What I admire most about Jaye Ford is her decision to pursue her writing full time — to me, that leap of faith is not an easy decision to pursue, while having to deal with the reality of work and responsibilities like family. But, it was her dream and she made it work.
Then, came her heroines, who made me inquire after the possibility of an interview. The wonderful breadth of her work showcases women who are thrust into extraordinary circumstances and prevail. Many of us probably like to think we would in similar (and not so deathly) situations, because as Jaye points out below they’re all of us, everything we are capable of.
Read on to learn about Jaye, her heroines and what she does when an idea is just not working out.
Jaye, your bio says you bit the bullet and decide to pursue your writing one day – when you look back at that decision now, what goes through your mind?
I was approaching forty, I’d given up a business and was between jobs and for years I’d wanted to write a book. I’d been dabbling and dreaming and never finishing anything, and I realised if I took on another big job, I’d probably be on my deathbed still wishing I’d written a book.
Fifteen or so years later, I’ve just handed my publisher the manuscript for my sixth novel (Darkest Place) and from this perspective, it feels like that conscious, said-out-loud decision was the only way I would give myself permission to dedicate time to what I wanted to achieve. I had lots of ideas for stories and lots of excuses for not spending hours writing. It’s difficult when you work and have kids, a husband, a house etc, to put what is essentially a hobby ahead of the endless other things that need to be done. So in some sense, setting that goal gave me a purpose – or an excuse – to throw a lot of time at my dream to be published.
The other thing that goes through my mind is that I didn’t want to commit hours and hours at something and be bad at it. I wanted to write well – well enough for a publisher to want what I’d written. My initial goal had been to have a book that I’d written on my shelves, so six books down, translations in nine languages and some nice awards, and I look back to that fork in the road and feel pretty happy with the direction I took.
Do you work/write with a specific structure in mind, or do you have an idea and write seeing where it goes?
It’s a bit of both. I usually start with a basic structure – where the story starts, who and what it’s about, a few scenes that might work well and an idea of where it should end. I love setting and spend a bit of time developing a place where the story will evolve and what affect it will have on the way the story plays out. Then I see where it goes.
How, or maybe when might be better, do you know you have an idea that works on your hands?
I don’t know that I’m ever sure an idea is working until I’ve finished the story and it’s a completed thing and I feel that all the pieces are working the way I want them to. One of the reasons I love the editing process!
Possibly it’s more a question of which idea do I want to explore and when am I ready to start writing the story around it. For me, a story is a series of ideas. A new book usually begins with something I want to write about, although it’s not necessarily what the book will be about. With my last book, Already Dead, I was interested in reports of military personnel returning from overseas with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, with my second thriller, Scared Yet?, I was intrigued by stalking. Then it’s about sorting through ideas, finding the elements that will best work together to create characters, relationships, crimes and plots.
I’m an idea collector, something will pin my attention and I’ll file it away. Mostly its tucked away in the idea tank in my head but sometimes I cut out newspaper stories and stick them somewhere. The backstory of the main character in Beyond Fear, my first thriller, was from a newspaper article I’d read 30 years before I started writing the novel. Some ideas that have been discarded as unworthy for one book I’ve retrieved for another.
I’m ready to write when I think I’ve got enough interlocking bits and pieces for the story to hold together – or when I’ve run out of time to think about it any longer and have to make a start or I won’t make my deadline.
Have you ever had to give up on an idea/book?
I’ve never had to abandon a book, although I’ve been tempted! Every novel I’ve written has had a black hole, a place where the plot falls apart and I’ve no idea how to save it. For the most part, a lot of writing, walking, thinking and boring the person I’m explaining it to tends to resolve the issues. The problem for me is that once those characters have become real people, I have to give them an ending – it’s just not fair to leave them halfway through a crime, not knowing if they’ll live or die.
I recently had to give up on an idea, though. I’d written my next thriller, Darkest Place, and handed it over to my publisher before we both realised the main character’s backstory wasn’t working – in fact, was the cause of some of the problems in the writing of this novel. I thought it would be hard to recreate her in the midst of an existing story, but once I’d started making the changes, I knew it was working and kept having little moments of, ‘Oh yeah, that’s it!’
You write about women in tough situations – tell us about these women? Who are your greatest influences when it comes to your main characters?
My characters are ordinary women thrust into extraordinary circumstances, who have to decide if they will stand or fall. I like to think there’s something of most women in the characters I write, that’s there’s a bit of a metaphor for life in each awful situation – that sometimes it takes the toughest moments to force us to dig deep and find our strength.
I look around me at women going through all kinds of difficult circumstances and see the strength that I want to write about.
Back in the 1980s, I was a sport journalist a time when women’s sport was invisible in the Australian media. I was fascinated by the stories behind sport and as the only woman on the sports desk, there were plenty of opportunities for me to interview female athletes. The women I met were competing at high levels with no recognition and no pay, training every day while holding down multiple jobs and sometimes raising families. They were strong, fearless, resilient and inspiring – and my memory of them still has an influence on my main characters.
What makes these characters resonate with readers, do you think?
Those characters are wives, mothers, friends, colleagues, they live in suburbs and have regular jobs, they shop and drink coffee and worry about stuff. I hope most readers recognise themselves or someone they know in them. I also write about situations most women fear at some level – getting car jacked, walking through a dark car park, being stalked, a loved one going missing – and again, I hope they think about what that might be like or what they might do in that moment.
Do villains make heroes heroes? Or in this case heroines?
Certainly for my heroines, the villains are their making – they’d all rather be having a coffee or a glass or red instead of saving the day! They’re the ultimate reluctant heroines, doing what needs to be done, what no-one expects they could do, because no-one else is there to do it.
Real world issues! I get hung up on questions about whether the thing I want to happen could actually happen. I research for hours looking for examples to reassure me that it’s possible or to learn the intricacies of something for one sentence that I’ll use in the novel – like how to clean a gun or how far a torch might shine. My son is a civil engineer and a couple of times he’s saved me/driven me crazy by telling me the house I’ve written about would probably fall down and kill the characters before the bad guy arrives.
How have you changed as a writer since you first started?
When I first started writing, I really had no clue what I was doing, I was just writing, having a ball and trying to find time to sit at my computer. By the time my first book was published, I was pretty disciplined in my writing habits but my first two-book contract turned the writing into a job, which meant a different level of focus again.
The biggest change in the way I write has come with writing to a deadline. I’ve had to become faster and more efficient with words, relying more on my techniques for pulling a story together, rather than writing into the mist and hoping it finds its way out. I work office hours now, generally nine to six, and if anything, I tend to sit in front of my screen too long – I’ve been reminding myself this year that I put more words down when I take a break or a walk.
Back in the day, I used to worry that I’d write and write and never get published. These days I tend to write and write and worry I’ll never make my deadline!
What’s next for you in 2015?
First up is a bit of a break. I’ve had six books published in six years so I’m taking a few more weeks then usual to plan my next project. Having said that, I’ll be working on the edits for Darkest Place in that time and gearing up for its release in February. At the moment, though, I’m enjoying letting ideas for the next project just float around for a while instead of marching them into order.
Jaye Ford is the internationally-selling author of four chilling suspense novels, Beyond Fear, Scared Yet?, Blood Secret and Already Dead. Her first thriller, Beyond Fear, won Best Debut and Readers’ Choice awards at the 2012 Sister’s in Crime Davitt Awards and was the highest selling debut crime novel in Australia that year.
Her next thriller, Darkest Place, will be released in Australia in February, 2016.
Under the name Janette Paul, she is also the author of the bestselling romantic comedy Just Breathe (available in ebook only).
Jaye is a former news and sport journalist, was the first female presenter of a live national sport show on Australian TV and ran her own public relations business before turning to fiction.
Are you a fan of Jaye Ford and her reluctant heroines? Which is your favorite?