The Tightrope Women Walk – a Jane Lythell guest post

At my launch with lesley and sinnetToday we are joined on the blog by good friend of the Write Romantics, the very talented and totally lovely, Jane Lythell. Jane’s guest post explores the ways in which her new novel mirrors the challenge so many women face in balancing their work and home lives. Over to you Jane.

 On the dust jacket of my new novel Woman of the Hour it says: Meet Liz Lyon: respected TV producer, stressed-out executive, guilty single mother… Woman of the Hour. This sums up the dilemma of my central character very well. I was keen that in this, my third novel, I would put the focus on a working mum who has a high pressure job as a TV producer and a stroppy teenage daughter at home.

My heroine Liz Lyon is 41 years old and divorced; her daughter Flo is 14. Liz took on a big mortgage so that she and Flo could have a decent home. She is stressed by the demands of her job but she needs the TV salary to pay her mortgage. She calls this ‘golden handcuffs’, being paid so much that you feel you can’t leave your job.

Liz is in charge of the feature output of StoryWorld TV station which puts out a daily live morning show. It is her job toE-book and Paperback cover woman of the hour_rough 2_new_1 manage and soothe the huge egos at the station. There’s Fizzy Wentworth the star presenter, Gerry Melrose the astrologer, Ledley the Chef and Betty the Agony Aunt. There is also Liz’s team of researchers and a power-crazed boss called Julius Jones.

A television station often has a feverish atmosphere and even more so when the shows are live. Live TV is more dangerous than pre-recorded because things can go wrong. When it does go wrong presenters have to cope under pressure, there’s a surge of adrenalin and feelings run high. I try to capture this in a number of scenes in Woman of the Hour from the moment when a guest won’t come out of Make-Up because her hair looks awful, to the scene where a prominent politician tears off his mic and storms out of the TV station. Liz is left to pick up the pieces and has to be the calm sensible one who sorts out the problems.

When Liz gets home she has to deal with her daughter Flo who she loves deeply but who is doing that teenage thing of pulling away from her mum. Liz often can’t say what she means when she’s at work but when she gets home she can let her out her emotions, and she does. She’s sometimes like a pressure cooker ready to blow. She worries that she’s a better mother to her team at work than she is to her daughter Flo who presses all her buttons.

Why did my rows with Flo escalate so fast? Why was I able to control my anger at work but not at home? I felt a failure as a parent and I wanted to call Ben (her ex-husband) and tell him that he didn’t know what he was missing.

Liz feels a lot of guilt about the length of time she spends at work. She knows she should put Flo first but all too often the demands of work take precedence.

When Janis first came to work for me she told me a story that has stayed with me. It was a hot afternoon and after she had picked Flo up from school she took her to Primrose Hill to find a breeze and to eat sandwiches on the grass. They had walked to the top of the hill where there is this panoramic view of London spread out below with all its buildings, cranes and spires. Flo pointed to the view and said: ‘That’s London and my mummy works there.’ It makes me sad when I think of Flo saying that. She was missing me and she probably wished she had a stay-at-home mum who would pick her up from school every day.

When Liz gets home she often cooks to help her decompress from the stresses of work. At the end of the book I’ve included three recipes called: Comfort Recipes for the Stressed Out. I do think that many of us find comfort in cooking after a particularly bad day at the office!

Doing an interview for TV-am at car factoryI worked in television for 15 years, first at TV-am and later at WestCountry Television doing live TV. On Good Morning Britain I was one of the people who booked the guests for Anne Diamond to interview and I’d write the briefs for her. The hours were long and unpredictable and this made it difficult for me as a lone parent. I left my career in television when my daughter was nine years old.

Many books depict the emotional and family lives of women. I’ve seen much less fiction about a woman struggling with the pressures of work. Yet that had been my life. A working mother, trying to keep all the balls up in the air and feeling conflicted about competing pressures and I wanted to explore that in Woman of the Hour.

Jane Lythell

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Thanks so much for that insightful post, Jane. The Write Romantics loved Woman of the Hour and here’s Jo’s review:

 I’ve loved both of Jane Lythell’s other books – The Lie of You and After the Storm – but I think she hits new heights with ‘Woman of the Hour’. This is a departure from the tense psychological storylines in her first two books, to more of a women’s fiction feel – although my husband is reading the book now, and loving it too, and there are still plenty of deeper themes around the complexity of family and working relationships.

I really liked the first person writing in this novel and it was as if I was living Liz’s experiences with her. Sharing her upsCover WOTH and downs, anxieties and frustrations, particularly at the treatment she received from some of her colleagues at StoryWorld and the huge egos battling it out at times!

It is obvious that the author has researched this book by living some of the experiences and the writing is all the more authentic and engaging for that reason. There are a wealth of wonderful characters in the StoryWorld setting, many of whom could warrant their own novel, so I’m really glad to hear that there is more to come from this series.

There are clever sub plots weaved into the story, but Liz’s life is undoubtedly the main focus. As a working mum myself – familiar with the constant guilt trip that accompanies it – I loved the way the book moved between Liz’s working life and her interactions with her teenage daughter Flo. Again, the authenticity with which the scenes between mother and daughter were written, had me hooked.

There are moments to make you laugh, bring a lump to your throat and even to make your mouth water! The comfort food recipes at the end were a lovely touch too. As I said at the outset, I think Jane Lythell is a fabulous author and once again her novel, as with the other two, had me reading into the early hours. This is her best yet, though, and I’m already waiting impatiently for the next in the series.

You can find out more about Jane Lythell on her Facebook author page here or follow her on Twitter @janelythell

You can download Woman of the Hour, and Jane’s other books, from Amazon and they are also available in all good bookshops.

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Friday Friends Competition – win a signed copy of Jane Lythell’s ‘After the Storm’

FINAL After the Storm_JANEWhen I was in my twenties, life was very different. I could stay up all night, drink whatever I wanted and still wake up the next day bright-eyed and ready to take on the world. Since becoming a mum, sleep is like gold dust and it takes me about four days to recover from a late night. Children just don’t give you the luxury of lying on the sofa until 3 pm, eating bacon sandwiches and watching re-runs of Friends until you feel ready to face the world, do they? So, reading into the small hours, just like late nights out, has largely become a thing of the past. Only a handful of books now keep me reading through the night, knowing that I’ll suffer the next day but not caring because the story is so worth it. In the last year, two of those very books were written by Jane Lythell.

Jane writes novels that you simply can’t put down. I was on the edge of my seat (well, more accurately, my bed) reading both The Lie of You’ and After the Storm’. I woke up in the morning, on both occasions after finishing Jane’s books, exhausted, with a hint of tan from the glow of my Kindle and serious writer envy, but over-ridingly pure enjoyment as a reader of two great books.

I don’t know what the weather is like where you are today but, down here in Kent, we woke up to a terrific thunderstorm, the low rumblings waking me up before either the children or the alarm clock had the chance, but it’s also tropically hot and humid. All of that seems pretty apt for this blog post, since today I have the privilege of running a competition to give away not one, but two signed copies of Jane’s second novel ‘After The Storm’, which tells the story of two couples setting sail for an idyllic island cruise in the Caribbean – except there are secrets simmering just below the surface, so it’s far from plain sailing and, as the tagline says, some secrets can destroy you…

All you have to do to win a signed copy of this fantastic thriller is to write one or two sentences on your worst ever holiday disaster!Picture 405

You can leave a comment here (click comment in the tiny green writing at the bottom of the screen) or tweet us @writeromantics, leave a message on our Facebook page or email us at thewriteromantics@hotmail.co.uk. Jane will pick two lucky winners and you’ll also get a mention on her blog.

I’d love to enter, but of course I can’t – suffice it to say that my worst holiday disaster involved missed transportation, a serial-killer style haircut and gravel in the inner ear! You can read more about ‘After the Storm’ in the publisher’s press release here, it’s available right now in WHSmiths travel outlets nationwide and, of course, online.

Good luck and, to the winners, you are in for a treat!

Jo

PLEASE NOTE: The competition closes at midnight BST on Tuesday 16th June.

Finding A Sense of Place with Jane Lythell

13 Oct 2014 Author picOur guest on the blog today is the lovely Jane Lythell. Jane lives in Brighton and is a sea-lover, star-gazer, film and football fan. She was formerly a Producer at TV-am and Commissioning Editor of Features at Westcountry Television. Jane left to become Deputy Director of the British Film Institute and later Chief Executive of BAFTA before joining the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for seven years. She now writes full time and her second novel has just been published by Head of Zeus. Write Romantic Jo was lucky enough to meet Jane at a writers’ lunch organised by the equally wonderful Kerry Fisher. It was a day filled with laughter, fun and some brilliant advice for new writers, so we are really lucky that Jane has agreed to write a guest post for us, to tell us all about the inspiration for the setting of her second novel, her experiences with the first and to share her top writing tips. Here’s Jane to tell us more…

I’ve been a bookworm since primary school and wanted to write all my life, but I was a single parent with a small daughter and a large mortgage. For years I worked in the kind of jobs that didn’t end at six pm. There would be calls and emails deep into the evening and very little thinking and writing time. My great treat was to go on Arvon residential writing weeks. Arvon is a terrific organisation and those courses certainly helped keep my writing flame alive. In May 2011 I finally got into a financial position where I could give myself two full years to write. At last I had the time to do the one thing I’d wanted to do for years.

I’m interested in the dark side of people and what makes them do extreme things. My first novel ‘The Lie of You’ explores jealousy that deepens into full blown obsession. My second novel ‘After The Storm’ also has one character in the grip of psychological trauma.

‘After The Storm’ opens in Belize City and then moves to an island in the Caribbean called Roatan. An English couple,FINAL After the Storm_JANE Rob and Anna, have just met an American couple Owen and Kim who have a handsome old wooden boat. Owen suggests they charter his boat and he will take them to Roatan, where the diving is sensational. Anna does not want to go at all, but Rob is really keen and he persuades her. Unknown to them Kim is desperate to go home to Florida. It is Owen who is determined to continue their life on the boat. So straightaway we have conflict of wishes between the four characters and a boat can be a very claustrophobic place when tensions start to build.

They set off. With only the four of them on board it should be paradise: lazy afternoons spent snorkelling; long nights enjoying the silence and solitude of the sea. But why does Owen never sleep? Why is he so secretive about his past? And why does Kim keep a knife zipped into her money-belt? Anna, who is a speech therapist, can usually get people to talk… but this time does she want to?

I wanted ‘After The Storm’ to have a strong sense of place. I’ve been to Belize and to Roatan and I always felt they would make a great setting for a novel. Roatan is beautiful but it also has a kind of frontier feeling to it where the normal rules don’t seem to apply. I kept a journal when I was there and took lots of photos and I used these to help me create the atmosphere of the island. I try to write character driven stories rather than plot driven stories. My aim is to let the plot develop from how a particular character reacts to circumstances given their history and their psychology.

The shoutline on the cover is ‘Some Secrets Destroy You…’ It took us a while to get to this but I think it’s a very apt one because there are all kinds of secrets in the novel – some are trivial, some are serious and some are deadly.

LOY Paperback Cover‘The Lie of You’ has had over a hundred reviews and I can’t thank readers enough for taking the time to write down their reactions. These reviews are pure gold for a debut writer. And yes a few of them are negative but you learn from these ones too. One of the points that emerged was a difference of opinion about whether or not to sympathise with Heja by the end of the book. This definitely divided people. In ‘After The Storm’ there are four main characters and I’m so looking forward to hearing what readers make of them all because you do become attached to your characters.

Quite a few readers said they found ‘The Lie of You’ very ‘filmic’ and I hope ‘After The Storm’ has this same quality. This could be because I worked in film and television for fifteen years. I do see the scenes in my novel unspooling as film sequences as I’m writing them.

My top writing tips
For me it’s all about creating characters that readers will believe in. I try to think about what food they would eat, what flat they would live in and what single thing they fear most in life. You don’t have to put this in but it will help make them real to you as you write them.

Don’t worry if your characters are flawed or have some nasty sides to them. Flawed people are interesting. It doesn’t matter if your readers dislike them or adore them. But it does matter if they don’t believe in them.

Show your drafts to people you respect. I asked two close friends and my partner, who is a TV writer, to give me some frank and honest feedback. You can only learn from that and their comments helped me so much.
Take the time to edit your writing again and again. Your first draft is just that – a first draft. You only get one chance with a publisher so you need to get your book into as perfect a form as possible. Never submit too early.

And finally, I find it helps me to write standing up! I’ve rigged up my laptop to be the right height and it certainly makes me feel more alert.

Jane Lythell

Find out more about more about the Avron Foundation and Jane’s books at the links below:

ARVON FOUNDATION http://www.arvon.org/

AFTER THE STORM – on Kindle from 1 December and in bookshops from 7 January is available here.

THE LIE OF YOU is available here.