Jane Langan writes fiction and poetry and is currently working on her debut novel. Her anthology of poems – Blood Kisses – is available now.
Jane has been shortlisted for a number of writing competitions and been published in several magazines. Besides writing, she enjoys photography and tap dancing. She has just completed an MA in Creative Writing. You can see more of her work on her blog: http://howilikemycoffee.blogspot.com/ Or Google, Muddynosugar, where you will find Jane on social media. https://www.instagram.com/muddynosugar/ and https://twitter.com/MuddynoSugar
When and how did you start writing? Did poetry or fiction or blogging come first?
Interesting question. A diary came first. I started keeping one when I was about nine, and I have had one ever since. After that came poetry. My Dad was a huge influence on me, he would recite the jabberwocky, things from the Goons and Winnie the Pooh. On my blog you can see some of his poems. He was always writing, scribbling down ideas. He wrote plays, pantomime’s and when he retired a novel.
When I was first at Uni in the 1980s, I wrote plays. I studied drama and english literature, so it made sense. I still have them; you never know they may reappear – although they are a bit angsty, so may need some editing.
You can still get hold of my Dad’s book the Cheshire Ring on Amazon, as well as The Clouded Yellow (my favourite of his plays). His name was John Oliver – just in case anyone wants to take a look – I have to give him a plug!
You have just published your first poetry book Blood Kisses. Tell me about it. Where did the title come from?
The title is from one of the poems, which is based on my first-hand experience of living in an abusive relationship. I wrote it as part of my second genre poetry, for a TMA (Tutor Marked Assessment) whilst doing the creative writing masters with the OU.
The rest of the poems are a real mixture. They range from my experiences when I was clubbing to my father’s dementia and my mother’s death. Some are joyful, some are (hopefully) funny, for example – A small poem for Lola (my youngest daughter), is simply about an observation she made when water goes down the plug hole and some are about dating and my experiences of living with people. The last poem is about my husband. It is an attempt at a romantic poem.
They are a broad example of my poetry. My next one will focus on family and the complicated issues that lie within most families. I have a couple of really lovely poems (I think!) about my grandmothers.
The first issue of Makarelle is coming soon. That’s big news. How did that come about?
We decided when the masters course finished to start a small writing group. There were five of us to begin with, sharing our work with one another on Zoom.
One evening we got talking about the difficulties we were having in getting published and Dini (Diana Armstrong) suggested we started a magazine. The idea was that at least we could put our own work somewhere and give other people the same opportunities.
It turns out we were more motivated and ready for this than any of us thought. We threw ourselves at it. The idea came at the end of January and it has just snowballed from there.
We have lost a couple of people along the way. At one point it was A LOT of work so if people had other commitments it was extremely challenging, but the three of us have stuck with it. We are very proud of what we have and the submissions have been top notch! We can’t wait to let everyone see it on 16th April.
What about you? What are your current projects? What should we be looking out for?
I’m really busy, I wrote a novel during my master’s called The Good Apocalypse (TGA). I am in the throws of editing and re-writing at the moment.
I have another novel that I have started but is on hold whilst I edit. I started it whilst giving myself a break from TGA as I needed fresh eyes.
I am continuing to write poetry, as I find it a great way into my fiction, it gets me going.
You have an MA in Creative Writing. What did you learn from doing that?
I learnt about how other writers write. I’d never read much about the way others work. It gave me some great insight. I particularly like reading Stephen Kings – On Writing and Chuck Palahniuk’s – Consider This?
It also gave me more of an understanding of how a book is published and the long and drawn-out process - From agent to publisher, then through about five different types of edits.
It also gave me a little bit more of a thicker skin, particularly in the 2nd year. It is twice as much work as the first, and the scoring is harsher as this year is what counts towards your final mark.
I learnt (and hate) Harvard referencing.
Overall, it pushed me to write better. The forums and peer reviews were brilliant, and I made some wonderful friends. It was great to be surrounded by other people who loved words as much as yourself. They were an incredibly talented bunch!
What do you consider you greatest writing accomplishment? And which was your biggest challenge?
The answer to this is the same – Writing a novel.
I had problems with endings. It turns out this is quite a common theme with writers. The problematic ending and the spongy middle!
Writing a novel is a mind game – you have to make yourself sit and type words. Set a time, fingers to keyboard, write. My approach is like Stephen King’s. Basically, have a vague idea of characters, structure, story and then just type. See what develops. This works for me. Some people plan to the minutest detail. Umberto Eco builds a 3D model of the world he is creating!
The downside of this is you end up with a novel (I wrote mine in about five months) but is needs a MASSIVE amount of editing – which takes a lot longer.
How has the past year affected your work?
I have been shielding so have hardly left the house for a year. At the beginning, being introverted, I quite enjoyed it and was ridiculously creative. All my family were with me, my husband had been furloughed my kids weren’t at school. I felt safe in my little bubble.
Then things lifted and my husband and kids went back to work and school. I stopped feeling safe and my creativity ran dry.
All the self-doubt that most writers feel came bubbling up to the surface. Then Makarelle happened, and it was a Godsend. Starting that gave me the kick up the bum I needed, and I have started to whirr back into action, like a wind-up tin soldier.
Has a book really touched you? Made you rethink your views on life? If so, what was it?
I am a voracious reader but have a terrible memory, so rarely remember the content of the books I have read – but I will have a go at this.
When I was quite young, I read both Little Women and The Diary of Anne Frank. I remember wanting to be like Jo March in Little Women and to some extent like Anne Frank… the diary writing part.
I came across Ruth Ozeki’s book Time for a Time Being, as part of the masters – that one has made me read more about philosophy and it is a book I recommend regularly. Another epistolary novel – I seem to be quite fond of that style. Dracula falls into this boat as well and again is something I really enjoy. I do love a Gothic novel, and spent many years as a Goth.
My writing tends to fall somewhere between fantasy, gothic and speculative and I think the books I have read have influenced that.
What advice would you give a new writer?
Time management. I worked in the corporate world as a manager for most of my ‘normal’ working life. The one thing I have transferred into my writing is that. Manage your time, set targets – Then celebrate meeting them. It’s dull and not something most creatives are good at, but it has helped me.
The other bit of advice was something my dad said, ‘Just write, it could be gibberish, it doesn’t matter, you have put words on the page and created something.’
What is your ultimate dream as a writer?
Dream one – Write the book that I know is inside me. Something about women and our wonderfulness, our power and strength.
Dream two - get published. I would love to be published by Virago or Bloomsbury who specialise in women’s writing, but if I’m honest, any decent BIG publisher would be nice. And a contract for ten more books…now that would be brilliant!