Friday, 14 October 2016

Getting To Know... Wendy Janes

Today on Getting To Know... I have the very lovely author of What Tim Knows, and Other Stories (look out for a review coming soon), Wendy Janes.

Your debut novel, What Jennifer Knows, was released late last year, had you always known that you wanted to be an author before writing this book?

Like many people, I’d grown up thinking about the novel I’d write one day. But for decades, that ‘one day’ took a back seat. I’d jot down notes and ideas, streams of consciousness, stories, but the novel remained over the horizon. Then Jennifer’s story dropped into my lap, and I knew I had to tell it.

Your brand new book, What Tim Knows, and other stories, is a collection of six short stories. Do you have a preference between writing a novel or a short story?

I enjoy both. Novels give me the opportunity to do things like explore characters in greater breadth and depth, introduce a larger cast, and to develop a more complex storyline with sub-plots. Short stories are wonderful for focusing the mind and shining a spotlight on one character.

One thing that really appeals about writing a short story is the challenge of trying to fully engage a reader using only a few words. The other year I read some short stories by K.C. Wilder and she had me rooting for a character I’d met seconds previously. Obviously engaging a reader is vital in a novel too, but you have less time to do it in a short story.

I think it really depends on a particular story as to whether it works as a short story or a novel. On occasion I’ve started work on something that I thought would be a novel, and quite early on I’ve realised that at its essence it’s a short story. That moment of discovery is very liberating.

When you're writing, do you have a certain ritual that you need to complete or a set place that you need to be?

I don’t have any rituals, but after I’ve made my early drafts in longhand, I redraft and edit many times on my PC, which is situated in the corner of my dining room. I spend hours of my life in my little corner with its tiny desk, and bookshelves filled with fiction and non-fiction titles, cards and photographs. I also have a particularly comfy office chair - rather important, seeing that I spend so much time sitting in it! My corner is very cosy during chilly winters because it’s right beside the radiator.

Do you have a favourite character that you have written so far?

I have a number of favourites, but I think my funniest is Gerald. In What Jennifer Knows, he’s been married to Jennifer for many years, and while sometimes he appears critical of her, he loves her deeply, and is still capable of surprising her with his capricious nature. He’s a talented and successful sculptor, very outspoken, and has a sharp wit. On occasion he’ll behave like a spoilt child, and perhaps his emotional intelligence isn’t always his strong suit. He’s an English eccentric, and he never fails to make me smile when I think of him.

I imagine if I met Gerald I’d be quite in awe of him, and probably wouldn’t dare to disagree with him, although I might tease him and encourage him to share his outlandish views on politics. I’d love to hear him talk about his sculptures and how Jennifer inspires them, but he’s sometimes rather reticent at talking about the more serious aspects of his life, so I guess I may have to settle for an anecdote or two about his wild youth or the state of the art world today.

You are a freelance proofreader, can you tell me more about what that entails?

I check proofs for grammar and spelling errors, typos and inconsistencies, and identify some basic formatting issues. When proofreading I make sure I respect the author’s voice, and avoid imposing every single grammar rule slavishly. For example, often authors will use fragments, ie partial sentences. If it sounds right and fits with the rest of the style of the book, then I don’t interfere with this.

Prior to taking on a client I always encourage him or her to ask questions, and during the proofread I sometimes send an email or two to get feedback on decisions I’m planning to make. It’s very important that I keep in mind that this isn’t my book, it’s the author’s book, and I’m using my skills to help make the book the best it can be.

I always read through every manuscript twice, marking up a hard copy each time, and then I input my corrections onscreen using track changes. I run an extra check prior to returning a proofread where I set a track changes document beside a track changes accepted document to ensure I’ve not introduced any errors myself. I return both copies to the author, along with comments on any outstanding issues, plus another document of additional notes that works a little like a style sheet for authors.

When you're not reading or writing what would we find you doing?

I work for The National Autistic Society’s Education Rights Service (see below for more on this). The rest of my time is spent with family. My sons are grown up (one still living at home), and I have two granddaughters who are an absolute delight.

Do you have a favourite author?

Can we narrow it down to an author who is currently alive? If so, I think I can narrow it down to my favourite two right now: Liane Moriarty and Maggie O’Farrell. I love their vivid characters, the captivating storylines, and the way they combine pathos and elements of the absurd in their writing. Oh, and they both craft some fabulous sentences that have me going ‘Wow!’

You are a caseworker for The National Autistic Society's Education Rights Service, can you tell me more about what you do in this important role?

I’m part of a small team who advise parents over the phone and via email, helping them ensure that their children receive the right educational supports to meet their special educational needs. While we use the law, regulations and codes of practice to do this, our focus is on encouraging negotiation between parents and schools, and parents and local authorities. It’s vital that everyone’s voice is heard – including that of the child. However, if parents and teachers are trying to score points off each other, the child gets lost, so encouraging everyone to listen with respect is central to the way we work.

It’s a privilege to work with families who contact the service, and I get a warm fuzzy feeling when we achieve a positive outcome.

If you could give your younger self any advice about your writing journey, what would it be?

‘Get started earlier. No one is going to come knocking at your door asking to publish your notebooks full of jottings. Don’t wait until middle age to start writing for an audience and publishing your writing.’

What Tim Knows has only just come out, but what can we look forward to next from you?

I’m working on another novel, very much focused on one family, and I’m writing some more short stories that I’d like to put together in another anthology. I also have a completed short story, which is a bit of a departure because it has more comedy elements than usual. I’d love to find an anthology to submit it to. So if anyone is putting one together, do get in touch.

Thank you so much to Wendy for answering my questions and giving such wonderful answers.

There are plenty of ways to connect with Wendy

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A gallery-owner’s quest for beauty; a dancer in danger; a new mother struggling to cope with her baby; a sculptor’s search for inspiration; a teenager longing to live in the perfect family; a young boy lost and confused by the rules of life that everyone else seems to understand.

Six stand-alone short stories, spanning five decades. Each capturing a significant moment in the life of a different character. 

Separate lives linked in subtle ways.


  1. Thank you ever so much for inviting me to chat about my writing and other endeavours, Helen.

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  3. Great interview.
    Gerald sounds like someone I'd enjoy to meet. But I'd particularly love to meet Jennifer of What Jennifer Knows, Wendy.
    I also love the author Maggie O'Farrell's work.

    1. Thanks, Christine. I'm sure you and Jennifer would get on brilliantly.
      Have you read Maggie O'Farrell's latest book, This Must Be the Place? It's on my to-read list. :)

    2. No, I haven't, Wendy. I must go look it up and add it to my TBR list too. Don't know about you, but my list is getting very long. There are so many good books out there I want to read.
      If only I could stop writing long enough to read more of them.
      Perhaps the long winter nights ...