Jane was born in England, and grew up exploring the history and culture of London and surrounding counties. After some time spent in Germany in the 1990’s she immigrated to Detroit, USA, eventually settling in South West Florida. She returned to England after a fifteen-year absence, to spend six years in the South West of England living on Exmoor. Here, inspired by the atmosphere, beautiful scenery and the ancient history of the place, she began writing.
Jane is a trained horticulturist, and also spent time working and volunteering for Britain’s National Trust at Exmoor’s 1000-year-old Dunster Castle. Gaining more insight into the history and mysteries surrounding these ancient places, and having always been intrigued by the supernatural, inspiration came for her fourth novel, The Beekeeper’s Daughter, a supernatural thriller.
Jane Returned to Florida in 2013, and lives in Sarasota.
Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, The Beekeeper’s Daughter. To begin with, can you give us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?
A: The Beekeeper’s Daughter is a historical dark romance primarily set in the Victorian Era. It combines the lives of the cottagers, blacksmiths and wealthy landowners in a story that is full of intrigue.
Annabel Taylor is The Beekeeper’s Daughter, she also has the ability to charm bees. She has grown up on wild Exmoor, which lies in the South West of England. When she meets Jevan, the blacksmith son, her life dramatically changes, they form an unbreakable bond, until they are forced apart when Jevan leaves for London. Annabel is heartbroken, and believes her life is over. By chance she meets Alex, the heir to vast estate lands and the foreboding Gothelstone manor house.
Socially they are worlds apart, even though Annabel is inexplicably drawn to him, she feels that Alex’s attention is merely a distraction from her true love. Alex has other ideas. When Jevan eventually returns, Annabel realizes just how precarious her situation has become. When Jevan’s life is threatened, she has to make a heartbreaking choice that could mean Jevan will hate her forever.
But darker forces are at play. Alex and Annabel are merely pawns in someone else’s sinister plan. Annabel must use her inherent ability to stop a diabolical plan coming to fruition, and destroy a powerful witch.
Q: What do you think makes a good Dark Romance? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?
A: I would say three is a limited number, Dark Romance can have so many components to it.
An important element is the central characters that have a love interest, which is often conflicted, a story that can enter the realm of horror, but still engage the reader.
Attention to detail, and dialogue is important. Characters have to been portrayed as believable, if my characters are in love I want readers to feel that, if they hate each other, then, I want readers to feel the animosity and the conflict.
Dark Romance should be about anticipation, longing and hope. Questions should be raised. Are these people good and bad in equal measures? Are they corrupt? I like to explore these ideas, and this genre explores a world that is dark and mysterious, but it still has to have an attainable light in that darkness.
Dark romance is frequently linked to gothic fiction, and I do enjoy the gothic element. For me, it’s as much about the mood of a place as the setting, which brings the whole story to life. The atmosphere sets the mood and gives an anchor to the story. The mood can be anything that inspires your imagination from mist covered moors, a foreboding old house with secret rooms, to the presence of a raven suggesting an omen of bad luck.
The supernatural is often associated with dark romance and the classic gothic tale, and by weaving this through a story it gives the writer the potential to send a shiver up their reader’s spine.
Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?
A: I had the basic idea. I wanted to write something of the Victorian period, and I completed a lot of research so that all the historical elements could be accurately portrayed.
I had the beginning for a long time, but Jevan’s character would not come until I had the right name for him. As strange as that sounds, not only do I have to visualize the details, but the name has to be right or I can’t imagine that person, in turn the character then has to live up to the name.
There are so many different factors to this book, the love triangle, the bees and Annabel’s supernatural power over them, witchcraft, a Victorian asylum, the moors, and the city of Bath as well as society life, which made it a complex undertaking.
I found it useful to write and work to a timeline. It changed several times, but it helped me tell the story and know how everything would happen, which was especially important, since the story started centuries before the Victorian times. Ultimately, knowing the order of things and how they progress helped me see the bigger picture, and where to conclude the book.
Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?
A: Annabel is the protagonist in The Beekeepers Daughter. I knew what I needed to accomplish in the story and for that role, she had to be confident, a little hot headed and unafraid as well as beautiful. There had to be an underlying darkness to her character, because of her own heritage. Even though, she is a complex character she was easy to write.
I like strong women, and their characters to be of substance. Annabel had to be somewhat fearless given the adversity she has to conquer, but I do show her vulnerable side. Like many women, when it comes to romance, she still has a profound weakness for the man she loves.
Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?
A: Cerberus Saltonstall is the antagonist in The Beekeeper’s Daughter. He was interesting to develop. Darker and more wicked characters are complex on so many levels. I portray him as evil, but evil is a point of view.
If Cerberus was asked why he behaves in this manner, he would answer: everything he does is borne out of love for a woman that has died. The darkness manifests in Cerberus because he cannot accept that fact. It is clear that he is driven by his own demons and dabbling in the dark arts has caused further corruption. His grasp on reality has become obscure, and part of the thriller of this novel is unravelling Cerberus’s evil plan.
I drip feed just enough information throughout the book to let readers realize that he has another agenda, but his scheme does not become clear until the appropriate time
Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?
A: I keep paragraphs and chapters relatively short. I don’t pad out my story with useless information, if I write it, then, it’s there for a reason.
One of the worst things when reading a novel is to become bored and skip pages. Some writers take two or three pages to write what could of actually be said on a single page, so I try to keep my story moving at a good pace.
When I worked with my first editor a few years ago, he cut 10,000 words from my manuscript, and I was horrified. As a writer you invest so much time and energy into each and every word. To my mind they were all needed and were all significant. But that editor taught me so much by explaining why he cut the words. He made me see how to write the same thing with less words and by doing so, have more impact. So when I read through the story, I could see how much sharper and polished it had become.
The lesson learned was if you can say it in six words, don’t use twenty.
Although, there is always an exception to the rule, and some scenes just need a long descriptive, especially if you are trying to portray a place or setting you know your reader will have difficulty imagining. Even so, most everyday things can be simplified. For example, I may want my reader to know that a character ate a sandwich, but I don’t need to describe the contents in detail, tell them if the bread was white or brown, or how big it was–too much information.
I try to write dynamic dialogue and have to immerse myself in the character of the people I am writing about. One of the best ways to check your writing, is to read aloud to yourself. Hearing what you have written has a way of telling you when something is not right.
Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?
A: As this book is set on Exmoor, and there is a scene in the city of Bath. I could draw on actual experience of these places. I have walked around the city of Bath, and taken inspiration from the famous Georgian architecture. I studied old pictures to see how it would have been without cars and buses in a time when there were only carriage and horses for transport. I researched Victorian dress and fashionable clothes ladies used to wear when they walked around the Royal Crescent, or what it was like to be invited to balls or go to take the waters at the famous Pump Room.
I have lived and worked on Exmoor, so I know the places I write about well. Exmoor is a land of extremes it has the highest coastline on the British mainland. It is dramatically barren with heather covered moorland, and breathtakingly beautiful with deep wooded valleys. It is a place where artists, writers and poets have been inspired to produce a myriad of work.
Gothelstone Manor house was an amalgamation of several different stately homes that I have visited, and the Victorian asylum was constructed from researching several of those harrowing establishments.
Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?
A: I knew my theme would be a darkly romantic tale with a mysterious gothic element, there would be supernatural and some horror. My characters would be complex because of their connections to each other.
This theme does occur in my other work, primarily because I have used the moors as a setting before, but also London, because any city has a dark and dangerous aspect. Scotland too is full of mystery and so I like to draw on all those aspects when I write
Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?
A: Not if it is done correctly. Editing strips away the nonsense, and the repetition. When you have written 120,000 words it’s hard not to say the same thing twice or even more, so editing highlights these repetitions.
Writing a substantial novel, takes a long time. I don’t believe many authors start at the beginning, work through till the end, and finish. It is more a matter of going back and revisiting chapters. Writing a book is mostly about editing and re-editing, until you get it as perfect as you can.
I have been writing for long enough now that I can edit my own work, but I would always want a professional editor to look it over, no-one is infallible and I often find that I have misspelt something or my spell checker has changed a word.
My current editor did not change my story at all, she only corrected spelling mistakes and some grammar issues. If you work with a good editor, then, you should be able to see that your editor’s suggestions make your work read better.
Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?
A: 1. The ability to tell a story through written words that makes readers engage with the story concept, so that they become engrossed and don’t want to put the book down.
- The confidence to believe in your story and the idea’s, however obscure that go along with it. The confidence to put different or unusual things together and still come up a believable and interesting story.
I always marry different themes or places together. In my first book, I explored the idea of a vampire existing on Exmoor, I took my reader to London and to Stonehenge, I incorporated a love story and a few paragraphs about the Chinese opium wars and smuggling in the 19th century on the southwest coast of England.
In my second novel, I began on Exmoor, and then my readers discovered the hidden underground tunnels in London, then, India at the time of the British Raj, while exploring the roots of Italian witchcraft and the very beginnings of vampirism. As well as writing about a significant train derailment, and the famous Brookwood cemetery in London.
In my third novel, I started in Scotland, and explored clairvoyance and tea leaf reading, the famous Green Lady ghost of Stirling Castle, a London opera house, a ballerina and a gothic stately home with its resident vampire and heartbroken ghost.
- The persistence to see it through, even when you hit a roadblock and cannot figure a way around it, but you have to keep going. Sooner or later you will know how to overcome the obstacle. Some chapters are harder to write than others, they may take patience and passion in equal measure to make everything come together
Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?
A: Yes that’s probably true. I am always learning new things. I constantly research ideas or themes, which can be very time consuming, but the upside is that you find out interesting or obscure facts that the majority of people don’t know about, which makes for interesting conversation pieces at the very least.
Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?
A: The internet of course is an inexhaustible supply of research of both fact and fiction, as well as myths and legends from around the world. I have read dozens of books in my pursuit of research, everything from period costumes to bee-keeping.
I don’t visit writing sites, as I believe that every writer is different, what works for one will not work for another. It’s best just to find your own way of doing things. I am more interested in talking to other authors in person when I get the opportunity.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?
A: No book or website can tell you how to write. They can improve your grammar and give you a formula to follow, but writing is so much more than that.
The driving force behind every good writer is that they have a story that needs to be told, and they have the passion and perseverance to see it through.
I believe that most people are capable of writing a story, but a novel is a completely different undertaking. It requires a lot of emotional input and hard work to craft a story of 80,000 words or more that is capable of captivating an audience.
I also think that too many people write in a genre because of a current bestseller, instead of writing in a genre that they have a true understanding or connection with. The trouble with doing this, is by the time the novel is finished, the publishing industry will have moved on.
It’s far better to be true to yourself and to where your personal interests lie. Your writing will be so much better because of it.