when I walk my dog along the beach at 7.30. I mull over my characters and plot
lines. Then I have breakfast with my husband and write until lunchtime. I can’t
bear being interrupted. Then I’ll walk my dog again, often with a friend, and
spend the afternoon going through emails. There’s a lot of work involved with
writing a novel that has nothing to do with putting your fingers on the
keyboard – publicity and library readings and questions from readers. I love it
all. Then I’ll go over what I’ve written in the morning and make some changes.
When you are writing, do you use any
famous people or people you know as inspiration?
I don’t use
one particular person but you can’t go through life as a writer without
noticing people. My characters are a pot pourri of real and imagined people. I
also use magazine pictures of models to help me visualise them and work out
what their problems are. (All characters need problems). I pin them on a corkboard
next to my desk which overlooks the sea.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction
book of all time and why?
This is SO
difficult! It’s probably one of Fay Weldon’s – maybe “The Life and Loves of a
She Devil” because it’s an icon of its age. I was really moved by its scary,
compelling, wickedly funny tone when I read it many years ago. Later, as a
journalist, I was sent to interview Fay Weldon and I’m glad to say that we
still know each other. She’s an inspiration.
What is your writing process? Do you
plan first or dive in? How many
drafts do you do?
I get the
glimmer of an idea and then I let it ferment for a few months: usually while
I’m finishing off a novel. During that time, I make copious notes, either in a
notebook or on odd scraps of paper which I then transfer or even on answer
phone messages to myself. Sometimes a newspaper or magazine article can trigger
what I call a plot pusher: in other words, something that gives the plot
another twist. Or it might be something that someone says or simply something
that comes into my head. I then think of three main characters who would
‘people’ that plot and appeal to a wide variety of readers. I like to tell my
story from the point of view of three main characters (using the multi viewpoint
technique) so each character is very important. I start off with a vague idea
of what they look like but to be honest, it’s their situation that’s more
important. Each person must have a problem which they have to solve through the
book. Otherwise there’s no story. Then I start writing, starting with the first
character’s story in the first chapter; the second in the second; the third in
the third; and the first in the fourth. And so on. I take care to ensure
there’s a cliff hanger at the end of each chapter so the reader needs to go on
and find out what happens next. I write about 2000 – 3000 words every day and I
start the next day by re-reading what I wrote the previous day to edit and get
me in the mood for the current day’s writing. It takes me about four months to
write a novel but then I print it out and spend another two months to make
about three revisions, looking at plot continuity and character and setting in
more detail. I will know my characters better by the end so this is easier.
Recently, I have started to read my novels out loud to my husband. It’s amazing
what you pick up when you do that rather than just seeing it on the printed
page. Then I send it to my agent and publisher at the same time and keep my
fingers crossed they like it!
What was your journey to being a
wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. As a child, I made up
stories and when there was a birthday in the family, I wrote a poem – and still
do. However, I remember weeping after a careers convention in the sixth form
when I was told it was very difficult to be a writer and that I should consider
a ‘safer’ occupation. Determined to prove my advisor wrong, I read English at
university and was then lucky enough to get a place on the Thomson Graduate
Newspaper Training Scheme. Being a journalist was meant to be a step towards
getting a novel published but I ended up as a magazine journalist for the next
twenty five years, writing child-orientated features for numerous publications
including Woman. I also had a regular column in The Telegraph. By the time I
had my third child in my early thirties, I realised that if I didn’t write that
novel, I never would. I was a freelance journalist by then so wrote my novel in
the evenings and weekends which wasn’t easy for my family. I got an agent
almost immediately for a novel called Amersham
Wives but it had lots of nice rejection letters from publishers. My agent
told me to write another and I went on to writ one book a year for ten years
before finally coming up with the idea for The School Run. This was prompted by
my youngest son who had just changed schools, meaning I had a really long
school run. I used to see the same cars every day and it made me wonder what
lives their drivers were living. My agent sent it out as a multi-submission to
several publishers and we had five who were interested. It became a best seller
and I wrote four more under the name Sophie King. Then I changed publishers to
Random House and now write under another name, Janey Fraser. Sometimes authors
do take on different names when changing publishers. My close friends and
family have always called me Janey anyway. I’ve now had three books published
by Random House. The latest is called Happy Families and comes out on April 4th.
People sometimes say that my story is one of survival and I think they’re
right. Publishing is a difficult business and you have be prepared to
change to fit in with it. I also write short stories for magazines. I started
doing this while trying to get published as a novelist. It was a great
confidence booster to see my short fiction in print. I still love writing them.
I have also supplemented my living through teaching adults how to write in
private classes, local colleges and Oxford University as well as working
for three years as a writer in residence of a high security male prison. That’s
What do you think is the biggest myth
about being a novelist?
‘lucky’ to be able to work from home. It’s a hard slog which involves luck, a
certain skill and dedication. I don’t mean to sound boastful when I say ‘skill’
because I think everyone has one. I can’t sew or do maths. I also think that
some people have hidden skills which need someone to ease them out like a
midwife delivers a baby. I’ve had several students who found they could write
even though they’d spend their previous years doing something completely
What advice can you give to our
readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Write about a
subject you’re passionate about in a way that is different. Happy Families, for
instance, has quirky limericks in it which I made up.
What are you working on at the moment?
My next novel
for Random House. I never talk about a book until it’s finished. It takes away
the telling of it!