Bob the News Editor and, in BEHIND HER BACK, against Lori Kerwell.
Peter: In Behind Her Back, Liz had to deal with a direct challenge to her position from Lori. What was the most difficult aspect of this ongoing assault to achieve from both characters? Did you consider different outcomes?
Jane: I did think about making Lori more sympathetic and tried to show that she had a good side in her fundraising efforts for Cancer charities. However, Lori was a difficult colleague who played power politics from day one. She and Liz had such different approaches to what mattered in television output. Liz wanted to connect with her viewers. Lori was interested in increasing ratings and revenue. Both women were good at their jobs but I decided it was bound to be an all-out conflict between the two of them.
Peter: Without maybe the specifics did you personally encounter any of the situations that you’ve written about in your books? Any reveals would be interesting?
Jane: Yes! I worked in telelvsion for 15 years and saw lots of bizarre and outlandish things. A well known astrologer did once warn me to “beware Scorpio women”. The rivalry that I described at StoryWorld TV between the News and Feature Teams existed at TV-am where I worked for six years. I remembered one particularly aggressive colleague in my portrayal of Bob the News Editor. And there was an instance when a well known actor would not come out of Make-Up because she hated the way her hair looked. When we finally got her onto the sofa she gave monosyllabic answers and I felt sorry for the presenter. All good material to draw on!
Peter: There are great constructive and successful projects you would have been involved in at work. What are you most proud of as an accomplishment?
Jane: When I was at TV-am I helped to initiate the station’s Cervical Cancer Campaign. I produced lots of stories to raise awareness of the importance of having regular smear tests. We also produced a factsheet. We sent out 100,000 copies of this and that is the project of which I am most proud.
Peter: Do you use story boarding or mapping processes to develop your plots and interactions, or do you go with the flow and follow your instinct and gut feeling? Would you therefore describe yourself as a plotter, pantser or plantser?
Jane: With my first novel THE LIE OF YOU it was a case of following my instinct and going with the flow. I have become more organised with each subsequent book so that now I map out the shape of the story in advance. However knowing the shape does not stop the book from evolving and taking me in interesting, sometimes unexpected, directions. What does that make me? I believe that makes you a plantser – a mixture of both.
Peter: Do you use particular software applications or utilities to support your writing activity? For example, Scrivener or Grammarly.
Jane: I don’t actually. However I use the FIND button a lot to track back while I am writing. I have a good memory for scenes and can remember a particular word I used. I type this into FIND and hey presto I have the scene I need to check and redraft in front of me.
Peter: What are the greatest benefits and restrictions to being a published Author? Do you get involved in finalising other aspects of the book, for example the cover design, narration and the promotion of the book?
Jane: I love connecting with readers. For me one of the greatest pleasures has been meeting readers and hearing their views , either at Festivals or when I have participated in Book Groups who have selected my novels.
All writers are now expected to do a lot to promote their books so I have a Twitter, Facebook and Instagram account and a blog. I have met a lot of marvellous book bloggers too, like you Peter, and I am so grateful to them for how much they do to spread the word about novels.
The book covers are
designed by the publisher but I get a chance to see and comment on the cover
and, importantly, on the wording of the blurb.
I think Head of Zeus did a great job on my four book covers.
Peter: How much time do you spend on writing compared to promoting your books?
Jane: This changes during the publication cycle. When a book is about to come out then you do need to spend a lot of time on promotion – writing pieces, posting on social media, doing Q&As and speaking at festivals and libraries. Probably it’s at least 40 – 50% of time. But this only lasts for a few weeks. The rest of the time I would say I write for 90% and promote for 10% of my time.
Peter: What authors have you most admired and have had an influence on you?
Jane: I have huge admiration for Charles Dickens, the Brontes , Georges Simenon , John le Carre and Annie Proulx. In terms of influence however it is probably Alfred Hitchcok who has had the greatest influence on me. My first two novels are psychological suspense – THE LIE OF YOU and AFTER THE STORM and I learned most about how to create suspense from watching Hitchcock. (I studied film at post-grad level at the Slade School of Fine Art and watched most of his output).
Peter: What is your favourite book you’ve read over the last 12 months?
Jane: I loved LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE by Celeste Ng, particularly the way she stayed true to her characters at the ending. I don’t like it when writers bend a character out of shape in order to deliver a twist.
Peter: What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Jane: I’d say that it’s all about the characters. I stick with a book if I believe in and care about the characters. Love your characters and think about them a lot as you write. Talk to them in your head as you go for a walk. It should get to the point where you recognise what they would and wouldn’t say or do. Stay true to them.
Peter: If you had a dinner party and could invite 3 personalities from any period in history who would they be and why?
Jane: It would be Samuel Taylor Coleridge because he was such a brilliant talker; Bob Dylan who I admire hugely and Ruth Jones the creator of Gavin and Stacey because I think she is so funny and Ness is one of the best TV characters in years.
Peter: Can you give us any insights into any future books or projects that you’re working on?
Jane: I’ve just completed my fifth novel which is psychological suspense, like my first two. It is now with my agent. It is set in 1995, before the advent of social media and the mighty Google and this is important to the plot. The novel starts in Bow in East London but then my two main characters run away to France and most of the action takes place in La Rochelle.
Peter: How can readers learn more about you and your work?
Jane: I’m happy for readers to email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org and I try to answer within a week. I am also on Twitter: @janelythell on Instagram: jane_lythell_writer and Facebook: Jane Lythell Author And here is the link to my Author Page on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jane-Lythell/e/B00IFE6R2I?ref=dbs_p_pbk_r00_abau_000000
Peter: Jane, I appreciate you taking the time for this interview. If there are other snippets of information you wish to provide, please feel free. I would like to congratulate you on your wonderful books and I wish you massive success for the future.