Fiction Team’s Lucy chats to Jane Bettany, whose story The Paper Anniversary appears in this week’s issue.
How did you get started as an author? Did anyone encourage you to write? Have you had other careers too?
My interest in writing stems from a lifelong passion for reading and books, but it was my husband who suggested I try my hand at short stories. My early efforts weren’t very good, but I had fun with the creative process – and the more I wrote, the better I became at finding ideas, devising plots and developing characters.
Over the years, my fiction writing has been sporadic because it’s had to fit in with my day job. I’ve worked in marketing and communications roles for most of my career, producing press releases, newsletter articles and content for company and community websites – so writing has always been a big part of what I do.
When was your first ‘Friend’ story accepted? Do you write for publications other than the ‘Friend’?
My first ‘Friend’ story was published back in 2005. I’ve had short stories and articles published in other magazines, but the ‘Friend’ is definitely my favourite mag to write for. Even though there have been long gaps between my submissions, the supportive fiction team at the ‘Friend’ have always been willing to read my stories and offer encouragement and feedback.
The Paper Anniversary is all about a man who has a big decision to make. How did you get the idea for this story? Are life events such as anniversaries a good place to find inspiration?
Eight years ago I made a similar decision to the one facing the character in my story. I felt the time was right to give up my secure job and set up a freelance business of my own, but I did a lot of soul-searching before I made that leap.
I work from home now, but one morning I had to attend an early meeting in another town. As I sat in the rush hour traffic, drumming my fingers on the steering wheel, I felt thankful that I no longer had to commute every day. As I looked in my rear view mirror, the man in the car behind ran his hand through his hair and I could see that he looked very frustrated. As I often do, I got to thinking, what if? What if he longed to give up his commute? What was holding him back? Those thoughts were the starting point for my fictional story.
And, yes, I think life events and anniversaries are a great source of inspiration. They mark the major turning points in our lives and prompt us to reflect on the past and make plans for the future. These moments of change and reflection can be a rich source of ideas for writers.
When you have time to read, who are your favourite authors?
I read a variety of non-fiction and fiction, but my preferred genres are crime and psychological thrillers. My favourite fictional detective is Vera Stanhope from the novels by Ann Cleeves.
Notebook and pencil, or laptop? Kitchen table or study? Blank wall or inspiring view?
I create a rough story outline using a notebook and pen, and then switch to my laptop to write the first draft. I usually write in my office (aka the spare bedroom), but this summer I’ve made the most of the lovely warm weather by sitting in the garden to write. Wherever I choose to work, my dog, Nell, is never far away.
PS: What’s your one top tip for aspiring writers?
Familiarise yourself with the magazines you want to write for. Read several copies of the mag to get a feel for the type of stories they publish.