Wednesday 25 September 2013

Guest Post: Jan Ellis

When my novella came out in July, I was intrigued by the reactions I got from friends: these ranged from jaws dropping in disbelief to barely suppressed hilarity. This is not because I can’t write – I write other stuff for a living – it was more the thought of a cynical old bag like me writing ‘chick lit’ that set them off.

The more polite amongst them said things like, ‘Gosh, I didn’t know you were writing a novel!’ My response to this was that I wasn’t, or at least I hadn’t intended to. So how did it happen? Well, I was originally approached by Endeavour Press to write a history book, but we couldn’t agree on a topic. ‘No problem,’ they said. ‘Have a go at some women’s fiction instead.’ Now, the first rule of being self-employed is to say ‘Yes’ to everything and figure out how to do whatever it is afterwards. Ignoring the fact that I hadn’t written stories since the age of about ten, I whizzed over a proposal, contracts were signed and off I went into the great literary unknown.

Fortunately for me, once I sat down and thought about the settings and the basic plot, I was amazed by how quickly ideas flowed. As soon as my heroine Eleanor Mace appeared, the personalities of her mother Connie, sister Jenna and other family and friends followed on quite naturally.

What I know about is non-fiction, so it made sense to me to put the characters in settings with which I was familiar. I wanted everything to be as realistic as possible so that readers would be caught up in Eleanor’s adventure and care which of the various men who cross her path she ends up with. As a result, her bookshop, the seaside town in Devon, the London locations and the city I call Chevandier are all based on real places. The main characters do a lot of eating and drinking, so I had fun checking that I had the correct food and wines for the French locations, and that the Eurostar timetables worked!

Two-thirds of the way through, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. Smug in fact. Then I fell for the wrong male character, completely mucking up the story. Eventually, I figured out how to get everyone back on track, but it was an unsettling experience. I had heard ‘proper’ novelists talk about characters taking over and, frankly, had thought it was nonsense – and here were mine rebelling.

So apart from not to take anything for granted, what have I learnt? Well, that most of us probably do have a story to tell, even if it doesn’t always go the way we might expect it to. After all, we tell each other stories every day: what we did at work, what our children got up to at the weekend, what the new neighbours have been doing. Write it down. You might surprise your friends – and yourself!

An Unexpected Affair (Endeavour Press Ltd, £2.99) is available as an e-book from Amazon. You can find out more about Jan Ellis, read an extract from the novella and see photos of the settings at:

You can follow Jan on Twitter at JanEllis_writer

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