A Conversation with Jenn McLeod

I first had contact with Jenn back in 2011 when she sent me a lovely email to tell me 54A1122-t-200x300how much she enjoyed my novel, Three’s a Crowd. She also revealed she was an aspiring author, and had recently landed herself an agent. Fast forward to February 2012, when Jenn announced the exciting news that she had signed up with publishers Simon & Schuster, and just over a year later her debut novel A House for all Seasons hit the shelves, to resounding critical and reader acclaim. It’s a lovely, heartwarming tale, just like its author, I suspect, because Jenn and I still haven’t met in person! So I was thrilled to have her as my inaugural ‘conversationee’.

Hi Jenn, thanks for joining in the conversation today. As I said above, I’m thrilled to have you, because I’ve been dying to pick your brain about something. I am totally intrigued by the way you describe your writing process: that you come up with your title first, then the blurb for the back cover, and these then form the template for your novel … As someone who has been known to still be searching around for a title in the editing phase, and who struggles to write blurbs, this is absolutely fascinating. Can you tell me more? How did the title ‘House for all Seasons’ come to you?

Well, Dianne, I have a long answer and a short answer. The long answer goes something like this …

“While delighting in the early morning sun in Spring of 2009, inspired by the sensational sensory surrounds in the little country corner I call home and the pure joy of living in a place that experiences such diverse seasons …” Yeah, yeah, yadda, yadda …

Ha! And the short answer?

Rural romance was a boom genre around 2009 and although I’d been flogging a couple of manuscripts – they were not rural stories and I am neither a farm girl, nor a romance writer – and a significant birthday loomed, I gave myself an ultimatum. If I wasn’t capable of writing a country story and getting ‘some’ attention by my 50th I clearly could NOT write and I should give up.

(Hmmm, I did say this was the short version, didn’t I?)

Anyway, I decided to ‘make’ myself a country girl and write myself a good ol’ country story. Enter NaNoWriMo 2009.

(For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, which takes place in November each year.)

Freshly inspired by two authors – Monica McInerney and yes, you, Dianne Blacklock! – I was determined to tackle a multiple POV (point of view) story about four women and written in fours parts: spring, summer, autumn and winter. (Let’s not take the easy path, Jenn!)

Could I go wrong with an unexpected inheritance theme?

No!HFAS_packshot_web-240x300

So, House for all Seasons, with its four main female characters – each one as different as the seasons – was born.

Before I jumped into Nano I had the title, the four characters, and I’d written their individual blurbs. Twelve months later, one day before my 50th birthday I submitted House and signed with an agent. And I’m delighted to say the same character blurb made it to the back cover of the printed novel.

Amazing! Have you kept the same process for your next novels?

Book two (out April 2014) started as a title and a tagline …

Simmering Season

This storm season, when a school reunion brings home more than memories, Calingarry Crossing’s local publican, Maggie Lindeman, discovers there’s no keeping a lid on some secrets.

Then there was an opening line that I’d been saving up for years, waiting for the right time. (And while there maybe not always be the perfect time, Dianne, it was definitely ‘the right time’ for me to use that line.) Wanna sneak peek? It’s going to be a bit controversial for anyone who, like you, Di, has read and fallen in love with the House for all Seasons characters, but it has to come out sooner or later, so here’s that opening line …

‘I always thought the next funeral I’d attend would be mine.’

(Yep, I’ve killed someone off. *gulp*)

I LOVE that opening line! It does exactly what an opening line should do, which is basically to make you want to keep reading. Well done you! Obviously your process is really working for you and the way you write stories. What’s next?

Thanks for asking, Di. Book 3 in my Season’s Collection is next, although my process did hit a snag! Even though I’ve been blessed with a lovely agent, and a publisher who is consultative and open to author input, I’m learning to adapt to change. You see, book 3 was 90,000 words completed when I revealed my title and blurb, etc, to my agent (whose opinion I value) only to hear she didn’t think the title (Season of Temperance) or the lead character’s name (Temperance) was right for the commercial fiction market. Yikes! Did I mention I was 90,000 words in and that my titles feature as a theme throughout my stories? Once I picked myself up and told myself change was possible, I found a new title and a character name that works even better. In fact, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it and cannot wait for book 3 to hit the Australia/NZ shelves in April 2015!

(Phew – I guess this blog post shows you how my books get so big!)

You’ve hit on a really important part of the process here, Jenn – editing! I actually love the editing phase … Well, perhaps it might be better to call it a love/hate relationship. It can be a bit daunting at first, but it always leads to a better book in the end. I have learned so much from the privilege of having an editor. If there was one piece of advice I’d give to aspiring writers, it’s not to be afraid of being edited! What would your advice be, Jenn?

Ditto on the editing, Di.

First I’d say, writing for publication is not the same as writing for pleasure. Being a published author turns a hobby on its head, frustrates the family, and tests your patience. My advice is threefold …

  1. It’s never too early to start thinking like a published author.
  2. Develop a head for business and learn to plan – sometimes the marketing, accounting and time management parts of this gig are more small business operator than writer.
  3. Give those closest to you the opportunity to share your journey. Don’t assume they already know. Don’t assume they don’t want to understand. With involvement comes support – and you will need that in bucket-loads.

That is such a great note to finish on, Jenn. So lovely chatting with you! 

House-for-all-Seasons-Jenn-J-McLeod-194x300Jenn was also kind enough to provide a SIGNED COPY of the new ‘Baby B’ format of A House for all Seasons! But the competition must close this Friday 13 December, so that we can get the prize out to you asap, hopefully in time for Christmas (if Australia Post obliges). So, sorry, but this is only open to Australia and NZ residents. All you have to do is say hi in the comment below, and Jenn will select a winner at random. Good luck!

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The Best Man

I am very proud to announce that my ninth novel, The Best Man, is officially out! A few bookshops were early stacking it on their shelves, so some of 9781742611945you have already read it; some had it magically appear on their e-readers after pre-ordering earlier; others had it delivered to their door from online booksellers. Books come in a variety of ways these days, but in the end, it’s the story that counts. So I guess I should tell you what this one is about. It opens as Henry and Madeleine are waiting at the airport to meet the best man for their wedding, Henry’s old college friend, Aiden. And then … you see, here’s where I get stuck. Allow me to explain.

This is the first time I have started with the title. For some authors, that’s their preferred method. (Am I right, Jenn McLeod?) But on more than one occasion, my publisher and I have still been scratching around for a title just before the manuscript was due at the typesetter. This is not an ideal situation. So it was very handy to come up with a title first. The Best Man. Three little words that had the potential to mean a whole lot. They did to me, anyway, which is why I was eventually able to write an entire novel around them. I started dropping the title here and there, and it seemed to get the desired response:

‘The Best Man, eh? Who is the best man?’

‘Hmm,’ I would reply, cryptically. ‘Who indeed?’ That is the question.

I wondered if I’d finally attained the holy grail – of fiction and non-fiction writers alike – and managed to create a ‘hook’. A hook is that irresistible idea, or a question you can pose that creates a buzz, has everyone talking, and sucks you straight into the story, dying to find out the answer. My friend and fellow author, Liane Moriarty, is a master of the hook. Every time I hear the idea for her next novel, I want to read it immediately (after wishing I’d had the idea first!). So I was very proud of myself for coming up with a catchy, hopefully intriguing title.

But as I progressed further and further, I realised the rest of the story wasn’t going to be so easy to encapsulate. This seems to be the way it goes with my books. My focus is all on the characters, so the first thing I did after the title popped into my head was create them – their names, backgrounds, what they did for a living. Then I threw them together at a particular, significant point in their lives, and watched what happened next. That may be all well and good, but it does not make for a must-read blurb on the back of the cover! And it also makes it very hard for me to post an interesting blog (Are you still there? Hello? Anyone?).

So what I thought I’d do this time is hand the Comments over to outright spoilers. It’s safe to keep reading the rest of this post, but – ALERT! – don’t scroll down that-a-way if you haven’t read The Best Man first. If you have, and you want to make a comment, or ask a question, start a discussion, whatever – then fire away. The idea occurred to me the other day when someone posted on Facebook, after reading The Best Man, that they couldn’t say much so as not to spoil it for others. That was absolutely the correct thing to do in a public forum, but I would genuinely love to hear your feedback, what you think of the characters, and what they (or I) did right or wrong, good or bad. Please do NOT feel that you have to say something nice, this is not a fishing expedition. The only time I get to have such conversations is when I’m invited to book clubs, where (mostly) the attendees will have read the book. The rest of the time – at events, in interviews – I have to tread carefully and not give away too much. 

So go nuts in the Comments. Speak freely! Here’s a question to start you off, and to help me out at the same time – How would you describe The Best Man, in a nutshell? What would you say it’s about? I might just glean some pithy answers for the next time I’m asked. 🙂

And don’t forget – if you haven’t read The Best Man, SPOILER ALERT ahead!