Today it's my pleasure to welcome author Jane Turley to the blog. Jane initially self-published her debut novel The Changing Room which has recently been re-published by Sweet and Salty Books.
Can you tell us a little bit about your novel?
Sure! The Changing Room is about the time in life when older women start to reassess their lives and reflect in what direction they want them to go. Sometimes there’s a trigger – like the menopause or empty-nest syndrome but, quite often, it’s a period when women are trapped in the sandwich zone. They might be caring for elderly parents and still have the responsibilities of children or a job - or even have other worries like redundancy or financing their kids through college. It’s a phase in life that can be very tiring and difficult, especially when faced with the loss of youth. But it is the sense that they are losing control over their lives which is the starting point for reflection for many women. And this is what happens to my heroine, Sandy Lovett.
Gosh, I hope I’ve not made the premise of book sound too depressing because it’s definitely not meant to be that way! Basically, I wrote it to be a fun and uplifting story for older women about surviving tough times and coming out the other side in a positive mind-set.
Which character did you have the most fun creating?
Oh, that’s a hard one. I loved them all! Stepping into their shoes was an absolute joy. I’m particularly fond of Frosty, the military-obsessed manager of the furniture store. He’s a pompous old fruitcake, but he also has such a strong moral code you can’t help but love him. If ever The Changing Room makes it onto the screen I’d want him to be played by Bill Nighy. He’d be hilarious as Frosty as he has such a gift for comedy. But I am also very proud of Sandy’s husband, Dave. He turned out to be everything I wanted him to be – warm, loving and supportive. There are so many women’s books featuring broken families and relationships, I was determined to show a strong family unit. Dave was a big part of that.
Can you describe The Changing Room in one sentence?
A heart-warming comedy-drama with some slapstick silliness.
What can we expect from you next?
My next project, which is going live in a few weeks, is a children’s story called Fantasia. I’ve taken it from my short story collection, A Modern Life. The other stories in the collection were solely for adults, but Fantasia is a universal story so I wanted to publish it separately for children. It’s a story about Walt Disney and the urban myth that he was put into cryogenic suspension and, more importantly, what might happen if he was brought back to life. Ultimately, it’s an educational story about how the past, present and the future and all entwined and how we must all accept responsibility for what happens to our world, particularly in relation to climate change.
How did your writing journey start?
I had an aptitude for creative writing at school and was once even accused by a teacher of stealing a poem from an unknown poet and passing it off as my own! But, after school, I didn’t start writing creatively again until I was in my early forties. By then I knew my first love, acting, was out of the question so one night, frustrated by the lack of creativity in my life, I sat up and wrote out the prologue to a novel which now lies in my bottom drawer. My writing life gathered momentum from there. Going back to my artistic roots has been a deeply satisfying journey.
What is the best writing advice you have ever received? OR If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?
Believe in yourself. As a comedy writer, I think self-belief is especially essential. It sounds conceited in a way, but if you start worrying what others think about your humour it will soon be dead in the water. You have to hold onto that belief too because you will definitely get kick-backed by professionals. One once told me once told I was childish, silly and fatuous which was very destructive and took me quite a while to get over. With humour you have to trust your instincts, although that principle pretty much applies to all writers to some degree. By all means listen to what editors and publishers say but remember it’ll be your name on the cover – it should be your story.
Do you have designated writing hours?
I am a sad pathetic excuse of a writer! I don’t do the diligent three hours stuck po-faced in front of PC forcing out a word count come what may. I prefer to live and let live. Consequently, my writing hours can be very erratic but, on the positive side, when I do write I never experience writer’s block as there is always something fresh in my mind.
Are you a plotter or do you prefer to see where a storyline takes you?
I’m a complete pantser. When I started writing The Changing Room I knew it was going to be about “change” and I knew the sort of personal and social messages I wanted it to convey. I also knew how, in an emotional sense, where I wanted it to end. But I had absolutely no idea how I would get there. The story just evolved as I went along.
What would you say is the hardest thing about writing?
Hmm. It’s probably different for every writer. There are so many potential obstacles and every writer has their own bug-bears. For me, and I’m not alone in this one, the hardest lesson is writing something you have poured your passion and belief into only to discover it is of no interest to someone you care deeply about. Developing a thick skin is, I’m afraid, part of the journey. It’s a sad in a way to be forced to build walls, as it’s important for a writer to be sensitive to situations and people, but in a way it’s necessary because a writer who is too vulnerable is never going to survive the numerous setbacks that exist on the road to publication.
What writers inspire you?
It probably sounds odd, bearing in mind I spend a good proportion of my time writing humour, but my greatest inspiration comes from writers who not only have consummate writing skills but who have something meaningful to say which causes me to reflect on either my life or society. To have that kind of effect is a wonderful gift. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road had that effect on me. So did Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. I’ll never write a novel anywhere near as profound as either McCarthy or Conrad but, underneath all the comedy, I do try to give an underlying substance to my writing. I hope people will see that.
If you could write in a collaboration with another author, who would you like to write with?
I would love to work with Richard Curtis who wrote Blackadder and Four Weddings and a Funeral or with Seth McFarlane who writes Family Guy which consistently has me in stitches. I love intellectually sparring with other creative people; it pushes my own creativity even further. The opportunity to work with either Richard or Seth would probably blow all my fuses.
If you could write another style of genre, what genre would it be and why?
It would be literary fiction. Possibly a thriller. Bizarrely, the vast majority of my reading is and has always been thrillers and yet I write comedy. I don’t know what that means – other than that I probably need to see a psychiatrist.
If you could invite any three authors, alive or dead, to a dinner party who would you choose?
One would most definitely be the Rev W Awdry who wrote Thomas the Tank Engine. I have three boys so I’ve poop-pooped and peep-peeped my way through all his books for years which almost drove me insane. I’d love to force the Rev to sit through a five-hour dinner party and suck the joy right out of his steak and salad whilst I intermittently screeched and performed ear-piercing whistles. On a more positive note, I’d also ask Nevil Shute as he was one of my first reading loves. He really knew how to tell a story that pulled on the heartstrings. My last guest would be my author friend, Gary Davison, who has been a tremendous support to me over the years. He does, however, have a very strong Geordie accent so we’d have to have a translator present.
Do you get much spare time for reading? And if so, does being a writer affect the way you see books as a reader?
These days life passes by too quickly to do all the things I want so I have to have a very strong desire to read a book to make time for it. And gone are the days too when I would read every book till the last page. Now, if I’m not hooked after a few chapters, I move onto something better. Being a writer does affect the way I read too - but only if the story is not strong enough. If it’s not holding my attention then I begin to notice other faults and eventually I’ll abandon it. But if the story is good I simply don’t notice smaller faults.
What’s the last book you’ve read that has made you cry?
Sportsman Kevin Pieterson’s autobiography. Although these were actually tears of joy. There were some terrific portraits (cough, cough) of Kevin in action. I strongly recommend it for the discerning female reader.
Where would be your idyllic location for a writing retreat?
Wherever Gerard Butler is filming on location. Hopefully, Barbados.
Are you going to treat yourself to something nice to celebrate the publication of your novel?
Oh gosh. Now you’ve got me. Probably not. But then I still have a new leather handbag hiding under my desk which I haven’t told my husband about yet. Maybe now would be a good time.
"Today, I am in the changing room of my life and tomorrow, win or lose, I'll move forward a stronger and wiser woman."
Sandy Lovett has been thinking a lot about her life of late. Her confused mother, teenage children and full-time job leave her with little time to catch a breath, let alone work out how to spend time on what is important to her. Sandy knows she needs to make a change but doesn't quite know how until she buys a blow-the-budget dress which sets in motion a sequence of life-transforming events.
Sandy quits her job, finds a care home for her mother and life seems to be a bit more under control. However it’s not for long - when her husband’s business starts to struggle and money is tight, Sandy tries to help by joining The Beaver Club sex-chat service and high jinks ensue but, when a friend dies, Sandy is forced to re-evaluate her life once more.
The Changing Room by Jane Turley is published by Sweet & Salty Books, paperback £9.99 and ebook