Some authors have more exciting lives than the characters in their books.
Jenny Harper is one of them.
Jenny Harper lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, was born in India and grew up in England. She has been a non-fiction editor, a journalist and a businesswoman. She’s written a children’s novel and several books about Scotland. Nowadays she writes contemporary women’s fiction with bite– complex characters facing serious issues.
A writer’s path is littered with obstacles
Tell us about yourself, Jenny. Have you ever gone on a writing course? Read a book about plots, characterization or dialogue? Done a degree in Creative Writing?
I have. I’ve done all of those things, except the last one–but my first degree was in English Literature, and it put me off creative writing for decades. I knew I could never be Tolstoy or Dickens, or even Monica Dickens [1915-1992], come to that. And all that close analysis of texts made me so self conscious about structure, words, imagery, metaphor and the rest that I was like a rabbit staring into headlights–frozen. I wandered through a career in publishing first as a non-fiction editor for Collins and Cassells, next I did magazine editing, journalism and finally, corporate publishing. In the business universe I produced magazines and newspapers for corporate giants such as BP, Total, Clydesdale Bank, Bank of Scotland and a number of insurance companies, as well as local authorities and government agencies.
Only when retirement was looming did I finally pluck up the courage to look at creative writing once again. After floundering around a bit with scraps of ideas and miserable efforts to ‘write a novel’, I spotted a course that sounded just great. It was in a castle in the Scottish Highlands. The tutor was best-selling novelist Anita Burgh, [One Pair of Hands] and I could use a week away from work.
So I went on the course and became a novelist, didn’t I? Wrong.
I certainly learnt a lot, met new friends , including author Jo Thomas whose career has just gone stellar, and had a great time. What I learned in the course in the castle was: How very much I didn’t know. I followed that up with more courses, including a wonderful week in Corfu with Katie Fforde and a week in the fabulous Chez Castillon in France with Veronica Henry.
I read books on writing. I became increasingly confused.
After all, celebrities seem to be able to knock out a best seller the first time they set pen to paper, so why couldn’t I? I became bogged down in scene lists, three-act structures, beats, conflict, points of view, themes– all the technical bits and pieces that underpin a novel.
Finally, I learned that it takes most novelists an average of nine novels before they find a publisher. I threw the lot away. I listened to my inner voice and simply wrote. All the advice and lessons I had had over the years must have sunk in, because the things I had found so difficult began to flow naturally. I gained confidence. I drew on the support of fellow writers. I joined a lot of social networks. I networked in the real world. I became a writer!
Here are my top tips for anyone on a similar journey:
1) Tell the story you want to tell and make darn sure you know which character owns the story.
2) Focus, by asking yourself what your story is really about . NOT a synopsis of the plot. Try to capture the essence of your story in a single word and then in two sentences.
3) Dig deep into your character’s psyche. Our characters have lives before they step on page. They must, else why do they behave the way they do? Our characters, like all of us, are the sum of every day they have lived–even if only in our imaginations. So, know your character’s backstory and motivation.
4) Here is the hard part: Persevere. Keep going! Keep writing even when you don’t feel like it. Keep writing even if you don’t think the story is going well. You can always edit. And there may be a just a scrape of description or dialogue that works.
5) Don’t be afraid to get help – from writing buddies, mentors, beta readers or editorial agencies.
6) And finally–please tell me I am not the only one who has been on this journey!
So nice to have Jenny Harper on my Cyber Porch today. She really inspires. Fans and Friends may easily connect with Jenny on any of the pages below: For a full listing of all of Jenny’s books visit: eNovel Authors at Work