Billygoats, skirty dogs and her own personal romantic hero…read on and find out more…
If you were to write the ‘origin’s episode’ of your writing what would be the most important scenes? What did your early efforts look like? Are they still around to be used as bribes and blackmail material?
My mother swears I used to tell stories before I could talk. I used to sit happily in my playpen, babbling at my dolls and moving them around. I’ve always told stories. When I was 11, I wrote a 3-act play about King Alfred and the cakes. I was14 when my first short story (about a pixie) and my first article were published in the local newspaper. These early efforts have, thankfully, completely disappeared. And I’ll never disclose the name of the paper.
I’d written my first novel by the time I was 15. My favourite great-aunt, who was an English teacher, critiqued it for me. She told me that if I wanted to be a writer, she would tell me its flaws, and if I just wanted to play, she would be kind. I asked for its flaws. She eviscerated my poor Hobbit-derived quest story, but also told me that I knew how to structure a story and would be good one day if I persisted.
Fast forward to love, marriage, and achieving the other goal of my life, being a mother. With family came a mortgage. I was managing to sell short stories, but not for much. Freelance journalism helped, but a job writing computer software manuals paid more. I have a folder of my early stuff, including several starts at novels that I might complete one day.
All super heroes have their mild-mannered secret identity, what is yours? I promise we won’t tell.
By day, I am a commercial writer. My job title is Plain English Specialist. I don’t think that’s particularly plain English. I prefer to tell people I’m a paragraph whisperer.
Who are your partners in crime? What are their superpowers?
My key partner in crime is my personal romantic hero (PRH). His superpowers include knowing when coffee is required, and answering the phone when I’m in 1807. He also likes to tell people “My wife writes sexy books. The research is killing me.”
Where do you get your superpowers from?
We are a storytelling species – homo narrans. And some of us seem to have a higher dollop than others of the need to make sense of the universe by structuring it into some kind of story. So God made my superpowers, I guess.
And I’ve worked all my life – six and a half decades – to learn the craft; reading, writing, more reading. Seeking criticism. Attending seminars and courses and workshops. Then more reading and more writing.
Where is your secret lair and what does it look like
My secret lair is portable. I have an iPad with a keyboard, and I write wherever I am. I can write 1000 words in each direction on the commuter train I take to my day job. I write when I need to wait for a client meeting. I write in bed in the evening. So picture me on the train, with my iPad in front of me on the table, a coffee in a thermos mug, and all my commuter friends at their morning activities – reading, catching up on sleep, watching videos on their various electronic devices, working, knitting… We are a busy lot.
What kind of training do you do to keep your superpowers in world saving form?
My superpowers thrive on exercise. I write for a living. Until I began writing fiction again, I wondered if 30 years of plain English commercial writing would stifle my ability to be interesting and comedic, and to write vivid descriptions. My readers tell me my worries were misplaced. Take a look and see what you think.
I also write for fun, coming up with scraps of story to amuse my friends and my grandchildren. I’m known for story games, where each participants offer a paragraph or two and the story wanders all over the place, and made-to-order stories, where the audience suggests two or three protagonists or objects, and I create the story to go around them.
Last year, when I was grandmother in residence for a week with the family of one of my daughters, a grandson asked for a story about a skirty dog and a greedy billygoat. What, I asked, was a skirty dog? A dog with a skirt, said my grandson. So I told a story about a billygoat who got into trouble for his enormous appetite, and who ate his way through several sheets, a blanket, a washing line of shirts and handkerchief, and the pink tutus of an entire troupe of dancing dogs.
The skirty dog who came to the rescue was a great hit, and we had greedy billygoat and skirty dog stories for the rest of the week. It wasn’t until several days in that I heard the insults being exchanged between Jake the Pirate and Captain Hook on a favourite cartoon programme. ‘You greedy billygoat,’ Jake proclaimed. ‘You scurvy dog,’ retorted Hook.
The mystery of the skirty dog was solved!
How do you insure they are used only for good?
It’s a risk I’m aware of. The pen is mightier than the sword, and a well-told tale can cause nightmares, accuse high priests, catch the conscience of kings, bring down governments, and either soothe or arouse the might of the people. This is quite a responsibility.
Fortunately, I don’t aspire to change the world. I hope to entertain and inform. I write about people and circumstances I invent, and I set them 200 years in the past, but people are people, and if you recognise emotions, actions, and characteristics, then you’re probably right.
And if selling 8 print books through Amazon goes to my head, I have my sister, my personal romantic hero, and my children to keep me grounded and make sure I don’t get out of hand.
Granted, you probably don’t’ get to wear your superhero costume a lot, but if you did, what would it look like?
My superhero costume is coral pink. The cloak is a darker shade, and the tee-shirt is lighter. The tee-shirt is covered with parts of speech, and the cloak has unusual regency words on it, complete with definition. My coral pink hat matches the cloak and is trimmed with a large curly feather, and my boots are knee height, high heeled, cream leather, and exceedingly comfortable. They need to be comfortable so I can stand while practicing my superpowers.
My superhero costume includes a bag large enough for an ipad with keyboard, a notebook, several sharpened pencils (plus a rubber and a pencil sharpener), a red pen, and a packet of coloured gel pens. Life goes better with coloured gel pens. And bananas. My bag also contains a banana in case I get hungry.
The bag has the amazing property of being able to shrink to fit into a ring on my finger, and all the items in it become weightless when the ring function is on, so I am able to type without discomfort.
What is your kryptonite?
My kryptonite is procrastination – or, since I’ve grown older and wiser (though not nearly wise enough to avoid kryptonite altogether), procrastibaking. Procrastibaking refers to making cupcakes instead of getting on with a job you don’t want to do. I use the term to mean doing any useful job with a valuable outcome that doesn’t actually get me closer to my goal.
I’m procrastibaking when I do a job someone else could do instead of working on something on my every increasing to-do list. I’m procrastibaking when I carry on with social media fun beyond the time I’ve allocated for meeting people and making friends online. And I’m procrastibaking when I research deeply into a topic, going way beyond what I need for the book I’m working on.
What are the biggest challenges faced with in your writing?
Self doubt is a big one. I’ve been overwhelmed by the reaction to Candle’s Christmas Chair. I’d be much more nervous about the debut novel Farewell to Kindness, if Candle hadn’t got such good reviews and ratings. As a free ebook, Candle has been downloaded over 40,000 times, and counting. This blows me away. I keep expecting the universe to point at me, laugh, and say ‘gotcha’.
Lack of time is the other. I work full-time as a commercial writer, and I also have commitments to family, friends, and church. I’m a late starter, and everything I’ve done I want to have done ten years ago. I want to work on my writing and on the business of my books every minute that I’m awake. I need to keep reminding myself that I have a five year plan, and I’m less than one year into it. And the job pays the mortgage, and people come first.
What was the supervillian that threatened to stop your latest project and how did you vanquish it?
Procrastibaking reared its ugly head. I set a daily word limit, and stuck to it no matter what. As I approached the end, I hated putting the draft down. I just wanted to find my way to the end of the story. Typing ‘The End’ was very motivating for the next book. Nonetheless, in the last fortnight, I’ve been so busy getting Farewell to production that I’ve lost way on Encouraging Prudence, and some of what I’ve been doing is feeding the same old villain. I have to get that daily word limit going again.
What important lessons have you learned along the way?
Romance writers are the most supportive writing community I’ve ever been in.
Little and often is the best way to write. When I do a bit several times a day, the characters keep on with their lives in my head while I’m going on with mine. This can be disconcerting for those around me, but it does mean that next time I get to a keyboard, I dive straight in to record the actions and conversations I’ve observed since last time I wrote.
I’m a planner, and start with a strong chapter outline, but my best bits of writing, and my best plot twists, sneak in when my characters take off in an unexpected direction.
Accommodating inconvenient historical facts also helps to improve the writing. Each time I’ve hit a problem (the pre-Victorian justice system, pre-cast iron oven kitchens), changing the story to fit real history has added depth to the story.
What have been the best/most memorable experiences along the way?
A lot of my most memorable experiences have been around recognition. I write because I need to do so. I’ve always told stories; I’ve always written. But I’ve called myself a novelist, and (until now) that just wasn’t true. Now I’ve written, and am in the process of publishing a novel. If people like it, then I’m a novelist. So here are some of the firsts that have had me dancing around the room:
my first response from a beta reader; she started by saying that she loved the book
my first review on Amazon and my first rating on Goodreads – both 5-star (for the novella, Candle’s Christmas Chair)
my first newsletter subscriber
my first fan email
my first ‘friend’ request from a stranger.
I feel so thrilled that more than 90% of people who’ve rated the novella have liked it. I don’t expect to please everyone, but 90% is beyond amazing.
If you did this again what would you do differently and what would you not change?
I would start earlier. I’m pleased I waited till I’d matured, and I’m very comfortable with putting other things first through a series of family crises. But I could have started ten years ago. I can’t change that, but I’m not wasting any more time.
I wouldn’t change anything else. 2014 was incredible, and 2015 is going to be the year of the novel; three planned before Christmas roles round again.
What is the best (writing or otherwise) advice you have ever gotten and why.
Just write. Write something every day. Don’t worry if it is no good. Shannon Hale talks about ‘writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shovelling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.’
Tell us about your new book and why we need to drop everything and get it now.
Farewell to Kindness is the story of two people who don’t have time for one another, but who fall in love anyway. Rede has sworn on the graves of his wife and children to take revenge on their murderers, and he’s getting close. Anne has spent the last six years hiding from the scandal of her daughter’s conception and a threat to the safety of her sisters. If they act on their attraction, each risks losing the goal they strive for. As their enemies close in on them, they need to find whether they are stronger apart or together.
Don’t drop everything. If you’re holding a baby or another breakable object, put it down very carefully. But if it sounds like your cup of tea, do buy it while it is on special. I have it at a pre-release price of 99c, and I’m holding that price until 8 April, so get it now and save.
What’s in store for you in the future?
More writing, and trying hard not to spend so much time in the early 19th century that I fail to look after the people I love in the 21st century.
Do you have any other big projects on the horizon?
Yes; two more novels this year, plus a novella in a boxed set with the Bluestocking Belles, a group of eight regency authors. I feel privileged to be part of this great group.
You can find Jude at:
Website~Facebook~GoodReads ~Bluestocking Belles ~Twitter@JudeKnightBooks