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Ep 93 What writers need to know about defamation when writing memoirs, win a writer’s residency in a bridge, a tax return hailed as a masterpiece in contemporary fiction, and how to juggle multiple writing projects. Meet thriller author Jaye Ford, who moonlights as a romance author.

podcast-artwork In Episode 93 of So you want to be a writer:  What writers need to know about defamation when writing memoirs, win a writer’s residency in a bridge, a writer is arrested after winning illegal narcotics in a writing competition and a tax return is hailed as a masterpiece of contemporary fiction. Plus: advice on how to juggle multiple writing projects, meet thriller author Jaye Ford, who moonlights as a romance author, and more!

Click play to listen to the podcast or find it on iTunes here. If you don’t use iTunes you can get the feed here, or listen to us on Stitcher radio.

Show Notes
A Writer’s Guide to Defamation and Invasion of Privacy

No trolls allowed: Seattle advertises a writing residency … in a bridge

Spicy story: Russian wins drugs in online writing comp, gets arrested

Tax return hailed as creative writing masterpiece

Writer in Residence
Author Jaye FordJaye Ford decided at 40 that her dream to become an author would never be realised unless she sat down and finished writing something.

Almost ten years later, her first book, Beyond Fear, was the highest selling debut crime novel in Australia in 2011, won two 2012 Davitt Awards for Australian women crime writers (Best Debut and Readers’ Choice) and was shortlisted for the 2012 Davitt for Best Adult Crime Novel.

With the three next thrillers – Scared Yet?, Blood Secret and Already Dead – her books have been published in nine languages.

Her fifth thriller, Darkest Place, takes its place on the shelves in February, 2016.

Writing as Janette Paul, Jaye is also the author of best-selling, e-published romantic comedy Just Breathe.

Follow Jaye on Facebook

Working Writer’s Tip

How to juggle multiple writing projects?

Answered in the podcast!

Competition

Allison Tait’s The Mapmaker Chronicles – SIGNED!

Entries close 1st February 2016.

Your hosts

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

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@valeriekhoo

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Interview Transcript

 

Valerie

Thank you so much for joining us today, Jaye.

 

Jaye

Thank you for having me.

 

Valerie

Now for readers who haven’t got their hands on this book yet, can you tell us what it’s about, Darkest Place?

 

Jaye

Darkest Place is about a woman, Carly Townsend, who’s just moved to a new town, Newcastle, actually. She doesn’t know anyone. On the first few nights in her apartment she wakes and thinks that someone has been in her bedroom. She calls the police and over some time the police basically don’t believe her. She has no other friends to turn to. As she has reoccurring incidences of this person in her bedroom standing over her bed, she tries to convince the police and her own past starts to come to light and the police and Carly herself start to doubt her own sanity.

 

Valerie

Awesome. How in the world did this idea come to you, this premise? Where did this come from?

 

Jaye

I guess, it’s such a strange one, but I guess like any book they come from a lot of different places. But, the part where someone is standing in the bedroom, I had wanted to write something that was scary in a different way to my other novels, and that was quite personal, and might also become a personal attack, I hadn’t written in this sense and I wondered where that might go.

 

And I thought, “Well, you know, having someone come into your bedroom is really scary.” As it turned out, I was talking to my friend critique group, and one of the women there sent me an email of some reports of a man, I think it was in Brisbane, who was breaking into women’s apartments. It had taken some time for the police to realize it was the same man, five or six different apartments in different parts of the city. Basically he was breaking into their apartments, the women were waking up and this man was standing beside the bed. One woke up and he was on the bed with her.

 

Valerie

Oh!

 

Jaye

And I thought, “That is just really scary.”

 

Valerie

Yes.

 

Jaye

I thought that was a really great place to start.

 

Valerie

Yeah, absolutely. Goodness me.

 

I understand that you decided at the age of 40 that your dream to become an author would never be realized unless you actually sat down and wrote something and finished writing something. But, then 10 years later your first book, Beyond Fear, came out. It was the highest selling debut crime novel in Australia in 2011. And then you’ve written three other books, Scared Yet, Blood Secret, and Already Dead, and now Darkest Place. So, you’re like a veteran now.

 

Jaye

Yeah.

 

Valerie

Tell us, between the age of 40 and 10 years later, 50, what happened in that period?

 

Jaye

Well, I guess it’s worth starting with what happened before then.

 

Valerie

 

Jaye

I had always wanted to write a novel. And one of the driving factors was, of course, I read a lot, and I just really wanted to see my own book on the shelves. From about the age of, I don’t know, 16 or 17, I started having gos at it, but I never finished anything. A lot of time, especially very young I didn’t finish a scene, or I finished a scene and never got any further. And then various changes in my life, periods when I had time, when I had small children, or when I was studying, I would write a few chapters, or I would write an outline, but I never actually finished anything.

 

At the age of 40, and I actually went through what I had. And I had maybe 20 part-finished, part-written novels. And so I decided, “This is never actually going to happen unless I finish something.”

 

Between the age of, I guess, 40 and 50 I attempted to finish things. By the time

Beyond Fear came out I had written three complete manuscripts.

 

Valerie

Wow.

 

Jaye

Yeah. It actually took me four years to finish the first one, because I discovered actually finishing the project was actually really hard, because to get past that moment of excitement when you first start writing, the story is really fresh, and it feels really fabulous and you’re really excited and you’re writing, to get past that moment to the hard middle bits and to the difficult to finish end, it actually takes a lot of time and prioritizing in your life to get all of those words down.

 

In some ways it took probably four years to do that, to get that first novel finished. By that stage I’d joined a critique group. Actually, I just joined a critique group when that first manuscript was finished. The first advice they gave to me was just keep writing, don’t spend all of your time just rewriting the first book.

 

Secretly it was because the first book was really bad. And they said, “Yeah, just keep writing.” So, I did. I started the second book, and by then I realized to actually have a career as a writing I really needed to be able to write a book a year. I set myself a target, I didn’t think I could do it in a year, so I set myself a target of 18 months. And I wrote the first draft in 18 months.

 

So then by the time I had edited it had been about two years, and so then Beyond Fear started, came, and I started and I gave myself the target of 12 months to be finished, which I did, and it was published.

 

Valerie

Yeah. So tell us about the publication process of Beyond Fear, like did you submit it to an agent? Did you go start to a publisher? Tell us about what happened in that first book.

 

Jaye

Once again, the first book also involves the others, so for that ten year period of learning really how to be a published writer, how to be an author, was also about how I get it to the people who make decisions.

 

Valerie

Yeah.

 

Jaye

So, I had learned that there were various ways of doing that. After my first manuscript I must have sent out about ten query letters to publishers all around the world, and have still never heard back from any of them.

 

The first job was actually to work out how to get it in front of the people that actually make decisions about your work, and work out who those people, for starters.

 

Some of those ways of doing that is to get the book into competitions. I had entered my second novel into a competition. It was a national competition, it had finished second, and the London judge actually asked to see the whole manuscript. So, actually kind of in the process of that offer being made… the offer they were making me, they actually wanted half the novel and I had to decide whether that was what I really wanted to do.

 

So kind of a roundabout thing. I had sent that novel in for the competition, but it got held up at the post office and missed the deadline by a couple of days, so they sent the entire entry back. That was my moment of going, “What am I doing? I’ve spent six years writing this,” and I could never get anywhere. I spent a couple of months just throwing my hands in the air and saying, “I’m not going to do this.” And then I realized I actually really liked that writing process, the process of putting the words down on the page and creating that world of characters.

 

I decided I was going to write regardless, even if it meant that I never got published at all, I was going to continue writing.

 

So, that was when I started writing Beyond Fear. The next year came around with that competition for the previous manuscript. I literally just packaged it up and sent it off. I think I may be read the first chapter and just sent it away.

 

Then it came second in that competition and I went to a writer’s conference. Another way of getting your work in front of people is to do the face-to-face pitch.

 

Beyond Fear is an Australian story. I felt it probably wouldn’t sell outside of Australia. I fronted up to do a pitch to an Australian agent. I told her that I won the award and she said, “Yeah, great. Get back to me. Send me your first 30 pages and I’ll read it.”

 

By the time I had sent her the pages I actually got the offer from that other competition. I’ve got to say by this stage it’s seven years I’ve heard virtually nothing from publishers. I emailed that agent and said, “Remember me, I’m the one who pitched this novel. Now, I’ve had an offer on another novel,” and literally ten minutes later I got an email back saying, “What other novel?”

 

It kind of went from there. She read the novel. I said I really wanted to write thrillers, rather than the other one. She read the novel and said she thought it had legs. She then went through the process of presenting it to publishers. It was put out on auction to all six publishers there were back then. Yeah, it went to an auction. In the end I had the choice of three publishers, which was the most amazing thing after literally at that point seven years of virtually hearing nothing from anyone.

 

Valerie

Wow. Do you remember the day that you were told that you had these three offers?

 

Jaye

Yeah, it was completely insane. I had a month — so, the publishers were given a month in which to respond. When the month was up and I had three publishers, there was just like screaming and carrying on going on at home.

 

I guess, for me, the most exciting thing was that there were offers made. I actually realized that the offers couldn’t be taken back. So, somebody actually wanted my novel and was prepared to pay money for it, and that couldn’t be taken away. I kept saying, “They can’t take it back, it’s really going to happen!”

 

Yeah. So, yeah, it was an amazing day. Yes, the day that I meet publishers and actually selected that I was going to go with Random House. My husband bought Moet and the kids and I and my husband, stood around the kitchen bench and drank Moet and went, “Who’s going to act in this?”

 

Valerie

That’s so exciting.

 

Jaye

Yeah.

 

Valerie

In your first 40 years as you were developing and you had those 20 half-finished manuscripts, were they all thrillers?

 

Jaye

No, no, not at all.

 

I started writing romance. When I was a kid my parents had a caravan and we’d go away for Christmas for six weeks and we’d live beside the beach in a caravan. My mom would turn up — one of the first things she did was go to the local secondhand bookstore and buy a mountain of novels. In the mountain of novels there would be a ton of Mills & Boon. My sisters and I used to read the Mills & Boon and say, “Well, I can write that.” And so that’s kind of where I started. I thought, “Well, I can write that.” I used to read all of these and kind of work out how the stories might fit together.

 

To a certain degree for a very long time I thought that I probably couldn’t write anything else, that I was probably not one of those people who could write some amazing novel, so I’ll write what I thought would be simple, and so I started to write romance. It would be scenes of and drafts of, and ideas around romance novels.

 

At one point I had another novel. As I kind of matured, I guess, I wanted to write about different things. But, I had a job and I had two small kids, and I had story ideas that I probably never put onto paper that were not romance novels, but the first two manuscripts I finished were romantic comedies, not the Mills & Boon, but romantic comedies. In that process I have to say because I have a lot of writer friends who are romance novelists they may appear simple, but they’re incredibly difficult to write. The publishers are very specific about what they want, and I really couldn’t write it.

 

Although, having said that second manuscript did end up being published as well.

 

When I got to that point of deciding, “What am I going to do? What am I going to write?” I had pretty much been reading crime novels back to back for several years. I thought, “Well, what I really want to do is write a book that I want to read and that is going to entertain me.” When I thought it was possible that I would never ever be published then I thought, “Well, I’m just going to entertain myself here and write this book,” which became Beyond Fear, and it did entertain me for a year.

 

Valerie

Thrillers are really quite complex.

 

Jaye

Yes.

 

Valerie

There’s so much more to them and you’ve got to keep your audience on the edge of their seat, or keep your readers guessing. Do you know what’s going to happen before you start? Or are you one of those authors where things unfold as you write? Particularly in the thrillers that you write?

 

Jaye

More the second than the first. I usually start with some idea of what I think the story is going to be about, and mostly for me it starts with the characters and the kind of drama that those characters are going to deal with.

 

I have some ideas of where the story might go and the kind of scenes that might turn the story and how the stories might interact, where the scary bits might come in, where the intense moments might come in, and where the characters might play off each other. I have those kind of things in mind.

 

Then the rest of it kind of plays out as I write, which can be really scary at times and kind of fun at other times.

 

Valerie

Do you find, if that’s the case where the rest of it plays out, you can get 50,000 words in and paint yourself into a corner and go, “Oh my god, I’ve got to start again or chuck out the last 30,000 whatever?”

 

Jaye

Yeah, and pretty much that’s what happened with Darkest Place.

 

 

Valerie

Right.

 

Jaye

For a couple of reasons, actually. For me, a lot of it was the unfolding of the story. I never planned too much, so it didn’t have to have too much to work towards. So, I could have themes in my head about how it might play out, and then it would kind of work towards that.

 

With Beyond Fear I probably wrote quite a bit more. I did come to a point with

Beyond Fear that I really wanted her to do this thing and I couldn’t make her do it, and I tried maybe five different ways of writing these few scenes and I just couldn’t make her do it. In the end I decided, “Well, obviously she’s not going to do that,” and then had to kind of write with no plan at all, which is kind of different to what you’re saying as well. The story had grown to that place and then it just continued on from there.

 

With Darkest Place, the one that I’ve just finished, I really needed to work out what I wanted to happen, what I wanted to be happening in the story, I really needed to work out if it could happen, which meant working out my ending.

 

I spent a lot of time actually working out my ending and I got stuck at the beginning, and I had all of these different places that I wanted to start the story, and in fact I wrote 20,000 words before I went, “Oh, actually I think this is the beginning,” so 20,000 words got knocked off the beginning and I had pretty much started from scratch. I was on a 12 month deadline and had to start from scratch about four months in, which was not a lot of fun.

 

Valerie

Wow.

 

Jaye

I had a bunch of problems with Darkest Place. I had minor surgery, but I had a general anesthetic, so this is about halfway through the writing of this book. The drugs just really had a big effect on my brain, I really didn’t expect that at all.

 

After the surgery I was fine, more or less fine. I sat at my computer and couldn’t write anything.

 

Then about six weeks after that I got rushed to hospital with chest pains, which is kind of like a complication with the first surgery. It wasn’t a heart attack, it was nowhere near a heart attack, but I had to be treated in that way. Once again I ended up with just all of these drugs.

 

After that I spent another month sitting in front of my computer going, “I can’t write anything. My brain is just stupid.” Then it finally kind of started to work again. I started writing in this direction and I ended up in this place, it was all just a complete mess. Christmas came and I had to extend my deadline.

 

Once again, I virtually had to start the idea from scratch again and start work, because it had gone off in all of these different crazy tangents.

 

I ended up writing about double of the book and chunked that out of it.

 

Valerie

Wow.

 

Jaye

So, yeah, things can get completely awry when you’re kind of working… I felt like I was working backwards by starting at the end and coming back to the beginning. Kind of a strange process, and not fun.

 

Valerie
When you’re writing thrillers, and certainly when you write other kinds of books as well, but particularly with thrillers you need to often know things about the police or about the law or about criminals or about murder or about medical conditions, how much research did you have to do for this book? What kind of research? And did you do it before, did you do it during? How does that work?

 

Jaye

I do a lot during. I do a lot of research, especially online as I’m writing, as I need to know stuff and when I can see it coming up. I also do a fair bit before as well.

 

I’ve got a retired police superintendent that I use for my police research. At the start of every book I sit down with him and tell him what I think the book is going to be about and we talk about how the police might be involved in that and how they might look at… because the way I write a psychological thriller is I always look at it from the victim’s point of view and what it’s like to live through that. He talks me through how the police would see it and how they would deal with it and how they would approach it.

 

It’s interesting with this one too, with Darkest Place, because the police actually don’t believe what’s happening to Carly. I didn’t want the police to be the bad guys, but it needed to be realistic the way that were approaching her, so it was quite important that I got that right.

 

I’ve also got a friend whose husband is an ex-patrolman. He talked me through how he would handle the circumstances of meeting this woman and going back to her place repeated times and how his thought process would be going and how he would deal with someone like Carly. That was kind of a nice way of setting up the beginning of the book and how that all kind of fit into the rest of it and whether the ideas of whether Carly was or wasn’t actually sane.

 

Valerie

Handy contacts to have, right?

 

Jaye

Yeah, they are. They are.

 

Valerie

You also write under the name of Janet Paul.

 

Jaye

Yes.

 

Valerie

Which is romantic comedy.

 

Jaye

Yes.

 

Valerie

And you have a book called Just Breathe. Romantic comedies are totally different to…

 

Jaye

Yes, they are.

 

Valerie

… writing thrillers, in terms of the reader experience, certainly. As a writer of both of them do you need to switch hats or change gears, instead of having murder pictures surrounding you, have pictures of pretty flowers or something? Do you write differently?

 

Jaye

Yes, definitely.

 

Yeah, I definitely have to wear a different hat. I don’t have pictures around me — no, that might be interesting. I should try that. But, no, definitely I have to get into a different frame of mind. I probably wouldn’t just swap back and forth between the two within an hour. I would maybe work on one in the morning and one in the afternoon, that would probably — I was actually working on Blood Secret, writing Blood Secret while I was editing Just Breathe, and it was quite a weird experience.

 

But, I did have to make a conscious effort to be one or the other, be Janet Paul or be Jaye Ford, because everything that you write, all of the word selection and the way that you construct the sentences is quite different if you’re going for a laugh or something light, or if you’re actually aiming to kind of, you know, hit some deep, dark thing.

 

So, yeah, it is quite a weird experience.

 

Valerie

Which do you prefer?

 

Jaye

So, after writing five thrillers and one romantic comedy, it’s not a matter of preference, it’s more a matter of getting light and shade. In an ideal world I’d probably write two crime novels to a romantic comedy. So having said that, I’ve just finished Darkest Place and I’m just about to start a romantic comedy, and it will be after Darkest Place, which took me to some very dark places. It will be really nice to write something light and fun. Just to find that completely different part of brain again.

 

Five thrillers in you start to ‘live’ within these really dark places.

 

Valerie

Yeah.

 

Jaye

It’s quite nice to just think about something else for a while.

 

Valerie

Before you became a full time writer and you were writing all of these half-finished manuscripts and that sort of thing, presumably in your spare time, what was your career?

 

Jaye

I started as a journalist. I started out in radio journalism, radio news, and as a radio reporter. I worked as a journalist for 12 years, in radio TV and print.

 

Then I ran my own public relations business, which I ran from home. I had two small kids, so amongst being a journalist and having two children, it was more or less part time, running my business from home and being a mom.

 

I was actually when I gave up that business that I started to really try and focus on my writing. So, I went from that to finding a way and finding the discipline to write.

 

Valerie

When you are writing full on, properly, do you have a typical day? Do you have a certain target or word count that you want to achieve or any kind of writing rituals that you start off with to get into the groove, anything like that?

 

Jaye

Yeah, pretty much all of those things. It’s my full time job, so I work it like a full time job. I start in the morning at about nine o’clock. My ritual in the morning is to start with my coffee, I’ve got tons of coffee sitting on the desk. I kind of sign into my laptop, I’ve got a couple of laptops and I sign into those and pour the coffee and that kind of settles me into my frame of mind.

 

I work until lunchtime and I take a lunch break. I go through until about six o’clock at night.

 

I’m obviously my own boss. My mom has been quite unwell, so I take off time when I need to, if I need to shop or if I need to go and do stuff for my mom. My kids have both moved out of home, so I take time off to go and see them. All of the kind of normal things that a boss living at home would do, but it pretty much is a working day.

 

I also set myself targets. I like aim for about 1,000 words a day, which is about 5,000 words a week. If I don’t make 1,000 words a day I can make it up on other days. I try to get to 5,000 words a week. I also try not to beat myself up if I don’t.

 

Valerie

Yeah.

 

Jaye

I cheer really loudly if I beat it.

 

Valerie
Why do you sign into a couple of laptops?

 

Jaye

Oh, because I’ve kind of acquired another one, which has been fantastic. I keep my emails on a separate one so that I’m not always interrupted by my emails and I do all of my social networking and whatnot on the other laptop, so I kind of keep it separate, it’s on the other side of the desk and I close it down when I’m not doing that. I’m not forever getting interrupted by all of the other stuff, that I’m actually keeping my brain within the story. That actually works really well.

 

Valerie
What’s next for you? What are you working on now?

 

Jaye

I’ve actually taken a break. I’ve had about three months — I will have had about four months off by the time I get back to work on February. So, I’m feeling very refreshed and creative again, which is lovely.

 

I’m starting on another romantic comedy. I’ve got one that’s already written. It’s about rewriting it, basically. I’m hoping that will be about a six month project. Then I’m getting stuck into my next thriller.

 

Valerie

Exciting. Do you know what that’s about?

 

Jaye

The thriller?

 

Valerie

Yeah.

 

Jaye

Not yet. I’ve got a few different ideas kind of going around in my head. Kind of stories that are about real life, I suppose, the kinds of things I like to write about, things that might happen to the person who’s reading the book, or things that might have been similar to someone that they might know and can imagine it.

 

I kind of think about experiences that I’ve had, experiences that I’ve read about, and then try and fit lots of other ideas within that.

 

I’m still in that process of, “Oh, that idea feels good,” and kind of letting it roll around in my mind for a little while. At the same time kind of building the kind of feeling that I want to go with it, the kind of emotion and the elements of the scare that I want to go with it.

 

Valerie

Wow, cool.

 

Finally, what’s your advice for aspiring writers who, you know, they may be 40, like you were, and thinking, “I’ve got all of these half-finished manuscripts, I want to make it happen,” what’s your advice to them?

 

Jaye

My advice is always the same and it’s quite boring. It would be really nice if there was a piece of advice that would absolutely ensure that the person listening to this interview would go and get published.

 

But, really it’s just about being disciplined and writing. Actually giving it priority, telling people that you’re trying to write a novel and sticking at it, because it’s only sticking at it that actually gets the manuscript finished. It’s the writing and the writing and the writing that teaches you how to write. You can’t imagine those things, you have to actually be putting words on the page to do that.

 

In my experience it was about having my work in lots of places and getting it in front of a variety of people — getting it in front of people who can make good judgements, in competitions and getting it in front of people who make decisions.

 

Valerie

Well, obviously it worked out well for you.

 

 

Jaye

Yes.

 

Valerie

This is very exciting, your fifth thriller, Darkest Place, we can’t wait to get our hands on it. Thank you so much for your time today, Jaye.

 

Jaye

Thank you.

Jan 27, 2016 Podcasts Australian Writers' Centre Team

Written by Australian Writers' Centre Team

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