Janey Fraser describes how her senses and experiences bring a touch of reality to her writing.
I’m often asked where I get my ideas from. The answer is always the same. It’s the world around me. Things that people say to my face or chance comments that I happen to hear. It might be a headline in a newspaper or a small classified ad. Ideas are crucial to a novel or short story. They need to grab the agent, publisher and ultimately the reader. At the same time, you have to knit in characters who are warm and engaging – as well as one or two who aren’t so nice but might turn out to be ‘goodies’ in disguise. But none of this works without an atmosphere.
As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in the waiting room at Clapham Junction on Platform Eight. It’s one which I am well acquainted with since it’s a stopping point between our home in Devon and my dad’s bungalow in Eastbourne. And it’s a great source for setting! Two minutes ago, there was a horrendous crashing noise which made all of us travellers look up in alarm. A train crash? No, thank heavens. But it was a very loud thunder clap that set the coffee machine shaking.
Talking of coffee, there’s a rather jaunty tune playing from behind the coffee bar which cheers us all up. In fact, it’s Daniel by Elton John which is poignant as well as catchy. It reminds me of a time when I went to my first Elton John concert. I was barely seventeen and had no idea of what life had in store … I didn’t know I was about to get engaged and then marry someone else before having three wonderful children and then unexpectedly get married again (while writing over twenty novels along the way). In fact, the very memory of the concert has given me an idea for another stage in my plot!
A writer needs to look around the present too. It’s not easy to see the Departure board from where I’m sitting and besides, the music combined with the coffee, makes it all too easy to sit back on this rather comfy seat and forget that I’m meant to get the 11.20. But suddenly, through the misty window, I can see a train. So I leap up to ask a man in an orange fluorescent jacket (setting again) if this is my train. He is talking to someone else and I don’t want to interrupt but at the same time, I’m nervous about missing my train. Meanwhile, the other customer is angry about something. He smells of drink. Whisky perhaps. Smell is crucial to a good tale.
I’m making notes in my head while fretting about my train. In the event, it turns out that I need the next one, two minutes later. By this time, I’m soaked in the rain and desperately miss the warmth of the waiting room. What would happen if I stayed there all day? It’s something which one of my characters might do – especially as he’s on the run from someone….
I hope this gives a little snapshot of how ideas can be formed and how settings can be lifted from real life and placed gently on the page. When I wrote After the Honeymoon, my new novel (published by Arrow, Random House), I used part of the setting from my first honeymoon in Greece. It was a very long time ago but I can still remember the heat of the sand between my toes and the smell of the mosquito burner. I can also recall worrying about the reception and how my parents (recently divorced ) were managing.
Personal memories like this, cannot fail to creep in although it’s wise to disguise them. In my novel, one of the brides has already been married before – and she’s worried about leaving her teenage children. I felt this way when I got married for the second time. I didn’t want to leave my then 17-year-old son in case he held another party in my absence. We suggested he came too but he wasn’t keen. So we didn’t have one. It was the right decision although we’re now planning a proper honeymoon, five years later! Of course, I will take notes.
In fact, I never go anywhere without my laptop. So watch this space…. Meanwhile, if you’ve got any great honeymoon stories to tell, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You could win a bundle of books or a Champneys goodies bag. Happy reading!
One honeymoon villa. Three couples. Six secrets. Emma never wanted to marry Tom, let alone go away without the children. But then the girls at work give her a honeymoon voucher for a villa in Greece. Enter Yannis, the local lothario… Winston is the nation’s Keep Fit bachelor darling.
Newspapers are agog when he marries Melissa, newly-divorced mother of two. But when her stroppy teenagers disrupt their honeymoon, his complicated past begins to unravel… Rosie was homeless and pregnant when she arrived at the Villa Rosa, sixteen years ago, but now she’s the owner. Winston might not remember her, but she’s never forgotten him…
By the end of the week, none of their lives are the same. But what happens after the honeymoon?
Janey Fraser (real name Jane Bidder) has been a journalist for over 25 years and has contributed regularly over the years to national newspapers and magazines including The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Express. As Sophie King (her other pen name), she has written five novels – The School Run, mums@home, Second Time Lucky, The Supper Club and The Wedding Party which was shortlisted for Love Story of The Year by the Romantic Novelists Association. All were published by Hodder & Stoughton. Janey gives regular talks at literary festivals (including Winchester and Guildford) and bookshops (including several branches of Waterstones). She has also been on breakfast television and Woman’s Hour. Janey has had hundreds of short stories published in magazines such as Woman’s Weekly and My Weekly as well as non-fiction books for both adults and children. She tutors in creative writing and has led several writing workshops all over the world.