Guest Post: Jane Jesmond

Today I am delighted to welcome fellow crime writer Jane Jesmond to my blog.

Jane Jesmond writes crime, thriller and mysteries. Her debut novel, On The Edge*, the first in a series featuring dynamic, daredevil protagonist Jen Shaw was a Sunday Times Crime Fiction best book. The second in the series, Cut Adrift, will be published in Feb 2023, and A Quiet Contagion, a standalone thriller, in Nov 2023.  2023 will also see the publication, in May, of a very twisty psychological thriller – as yet untitled.

Although born and brought up in the UK, Jane has spent the last thirty years living and working in France – initially down on the Cote d’Azur around Nice, Cannes and Monte Carlo where she and her husband ran an event management company and more recently at the opposite end of the country in Finistère (the end of the earth).

She loves writing (and reading) thrillers and mysteries, but her real life is very quiet and unexciting. Dead bodies and dangerous exploits are not a feature! She lives by the sea with a husband and a cat and enjoys coastal walks and village life. Unlike her daredevil protagonist, she is terrified of heights!

*For a limited time, On The Edge ebook is currently free to download to new subscribers to Jane's Newsletter here

Jane, what are you currently working on?
2023 is a very busy year for me. I’ve just finished the structural edit for A Quiet Contagion, the standalone thriller, which will be published in November. It features a sixty-year-old tragedy that took place at a pharmaceutical factory on the outskirts of Coventry, kept secret by those involved but now refusing to stay buried.

Next I’m about to start the structural edit of the very twisty psychological thriller that will be published in May. I’m hoping to have an agreed title for it soon!

After that I will dive into the first draft of the third book in my Jen Shaw series. They’re always huge fun to write so I’m very much looking forward to it.

What inspired On The Edge?
The initial idea came to me when I was driving home one night past the iconic St Mathieu lighthouse. The coast where I live is very dangerous – the Amoco Cadiz went aground nearby causing untold damage to the local wildlife – so there are lighthouses and buoys everywhere but St Mathieu is a particularly majestic example and stunning at night because its beam rotates through 360 degrees. Anyway I got out of the car to take a closer look and it was at that point that the opening scene of On The Edge, with Jen Shaw’s unconscious and dreaming figure hanging from the top of lighthouse, sprang into my mind.

How much do you think fiction intertwines with real life?
What a great question! And I could probably write a thesis on the subject but my short answer is – not at all and a lot. A lot because the characters, the plot and the settings, and all the other wonderful elements which a book has to have to create authenticity and a sense of lived experience. In other words to come to life. Not at all because the particular series of events that make up a plot, the different traits that create a character and the aspects of the setting the writer chooses to use all combine in the writer’s brain to produce something that is completely invented. For me, as a reader, the books I most enjoy are the ones where the world and the characters of the book feel most real but that authenticity comes from the craft of the writer.

Jen, the protagonist in your debut novel, On the Edge, and your upcoming novel, Cut Adrift, is a climber. You say you are afraid of heights, what drew you to making your character a climber?
I’ve been asked this a lot and the framing of the question (not in your case) often suggests that writing about someone very different to myself is surprising. However I think that is the reason why I was drawn to Jen. I like to write about people with whom I have very little in common. Being so frightened myself, I am fascinated by people who appear to have no fear of heights and, as in Jen’s case, who seem to love danger and seek it out. I don’t think I’m alone either. Fearless people often have a certain charisma that is very attractive. However making her a climber was not a conscious decision on my part. I’ve described above my encounter with St Mathieu lighthouse that gave me the idea for the opening scene of On The Edge and Jen arrived as the daredevil but troubled climbing protagonist very quickly afterwards. At the time it felt as though she sprang to life fully formed although I suspect she had been lurking in my sub conscious for quite a while.

On the Edge, is written in the first person, why did you choose this pov? Did you experiment with any other pov?
I think first person pov is the right choice for On The Edge and for all the Jen Shaw series although, once again, it wasn’t a decision I took, it just happened that way. I was very sure about Jen’s voice from the moment she arrived in my head as the protagonist in On The Edge. I could hear it and I found writing her very liberating.

But writing first person pov comes very naturally to me. It’s my default. Although I write crime fiction, which is typically very plot driven, the characters are key and I enjoy immersing myself into one character’s psyche and seeing the world from their perspective. I think there can be an intensity about first person pov that engages the reader in a different way to third person pov.

That said, I can and do use third person narrative. In A Quiet Contagion the central narrative thread is first person from the pov of my protagonist, Phiney, but the story needed to be told from other characters’ perspectives as well and for these sections it felt more natural to use third person. It was decision based on instinct and one I would have changed if I hadn’t thought it worked well on rereading. For me, it’s all about what serves the story and the character best.

Cornwall is beautifully and evocatively described in On the Edge. What is your approach to creating landscape in your writing?
Thank you! My family come from Cornwall and I spent a great deal of time there as a child and love the place very much.

Landscape is as much part of narrative for me as plot and character. The three intertwine to create the story, so the choice of where to set my book is very important but I’m swayed as much by the feel of a place, its history and its culture as its appearance – although that is important! The sea, the little coves of the Cornish coast, the wild moors and the abandoned mines play a key part in On The Edge. It would have been a completely different book if it had been set in Paris or Dagenham. So I suppose you could say my approach is to let the landscape play its role in and influence the narrative rather than imposing the narrative on the landscape. That’s not to say that I didn’t play with the landscape. The geography isn’t accurate in On The Edge and Jen’s childhood home and village are woven from a mixture of different places but I tried to stay true to the essence of Cornwall and how it is in winter when the summer visitors have left. Weather is very important to me. It adds mood and emotion to the landscape (as well as a lot of inconvenience!) so the setting almost becomes a separate character whose relationship with the other characters can be very revealing.

How would you describe your writing process?
A little chaotic and very reliant on my sub conscious. When I started writing, I used to write without a plan and see where the story and the characters took me. It was often very interesting but equally often it took me down a rabbit hole. I had to write a huge number of drafts to iron out the problems created. These days I try my best to outline in advance and it definitely saves me writing a lot of drafts before I finally work out what I’m doing with an idea. I am fascinated, though, by the interplay between the conscious and subconscious (probably not the correct terms) in writing. I think both are necessary.

Do you have any crafting tips, eg to do with writing dialogue, for scene setting, plot or pacing?
I think my top tip is listen to or read other writers’ tips but remember not everything will work for everbody! There’s a host of advice out there and it can be a bit overwhelming. Nevertheless I will share one thing I’ve found very helpful.

If I’m writing a scene where the narrative is being carried by a conversation between two (or more) people, I will generally write only the words they speak first – as though it was a screen play – and rewrite until it rings clear and then add private thoughts, scene setting, reactions later. The end result is usually much sharper and cleaner – for me anyway.

Could you say something of your publishing journey and your experience?
My publishing journey was long with a great number of ups and downs. There were moments when I came very close to getting one of my books published and then didn’t. It was very tough at times as it is for many writers. The point of success came when I was feeling very low. The indie press who I’d thought was going to publish one of my books had suddenly folded and I’d parted company with the agent who I’d been thrilled to sign with a couple of years previously. Although I’d picked myself up, rewritten On The Edge yet again and submitted it, I had very few expectations. I believed in my writing, and an agent and a publisher had too but the final prize still eluded me.

And then an email arrived from Verve (my publisher). It dropped into my inbox just as I was sitting down to lunch. A lovely mail saying they’d loved On The Edge and wanted to know if it was still available. A year later, it was published.

Looking back now, I am very happy that it took so long. I love working with Verve and I feel like we are a great fit. I am actually very grateful for the years I spent learning the craft. Writing a second and then a third book to contract is a very different experience to pre-publication when the only deadlines were of my own making. I drew on all the knowledge and skills I’d learnt during those years to help me.

The question you wished I’d asked you.
The question I wish everyone would ask me is Where can I buy your books? And the answer to that is they are and will be available in many bookshops, libraries and, of course, all the on-line retailers. If you prefer audiobooks, Emma Powell did a fantastic job narrating On The Edge and she’s also narrated Cut Adrift. At this moment, as part of the promotional activities for the launch of Cut Adrift in February, On The Edge is free as an ebook to any new subscribers to my newsletter – here.

And please, if you like my books – in fact if you like any book by any author – leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads or Waterstones or anywhere. You don’t have to have bought it from the retailer to do this and it makes a huge difference to those of us who don’t have an already huge profile like Richard Osman – nothing against him by the way!

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