Check out our interview with Jenny Bayliss wherever you listen to your podcasts!
What inspired you to write your most recent novel?
When I wrote A Season for Second Chances, I really wanted to write about a woman with some life baggage, someone who was a little older than the usual romantic heroines. I think as a society, we still tend to brush aside women over forty, and as a woman over forty myself (well over it) I wanted to fly the flag for the mature heroine; we still want romance and love and sex, we are still vital and interesting, we don’t stop being humans with huge feelings and desires just because we’ve got crows feet and our boobs are less perky! The wonderful thing about a mature character is that they are complicated; life becomes far more about the grey areas, and I don’t just mean our hair. I find those things inspiring. I hoped to explore the dynamics of long-term relationships, even when in Annie’s case, that relationship is over. The original title was The Wooing of Annie Sharpe because I wished for Annie to be being wooed on all sides, but I also needed her to woo herself. However, my editor, quite rightly suggested that my title sounded like a murder thriller, so we changed it to A Season for Second Chances, which sums it up much better. I am inspired by life after the big-four-O and wanted to write a cast of characters where second chances were possible, whether big or small. I felt that Annie should be allowed to find herself in lots of ways, not just romantically. I suppose I was inspired to write a book about the messiness of middle-age in all its complicated glory.
What is your writing routine?
I have a pretty 9-5 work routine. I am not one of those interesting people who writes all night or in the early hours of the morning. Usually, I like to go out for a walk each morning, it clears my mind and while I’m out I grab my all-important morning coffee.
Then it’s back home by 10.30am and I try to write for the rest of the day. Sometimes I’ll get lots done and sometimes it’s like getting blood out of a stone! If I get 1500 good words written – and by ‘good’ words I mean words and paragraphs that I have worked on enough that they will stay in the manuscript – then I’m happy; anymore is a bonus. Then I stop at 6pm to cook dinner. I used to write late in the evening when the kids were little but these days my brain stops working past 9pm.
What are your top 3 favorite books?
That’s really hard! I have so many books in different genres that I love. I will take this as being the top 3 books that I always go back to for comfort.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (my sister has accused me of using examples from P&P to illustrate or remedy any real-life event). It feels like a hug in a book and Elizabeth Bennet’s sass still makes me snort with laughter.
Any of the Rivers of London books by Ben Aaronovitch (this seems like a cheat, but I go back to them over and over again ). They are about a London police officer who works in a secret branch of law enforcement that deals with the ghosts and river gods who live in and around London.
The Hound of The Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle. It’s my favorite Sherlock Holmes mystery because it’s so gothic and I’ve been to the moors many times and they are haunting places, so I can imagine the setting when I’m reading.
Which authors inspire you?
I recently read The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E.Schwab and the writing is beautiful. I want to go back through with a pen and page markers to highlight the lines that captured my heart.
I read Apple Never Fall by Liane Moriarty last year and the way she weaved that story together was just breathtaking. It was so intricate; I am in awe!
I read A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw with my book club and again the writing was stunning; it was like prose poetry in places, so atmospheric. I think I am drawn to writers who not only weave a good story but whose prose is a thing of beauty that you want to read over and over.
P.G. Wodehouse, writer of the Jeeves and Wooster stories, wrote with such humor but he was also a remarkable satirist. I love his gently scathing reviews of the upper classes of British society at the time. His quick wit is writing goals!
What are you currently reading?
I am one of those people who likes to have three books on the go at a time. Generally, I’ll have one on audiobook and two hardcopies. So, I am currently listening to Haunted by James Herbert and I am reading The Influencers by S.V. Leonard and a proof called Love & Other Dramas by Ronali Collings; watch out for it when it’s published, it’s absolutely brilliant, I think it’s going to be a huge hit.
Do you use any life experiences to inspire your writing?
Yes, I do. That’s not to say I write about my life but at 48 years old, I’ve got some life experience behind me, and I am able to draw on that for empathy and character building.
Like many people, I’ve experienced loss, happiness, hardship, celebration, heartbreak, friendship, parenthood, enduring love, and I’ve also been involved with close friends and family who have experienced the same over the years and seen these things from their angle too. And so, without really realizing it I find those experiences pushing into my work.
I guess that’s what they mean by ‘write what you know’ although in my case it’s more ‘write what I’ve felt.’
How did you get into writing? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do?
I always wanted to be a writer, from the time I learned to read, although I didn’t get my first book published until I was forty-six. I wrote all the while the kids were small and I was working in different jobs, it was just something I felt I had to do, even if nothing came of it.
I did that for like twenty five years, just writing in my spare time, fitting it in where I could. When I turned forty – midlife crisis? – I enrolled as a part-time mature student at University to take a degree in Creative and Professional Writing. I still had to work, so I
took my degree over six years. Then part way through, a neck injury which required surgery, meant I had to quit my job as a cake baker which I’d been doing for the last decade or so. And it was during my recovery – and being unemployed – that I wrote The Twelve Dates of Christmas. Over the years I’d sent off many different manuscripts to agents and been rejected, so I wasn’t holding my breath but then I got an acceptance; my mind is still blown! I will never not be astounded and exhilarated that I got a book published.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
I guess, just keep writing. Don’t give up. You have to have a pretty thick skinned to cope with the rejections. In the end I was compartmentalizing my rejections into Good Rejections and Standard Rejection piles (a good rejection was a personalized note with tips). I’d say, over the years I’ve probably had 80+ rejections but ultimately, if you’re a writer in your heart, you’re going to keep on writing no matter what.
Make sure you know the genre you want to write in and read a lot. On Writing by Stephen King rocked my world! I’d recommend it to any writer. And when it comes to approaching an agent, explain briefly in your introduction email, where your book might sit on the shelf in a bookshop, what other current books might your book sit next too. This shows the agent that you have a clear vision of your genre, and that you know what else is out there and selling in that genre.
What’s your experience marketing your book?
Aha! Well, I’m a pretty anxious person, I faint when I get nervous, sometimes I throw-up, sometimes I do both! I am that person at parties who stands in the corner looking frozen with fear that someone might speak to them. So, the marketing side for me can be quite stressful. Being published during a pandemic meant that most of my public speaking stuff was done over zoom, which although I still get nervous and have to remind myself to breathe, is far better for me than standing in front of a crowd. But I have discovered that I really enjoy chatting with book clubs because everyone is so lovely. I guess it’s just people who love books getting together to chat about books and I’ve found it to be a friendly, happy experience. And I’ve done some really fun chats with bookshops, again over zoom, and they are lovely too. Basically, I guess what I’m saying is, book people are the best people! My tip for other authors would be: Don’t panic! You know your book, you are an expert on your book, nobody is out to trip you up or make you look foolish, and there are no wrong answers you can give about your book because you wrote it. This is what my husband says to me to calm me down when I am freaking out about an event.
What’s next for you? Do you have any other projects in the works right now?
Well, I am up to my eyes in proofs right now for Meet Me Under the Mistletoe, which comes out in the autumn and also proofs for my middle-grade book Ghost Games which is published at the same time – I go under a different name for my children’s books (Jenni Jennings). And I have just started writing next years book. The first draft is due in December, so I need to get a move on with that!
What’s a fact about you that might surprise your readers?
Gosh, that’s a tricky one, I am not surprising at all, I am really quite boring! Okay, here’s my fact: Anyone who follows me on Instagram will know that my grid is littered with pictures of the sea. I love the sea! I am obsessed. I even wrote a book set by the sea. I walk along the beach almost everyday to get my fix of the ocean, and yet, I am the WORST swimmer! And I am super terrified to swim in the sea because I am such a bad swimmer that I am convinced the current will drown me. In fact, the last time I went any higher than my knees in the sea was probably a decade ago. So, there you have it, I am a woman who both adores and is terrified by the sea.
Jenny Bayliss lives in a small seaside town in England, with her husband, their children having grown and flown the nest for big adventures. She is obsessed with Christmas candles and flouncy dresses and loves reading, coffee and walks along the beach. Jenny attended Canterbury Christ Church University as a mature student and graduated with a BA in Creative and Professional Writing. Throughout her many and varied jobs over the years – waitress, cruise consultant, lunch cook, auxiliary nurse, baker, jewellers’ assistant – she has always written stories and is now finally able to live her dream of writing books for a living. Her latest book Meet Me Under the Mistletoe is published at the end of September 2022 in the US and November 2022 in the UK. Her other works include: The Twelve Dates of Christmas and A Season for Second Chances.