Saturday, 18 February 2017

Diana talks to Jeanette Taylor Ford

Hi Jeanette, it is lovely to be able to talk to you like this. I have a great love of the Cromer area and loved your paranormal book about the area! First things first I am sure there is a question that you have always longed to be asked. Now is the chance. Ask your own question and answer it!

Do you have any literary qualifications or study creative writing?
No, nothing. Because I was a poorly child and missed a lot of schooling, I never had any ‘O’ or ‘A’ Levels and I never studied writing in any way. I couldn’t read until I was eight, but once I could, I never stopped reading and have had 57 years-worth of reading behind me and still reading. I want to say to others, don’t be put off writing if you have no qualifications; if you are meant to write, then you should do so. I do it because I love it and am always so happy to hear that the few readers I have do really enjoy my books.

If your latest book ‘Yr Aberth (The Sacrifice) was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role? 
That’s a difficult one because my latest book is the last of a trilogy and the main character, Shelly, is only ten when the first book starts and by this one she is a married woman in her twenties. However, I could see her father, David, being played by Piers Brosnan; he is the all-American, handsome, suave business-man type, and I could see Dame Helen Mirran playing David’s mother, Elise, who is the ultra-sophisticated, elegant owner and fashion designer of the exclusive line of ‘Elise-Louise’. The rather cute Eddie Redmayne would be great as Shelly’s husband, Phillip.

What made you choose this genre? 
It wasn’t a conscious decision really. When I first started writing again, I wrote a few short stories based around actual paranormal incidents that had happened to me over the years. The first book I wrote, ‘The Sixpenny Tiger’, based around my life during my late teens is completely different and very down to earth. Having written a book set in Hereford, a place I love, I wanted to write a story about my birth town, Cromer, and ended up doing a paranormal story involving the long-drowned village of Shipden. From then on, the genre has sort of followed me!

How do you get ideas for plots and characters? 
They usually start from a small idea and then grow in my head until it becomes a whole story. Often, it is a fascination for a building or a place, usually a ruined or very old place where I’ve picked up an atmosphere, or in the case of ‘Bell of Warning’, the tales of the church and the village in the sea that abound in Cromer. For my trilogy, it was the photographs that we took of Gwrych Castle when my family took a walk around it several years ago. I kept getting the photos out and looking at them. Then I discovered the castle had a website with its history and what had happened to let it fall into ruins. ‘The Hireath’ was originally a one-off story but the wicked Bronwen grew on me so much I had to keep her as a character even though she was dead and the one story grew into three!

If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!)  you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?
Publishing is not an issue for me because I self-publish and I can publish what I want. I don’t feel duty-bound to keep to one genre and have recently published a fantasy book for children, which I hope will become at least three. Otherwise, I would love to write a crime novel and yes, I do have a budding plot line for it, in fact I have actually started to write it but I have abandoned it in order to write my present WIP.

Was becoming a writer a conscious decision or something that you drifted into (or even something so compelling that it could not be denied?) How old were you when you first started to write seriously.
It was something of an accident in a way. I’ve always loved writing but apart from the stories I wrote when I was at school, I had confined my writing to letters or my personal history. As a teaching assistant, I found it quite frustrating trying to get children to write and I would be coming up with wholesale ideas of what they could write and they would reject every idea!  A few years ago, I came into Facebook contact with a man whose sisters I went to school with. (Long story, don’t want to bore you with that one) We started to talk and discovered that we both liked writing. He joined a poetry group and wanted me to join too so I did and I started writing poetry. Then there was a ‘Flash Fiction’ group and I wrote for that. Eventually, I thought I would try my hand at writing a book – after all, ‘they’ say that everyone has a book inside them. I wrote it haphazardly, drawing on my experiences working in a children’s home in the late sixties and it turned out well. I was bereft when I finished that book as I had spent so much time with my characters.  I thought that was it as I had no more ideas but then the ideas started to flow; I was bitten by the writing bug and now I can’t stop! I wrote the first book in 2010 so I was 59.

Marmite? Love it or hate it?
I adore Marmite! When my sister was diagnosed Coeliac, back in the 1960s, dad used to make her bread every week. I use the term ‘bread’ loosely, because it wasn’t like any bread I know! Butter was completely wrong on it but Marmite worked really well. I liked the bread and was allowed to have a slice as a treat! I have trained all my family to love Marmite. Since then, Marmite has helped me through all versions of gluten-free bread down the years! (I am also Coeliac)

Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...?? 
No rituals, I’m afraid, sorry. However, I like to have some background noise, usually the television, and a bag of large Cadbury’s buttons to hand if possible. They have to be Cadburys and large because, for some reason, the small buttons make me ill.

I promise I won’t tell them the answer to this, but when you are writing, who is more important, your family or your characters?
Hmm, difficult one! I’m lucky because I’m retired and only live with my husband, I have no children at home to look after. However, during family times I just about manage, although my characters never leave me and while I am away from my computer, they are still weaving their story in my head so I don’t worry, I just get it down when I’m able. However, when I’m at a crucial stage in a book my poor husband does rather take second place.

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?
Believe it or not, I would have liked to be in entertainment, either musical (I used to sing well and I play the piano, and guitar, but not well now) or an actress in comedy or character; I love interacting with an audience. Many of my family are very entertaining; we have a hilarious time when we get together.

How much of your work is planned before you start? Do you have a full draft or let it find its way?
I often just start knowing how the story will begin and end, with an idea of what the main steps will be. The rest just happens along the way. I do keep a list of my characters in an exercise book and in the case of The Castell Glas Trilogy, I kept a timeline because the three books covered about twenty five years, all told.

Have any of your characters ever shocked you and gone off on their own adventure leaving you scratching your head??? If so how did you cope with that!?
Not really, although I admit I was surprised when Sean turned up again in book 3 and became key to helping the family out of a tricky problem when he’d helped to cause trouble in book 2.

How much research do you do and do you ever go on research trips?
Obviously, because I don’t write historical fiction, I don’t do all that much research. However, I do research when needed. Strangely, I did more research for my shortest book, ‘Bell of Warning’ than for any of the others. I actually did go to Cromer to look at certain places, check up on the position of Shipden and I talked to local people who had dived down there. I also learned about the nature of subsidence in the area and how to train to do a deep-sea dive. For this latest book I needed to know about the earthquake situation in Peru but of course I did that on the internet.
Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this?
This is not usually applicable for my books but in Bell of Warning, I do say about the differences in my author’s notes at the beginning. In ‘Yr Aberth’, there wasn’t actually an earthquake in Peru in the year that Phillip was there but I decided to ignore it – the story is completely fiction anyway.

Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?
I like all my characters, even the bad ones. However, I did rather love Geraint, Shelly’s grandfather and also Tom, an American Indian, who was supposed to have a cameo role but ultimately walked into a more important one because of the love he had for Shelly’s mother. I wished I could have had a man like him. It always surprises me when a reader says how much they hate Bronwen, or Marjorie,in ‘Sixpenny Tiger’, or that they fell in love with Danny, in Rosa, for instance, but I’m gratified too because it means my characters seem real.

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?
I love reading anything that’s a bit mysterious and captures my imagination, such as The Labyrinth and Sanctus but I also enjoy light crime or romances but don’t care for the sickly, Barbara Cartland sort of stuff. I like reading about ordinary people; not all men are handsome, sardonic and mysterious! I also love to read Barbara Erskine’s books. I know that some historical fiction writers don’t care for her writings but I have learned quite a bit of history from her books and I like that there’s always a sort of paranormal slant to them; although I like paranormal (and indeed write it) I don’t go for the scary, in-your-face, keep-you-awake-at-night horror –type paranormal. I prefer subtle chills.

What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book?
A nice, creamy hot chocolate.

Last but not least... favourite author?
I don’t really have one favourite; I think it limits too much. As I said, I like Barbara Erskine, Kate Mosse, Simon Toyne, Tolkien, Santa Montifiore, Louise Marley, Tricia Ashley and of course, Robert Southworth, Paula Lofting and Seumas Gallacher. In the past I’ve liked Catharine Cookson, Anne McCaffrey, Nora Lofts and many others. I just love books!

About Jeanette: I am a born story teller. From my school days I have loved making up stories. One teacher I had said he always left my work until last to mark because he knew he would get a good read from me after he'd ploughed through all the bad work! I loved doing bedtime stories with my children and, in my last position as a Teaching Assistant, from which I am now retired, my favourite thing was reading to the children when I got the chance, also helping them to make up stories of their own. Those who have read my stories have enjoyed them, so I finally decided to inflict them upon the world in general. Some of them are ghostly tales, combined with loveable characters and interesting situations which make them ghost stories with a difference. However, I also write children's stories and other genres, which are not yet published.

Because of ill health, I was not particularly well educated. I do not have a degree of any sort, nor have I attended any creative writing classes. My retirement has given me the opportunity to indulge my love of writing and I ask for no more than to give enjoyment to my readers. I am married to Tony, a retired teacher, and we have six children and seven grandchildren. We live near Nottingham, England.                

© Diana Milne January 2017 © Jeanette Taylor Ford, January 2017


  1. A Really enjoyable interview Jeanette, and having gotten to know you a little through our Publishing Imprint, Longship, I feel now, thanks to Diana, that I know you a bit more.