Ten to Talk Through with Mary Jayne Baker

September means back to school, and thoughts of back to school can bring up the thoughts of Shakespeare.

One thing that can make Shakespeare a little more accessible is a retelling or a reimagining. That’s exactly what you’ll find in Love at First Fight, Mary Jayne Baker’s latest book.

This fantastic romance story, which came out last month, was inspired by Much Ado About Nothing. If this is one of your favourite Shakespearean works, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this story.

I had a chat with Mary Jayne to talk how she gets inspired, and just how she differs to the characters she created.

Where does inspiration come from for you?

Everywhere! Things I read online or in the news; stories friends tell me; reading magazines; overhearing snippets of conversations in cafes or pubs; distinctive expressions or tricks of speech I notice in people that can be borrowed for characters; even song lyrics. Often a plot idea will spark from a “what if?” question I ask myself.

For example, in my Lisa Swift book When You Were Mine, the heroine’s ex-boyfriend has become a well-known musician and writes a song using her name, which brings her and her family a lot of unwelcome press attention.I was listening to the Art Brut song “Emily Kane”, about a real ex of the singer’s, when I thought “what if Emily Kane resented having her name used without her consent in a song?” I started fleshing out the idea and it grew into a book plot.

Have you ever based a character on yourself?

No, I’m far too boring! There are bits of me in all my heroines – in fact, in all my characters – and we often share a sense of humour, a worldview and set of values. They’re usually Yorkshire girls from working-class backgrounds as I am, because that’s the world I know, but none of them are based on me.

My heroines are often very forthright and confident, in contrast with the permanently anxious introvert who created them! I suppose that’s the wish fulfilment element of writing – I’d love to have the confidence my heroines do. They get to say the things I only think.

Is there anywhere in the world you would love to set a book?

I’d love to set a book abroad, but I don’t think I could write about a place I didn’t know well and I’m not very well-travelled. My books are nearly all set in Yorkshire, where I’m from, although there are exceptions: my debut was set in London, where I lived for a short time, and When You Were Mine is set in Somerset, where my partner hails from.

My World War II saga as Gracie Taylor, Edie’s Home for Strays, is set in the Lake District, a part of the world I love and where I have family, as is part of The Runaway Bride. I’d also love to set a historical book in Waterford in Ireland, where my grandmother came from, inspired by her early life. I don’t know whether that will ever happen but I’d love to do it.

What is your most common method of procrastination?

I recently adopted a puppy, Millie the border collie, so she’s doing sterling work in helping me put off whatever I’m supposed to be doing!

Millie, Mary Jayne’s puppy

What snacks do you have close by when reading?

I try to resist the lure of snacks as they disappear far too quickly, especially anything chocolatey. A glass of wine is maybe on hand in the evenings though…

How do you work through to overcome writer’s block?

One of my favourite writing books says that there’s no such thing as writer’s block, only perfectionist’s block, which I would broadly agree with. Sometimes you just have to let yourself write rubbish and tell yourself you can fix it in the edits (it’s rarely as bad as it feels when you’re writing it anyway). Deadlines are very effective for breaking through blocks too.

It is difficult when there’s anxiety-causing real-life stuff going on and it feels impossible to become immersed in your story, as was the case for a lot of people in the early days of the pandemic last year. I think I lost a month of writing time because of it. However, I could see my deadline looming and that helped me to snap myself out of it.

What’s your elevator pitch for your debut novel?

My debut was published back in 2016 and is now out of print, but my elevator pitch for my latest Mary Jayne Baker book, Love at First Fight – published last week – is this:

In a modern take on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, a long-single romance cynic is forced to work with her old flame, a commitment-phobic playboy, to plan the joint hen/stag party of their engaged friends. Meanwhile, their friends hatch a plot to make a match between the warring pair.

Love at First Fight, Mary Jayne’s most recent release

What’s your elevator pitch for your WIP?

About to give up on love forever following a string of bad relationships, three friends hear of a novel new approach boasting a 100% success rate: The 24-hour Dating Agency. But when one of their dates turns out not to be what he seems, could heartbreak be on the horizon?

What’s your biggest piece of advice for wannabe authors?

Don’t wait for inspiration to strike or your novel may never be written. Set yourself a daily target, no matter how small, and stick to it. Give yourself permission to produce an imperfect first draft, and remember that you can’t edit a blank page.

What’s your opinion on NaNoWriMo?

I love it. I’d never have written a book without NaNoWriMo. I wrote my first book, which became my debut novel, for it in 2015 and it taught me the discipline of getting my bum in the seat and writing to a daily target. I try to take part every year still, as I love the camaraderie of it.

Mary Jayne Baker

Mary Jayne Baker grew up in rural West Yorkshire, right in the heart of Brontë country… and she’s still there. After graduating from Durham University with a degree in English Literature, she dallied with living in cities including London, Nottingham and Cambridge, but eventually came back with her own romantic hero in tow to her beloved Dales, where she first started telling stories about heroines with flaws and the men who love them.

Mary Jayne’s novel A Question of Us was the winner of the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Romantic Comedy Novel of the Year Award 2020. She also writes uplifting women’s fiction as Lisa Swift, and wartime sagas as Gracie Taylor.

More information can be found about Mary Jayne on her website at www.maryjaynebaker.co.uk. You can also follow her on Twitter, @MaryJayneBaker, or like her Facebook page by going to Facebook.com/MaryJayneWrites

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