Jen Black Interview

Tell us a little about yourself
Though I sit at my desk and write almost every day it seems more like a pleasure than work. I was Library manager in a College of Further Education, where life was dictated by noisy students, the government, rotas and budgets, so today life is a blissful, peaceful time shared with my husband. Since we are both newly retired, we spend a lot of time traveling, enjoying our new found freedom. I write about the more interesting places on my blog: and I make comments there on how my writing is progressing.

When did you decide to become a writer?
It is difficult to say when I first decided to become a writer. It was more a secret ambition until I was well into my twenties, even my thirties. I studied Shakespeare’s MacBeth for A levels, read all those little footnotes and discovered how much Shakespeare twisted the facts about an early Scottish king to suit his play. Further research took me into a very colourful world that started my imagination flying in all sorts of directions, and since I could not forget it, I began, tentatively, and still secretly, to type out a story loosely based on the true facts. I guess you could say I became a writer without ever making a conscious decision to do it!
At the same time, I went to university as a mature student where I learned far more about that ancient world, and had the university library at my disposal for research. It was just a shame that precious time only lasted four years

What was your first published work?
I “wrote and re-wrote” that story for a good many years. It grew from 19 pages to something closer to 500 pages and then reduced to its current size. Looking back, I think I tinkered with it for so long because I did not have the confidence to take the next step – to send it off to an agent. Eventually I did, exactly at a time when historicals were not flavour of the month, and rejections followed. A small publisher in America took it up, and it is available as an e-book, and as print on demand
The Banners of Alba follows the adventures of Finlay mac Ruaidhri, a handsome confident young man whose well ordered world suddenly falls apart when Old King Malcolm's devious plots wreck Finlay’s hopes of the crown, and force him to throw in his lot with his half-brother Thorfinn of Orkney. His fiery temper and bitter resentment make him reject Thorfinn’s beautiful and headstrong sister Rada, and a desperate struggle for the crown ensues in a violent, exciting age slowly acclimatizing to Christianity yet still believing in love potions.
Dark Pool followed a couple of years later, and concerns a young girl kidnapped by Dublin Vikings. Finlay feels obliged to rescue her and take her back to Alba.
Since then I’ve tried my hand at contemporary romance. Triskelion Publishing accepted Shadows, which was great fun to write because I set it in an old watermill in France where we stayed on holiday. I gave the mill a couple of ghosts and a swimming pool. You can find out more about the storylines at my website:

What is your dream as a writer?
My dream is to be established as a writer, to be accepted by a UK publisher who will do the normal thing of publishing my work in hardback and then in paperback. Then I will smile every day, all day long. I do regret now that I started so late, because I think it takes time to do this.

What writing avenues are you currently pursuing?
I’m pursuing category romance at this point in time. It is a hard genre to conquer and requires a great deal of skill – far more than I thought necessary when I used to giggle behind the library desk with the other assistants way back in the seventies. We took turns to read passages aloud, and believe me, the genre has come a long way since then!
My first two attempts were turned down, though the second received a valuable critique and I have studied that closely while writing a love story set in the Canadian Rockies and another set in Northumberland in 1891. While waiting for a reply, I am now in limbo – and researching the 1540’s but without, as yet, a plot.

Is there anything you wish you had been told earlier in your career?
I’m still not sure I have a career, but I do wish I’d started sooner! The advice to write about what you know and get some life under your belt before you attempt to write may still be sensible, but it is also a little negative. Research can fill in a lot of the knowledge gaps and young people experience so much of life before they reach thirty these days that they must have a great awareness of human nature.

What advice can you offer writers just breaking into a serious writing career?
As for advice, I’m not the best person to ask! I’d say don’t leave it too late, start with a strong idea of what you are going to write, and from which angle, otherwise you are likely to go off on tangents and probably waste a lot of valuable time. Think about it for a while before you launch into the Page 1 here we go scenario. Get some points down on paper, have a plan. Then when you reach a block, which you surely will, you can consult you plan and see where you intended to go and hopefully where you deviated.

Anything else you want our readers to know?
They may not want to know, but they ought to know it’s a tough world to crack, and many writers never make a living at it. They say around 70,000 titles are published in the UK every year, and every publisher receives on average 2,000 submissions a year. Harlequin Mills and Boon receive 10,000 submissions a month. Be warned. Success is as much luck as it is hard work.


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