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We all want to do the best for our family, but can you really help those you love with launching a new writing career? In today's show, I interview my Mum about what we learned co-writing the Penny Appleton sweet romances together.
In the intro, Kobo launches their new ebook and audiobook store with Walmart [Publishing Perspectives], BookBub introduces Featured New Releases [BookBub blog], and could podcasting be a good marketing method for children's book authors? [CNN Money].
Plus, Christie's is about to auction off an AI-generated portrait created by a two-part algorithm and I discuss why personal branding and author voice will be the only way to stand out in the future. [Christies]
Today’s show is sponsored by my non-fiction audiobooks, How to Market a Book Third Edition, Business for Authors, How to Make a Living with your Writing and The Successful Author Mindset, available now on Audible. If you need some more inspirational audio that will give you actionable tips to make more money with your books AND stay sane while doing it, check them out here!
Jacqui Penn worked as a teacher before moving into change management consultancy working with Hewlett Packard Company in Idaho, Oregon, and California, in the USA, as well as Europe and the Middle East. After retirement, Jacqui renovated houses in New Zealand before moving back to the UK in 2011.
Jacqui is also my Mum, and in the last two years, we have co-written three Summerfield Village Sweet Romance novels as Penny Appleton.
You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher or watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.
- How and why Jacqui got started writing later in life
- Surprises Jacqui encountered writing fiction, after writing non-fiction
- The books Jacqui used to learn about writing fiction
- How writing can help with emotional catharsis
- The intimacy of reading a loved one’s fiction
- On making the decision to stop cowriting
- The importance to Jacqui of telling her story via dialogue
You can find the Penny Appleton books in ebook, print and Large Print editions here on Amazon, and also How to Plan a Funeral by Jay Ryman here in ebook and print.
Jacqui's future romances will be published under Jay Ryman.
If you would like to send a message to Mum, please leave a comment below, or Contact me here and I'll pass it on.
Transcript of Interview with Jacqui Penn
Joanna Penn: Hello everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com. And today I'm here with Jacqui Penn who is my mom. Hi, Mum.
[Just a note on England vs US spelling. Brits say Mum, Americans say Mom, both are used here as the transcriptionist is US based!]
Jacqui Penn: Hi, Jo. Thank you very much for inviting me to come on your…it is your podcast, isn't it?
Joanna Penn: It is, yes. It is indeed.
So obviously this is a bit weird for both of us today. But it's going to be really interesting, I think, for everybody.
A little introduction before we get into the interview.
Jacqui, my Mum, worked as a teacher before moving into change management consultancy working with Hewlett Packard Company in Idaho, Oregon, and California, in the USA, as well as Europe and the Middle East. After retirement, Jacqui renovated houses in New Zealand before moving back to the UK in 2011.
And we have now co-written Sweet Romance novels as Penny Appleton. And here is one of the books, Love, Second Time Around.
And we're going to talk about this today.
Because we are now stopping writing novels together as Penny Appleton. So we're going to talk a lot about what we've learned and also because mom is a new writer, so she's going to share her thoughts on all of that. So this is gonna be brilliant.
Mom, easy questions to start with because I know people are going to be wondering, like, you've had a great career. You could just be swanning around the world doing what you like, but you've started again, you're writing.
What do you love about writing? What is it that has kept you going for four books? Because you've done a nonfiction as well.
What are the fun parts for you? Why do this?
Jacqui Penn: Gosh, I think it's because I love learning, and the fun of working with you on doing something like this.
You've been going a long time now and you've made a great success of it and I love the books that you've done.
And also this a nice feeling of when you actually hold your book in your hand that that first, that you showed there, the “Love Second Time Around,” it was the nice feeling of taking stories from my past because they're actually based on me, all three of them and my experiences and seeing them come alive in a book and then having you help me make them into something you can be proud of really.
That was a very nice thing to do but I do enjoy learning. And though I'm retired from my other jobs, I think it keeps your brain alive to take on some challenges.
And also, I'm an introvert, so I much prefer to write and I've journaled all my life. So really writing was a very comfortable thing to do. And the fun was seeing it move from the written word on a page, you know, because I write by hand to seeing it become a book. That was a magic thing.
Joanna Penn: I guess I have another question as well. Why do you think you didn't do this before?
It seems to me, having seen you go through this, that you are a natural writer, that actually that's what you should have been doing? And you did drama in university a long time ago, so you have that storytelling side of you.
What do you think are some of the things that might have stopped you writing before?
Jacqui Penn: I think it was because of drama and teaching. You put a huge amount of your creativity into teaching and facilitating young people to express themselves. I did a lot of production of plays, shooting plays.
So my creativity was going into that, really, that the kids I worked with were writing. They were doing GCSE and O levels and my job is to help them to write creatively. So I didn't write then. The other thing was, I was bringing you and your brother up.
Joanna Penn: As a single mom, we should say.
Jacqui Penn: And that's a very busy job. If you're working full time and then you've got two children who bring homework home, and, you need to take to the basketball and stuff like that, you don't have much time to write.
I've also been a painter. So my creativity went into painting.
And I think the last thing was that this was your thing, you became a writer and you were making your way in the world and into publishing. And it was like, well, keeping my nose out on Jo's patch for a bit, you can go do loads of things. But when you became successful, then I wasn't challenging you.
You've become the expert who's coached me. That's what's been so exciting. Then you're going to talk about family and doing stuff together in a minute.
But that's been a very, really unique thing for me Jo is not to be the mom and the parent and the teacher, but actually to be the learner. I think I didn't write because I was doing drama, because I was teaching, because I was bringing out youngsters, but I always have written a diary.
Joanna Penn: You've always been a reader. You've always read lots and we've always had books in the house. So I was always bought up with books.
But what was funny, and I don't if you remember this, I think it's been a while and we've talked about it since.
When I wrote one of my first books, you read it, and you said, “Why don't you write something nice, like Hilary Mantel?” Do you remember that?
Jacqui Penn: Yes. That's the sort of mother saying, “Why don't you get a proper job.”
Joanna Penn: But then what was really great for me was when you actually said once you were writing, you were like, “Oh, this is hard.” So you had this kind of renewed respect for what it meant. And that was surprising for you, I think, wasn't it?
You were surprised by how hard it was?
Jacqui Penn: It was because, Rod, your brother said, “You've been an English teacher. It's going to be easy for you.” And I said, “No, no, no, no, this is a whole different ball game.”
And it's partly if you look at traditional publishing, you actually start with a story and then an editor takes it and then if they like it, they tell you thousands of things you have to change. And then there's loads of people get input into it.
But when you're doing indie publishing like you are, there's a whole range of professionalisms you have to learn. Don't you?
So you see the whole process and the time you write story through to analyzing who is your audience, how much is it gonna cost to actually get it out there, who you publishing it with, and then how to marketing. It's a whole different world.
Writing a story in English class, or fiction class, is very different from actually publishing it. I think you made the distinction, you asked me, “Do you want to write this so you can see your name on a book so that you can say, ‘I wrote this book'”.
I said, “No, I don't actually want to see my name on it and just in case it's rubbish.” The first one was written under Jay Ryman, wasn't it? Because I'm being Jacqui. I was often called J, the letter J.
As I was walking past Ryman to the station is down in Bristol I thought, “It's a nice name.” So I wrote How to Plan a Funeral, the first nonfiction under Jay Ryman to close off a particular aspect of being a funeral…
Joanna Penn: Celebrant.
Jacqui Penn: And then when we looked at Penny Appleton, we looked at a whole different thing, didn't we? If was going to be a Sweet Romance. What would the names be?
So you said, “Do I want just to have this book as for pleasure? Or do I want to try and make a commercial success of it?” And I said, “Well, I've really loved doing the painting,” I don't know if you remember this, “but nobody had bought them.”
Joanna Penn: Or a few people did. It costs you money, it was a hobby.
Jacqui Penn: You look at the cost of paint and canvases. I got great pleasure out of it. But actually, it's very expensive.
And then when I retired, I thought, I can't afford to do this much anymore. So with the books, I thought I would love to write. But wouldn't it be fabulous if they were good enough for somebody else to buy as well. So that's what happens, what it was about. And no, I didn't want to see my name on the book.
Joanna Penn: And you're still not going to use your name. I guess we'll come to that in a minute.
I do want to just circle back on the English teaching.
I actually think that English literature, studying English literature can actually hold back the storytelling. Do you do you think that?
Jacqui Penn: I do. Yes, if you look at one my favorite books and certainly movies, is “Pride and Prejudice,” but actually, you read Jane Austen style's and it's completely stultifying for the 21st century, much easier to see it in film than it is now to study Jane Austen or Dickens.
Dickens stories are fabulous but you wouldn't look at his language and his writing now because it's not relevant. With writing today you're looking at people reading today are very different they want it fast and they want it in little chunks.
You can't have great big long paragraphs of description because it's got to be much more visual. So I actually think, yes, the study of some English literature is… I used to teach story writing and use bits of classical writers and also talking and people like that, but yeah. I think it can be. If it's taught in a way that says, “You've got to write like this,” it doesn't help.
Joanna Penn: What are any of the other things that surprised you about writing the novels particularly? Because you were a consultant, you know how to write a document. A nonfiction, you wrote a document. We edited it. It came out.
And for everyone listening, that is “How to Plan a Funeral” by Jay Ryman. And it's an excellent book if you need to plan a funeral.
But there's a big difference between here's everything I know about how to plan a funeral, which you wrote, obviously. We had a death in the family and you studied that. But a novel is completely different.
What else surprised you about the novel?
Jacqui Penn: I think if we looked at all three, what surprised me was you're not just looking at the novel itself, but focusing on the reader rather than the author. So you remember rightly, my first version of Love Second Time Around was 90,000 words and you said, “Not bad, mom, there are some gems amongst the rubbish.”
Joanna Penn: I don't think I ever said rubbish!
Jacqui Penn: You said, “There are some gems amongst the crap, mother.” I think you actually put it in writing, “But it's 90,000 words, you've got to cut 40,000 words out.” And I went, “Noo, my baby. I just sweated from writing that and she wants me to cut in half.”
[Note from Joanna: This was a first manuscript by a first-time fiction author, so it needed a lot of editing! I was not cutting that many words for the sake of it!]
So that was a good learning that you if you want a book that's going to be that thick, like JK Rowling, then you're going to have to maybe hit a market that you know will take that.
But for my kind of books, the Sweet Romance, someone wants to get into bed and read a chapter and then be hooked into saying, “Go on, let's read another chapter before I go sleep.” “Oh, well, you know, I'm glad to read another chapter.”
And they did with like a bag of chips or a bar chocolate and at the end, they put it down and they go, “That was great. I really enjoyed that.”
So there's a whole different way of writing the novel than as you say the non-fiction. And then your genre.
What was fun about working with you again is you used to send me loads of books, kind of like how to write a romance or how to structure your novel. Well, I have one here and this one helped a lot.
Joanna Penn: Oh, you have to hold it up. Up a bit. Oh, look, The Successful Author Mindset by your daughter dedicated to my mom.
Jacqui Penn: I was struggling and you sent this and it was lovely and I've written in the front. I've written, “I love this book not just because Jo dedicated to me which is nice, but what she said it really, really helps so you can see lots of my corners that turned over…”
Joanna Penn: Oh, wonderful.
Jacqui Penn: And then I go, “Well, Jo's been there.” She's 10, 11 years now ahead of me on this journey and I'll go and see what she said about this.”
So instead of phoning you, panic-stricken and miserable like I used…and you say, “Just stop, mom. Go and have a break. Go for a walk.” I would go to that and then you sent me two more.
[On the video, Mum is holding up lots of books that she finds useful.]
Joanna Penn: “Creating Character Arcs” by K. M. Weiland, isn't it?
Jacqui Penn: Yep. And that helped me a lot with my characters.
I never understood what you meant when you used to say, “Look at the arc of the character.”
And I would think what is she talking about? And then this was really helpful. And then this is stunning, but probably still a bit too advanced for me.
Joanna Penn: This is The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne.
So for those of you on the audio, mom is holding up the books that are good for her. The Story Grid, and by the lovely Shawn Coyne is really pretty hardcore, isn't it? But I think every time you read it, you can get something else from it.
[Click here for an interview on The Story Grid with Shawn Coyne.]
Jacqui Penn: I think this is for life, really. This is an encyclopedic knowledge of everything you need to know as a good editor. And as you start to write, if you think, “Well, I'm also editing my own work,” and frankly, more effort and pain goes into the editing or did for me anyway. Does that happen with you?
Joanna Penn: Well, I think over time it changes.
I should just explain to people that part of the reason we did Penny Appleton is you said…I don't remember how it started. But you wrote a book and I had not even considered publishing with you. But then I read the book and I realized that there was a Sweet Romance in there, but it needed to be excavated a little.
But when I read it, I was like, “I could see this going out there.” And the reviews have been amazing on Love Second Time Around. It really is a mature romance. Sweet Romance because you're my mom, there's just a kiss. That's it. You know, just so everybody knows. We just don't talk about other things with your mom.
Jacqui Penn: What was good was with Sweet Romance was I said to you, “Well, I'm 70 now so I can't remember what sex was all about. And I can't write 50 Shades of Grey.” And you said, “Well, I wouldn't want to read it anyway.”
So I said, “Well, what else could you write?” And you said, “Well, Sweet Romance stops at the bedroom door. It's about relationships. It's got the affection and feelings in it but it doesn't go into the graphic detail of it.” So there's a lot of readers who like that.
Joanna Penn: Definitely and it's actually a very fast growing niche. I think that you did find the writing cathartic in a way.
In Love, Home At Last you wrote about the death of your beloved Bobby dog. And I mean, that a very emotional scene and I know it was hard for you.
How can writing help the cathartic emotional stuff for the writer?
Jacqui Penn: Very much, Jo, actually. I had a German shepherd dog who I had for 12 years. And he had to be put down at the end. So he was all right, but his back legs collapsed. And I think any pet owner goes through that feeling of, “I don't want him to suffer. I can't bear to lose him.”
And when you hold your animal in your arms and they give him the injection and suddenly their spirit is gone, that was very tough for me. Like losing my mom and dad, he really was a member of the family.
So when I wrote about it the first time, it lifted the pain because I went through it again. And I remembered all these photographs and I made him a photo book.
But you said when I put it into “Love Home At Last,” it's in that book there, you said, “When I write about my characters who have got dogs and horses and animals in their lives, the characters come alive because it's me talking. You hear me through the words.”
And I think you've sent me a message saying you've just read the bit where Bobby has to be put to sleep again, and cried a second time. It got you the second time as well.
As a writer, it is a very cathartic thing. You put emotion in a particular part. It illuminates the character of the person you're talking about. It has a part in the action. It moves the story forward because, in this book, Lizzie and Harry are united over the issues of animals and things. So yeah, very cathartic.
Joanna Penn: That's what I've really enjoyed seeing.
Let's talk now about the challenges of working together.
We're very good friends as a mother and daughter, and in many ways were similar. A lot of people would say our characters are quite similar.
But I think what the writing has shown to me because you've read some of my fiction and you have said before, “I can't read this. I get nightmares. I'm traumatized over some things you've written.”
And then I read what you've written.
I actually think reading someone else's fiction is far more intimate than reading someone's nonfiction. What do you think?
Jacqui Penn: Totally agree. When I first read your thrillers, I thought, “Who is this child? This doesn't belong to me. Does it? This is what I brought up. She's like Bram Stoker. My goodness.”
You said something like, “Yes, but I put all that part of me that alter-ego, the black side of me, the dark side of me into the books.”
And I thought that's probably right because in lots of ways, I'm just the wimp where's you're very tough. And that's really everybody.
It does come out in different sorts of fiction, doesn't it? And I eventually could no longer read your books. Not because they're nasty, but because I couldn't get sleepy. And I'd be thinking, “Oh, what is down in this cabin. It's full of spells.”
Joanna Penn: That's why they're called thrillers.
Jacqui Penn: That's right. But it's not my genre.
Joanna Penn: Let's talk now about why we're stopping Penny Appleton because this is the heart of it.
I read the fourth book, which will come out at some other point under another name. And when we read that fourth book, I really had this real feeling that your voice has become stronger.
Your individual writing voice is stronger now. You know what you're doing.
And also, I feel like this is not my genre. Like what I was trying to change your book into was not the work.
We are not natural co-writers together and I was not acting as a good editor. And I said to you, “I would not accept the comments that I'm trying to give you from an editor, therefore, we can't do this anymore.”
It was a tough discussion, right? But I think in some way, you felt the same. You kind of understood that, right?
Tell us how was that for you? How have you been feeling about that?
Jacqui Penn: I was actually quite relieved because when you sent it back and said was some radical changes have got to happen here, I actually thought it was the best piece of work I'd sent you so far.
But because you are so experienced, it's almost like we've been on a tandem bicycle. And I've been so privileged to have you on the front guiding the bicycle and being able to pedal behind and learn so much.
Jo, I've learned so much over the last two years. It's really being fabulous. I've said to friends, “I can't believe that my daughter would give me this amount of time to help me grow and develop.” Because you're really a great coach and mentor to a lot of people actually.
You've been involved with helping a lot of writers grow. Haven't you? But when it's actually a member of your family.
When we first started writing, I thought to myself, “If Jo's gonna put this time in, whatever she tells me, there's no arguing, no, ‘Oh, but I want to do it this way.' Because she'll just say, ‘Well, push off and do it then.”
She hasn't got time and it takes a lot of time into changing someone's work. So the first book, you did a huge amount of work to help me structure to say, “This bit's good but it needs to be here. And you need to put this bit here. And there's a bit here that's totally missing, and you're still missing your character tags. This person arrives on the scene and I have no idea what they like, or where they are.”
I'm still doing that. But in tandem, eventually, I was beginning to think, “Well, you know, I should be writing on my own now and I'm ready write on my own.”
You've given me the confidence to ride my own bicycle, and we ride two very different bicycles.
So we have been going along. And now you said to me, “I might as well just rewrite this whole book, if I'm going do this. So it's time to stop.” And how much time you've taken out of your own writing to give me the confidence to say, “I love doing this. I'm going to go on doing it, whether you're with me or not. I don't know what will happen with it, but I definitely think it's time to part ways now.”
Joanna Penn: I've learned a lot, too. I started writing 12 years ago and I've written a lot of books. It becomes difficult to almost see what you know, and what I learned from, and we are officially co-writing because we did co-write those three books.
I wasn't just editing, we were really co-writing. I learned a lot about almost what I know by doing that, and I actually ended up doing a course on how to write a novel really based on what we were going through because what I realized, for example, I sent you that Story Grid book quite early on and it was too early to send you the Story Grid.
You did a very good job of reading through it and then kind of going, “Okay, I'll just take a step back and look at some other things and then returned to it.” But that I think I've learned a lot from that.
But also I'm just thrilled because you used to write poetry, right? A long time ago, maybe you still do. But I remember reading some of your poetry when I was maybe 14, 15, something like that.
Jacqui Penn: Where did you find that?
Joanna Penn: Probably in a drawer. But I remember thinking my mom is a writer and I think that must have had some impact. As in I had in my mind that writers were a long way away, but you were an English teacher at the time and we did have books around. And so that clearly made a big impact.
But it's been so interesting to see for example, the point of view thing. People will find this interesting, because I was like, you need to do the third person point of view. And you couldn't understand that because it was like until you understand it, you don't understand it. It's just a thing.
Jacqui Penn: You asked me once, you know, what books do I like most? And the odd thing is I seem to like young teens…
Joanna Penn: Young adult.
Jacqui Penn: It was the “Twilight” series, and the “Hunger Games.” And they're written in third person point of view of the heroine.
I thought with my first book, “It'd be nice, wouldn't it? To write it from the point of view of an older heroine.” So it's actually written from Maggie's point of view and that's really my voice.
The stories that happened with that older person. Writing from Maggie's point of view. And it's her view of Greg and her view of what happened. And then when you came in and co-wrote, you added a whole different depth to her, that wasn't me.
You said, “It's time to go past autobiographical stuff and make it more relevant to other older readers as well,” which is great.
I thought, “Well, that's the point of view, isn't it? And you said, “No, third person point of view written in the past makes it so much more flexible.”
Then in this fourth book, you said, “I can't edit this because you've now written it from two points of view. The female point of view is chapter one and the second chapter is the male point of view.” And I thought, “This is fascinating. I'm doing a great piece of innovation here,” right? You slung back at me.
Joanna Penn: Let's just be clear in that there are books where the first chapter is first person. Second chapter is it's another person, both of them written in first person. But again, because of the genre I come from, it's written in the third person with the name; Morgan was down the crypt with the skulls and you.
You write with the “I,” and I don't actually write with the “I” voice. It's just the first person voice. So, again, it's like a huge difference between us just in the way we naturally write. And so I want everyone listening to really hear this is that there is a natural way that you end up writing and what you prefer, and I think you feel that voice much more now.
Jacqui Penn: Yes. But now when you sent back this fourth book, and said about the third person past tense point of view, I've really written the first three chapters in the way that you've suggested. And it does mean it's much more versatile. So when that just doesn't work for David and really, it should be in chapter three, I can't easily move it without completely rewriting it.
But at the time I was doing it, I thought I was being awfully sophisticated. “Oh, this is such a cool way to do it. It's most unusual.” And it is most unusual. I think you have to be almost the level of “The English Patient” writing really. A very, very experienced and sophisticated writer could do this, but a newbie couldn't.
Joanna Penn: Let's just move on to the family thing. Obviously, we love each other very much. We're friends.
But we also drive each other quite crazy sometimes because we are quite similar. We're both strong women.
And we can both be very strong. Let's just leave it at that. And I work with Jonathan, my husband. I've helped dad and for everyone listening, my parents are divorced.
I helped my Dad separately do a book, Nada, and I've helped my 9-year-old niece in New Zealand do a book and I have tried to help family members, because we do that, because we love people, right? And, but there are challenges.
For example, I wouldn't do another book with my dad for very different reasons than working with you. You've been a dream, really.
What are some of the challenges or recommendations for people listening who want to help their mom or they want to help their dad or their brothers and sisters or their love partners?
What are some of the ways you can balance love, and also help family in a really practical way?
Jacqui Penn: I think it's not so much about love, it's about respect. And also establishing who's in the lead.
So you're going to help your daughter or you're going to help your mom, then you have to set the ground rules up.
The ground rules for you and I were you were established as a writer and an indie publisher, I was a complete newbie and I listened to what you had to say. I had no experience in that field. So I just did everything that you said.
I didn't challenge you. Didn't turn around and say, “No, I don't want to do it like that,” because we have that respect, I respect you very much for what you do. So I think that's important, respect and setting some ground rules and just to making a time limit or some definition, some boundaries as to what you're going to do.
I think one of the reasons we have stopped now is also that I haven't been very well over the last six months or so. And being a professional writer, you work to deadlines. So I've been unhappy because I haven't been able to keep up with the deadline.
I felt, “Now I need to let that go with Jo because now I'm impacting on her business, really.”
So there's love but there's also respect.
My respect to you said, “It's time to do my own thing in my own time while I get well again, and to let Jo go now.' And thank you very much indeed. So if you're working with a family member, I think it's respect, setting boundaries and who is in the lead.
Joanna Penn: I do like the metaphor of the tandem bicycle and then heading off on your own bicycles. Because I think part of it is I do feel like you can go off on your own like I have.
I'm going to help you with some of the technical sides around the publishing like I did with the funeral book, but it will be on your Amazon account. It will be your bank account, that will still be your side of things with the new book.
I feel that respect too is that, you know I wouldn't have carried on or wouldn't have encouraged you so much if I didn't think you actually had something there.
Jacqui Penn: That was so lovely too really. I knew you wouldn't. If you said, “Well, that was good mom. First book was good, but you really haven't got the ability to tell a story.”
What you said was, “You have, you could. Is this fun for you?”
Because there's also a lot of heartache and exhaustion and frustration.
I press the wrong key and the whole computer goes down. “Jo, Jo.” I get on the phone and say, “I've lost the whole novel,” and she said, “Don't panic, don't panic.”
There've been a lot of downs as well as ups, when you think, “I can't do this, I can't do this and I can't be bothered doing this.”
And then the next day, you wake up in the morning, and it's like an addiction. It's nagging at you.
This fourth book that we talked about, I've written and rewritten that three times now. And part of me is fed up with it. And the other part of me says, “I've put too much work into this.”
The two characters, Claire and David, are actually real, I can't leave them there now. They need to be finished. And I need to be able to say, like Maggie and Greg, “Their story has been told.” And so that's, I think it's the addiction that keeps you going.
Joanna Penn: We're almost out of time. But let's just talk about your writing process now because I think one of your strong points is dialogue. And I wonder how much that has to do with your process.
Can you share your process?
Jacqui Penn: I hear voices in my head. I hear my characters talking to each other. And I always take a spiral bound notebook with me everywhere in my bag, and some nice pens. I find some pens that I really, really like, and put them in my bag.
I might be going along and I hear these voices in my head talking about a particular situation. So I write the dialogue.
But then I'm not very fast on the computer. I prefer the pen. I've got a Dictaphone, a Sony Dictaphone, here it is.
And you plug it straight from the Dictaphone into the computer. And it goes via the Dragon software, it goes voice to text. So I'll maybe come back with my spiral bound notebook with…I'll come here.
That's Page 44 of what I was working on yesterday, you know, it says, “These things that I'm writing,” then I'll come back and read it into the Dictaphone.
Then immediately plug it into the computer, put it on Dragon, and it comes up on the screen, and then I'll disconnect.
And then I'll edit because often you've repeated something or so. And I edit it straightaway, and then I move it from Dragon into the chapters of where it's going to go. So that's a very strong process for me, because it means I'm going to have to spend hours typing.
I could be sitting here for four hours, but I'd get slower and worse as I went too long. So I don't allow myself to stay more than an hour and a half sitting down. We've got thrombosis in the family, my auntie had thrombosis. And so I have a kitchen timer, and I put it on for 90 minutes. And then I have my machine that I stand on, it's called a circulation booster.
And what it does is it vibrates your legs. You put your feet on it, and it rocks back and back and forward.
I have it to the low level nearly all the time and I'm sitting here. And I've got another one now, which is for my waistline. So I haven't tried that yet.
I can say that I've worked on it, probably for six months now and the backs of my legs are not as fat as they were, I had fat carbs. And I do think I'm not getting cramp in my legs. So it's important for me not to spend too long here.
I have a standing up desk as well. But to be able to get my thoughts onto the computer as fast as possible, then edit. And then spend my time when I'm here, actually, moving stuff about or editing as opposed to, I don't type.
Joanna Penn: I think that's why your dialogue is so strong because you're speaking it so much. And I think it's great, because that's how you've written all the three books and you're carrying on that way. And it's a great way to learn.
I'd also say just for everyone, we've used Google Docs because mom did try Microsoft Word and we did have a few dilemmas with losing things. So in the end, I said, “Look, let's use Google Docs, because a second after you type into Google Docs, it's backed up in the cloud.”
So even though mom has felt sometimes she's lost it, I log on because we share all the documents and I can see that it's not lost. So even though you're writing on your own from now on, maybe we'll continue doing that.
Jacqui Penn: I think that would be a good idea actually.
Joanna Penn: I've had so many emails from people who've lost manuscripts. So having a process where it is backed up in a way, is a really good idea.
Jacqui Penn: The other thing with my written, handwritten stuff like that, until I finish the book, I don't throw those notes away. I staple them together and I stick them in a black box in the other room.
This is book four, the next one, and it's got all my written notes in it. And it just got loads of photographs. Part of the process is being able to see the faces of the people that you're writing about. And so I find pictures and stick them in here too. And that helps my process…
Joanna Penn: And the fun, that's really fun as well.
Jacqui Penn: I love doing that. And then I keep those so that if it does disappear off the computer, I come back and write it again.
Joanna Penn: You still got it all, exactly. Now, that's awesome.
Okay, so, then we have to ask, what is next? We are at the beginning of your next phase, so we're doing this discussion at the end of Penny Appleton.
This might change but tell us what are you feeling like you're going to do next? Obviously, you've got the books going, what are you feeling about the name?
Jacqui Penn: I want to finish that book four, but I'm now going to be doing it through Jay Ryman, who's what we've already got established on Amazon. And I've changed it a bit because Jay Ryman was a funeral celebrant.
The next three which are still a Sweet Romance. There are three of them, and they're going to be three Sweet Romances based around three slightly more mature couples.
And the other fun thing it's about writing is, now that I tailor my holidays around researching.
I've been privileged to work in Africa. I've been on the Zambezi in Africa. And I did a fantastic trip down the Nile. I love the river, Nile.
I've every intention of doing at least another six books, Jo, but under Jay Ryman.
Joanna Penn: Fantastic. Jay Ryman doesn't have a website yet, but what I'm going to do is, I'm going to set up a link so whenever people are watching this or listening to this interview, if you go to thecreativepenn.com/mum spelled with the English spelling of M-U-M, that is gonna take you to moms books.
You can go to Penny Appleton, at the moment that link will go to Penny Appleton but they will eventually go to the Jay Ryman books. And I'll keep that updated.
Jacqui Penn: Oh, thank you, dear.
Joanna Penn: You can see Mum's books. That is fantastic. I'm very excited.
Jacqui Penn: That was a lot of fun. Thank you for asking me.
Joanna Penn: It's been great. And I know everyone will find this really useful because I think beginning again, maybe let's end on this because there are some people who are listening who will think that starting again at 68, 70 it's, you know, should you bother?
Jacqui Penn: And the whole thing about getting dementia, is you don't get it if you keep your brain active. So whatever you choose to do when you finished your standard job, you need to be keeping your mind alive and your body alive.
It doesn't matter if it's writing or it's not, but if you love writing then, design your holidays around your writing. Go to writers groups, you very kindly since you're dumping me in the drink now, you've involved me…
Joanna Penn: Gently, gently. Setting you free in the ocean.
Jacqui Penn: I'm wobbling a bit on my bicycle here Jo, but you have enrolled me in a creative fiction writing class, haven't you for October? I'll be with another group of other writers and with another teacher who can read my stuff. Because it is jolly hard to edit your own work.
Joanna Penn: You can't edit your own work, no.
Jacqui Penn: Very hard to be able to see it. But why carry on doing it? Well, I'd like to live actively and keep on learning until the moment I need to plan it, really. And this is a great way to do it. I read differently, I watch movies differently.
There was a really good documentary on romcoms, on iPlayer, a couple of nights ago. And I'm still writing notes going, “Oh my goodness, after 25% they've done that.” And you look at it and they have indeed. They've brought that particular thing at the 25%.
So can I do it in the novel? And would any company like Harlequin like to buy my novels to make them into rom-coms?
It's just exciting, isn't it? And then you look at a book differently when you are writing a book. I suppose a bit like playing an instrument. Once you start to learn to play an instrument, you listen differently. You practice your scales.
It's the same as writing anything, I think that, “Look that, that's not good.” And then you rate on who is writing really well. And it's stunning. And you now know what it took to get to that level of expertise.
But it's a journey isn't it?
When I first thought I don't want to do this, I don't want to get on Jo's area. But what you said to me is, “We're all on the same journey, we're just at different points along it. So we can share that experience without in any way being in competition.”
Joanna Penn: Especially as we write in such different genres. So fantastic.
That was great, Mum, I know people are going to love it. If people want to comment on this, I'd suggest people comment on the episode or contact me. So thanks so much, Mum. That was amazing.
Jacqui Penn: Bless you, Jo. Thank you for having me on your podcast. Bye, everybody.
Your mom sounds like a lovely person, Joanna. Her respect for your accomplishments was very clear and sweet to hear. I wish her all the best as she strikes out as Jay 🙂
Joanna Penn says
Thanks Caroline 🙂 I am very grateful to get on so well with my Mum.
I really enjoyed this episode and am so glad you convinced your mom (mum!) to do the podcast episode as a video and not just audio. The facial expressions were great! I lost my own mom eight years ago, and it was heartwarming to see the respectful, affectionate relationship you two have. As a strong woman myself, and mom to six strong daughters (aka, independent and stubborn, all of us!), I am impressed with both of you. 🙂
My 15yo daughter and I are going to co-write a book this year on living with a chronic disorder (she has NF – Neurofibromatosis), and I was glad to hear your mom’s advice on co-writing with family: set boundaries, choose a leader, and be mutually respectful. Those might seem obvious points, but I think they sometimes might get lost amidst the details and busyness of the work if both writers don’t reaffirm them regularly.
I wish your mom all the best in her future writing career. Congrats to her for taking on this fun but demanding challenge at her age. It’s clear she’s really thriving. You must (and should!) be proud of yourself as well, Joanna, for helping your mom through the initial stages of this new and exciting part of her life. Thanks again for an excellent podcast!
Joanna Penn says
Thanks Kim, and I’m so sorry about losing your Mum.
Six strong daughters sounds like a lot of fun 🙂 Happy co-writing.
Phillip Babcock says
Delightful interview Joanna! Thank you for sharing your mother’s personal story. It is thrilling to see your mom become a published author. She inspires all of us at any age!
This episode with your mum made me smile for my entire commute! She sounds like a delightful, inspiring woman. I’ve often thought about co-writing with my sister, but now I realize all the things I need to consider before doing so!
Joanna Penn says
Glad it helped 🙂
Pete Blyth says
one of the many things I like about this is that you said a long time ago that when you started writing you thought you had to write something serious, like Hillary Mantel because you mum was an English professor
And here she is some years later writing cost romance 😀
K.M. Weiland says
Well, shucks. Made my day to see my book in there.
Also, your mum is awesome. 😀 Best interview I’ve seen in a long time.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks Katie and she does totally LOVE your book 🙂 It’s fantastic!
David Woodward says
I have to say that watching this interview has done wonders for my morale! Your mother was truly fortunate to have someone who was supportive of what she was doing. As a septuagenarian newbie myself, a few questions sprang to mind; firstly this thing about being shy of having ones own name on the cover. Though I have put out my first few books under my own name, it has been suggested that one of my later books should be under a female (or gender non-specific) name as it might be better received that way. Do you or your Mum have any thoughts on this; i.e. the preconceptions that might prevail. I assume there are no problems with a different name on ones Amazon account.
Also there seems to be an immense benefit in having a mentor – certainly in the early stages. Does a writers group serve the same purpose?
Joanna Penn says
Congrats on your new career move 🙂 There are no age barriers to being a writer, especially if you are willing to learn new things!
(a) on names, plenty of male writers use female pseudonyms and vice versa – or initials to be gender neutral – as I do. And there’s no problem with using different names on your amazon account, or any other platform. Author name is separate to bank account name 🙂 This might help: https://www.thecreativepenn.com/using-author-pseudonyms/
(b) In terms of a mentor – I have never had one in person. I have just read books, bought courses, listened to podcast interviews and written lots and hired editors. I have never had a writing group either – but some people find that useful. It’s a personal choice.
All the best!
Barb Woods says
I loved the interview with your Mum! It was heartwarming to witness the love between you.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks Barb 🙂
Annamarie Muirhead says
Totally loved this podcast, I envy your mum having you to help. There is no one at all in my family who could help me, not even among my friends. But never mind I’m 77 at the end of this year, I wrote 7 children’s books and a Novella during mid -17-18. All after turning 75. This is the longer version for 9yrs to whatever olds. I did do the course of Sawn Coyne’s it’s almost finished, but now I need to adjust my book to that, hopefully getting a good editor to help. What a wonderful psychological help this interview was for me, thank you so much Joanna Penn.
Joanna Penn says
Glad it was useful, Annamarie 🙂 There is no age limit for a writer in this new world!
I loved this interview. Your mom is absolutely delightful, and I love the relationship the two of you have. It also makes me want to encourage my own mom to find her voice. Even though she turned 80 this year, she still runs circles around me! 🙂
Marty Knox says
I loved this podcast. I wish my mom could see my published book.She wrote scfi-fi and went thru the submission process with typewritten manuscripts. Great short stories. I’m 72 and published my first book July 1st Trade paperback, Large print with create space and ebook published wide with Kindel and D2D. My goal was to sell 100 books in the 3rd quarter which I came pretty close 98, still 3 week to go. Like you I’ve sold a lot more print books than ebooks. I went with all your recommendations. Draft2digital is wonderful to work with. After I stop for a while to switch over to kdp from create space. I liked your advice. Just get over the change and do it. , working on that this weekend I am planning to go to google and Ingram Spark. I am working on my local area first to get my feet wet giving author signings. Planning on three big book fairs next year when I will have 4 books out in a series. I’m just doing two a year, that’s fast enough for me. Thanks for all your practical advice.
It’s funny that I’ve sold books for a publishing company as a sales rep at the major book fairs but now that I’m retired I’m doing it on my own. You never know what you’ve learned in the past will help you in the future. 2 book signings this month, and one next month, hiatus in November and December to get the second book finished. Keep up the good work. I loved your mom.
J Wynia says
The two-sided AI thing is huge. When various specialized AI approaches get combined, that’s when things actually get useful and interesting. And, the generative vs discrimination/categorization/classification/rating/etc feedback loop is key to how I think it will start getting useful for applications in writing.
I’ve been experimenting with those kinds of combinations as well as multiple small pieces that can be used for specific tasks. Things like classifiers that look at book covers/blurbs/titles to see if they fit into the intended category or whether blurbs match the book text help with marketing. Others, where rough drafts are compared to final versions to see how likely a given sentences is to make it through can be used to mark the inverse for likely need of editing.
There are interesting neural nets that generate sentences from example texts via autocomplete in writing apps, but nearly everyone stops there rather than, for instance, using whether or not you actually use a generated sentence to train an evaluative AI to discard low-value generated sentences/phrases. That gets really interesting, because you can generate tons of options in the background, throw away those that are “low quality” and only suggest what are predicted to be the best options and, over time, using that system makes it better at both generating and predicting, thus making it more helpful.
Anyway, sorry to ramble on, but I’m really excited for the possibilities that AI offers writers, especially since I’m both a software developer and a writer. It’s fun to hear someone else who writes being excited about the possibilities too. So, I always enjoy an opportunity to talk about the topic.
Joanna Penn says
Great 🙂 Always good to find more creatives excited about AI. Interesting times ahead, indeed!