Tag Archives: imagination

Don’t Quit the Day Job: J.A. Baker

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we’ll talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Today, J.A. Baker talks about how working full-time as a teaching assistant has inspired her work. 

You can find Judith on Facebook and Twitter. Given how busy she is, I’d like to say a massive thank you to Judith for finding the time to share her experiences with us. 

Vic x

I am the first to admit I find holding down a full time job and writing, a difficult juggling act. Time is always against me and I struggle to fit everything in – writing, making sure I don’t neglect my family and friends and, of course, housework. That said, I don’t think I could give up the day job. Writing is a solitary business and I enjoy the routine of getting up every day and going out there and meeting people.  The contact I have with people helps feed my imagination, keeping my mind ticking over. Without it, I fear my writing would become dry and stilted resulting in 2D characters and poor dialogue.

I am a Teaching Assistant in a primary school so my days are usually pretty full on with no time for taking notes should an idea pop into my head. I write psychological thriller/domestic noir novels which are absolutely nothing to do with my day job … or so many would think. My qualifications are in education and psychology and I channel an awful lot of that into my stories, using my experience and knowledge of how people think to create most of my characters.

A lot of the staff at work have bought and read my books and are constantly asking when the next one is due out. The most bizarre experience was finding out from a group of pupils that their parents had bought and read my debut novel. Another weird encounter was finding out that one of the classes had used my author page to learn about writers and what sort of people dedicate their time to producing books. I happened to be passing through the room and spotted my profile picture up on the interactive whiteboard. That was a fairly surreal moment. Every now and again, a small child will run up to me in the playground or in the classroom shouting at me that I’m famous. I think I often help challenge their idea of what constitutes famous!

Are any of my books ever set in a school? My most recent novel, The Other Mother (due out later this year), centres around a school setting and my second book, Her Dark Retreat, had a character that was a deputy head, so the answer is yes. The old adage ‘write what you know’ comes into play. Why have all that information to hand and not use it?

Of course the big bonus of working in a school is the holidays. That’s when I do the bulk of my writing. Without them I’m pretty sure none of my books would be out there. I have author friends who also hold down other full time jobs that don’t have such generous holidays and I take my hat off to them. I have no idea how they do it, writing two to three books a years with only four weeks holiday. So as much as I like to moan about how difficult it all is, juggling the workload involved with writing and being a TA, I actually have very little to complain about. I love my job and I love writing and the buzz that accompanies finishing the first edit of my next book. All authors dream of being the next Stephen King or Paula Hawkins but the truth is, I enjoy the challenge of working two jobs. However, I hear you asking, would I quit the day job if I wrote a bestseller and sold millions of copies? Well, all I can say to that is, I’m a positive person and I enjoy being busy, but I’m not an idiot.

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Getting to Know You: Caroline Roberts

Next month, I will be interviewing Stephanie Butland and Caroline Roberts at Berwick Literary Festival. Today, I’m warming up by getting to know Caroline.

Thanks to Caroline for taking the time to speak with us today. 

Vic x

Tell us about your novels.
I have 4 published novels all set in Northumberland:

The Torn Up Marriage is about love, loss, betrayal and family – a story about ‘messy’ love, and how hard relationships can be when we tear our own worlds apart.

The Cosy Teashop in the Castle and The Cosy Christmas Teashop, its sequel, are romantic comedy novels set in a quirky Northumberland Castle inspired by the wonderful Chillingham Castle near to where I live. My friend ran the tea rooms there for seven years. It’s a story about striving for your dreams, finding your identity, with a host of delightful characters and of course  lots of tea, cake and romance.

My Summer of Magic Moments is a love story about rediscovering those special moments in life, especially after a gruelling time. Claire has recently finished breast cancer treatment and escapes to a cottage on the Northumberland coast. I particularly love the setting at Bamburgh which is one of my all-time favourite places. It’s a story about love, healing, and finding your way through life.

I think through all my books I’m trying to explore love in words, not just romantic, sexual love, but the love between family and friendships too.

What inspired them?
My interest in relationships sparks it all off – things I see in real life, read about in magazines or newspapers. And the settings are very much inspired by my wonderful home county of Northumberland where I have lived for fifteen years, its rolling hills, castles and stunning coastline.

Where do you get your ideas from?
My ideas come from things I have seen, read, overheard, experienced, then I let my imagination take over. A real place can start me thinking about what might happen there. I knew I wanted to set a book at the cottages I used to jog past, nestled right beside the beach between Bamburgh and Seahouses – that became My Summer of Magic Moments.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
My favourite novel is my latest, My Summer of Magic Moments. It is particularly special to me as it was informed by a wonderful lady who herself had gone through breast cancer. It also has lots of real moments included from my family and friends. This book carries a little piece of my heart, and I feel so thankful to have had it published.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was
from?
“Don’t get it right, get it written”, a friend from the Romantic Novelists’ Association told me that (I think originally it may have been from Dorothea Brande’s book). It’s so true and stops you procrastinating about getting it perfect first time, which I think can cripple many a writer. Just let the creative juices flow and get the story out. Later is the time for editing.

What can readers expect from your books?
A really good love story, with fun, family, friends and food, set against something sad such as loss, grief and betrayal – the hard stuff that affects us all at times in life, all in a beautiful Northumberland setting.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?

  • Write what you are passionate about. If you love what you write this will make the writing process so much easier, and it will come through to readers (and hopefully publishers/agents if you are looking to be published) and spark their imagination and interest too.
  • Finish the book! Don’t pressure yourself that it has to be perfect. Just keep going forward and get the story out. Make time to write regularly, and you will get there. Editing is for later.
  • Submitting – If publication is your aim, finish the book, polish up your first 3 chapters, spend time on your synopsis and cover letter, and only then start sending it out. Try and be as professional as possible. Do your research on who you are submitting to – and send exactly what they ask for. Do try and personalise your cover letter to show you have spent time finding out about them/their company.
  • Persevere – the submission process can be long and hard, and rejection is never easy. Try not to take it too personally – easier said than done, I know – but keep going and try and learn from any critical feedback you might get.
  • Link up with other writers. Look for local groups, or link with groups in your genre. The support and friendship within organisations such as the Romantic Novelists’ Association is invaluable. It was only by taking a deep breath and pitching at the RNA Conference that I got my book deal offers.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I love the creative process – getting lost in my imaginary worlds where the scenes unroll and the characters seem so real. I also really like meeting and chatting with readers.
Dislikes: Deadlines, writing a novel to a short deadline set by the publisher can feel somewhat stifling. Marketing and publicity can also be challenging and time-consuming too, I really didn’t have a clue how much the author is expected to do of this themselves before I got published, though I’m much more comfortable with this side of things now.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
I’m on the final edit stage of my next book, The Cosy Christmas Chocolate Shop,  a romantic comedy set in a fictional Northumberland harbour village that’s a mash-up of Craster with Warkworth plus a few tweaks of my own. I had great fun researching all things chocolate for this book, and was inspired and helped by two fabulous local chocolatiers.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
Holding the first paperback copy of my debut novel, The Torn Up Marriage, in my hands. That was such a special feeling. I had spent over ten years trying to get my novels published and it was a real ‘I Did It!’ moment. A dream come true.

Mid-Year Review Book Tag nominated by @LoveBooksGroup

Massive thanks to Kelly Lacey of Love Books Group for nominating me to do this mid-year book tag. 2017 is whipping by and it’s interesting to reflect on which books I’ve enjoyed this year so far.

So, here goes…

  1. Best book you’ve read in 2017 so farYear of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. Shonda, writer of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, challenged herself to say yes to every opportunity she was offered for a year. As an introvert who lacks self-confidence, I enjoyed this book immensely. I loved reading about Shonda’s writing process, her family life and her challenge. Oh, ok then, I loved it all. I’d love to hang out with this fierce woman.
  2. Best sequel you’ve read in 2017 so far: The Twenty-Three by Linwood Barclay. I read the three books from the Promise Falls trilogy this year. Linwood Barclay is my favourite crime writer and I was impressed with the way the final instalment tied things up.
  3. New release not yet read: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.
  4. Most anticipated release of the second half of 2017: A Stranger in the House by Shari Lapena. 
  5. Biggest disappointment of 2017: Thankfully I haven’t had one yet!
  6. Biggest surprise of 2017: Exquisite by Sarah Stovell. I first heard Sarah talk at Newcastle Noir this year and I was so taken in with the themes she talked about that I just had to read ExquisiteIt was a surprise because I hadn’t heard anything about it prior to Newcastle Noir. It’s a story that keeps you second guessing until the very end – very cleverly done. 

  7. Favourite new author: Bizarrely, I’d never read Stephen King until 2017 but I read Bazaar of Bad Dreams which is a collection of short stories. I think I bought it because it was on offer and I liked the look of the cover – yes, I did judge a book by its cover – but when I read it, I really enjoyed the stories.
    In fairness, though, Matt Wesolowski is my favourite new author. I want to tweet him every day and ask when we can expect his next novel.
  8. Newest fictional crush: Haven’t got one as I’m pretty taken with my husband – we got married in March this year. 
  9. Newest favourite character: Archie from Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland. Everyone should have an Archie in their life.
  10. Book that made you cry: Year of Yes and Lost for Words.
  11. Book that made you happy: Year of Yes.
  12. Best book to movie adaptation of 2017: I haven’t seen any film adaptations although I’m looking forward to seeing My Cousin Rachel. I am loving The Handmaid’s Tale which is currently being shown on Channel 4.
  13. Favourite review you’ve written in 2017 so far: Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski. The book just really captured my imagination and I loved writing about it. 
  14. The most beautiful book you bought / received in 2017: The Lake of Dreams by Kim Edwards. I bought it for myself last weekend at Barter Books. I just love the colours and shading on it. As previously mentioned, Bazaar of Bad Dreams is also a very colourful book. I think this has established how vacuous I am.
  15. Books to read by the end of 2017: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret AtwoodThe Girls by Emma ClineIt Devours: A Night Vale Novel by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout… The list goes on. I’d also like to read more Agatha Christie. 

I’m passing the Mid-Year Review Book tag onto Emma Welton @damppebbles, Juliet @bookliterat and Sheila Howes @thequietgeordie. I look forward to finding out what you choose!

Vic x