Jane Lovering is a literary tour de force. A mother of five, she works as a science technician at a north Yorkshire secondary school and has written a string of romantic comedies. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, she recently scooped the Romantic Novel of the Year award for Please Don’t Stop the Music, her first novel to be published in the UK. It’s been shortlisted for the Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance too, which will be announced on June 12. Jane’s been writing for 25 years and her next novel, Vampire State of Mind, is out in August, so I jumped at the chance to ask about her work.
You've said it took 25 years to get published. Can you talk about the road to publication?
Jane: I wrote rather sporadically in the early years, convinced my genius would somehow be recognised. When this failed to happen, I worked my way up to entering competitions and had a few successes. I wrote several truly awful novels, the details of which I have removed from my memory and submitted these to publishers, with predictable results. Eventually, however, I decided to sign up for a creative writing degree, where I was introduced to the Romantic Novelists’ Association, which I joined on the New Writers’ Scheme.
How did you come up with the idea for Please Don’t Stop the Music?
Jane: I was at an RNA convention, listening to a publisher talk about requirements for heroes in the line of books she published. She was talking about heroes being allowed, these days, to have a “darker" side, not having to be picture-perfect. I had a blinding flash of light (although that could have been the excessive alcohol consumption the night before) and thought “I know who he is. I know what he’s been through.” My own financial situation was (and continues to be) somewhat precarious, so the impecunious existence of my heroine was a natural thing to write about. I always hated reading about Mr Perfect falling in love with Miss Perfect and living happily ever after – so I decided to redress the balance in favour of the rest of the human race.
The novel is a captivating mix of comedy and quite a dark storyline. How do you weave these two elements together?
Jane: I think comedy is a natural counterpoint to darkness. The comedy makes the darkness somehow easier to relate to. It is only by laughing at truly terrible situations that humans can survive them, after all. The humour in the novel is mainly conversational, witty come-backs - all those comments that you wish you’d made at the time (the ones you only come up with in the middle of the night), and observational. I think I might be a frustrated stand-up comedian.
You work as a school science technician. How do you combine your job and family life with writing novels?
Jane: Firstly, I trained my children to believe that dust is a natural substance, that clothes are meant to be wrinkly, cooked food is black and tastes of charcoal and if you can see the carpet under the dog hair you are doing something wrong. This helps greatly. I work from 8.30 until 12.30 at school. This is a “proper job,” which gives me something respectable to say when people ask what I do for a living. Being a writer isn’t what I do, it’s what I am. It does mean getting up early to make sure the dogs are walked, chickens are fed and let out and everybody is up, dressed and pointing in the right direction by 8am, though. When I get in from work I walk the dogs again, rummage feebly in the freezer for something suitable to burn for dinner, perform such tasks as prevent the environmental health office descending, and then sit at my laptop from 1.30 until called upon to fetch, carry or ferry children. If I am deep in editing or first-draft territory I will write again once everyone is fed, until bedtime – with a break to walk the dogs again, because they are demanding little so-and-sos, feed the cats, and lock the chickens away.
Are you a very disciplined writer? How and where do you write?
Jane: For one so lackadaisical about housework, I am quite disciplined in my writing. I work in my bedroom (where there are no distractions in the form of Jeremy Kyle and cake) on my laptop. Usually sitting in bed, because the heating in this house is a bit hit and miss, and for nine months of the year I am FREEZING, so I have the duvet up to my chin and the mouse under the covers with me. Sometimes I pile a cat or two on as well, but they often try to sit on the laptop and have to be ejected. I don’t believe in setting myself targets. I am easily enough discouraged as it is, and if I missed my target I should be convinced that it was hardly worth getting on with the project at all, and spend the next six months on the sofa with a pile of walnut whips and Good Housekeeping.
Do you have any tips for writers working on their debut novels right now?
Jane: Write it. Finish it. Then put it in a cupboard, and get on with the next one. Eventually, round about the six-month mark, curiosity will get the better of you and you will pull that first novel out of storage and re-read it. If, after those six months, you still think it’s a good story, make the changes you will certainly find necessary, put it away for another month, then re-read. Repeat as necessary until you cannot find anything more to change, or you are making changes for the sake of it, then send it out. Then forget it. Write another one. If, as often happens, after those six months you feel you have written the biggest pile of poo ever to fall upon the planet, put it away again. The next one will be better. And the next.
What is your own favourite novel? And are there any particular novelists who have inspired you?
Jane: I have too many favourites. There is no one ultimate novel, although, if cast away on a desert island, I should probably ask for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to come with me. Zaphod Beeblebrox is my all time hero, beta male, largely insane and completely amoral, my kinda guy. So I’d have to say that Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett have been huge influences on me, although in the romantic comedy field it’s been mostly Jenny Colgan and Marian Keyes. In the interests of full disclosure, I also love Justina Robson’s Quantum Gravity series, Jasper Fforde and Diana Wynne-Jones.
Please Don’t Stop the Music by Jane Lovering (Choc Lit, £7.99)