We are so excited to announce Jenny Bayliss as the next author in our interview series.
It’s been a very special month for Jenny: today marks the US release of her adult romantic comedy, The Twelve Dates of Christmas (Putnam), a hilarious, festive rom-com, which was released in the UK in eBook last month by Pan Macmillan. AND, earlier this month her debut middle-grade novel, Malice in Underland, released under the name Jenni Jennings, was published by Scholastic.
Jenny Bayliss lives in a small seaside town in the UK with her husband; their children having left home for big adventures.
She went to university aged 39 to study part-time for a degree in Creative and Professional Writing, and for the last 7 years, Jenny has been baking cakes for a coffee shop where she lives. Jenny likes long walks, baking days and is obsessed with stationary. She doesn’t believe in saving things for best and shamelessly wears party dresses to the supermarket.
What inspired you to write?
There were always books in my house growing up and my parents always read to me at bedtime; my Dad had a reverence for books that rubbed off on me. Even before I could read, I would look at the illustrations in books and tell the story through the pictures. I liked to find a random creature in the illustrations, not related to the story at all, like a bird or a butterfly and wonder what their story was. So, I suppose it was a love of reading from a young age which inspired me to write.
What’s your favourite book/piece of literature?
That’s a tough one because I am blown away by so many books! As a child it was It’s Too Frightening for Me! by Shirley Hughes; it was about a girl and her grandma trapped in a gothic run-down house by a wicked uncle, and the two boys who help to rescue them. In my teens, it was a book called Snow in The Maze by Barbera C Freeman: a girl keeps being drawn to an old house, where she slowly translates the voices of the ghosts and discovers a child, frozen for two hundred years in the centre of the maze. And as an adult, I suppose it’s the books I reach for time and again when I need soothing: Pride and Prejudice, because no one does sass like Elizabeth Bennet. The Hound of The Baskervilles for its atmosphere. And The War of The Worlds; I love the way Wells so vividly captures snapshots of human nature. I still think it is one of the best opening paragraphs I have ever read.
Where do most of your good ideas come to you?
For some reason, and I don’t know why this should be since my bathroom isn’t particularly inspiring, I seem to get all my best ideas when I am either in the shower or cleaning the bathroom. Going for walks is great for giving my mind a chance to wander, especially if I’m listening to music. I have been known to dream stories and snippets of those often end up in my writing somewhere.
Where do you write?
I used to like to write in the library or in the many wonderful independent coffee shops nearby me but lockdown rather put paid to that. So, now I sit in an armchair of many cushions – which my sister calls my nest – in the corner of the kitchen, next to the French windows. I have a big feather cushion on my lap, and my laptop sits on top of that. I dream of one day having a study or a little shed to call my own but for now, I am happy in my kitchen nest.
What is your writing process and does it change when you’re writing adult or Middle-Grade?
I like to take a walk each morning along the beach or the canal, as I find this clears my head and enables me to think on any knots that need untangling or re-tying in my story. Then I start writing in my notebook – a separate notebook per story – this is where I can be loose and messy with my ideas before they get written up neat on the laptop. If my words were clothes, then my notebook would be for workwear and my laptop for Sunday best.
When I switch from writing adult to middle-grade and vice versa, I have noticed I need at least three days of relaxed notebook work to get myself back into the headspace for the new genre. I used to panic because I couldn’t jump straight from one to the other and I’d worry that my words wouldn’t come. But now that I know I just need my magic three days, I am more relaxed and make reems of notes while I wait for my brain to re-engage fully.
I find that when I’m writing middle-grade stories I work in a very linear way, whereas my adult writing is completely the opposite; often the chapters are written in completely the wrong order and then put together at the end.
Where did the idea come from for THE TWELVE DATES OF CHRISTMAS?
The Twelve Dates of Christmas was a weird one because it just popped right in there, not fully formed of course but it was a lightening flash moment. I was cleaning the bathroom and singing The Twelve Days of Christmas – it was the festive season I should add – and I thought, imagine if someone went on twelve themed dates…My original idea was for each date to match each day of the song but in the end only the partridge in the pear tree made it into the story.
Where did the idea come from for MALICE IN UNDERLAND?
Malice in Underland was born out of more structure. I had been researching strong-girl characters and anti-heroes in children’s literature for my final dissertation. I had immersed myself in all my old favourite’s and lots of new books too – I won’t lie; I was loving life – because I wanted to write a children’s book as my final piece for submission. So, Malice was a concoction of all the girl characters I’d loved as a child and all the gothic adventures I wished I’d had.
How do you relax after a day of writing?
I like to cook. I put on an audiobook and lose myself in the story and the processes of chopping and creating a meal. Now the kids have grown and flown there isn’t a rush for dinner before clubs and bedtimes, so I wind down as I cook at a leisurely pace. And then I’ll veg out in front of the TV with my husband and a magazine.