It’s a strange time for authors to be letting their new books loose into the world, not least debuts. Lockdown means a very different approach to publishing. So, this month it’s a genuine delight to invite Jan Baynham to be my guest. Jan is one of the most hardworking writers I know – my admiration for her is boundless. She’s also great fun, kind & incredibly generous towards other writers. Her debut novel, Her Mother’s Secret was published on 21 April by Ruby Fiction.

The book is described by the publisher as, ‘A wonderful sixties saga from a promising new talent’ & I couldn’t agree more. I asked Jan to share some of her thoughts on her path to publication. So, without further ado – over to you, Jan!

It was September 2015, my first visit to Tenby Book Fair, as it was called then. I got talking to Carol who’d signed a contract for her debut novel, ‘Ghostbird’, to be published by Honno the following March. I was about halfway through the initial draft of my first novel and loving the buzz of writing. My dream of becoming a published author was just starting to lurk at the back of my mind, with me never really thinking it would happen.

I came very late to the party having only started writing fiction when I retired. At that first meeting, Carol’s excitement and enthusiasm for what she had achieved shone through and was a definite motivating factor in my journey to publication. Our genres could not be more different, but her attitude and sheer delight in writing influenced me a great deal. She has been very supportive ever since even though we’ve actually met in person a mere handful of times at book fairs and literary festivals.

I started to build on what I’d learned on the novel writing workshop I’d taken the previous year, taking on board recommendations for workshops and reading articles about honing the craft of writing. A turning point for me was when I was invited to join a local Chapter meeting of the Romantic Novelists’ Association in Cardiff. My novel wasn’t a romance, but it had a love interest in it so in January 2016 I joined the association’s New Writers’ Scheme. In it, published authors critique your manuscript and give detailed feedback.

That first critique gave me both the confidence to carry on and plenty of advice as to how to edit the manuscript to become a tighter novel. Once I started submitting to publishers, I had to deal with rejection. It was always a disappointment and the wait could be endless, but once the rejections started to contain feedback rather than a ‘thanks but no thanks’, I knew I was making progress. My dream of publication was moving closer. Words like ’perhaps’, ‘maybe’ were entering my thoughts. I’d joke with friends that if it did happen, I’d be the oldest debut novelist!

‘Her Mother’s Secret’ was taken up quite quickly in the end. I had a one-to-one session with a publisher at the RNA Conference in 2018 who asked me to submit the finished manuscript. After reading it and giving positive feedback, she sent it to the company’s submissions panel, so I was one step further again towards publication. They did finally reject it but sent such detailed feedback that I worked on and Ruby Fiction offered me a contact in May 2019. Because the novel is mainly set in Greece, there wasn’t time for it to be published and marketed for the summer season last year, but I achieved my dream of becoming a published author in April 2020. It was both exciting and nerve-wracking, but I did it! My advice to anyone reading this is never give up. It’s never too late!

Thank you, Jan for taking time to chat! Best wishes for your book – I hope it flies!

My review:
For a story that, on the face of it, might appear to be a light summer read, Her Mother’s Secret is as dramatic as it is entertaining. In her debut novel, Jan Baynham lends an assured confidence to the traditional ‘love story’. Yes, it’s very much a love story, but there are dark dealings & darker agendas lending the book a crucial edge; a sense of excitement that never lets up.

In 1969, Elin Morgan, an art student, arrives on the Greek island of Péfka to attend a painting school run by a famous artist. The sun beats down on the idyllic setting but in the shadows lurks a grimmer story. In true 60s style it features sex & drugs (drug dealers) & one assumes, rock ‘n roll! Twenty-two years later, Elin’s daughter, Lexi follows in her mother’s footsteps, in search of the secrets hinted at in a diary belonging to Elin.

The author’s love for & knowledge of Greek society & customs shines through, giving the book an air of authenticity. And Her Mother’s Secret is redolent with vivid descriptions. The Greek family dynamics are beautifully observed; a sense of quiet menace ripples beneath the surface as Elin becomes embroiled in chaos, love, family drama & murder. And two decades later, Lexi discovers that some love stories never end. This a well observed story; contemporary & light but with a depth that suggests a fresh, new talent.

You can buy the book here: tinyurl.com/y8dvtlbf

Links to Jan’s social media:
And her blog: Jan’s Journey Into Writing: