Please welcome today’s 20-20 guest and winner of the Arnold Bennet Fiction Prize, Jan Edwards.
What name do you write under? I write most of my fiction under my own name – Jan Edwards. I have some very old stuff under my previous married name and also under my family/given name. In addition I have ghost written a few pieces over the years, which, as is usually the case, I’m contractually unable to own up to!
Where are you from, live or work? Originally I am from Sussex, UK (though my mother was Welsh and my father’s parents originally from Newcastle and Oxfordshire respectively, so no one place bears the blame for me. I lived in various places in Surrey and South London before moving to the West Midlands in the mid 1990s.
Tell me two things that people may not know about you. Gosh – a hard one. I am pretty much an open book I think. What you see is what you get, but here goes:
- I was Chairperson of the BFS for a time (British Fantasy Association –a lit org for horror, fantasy and SF fiction.
- I qualified as a Master Locksmith – one if not the first practicing female locksmiths in the country to do so.
Do you have any hobbies? Some years ago I might have said writing and reading, but as I am a full time writer now I suppose I shall have to say something else. Gardening, cooking, walking – nothing out of the ordinary. Being a writer doesn’t leave you with a lot of free time!
What is your favourite book(s) and why? That is a question I dread because it is something I can’t possibly answer. My favourite book at age nine (Swallows and Amazons) is not the same as my favourite at age 16 or age 36, and so on.
To name a more recent (living) author is something I prefer not to do as there are so many, and from me the real test of any book is whether I can re-read, and feel the same way, about a title ten, twenty, thirty years after I first came across. I do read across a wide range, and love classics such as Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, Pride & Prejudice, Rebecca etc etc Currently I read a lot of crime fiction but twenty years ago I leaned more toward urban fantasy and folk horror, though I have also written what might be seen as more main stream fiction. Very few books really move me as they did when I was in my teens and twenties. The most recent one to make me stop and think was Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.
Who or what inspired you to become a writer? I really cannot say where that compulsion came from. Being the youngest in the family I learned to read from older siblings before I started school. I was telling stories to amuse friends there almost from the off.
Editors such as Jo Fletcher at Quercus (previously Gollancz) have been fab. I started going to events such as Winchester Writing Conference – which was originally Southampton Uni Writers conference at that time, and met so many editors, agents and writers who have had wise words to offer.
My other half, Peter Coleborn, led me to believe I was good enough send things off for publication, and still reads and comments on almost everything I write. Without his punctuation skills I would be lost! Members of Renegade Writers are another valued sounding board for work in progress.
What type of books/genre do you write? These days it’s mostly crime. Either in my Bunch Courtney Investigations series or the my various forays into writing short stories for Sherlock Holmes anthologies. I have The Case of the Missing Sister’ coming out in The Book of Extraordinary Sherlock Holmes Stories, via Mango Publishing in November. I also write folk horror, and released a novella A Small Thing for Yolanda in the spring and have diesel punk short, Penumbra Over Millwall’ due out in Weirdbook Magazine, plus A folk horror short ‘Devil’s Piss Pot‘ in the Mammoth Book of Folk Horror, next year. There have been main stream fictions now and then as well as a little script writing for a Dr Who spin off.
How would you describe your writing style? I am probably not the best person to answer that. It depends on what I am writing. Sherlock Holmes stories require a formal style, crime writing needs tension and pace, as does my dark fantasy. Conversational but to the point is probably what most people would say.
What comes first for you – character, plot or setting? With Bunch Courtney novels my main characters are a given, but whether she developed from the plots or the plots are driven by her character is hard to tell. Being historic fiction taking place in a specific location obviously fixes the setting.
With short fiction I’d have to say more plot often comes first. Much of my folk horror is derived from old myths and local legends. Developing the right character for each story is equally important, however.
Do you have a writing routine? Sadly not, I wish I did as I’d probably get a lot more written
Do you become a ‘method’ writer? Define method. Bunch Courtney Investigations are historic fiction set in WW2 so there is a lot of research to be done to get details just right. Writing folk horror fiction lets me to break more rules.
What are you currently working on? A Case of Murder, the fourth book in the Bunch Courtney stable. But I also have a folk/urban fantasy trilogy to get out there at some point.
What has been the most fulfilling part of your writing career? Seeing your name printed in a real, honest to goodness, book for the first time was a thrill, but one that doesn’t get old. Opening an anthology or magazine and seeing your name there will always be something to get the heart jumping. Winning the Arnold Bennet Fiction Prize for Winter Downs, the first Bunch Courtney novel, was a huge moment, besides being in Cyprus on holiday and missing the ceremony where it was announced! I was out on the hotel terrace drinking cocktails when Misha Herwin rang to tell me! Winning the Kark Edwards Wagner Award was also an honour, and I very nearly missed that – I was not in the banquet hall when it was announced – but the cry soon went up ‘She’s in the bar!’ and I had to race in to accept it. One day I shall win something and actually be in the room at the time…
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given? Write every day. Though the comment that had the most profound effect on me was twenty-plus years ago when doing an elevator pitch to Quercus editor Jo Fletcher at World Fantasy. She handed me back my manuscript with a single comment “Its good – but I know you can do better than that.” Since then I have had 50 short stories and 4 novels published because when I write – that editor is sitting at my shoulder. It taught me to listen to advice and to persevere.
What piece of advice would you give to someone wanting to become a writer? Read anything and everything you can get your hands on, and write every day.
What have you published recently? Two major things this year have been:
Or wearing my editor’s hat
The Alchemy Press Book of Horrors #2. Horror anthology, Alchemy Press, 2020
Do you think there’s still some snobbery between commercial and self-publishing? I think there is less than there was right at the beginning, though it still exists in some areas.
How do you market your writing? Sheer hard graft, press releases, social networking, sending out review copies etc.
Where can people find your work? The usual suspects. Amazon, Apple and Waterstones, obviously, but my crime novels can be ordered from any major bookseller. Or requested via for loan at UK Libraries.
Where can people find you on social media and online?
Twitter and Instagram: @jancoledwards
Thanks Jan, You’ve certainly had a large output this year, no doubt 2021 will also be a productive year for you.