The paperback of Jane Corry’s debut psychological thriller, My Husband’s Wife, comes out today in paperback, having already sold more than 30,000 copies on Kindle. She’s interviewed here by Sarah Jasmon, fellow Prime Writer and author of The Summer of Secrets.
Sarah Jasmon: Jane, you’ve been writing for a long time, as a journalist, writing tutor and, of course, writer-in-residence at a prison, which helped to inspire My Husband’s Wife. What was your way in to writing as a career?
Jane Corry: When I was 18, an adviser at a careers convention told me not to bother being an author because it was ‘too difficult’. I ought , she said, to look for a ‘proper job’. So I became a journalist (on the Thomson Graduate Trainee Scheme) because it seemed like the best way to earn a living through writing. I wrote for various magazines including Woman and Woman’s Own and had some regular newspaper columns (The Times and The Daily Telegraph). I also brought up three children. Life was so busy that I suddenly realised that I was in danger of not writing that novel. Then my marriage ended and I took a job as a writer in residence of a high security male prison (for two days a week over three years). This helped me find my writing voice although the journalism definitely helped. I sometimes use short sentences. I’ve learned to get inside characters’ heads through interviewing people. And it taught me – I hope – how to grab the reader’s attention from the first line.
Sarah: I can relate to a marriage ending providing the spur to start writing, because exactly the same thing happened to me! My Husband’s Wife starts off with Lily, a solicitor, visiting a prison for her first case as a criminal lawyer, and there’s a real sense of reality to the stages of being allowed to enter the building and meet the prisoner in question. How else did your experiences of being a writer in residence at a prison feed into the novel?
Jane: I’d never been inside a prison before and was utterly terrified. But it was not what I thought. Most of the men seemed very charming. Almost too much so. There was a constant undercurrent of fear and yet there were times when there was laughter too. You had to have that in order to survive. I tried to bring all that into my book. I also wanted to focus on that very intense relationship between staff and prisoners. I found that I wanted to make my students into ‘better people’ through writing. Lily, my heroine, wants to do that too – but through the legal system.
Sarah: You juggle a complicated structure in the novel, with dual timelines and dual narrators. Do you think, especially in the world of thriller writing, that readers have come to expect a multi-layered structure like this? What are the pros and cons for the writer?
Jane: I have to admit that I wrote the twists for myself rather than because the market might expect them. I’ve always loved plots that send you down one road but then lead to another. It’s complicated – I have lots of notes and I’m always sending myself emails with ideas I’ve just thought of to make the twists sharper. But I love it.
Sarah: A question which is kind of related to the previous one: are you someone who writes organically, letting the plot and characters develop as you go, or do you plot every stage to the nth degree before you start?
Jane: I get the germ of an idea and then ‘ people’ it with characters who will fit. I certainly don’t plan the book from A to Z because I don’t feel that would allow my characters to develop. So I start with the first chapter and then go along with the flow and all my notes! I revise several times to make sure the plot hangs together. I’ve tried to plot in different ways but it felt staid. This way, it’s like reading someone else’s book even though you’re writing it!
Sarah: I loved spotting Katy Loftus’ name in the acknowledgements in the back! She was the editor at Transworld who commissioned my first novel, and I worked through the first tranche of edits with her, which was a huge pleasure. What did you most enjoy about the editing process?
Jane: Katy is an amazing editor to work with. She ‘got’ my characters from the first reading and we’re on the same wavelength. I love the editing process because you know the book well enough to delve into something more deeply or discard the bits that aren’t needed. It’s also wonderful to have another eye that can see things you don’t. But at the same time, Katy is very happy for me to tell her if I’m not happy with a suggested change.
Sarah: Your descriptions of place are always strong and compelling, both in the settings as a whole and in the different homes we visit with the characters. (I especially liked the house in Devon…) Do you base these on houses that you know, or have a fabulous time making up the perfect environment for the story to inhabit?
Jane: I usually base settings on places I know and then change them a bit. They might be an amalgamation of more than two! However, since moving to Devon with my second husband, the sea is always there. It’s part of my life and I swim all the year round as long as it’s not dangerous. I grew up near Stanmore in Middlesex – very inland! But my godmother had a cottage on the Isle of Wight which inspired me to write poetry as a child. My grandfather was also a sailor. I think it’s in my blood.
Sarah: What are you working on now? (I have to say, I’m hoping you might take us over to Italy this time!)
Jane: It’s called Blood Sisters and is about that complex relationship between sisters mixed with prison and the law. It’s actually set in London and Devon again! But I do love Italy and have been asked to speak at the wonderful Matera Women’s Fiction festival in Matera next year.
My Husband’s Wife is available in paperback from Penguin from June 25th.