Crime authors spill their guts about writing...

This week: Jane Lythell

Tell us about yourself.

I live in Brighton, UK, and now write full-time.

I worked as a television producer for fifteen years, then became Deputy Director of the British Film Institute followed by seven years at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. 

My debut novel, THE LIE OF YOU, was published by Head of Zeus in January 2014, and my second AFTER THE STORM in January 2015. My third book WOMAN OF THE HOUR will be out in July 2016. 

I love to hear from readers and you can find me on Twitter and Facebook (see links at the bottom of this page).

How do you pick character names? Do any have special meaning for you?

I’m actually picky about names. I decide how old a character is. I then look at the 100 most popular baby names the year my character was ‘born’. I read through these lists again and again until the right name leaps out at me. Dickens said he could not write a character until he had the right name and he had a point.

The Lie of You, by Jane Lythell

How do you go about plotting your books?

Most novels have a central plot idea and then subplots which reinforce or comment on the main plot in some way. When I start I have the central plot idea and a rough idea of where that will take my characters but the detail emerges as I write. For example with THE LIE OF YOU I knew that one woman was trying to destroy another woman but didn’t know why and that was what I had to work out. 

However with my third novel, WOMAN OF THE HOUR, I did more work planning the sub-plots as well as the main plot before I started writing and one of the sub plots became very important. 

I also create a page for each of the main characters where I list key characteristics, back story, quirks, strengths and weaknesses etc. I find this is a useful thing to do.

Where do you most like to do your writing?

I live in Brighton and am lucky to have a dedicated room where I work which looks out over our garden. There’s a beautiful Silver Birch tree which I can admire through the window. 

And I write standing up. I have rigged a tray on legs on top of my desk to get my laptop to the right level. It is a bit Heath Robinson but it works for me and writing standing up makes me more alert.

How has your writing style developed over time? And the way you approach writing?

The only way to develop your writing is to write and I have learned more with each book and hope I will continue to learn with each new story and set of characters. 

I am interested in the issue of Point of View. My first book THE LIE OF YOU was told in the first person by two women in alternating chapters. With my second book AFTER THE STORM I moved to third person narration as I had four characters who were all equally important. I noticed that writing in third person was less intense. It did however have some advantages as you are not tied to what only one character can see! With my third novel, WOMAN OF THE HOUR, I have gone back to first person narration from a single female character and I think on balance that this is what I like to do best. It is the immediacy of first person that appeals to me.

What's the best writing tip you've ever been given? How did it influence you?

The best writing tip I ever saw was on a blog called The Writing Prompt Boot Camp and came from James Scott Bell. 

He said that people don’t want to read about Happy People in Happy Land and that readers engage with a plot via trouble, threat, change or challenge. 

I just thought that was so neatly and memorably put and I try to keep that in my mind when writing. Novels need conflict to work.

What book do you wish you had written?

I would have loved to have written The Shipping News by Annie Proulx. 

It has everything I am drawn to in a novel: a magnificent sense of place – Newfoundland; a flawed hero who is an outsider despised by most people; a cast of authentic believable characters and a plot that allows the hero to find redemption. I do not like hopeless books. A bit of hope at the end is necessary for me.

After The Storm, Jane Lythell

If you could be a character in any book, including one of your own, who would you be, and why?

I am only half way through the second of the Neopolitan novels by Elena Ferrante but I am drawn to Lila and would chose to be her. I love her fearlessness and her intense way of experiencing life.

Woman of the Hour, by Jane Lythell

How much do your own life experiences appear in your writing?

My experiences have shaped what I write about. For example I made the sail from Belize City to Roatan which I describe in AFTER THE STORM. The characters are fictional but the setting, the food and the weather comes from a holiday journal I wrote at the time and the many photographs I took. 

In WOMAN OF THE HOUR I have drawn on my fifteen years as a TV journalist, then producer and commissioning editor to create StoryWorld, a London TV station, with all its monster egos and high drama.

Do you ever surprise yourself with what you've written?

Yes because sometimes a scene seems very important to invent. It’s as if it won’t be silenced and I don’t know why it is relevant. Only after it has taken shape and been written down do I realise that there was a fictional problem I was grappling with and that the scene has dramatized that problem, brought it to life.

Describe your current work in progress in five words...

Power struggle at TV station. 

To find out more about Jane Lythell...

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