Author Jenni Keer Answers all our Questions
- Latest Book: The Legacy of Halesham Hall
- Can you give us the ‘elevator pitch’ version of your latest book.
Halesham Hall is light gothic romance, with a curious puzzle at its heart…
1890. After the mysterious disappearance of their mother, the young Bellingham brothers, Leonard and Sydney, are pitted against each other by their twisted father to fight for the family legacy. Twenty years later, Phoebe Bellingham arrives at Halesham Hall determined to claim back the inheritance her father lost out on, but the Hall holds dark secrets, and soon Phoebe realises that the stakes are higher than she ever could have imagined.
- Tell us something about yourself that we likely don’t know! The more obscure the better!
I belong to a formation dance team and we study rock and roll, disco, street and slow. We even break out in the Charleston from time to time – which I adore. I’ve been attending classes for twelve years in an attempt to combat my writer’s bottom, and have made some great friends there. What I lack in talent, I make up for with enthusiasm and showmanship!
- Do you write in silence, or with music? If you write to music, give us the top three songs on your writers’ playlist this week.
It depends what stage of the manuscript I’m working on. I usually edit in silence, but like to write with music – especially if it is an emotional scene. I tend to put favourite tracks on repeat, so I’m not focussing on the words. I once wrote a whole book to Snow Patrol’s Open Your Eyes. At the moment, I am editing, so “quiet, please!!!”
- Are you a plotter or pantser?
Definitely a pantser. I have tried planning and, interestingly, did plan a lot of Halesham Hall, but have reverted to my mischievous pantsing ways for my current WIP. I’m afraid my brain doesn’t cooperate with planning, and I find my best ideas come along when I’m halfway through writing the book – which then involves a lot of rewriting. I usually know the bare bones of my story before I start though, and the ending never changes.
- Have your characters ever ‘gone off-script’ – hijacked your story and taken it in a direction you didn’t expect?
Following on from above, I certainly don’t stick to a plan, so there are always characters who take over and act in unexpected ways. Brenda, in The Hopes and Dreams of Lucy Baker, was initially just a B character facilitating Lucy’s romance, but ultimately the book became about their intergenerational friendship, and was all the better for her demanding a bigger role in the story. Also, as you get to know your characters better, sometimes the things you had in mind for them simply don’t ring true, and you have to adapt the story to make their motivations and actions convincing. As a pantser this doesn’t phase me.
- If you could spend time with any character from any of your books, who would it be and what would you do?
Percy Gladwell, the Arts and Crafts architect from the third novel, The Secrets of Hawthorn Place, carved out an unexpected place in my heart. He is very much the beta hero but I absolutely adored him. I would like to spend time with him for two reasons; firstly, I would love to travel back to the 1890s and immerse myself in his world (I adored researching the Arts and Craft Movement). But secondly, he is such a gentle and compassionate man, that any time spent in his company would be an absolute joy. We would just drink wine and chat, probably sitting in one of the many fabulous houses he’d designed.
- Which of your characters can you say you would least get along with in real life?
I get along with most people in life, even those I don’t like – trust me, it generally makes things easier! But I guess the most unpleasant character I’ve ever written is Clement Bellingham in The Legacy of Halesham Hall. He was a dark person with a cruel streak, so I would find him deeply unpleasant to be with, for all his game-designing genius.
- Do you read your reviews?
When a book is first published, I like to get a feel for readers reactions. For example, I’ve been delighted by several reviews for Halesham Hall where readers were genuinely surprised by the twists and turns in the story. As an author, you never quite know if you’ve signposted the plot twists too little, or too much. There is a definite balance that ensures the reader doesn’t feel either cheated, or patronised. I also noticed from reviews that people didn’t like Molly in Hawthorn Place at first, as she really was the epitome of a spoilt brat, but luckily most people warmed to her enormously as the story progressed, particularity as she took such loving care of her bereaved grandfather. I would be wary of writing someone so selfish in the future as I wouldn’t want to put prospective readers off, so I do take constructive comments on board. However, after I have an initial feel for what the readers liked and disliked about the book, I tend to step away, because it doesn’t matter how many glowing five star reviews you get, it’s human nature to wallow in the one star. And I’ve learned that you can’t please all the people, all the time.
- What has been the toughest criticism you have been given since becoming a published author?
I can’t really think of any criticism that wasn’t constructive, because I do take feedback quite well – always keen to improve. I guess the only thing that springs to mind was a woman in a W.I. audience that told me I moved about too much when I talked! (I am a bit animated generally in life, with lots of arm-waving …) And I now make sure I do my talks rooted to the spot.
- What is the best compliment you have received?
The most recent compliment that really meant the world was from my 72 year old father-in-law, who is very supportive and reads all my books, even though romance is not his thing. He rang me last week full of excitement to say he’d just finished Halesham Hall, and had read it in two days because he couldn’t put it down. He was caught out by all the plots turns, and said it was undoubtedly the best thing I’d written. As a man not prone to meaningless flattery, and definitely not my target audience, I was even more delighted..
- Do you have a day job when you are not writing? If so, what do you do?
Like most authors, I have other sources of income, and juggle several part-time jobs alongside my writing, including helping my husband run the East Anglian Lomax Antique Fairs. He deals in antique furniture, which is why you will often spot quite detailed descriptions of chairs and chests in my writing! I also care for my elderly mother, although when I stay with her for long periods, she’s more than happy for me to bring my laptop along. Even if I could afford to become a full-time writer, I would miss the interaction with others and the opportunity to leave the house, so part-time jobs work well for me.
- Can you name three authors who have inspired your writing?
Off the top of my head, and in no particular order…
Agatha Christie for her plots. I was always in awe of the number of ways she could twist the classic whodunnit and, of course, she was one of the first to fool us with an unreliable narrator. Milly Johnson for making me laugh when there wasn’t much to laugh about, and allowing me to dream that ordinary people could become successful authors – you didn’t need a degree in creative writing or journalism experience. (And she just is so damn nice.) And Harlen Coben for the clever way he ends his chapters, always making you desperate to turn to the next page.
- What was your favourite book as a child?
As a small child, it was Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree. What a world of possibilities! The magic of this book has influenced my writing in so many ways. As a teenager, possibly Du Maurier’s light gothic romance Rebecca, which I am very conscious has inspired Halesham Hall.
- What scene in your latest book was the hardest scene to write (without giving away too many spoilers!)
I’m actually going to talk about my current WIP, where I have a LGBTQ+ storyline, which I have done a phenomenal amount of research for, because I am so desperate to get it right. I have a sensitivity reader lined up, but because the story is set in 1927, attitudes and language have been really tricky to gauge. The character concerned, however, (no spoilers) has been an absolute joy to create.
- Do you have any other author friends? If so, can you name a few and have any of them given you a piece of advice you would consider invaluable on your publishing journey?
The best piece of reading advice (but it does impact my writing too) was from Heidi Swain, who told me life was too short to read a book I wasn’t enjoying. I always used to plough through to the end of any book I’d started, and now I give myself permission to abandon it if I’m not engaged after the first 70 pages or so. But her advice also made me think about my reasons for not finishing a novel (e.g. not caring about the protagonist) and I make sure that I don’t make those mistakes in my books. Reading really is the best way to improve your writing.I have a gazillion author friends, largely, but not exclusively, through The Romantic Novelists’ Association. It would be unfair of me to shout out some author pals and not others, so I will restrict myself to only mentioning my virtual office buddy, Clare Marchant, who writes terrific Tudor historical. (Check out The Mapmaker’s Daughter – a brilliant and engaging read.) We’ve been sharing a virtual office for several years, and she really gets me through the working day. We check in every morning with our writing goals for the day, and motivate each other when things are tough. Only fellow authors really understand what you are going through, from the delight at signing your first book contract, to the horror of a one star review. From the joy of a bestseller flag to the frustrations of stumbling across a plot hole. Plus, we have some great laughs around our virtual office environment, and have even created the fictional Maureen from accounts, who tends to get the blame for everything that goes wrong!
For Bonus Points – Answer our fabulous frivolous questions!
- What is your biggest fear?
Having an opinion. A sad reflection on today’s world where we do not tolerate anyone who thinks differently from ourselves.
- If you could have any superhero power, what would it be?
Exercising in my sleep. Not only would it not take up any valuable writing time during my day, but also I could sleep through the whole thing. I do find exercise such a chore!!
- If you could write one line to be etched into your tombstone, what would it read?
“She came. She saw. She wrote a book about it.”
- If you could give your younger self ONE piece of advice, what would it be?
Start writing that book sooner, because it will take you three books and nine years to get published!
- Finally – Who are your latest Cover Crushes?
So many beautiful covers out there, and they are all so different that it’s really hard to chose.
The Keeper of Stories by Sally Page. Such a lovely blue. It was a recent book club read that I really enjoyed.
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. A deliciously gothic cover, and a book I only stumbled across recently.
Thank you so much for having me over to The Glass House. These questions really made me think, and I hope readers enjoyed finding out a little bit more about me.
You can purchase Jenni Keer’s latest book: The Legacy of Halesham Hall here on Amazon, or you can take a look at our review here.
If you would like to hear more about Jenni and her books, you can find here on Twitter: @JenniKeer and Facebook: Jenni Keer Author