A story of success
- Credit: Archant
From a childhood dream to an award-winning reality, JANE BOWLES discovers how Sidmouth-based author Janey Fraser became one of the country’s best selling authors
Devon’s glorious seascape has drawn a host of famous writers and novelists over the years, including Jane Austen, Agatha Christie and Michael Morpurgo to name but three. So it’s no surprise to learn that Janey Fraser, the well-known romantic novelist, has now made her home in the picturesque East Devon seaside resort of Sidmouth, and finds the stunning local coastline a constant source of inspiration.
“My husband Shaun spent several happy family holidays here as a child, so he suggested we visit Sidmouth when we first thought of living on the coast,” explains Janey. “I fell in love with the town on the spot, so we promptly started looking for a house. One of the things I like most about our home is that you can see the sea from one of the top-floor rooms; I chose that room as my office, so that I can look out to sea, even when I’m writing.”
Like many successful authors, Janey always dreamed of becoming a writer.
“Even as a little girl, all I wanted to do was write stories, and I’ve never really stopped writing,” she says. “I went to a scarily academic school, but I was lucky enough to have a wonderful headmistress, Dame Kitty Anderson, who saw my potential - the future writer in the little girl, if you like - and she always encouraged me to keep writing.”
After reading English at university, Janey knew that she wanted to become a full-time writer.
“I didn’t want to work on a regional newspaper though and that was the traditional career path into journalism at that time,” she explains. “I applied to become a trainee with Thomson Newspapers. There was only one place, and I couldn’t believe my luck when I opened the letter telling me I’d got the job.
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“My training included a six-month stint in Wales, followed by 18 months in London working for Drapers Record and then Parents magazine, which I enjoyed immensely. Later on, I wrote for Woman’s Own, where my job included interviewing celebrities like Julie Walters.”
Over the next 25 years, Janey’s career as a journalist went from strength to strength, and she became a regular freelance columnist for several national newspapers. But then disaster struck.
“My marriage of 27 years collapsed, and I went from being a wife and mother who juggled everything, to dropping quite a few of the balls,” says Janey. “I lost my weekly column at a well-known weekly magazine because the editor left, so I had to find a new source of income.
“One day a friend suggested to me that I start teaching, which I’d always previously resisted. But when I set up my first writer’s group in Hemel Hempstead, I discovered a hidden passion. I went on to teach creative writing at Oxford University, and was also writer-in-residence for HMP Grendon, teaching creative writing over a three-year period to groups of prisoners, some of whom had committed pretty serious crimes. It was quite daunting to begin with, but ultimately proved to one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.”
Every cloud has a silver lining, so they say, and around the same time her first marriage fell apart, Janey’s career as a novelist began to blossom.
“I’d been writing one book a year since the 1990s but I was still learning my craft at that stage, and I didn’t actually get published until 2005 after ten years,” recalls Janey. “At that time, I used to do a very long school run every day, which gave me the idea for a novel, which – of course - I called The School Run. It was published by Hodder under my pen-name Sophie King. Luckily, it became a bestseller, and I went on to write four more books for Hodder, including The Wedding Party, which was shortlisted for The Romantic Novel of The Year - an award given by the Romantic Novelists’ Association.
“In 2010 I was approached by Random House who commissioned me to write novels specifically aimed for mothers, all under the name Janey Fraser. So far, I’ve written The Playgroup, The Au Pair, and Happy Families.
“Reviewers describe me as a writer of romantic fiction with a dark streak, and in the case of my next novel, After The Honeymoon, I’d certainly agree. I also write time slip historical novels, which are published in Germany and Italy. These are based on stories that my mother told me and also local Devonshire tales.
“Rather excitingly, I have my first crime book coming out in March which was inspired by my work in prison. It’s called Guilty and is written under my journalist name Jane Bidder. In publishing, you need a different name for each writing genre.”
Now happily re-married, Janey also runs occasional writing sessions at Kennaway House in Sidmouth, as well as keeping up with her tradition of writing a novel a year.
“I’ve never looked back since starting that first writers’ group, and I enjoy teaching tremendously,” she says. “I give classes in the art of writing novels and short stories, and I also teach people how to write their life story. They say that everyone has a tale inside them, and I get a real thrill out of helping people connect with their creativity.”
Recently, Janey was elected as a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Exeter University where, along with her colleague Mike Jecks the crime novelist, she helps students to sharpen their writing.
So what’s the most important key to becoming a successful writer?
“The main thing is just to start writing and keep going. When I start a new novel, I only have a vague idea where the story is going. I write down ideas as they come to me, and always write lots of notes. If I happen to go out without a notebook, I’ll often use my mobile to leave myself a message about my ideas on my home landline, which my husband always finds terribly funny.
Needless to say, I get a lot of good ideas whilst I’m walking the dog on the beach. Coming to live in Devon was certainly one of the best moves ever.”