It's Jan! She's had an interesting life before she wrote her fabulous book. Here's what Jan told me about herself:
"So – all about me ………I went to live in London when I was 17. Pretty young really, amazing that my parents let me go – after six years at a draughty boarding school in Yorkshire, my knowledge of life was hardly encyclopaedic. Mind you, whose is at 17? Initially, I trained as a radiographer but didn’t like it much and dabbled in other worlds where I couldn’t find anything I really wanted to do. Apart from sit and read a book, of course. Nanny? Nope. Not after attempting to look after two hideous children who only spoke Dutch. Cooking in a restaurant in Cornwall? Not really my thing, especially as my role seemed to consist of doing the washing up. So back to London where I spent many years in Wandsworth, getting married and having three fabulous sons, two of whom are twins. Now I live in Dorset, but am unwilling to give up totally on city life and so I still go back there to work at LSE one day a week. I’m a dyslexia support tutor. I also work at a local girls’ school and because of the lovely, long holidays I’m able to spend a good part of the year with all my boys at our holiday home in Italy. Along with our elderly dog, we relish the time we’re able to spend in la bella Umbria. My husband is the Deputy Mayor of our town here in Dorset which keeps him busy.
I’ve recently published, on line, my first novel with the second one to follow shortly. The third one is still in the process of being written. All of them are stand-alone books. Although I’ve been writing for many years, it never seemed a possible financial option as a career but belatedly I’ve realised that if I don’t pursue my dream right now, that’s all it will ever be. The result is The Lost and Found Life of Rosy Bennett."
The Editor: What was the inspiration behind this book?
Jan Birley: There was no one particular happening, more an unfolding of events. I am always noticing things people say or do – or what they wear and then I have to write them down. (For example - the most ghastly pair of Mary Janes last week. Three grim strips of black patent leather/plastic stretched over the front like tagliatelle, heels that looked like cotton reels and a button which could have been a small jam jar lid. And the legs … I won’t start on those.) This means I have a collection of odd notes all over the place and after a while I see how I could use them, how they could fit into a story. I always have a plan – I always know where my chapters are going. The only trouble is that once I start to write, the characters take over and don’t do what I tell them. Rather like children.
The Editor: What was it like writing this book?
Jan Birley: Fun. On the whole. Lots of ‘what if’s’, with my husband over a bottle of wine. Much worrying about the reader seeing the outcome miles before the denouement. I constantly remind myself to never underestimate the reader’s intelligence.
The Editor: What makes writing so special to you?
Jan Birley: Writing for me is an extension of reading and day dreaming. It is escapism and I can hear my characters talking to each other in my head. I simply write down what they are saying, like dictation. Weird or what?
The Editor: What genres do you like to read?
Jan Birley: I think I was born with my head in a book. I have read avidly all my life and my tastes are pretty catholic. I enjoy thrillers, historical fiction, contemporary romance, anything well written and with a good story line.
The Editor: Other than writing, what do you like to do in your down time?
Jan Birley: I want to say read but I think you’ve gathered that! I push a trolley round our local small hospital which mostly looks after older people. This is great as they are irreverent, totally non-politically correct and treat age as if it were a mere inconvenience. I also take our dog out which I loathe as I hate walking unless it involves shops or the pub. I love going round art exhibitions and re-visiting my favourite paintings just to kind of check in and say hello. In fact when we go to Florence, it is always difficult finding the time to go and see new things because I have to go and see all the things I love first. We go there quite often because although we live in the UK, we are lucky enough to have a house in Umbria, Italy.
The Editor: Besides yourself, who are two of your favourite authors? *we all have many, but just two for now*.
Jan Birley: Nancy Mitford and Penelope Lively.
The Editor: What advice would you give to a young budding writer about a career in writing?
Jan Birley: I think I am probably the one who needs advice! However, I would say keep going – don’t give up. Only write if it’s unthinkable not to – as though without writing an unfillable hole would appear in your life. Don’t do it for the money.
I think this is an extraordinary lady. Thank you for the chat Jan. It was a pleasure.