Jan Foster Interview

About (Who, why, when, where, what)

By day, I juggle consultancy work with her family, but by night I like to sneak off, into the past. I write historical and historical fantasy books for grown ups (clean but with adult themes). My penchant for sprinkling history with magic is totally fuelled by coffee and Cadburys. When not writing, I love to take my dogs and small monsters into the countryside, especially if there is a castle or historic building there with a cosy coffee shop in which to escape the rain of Manchester, England!

Tell us something about your books, including your genre and your characters and/or themes.

I’m always struck by how history repeats itself, or finding the relevance in what happened in today’s world. Human nature doesn’t change, just the circumstances. In essence, because of that society does evolve but only when we look at what happened before and actively learn from it. So, I suppose my books have that kind of theme running through them, and I hope that keeps history relevant for the reader. 

The fantasy comes when you have no limits – and allows us to ask those what if questions. What if you lived forever – would your world view be different? What if you had a secret so big, in some cases, actually physically different, like having to hide wings, how would that affect your behaviour? 

My characters grapple with these questions through the story – for example, Joshua, one of my two main characters in the Naturae Series, was a human, a devout Catholic, but is made fae by his lover. This throws his whole belief system into chaos because he physically shouldn’t exist according to his religion. He’s an anomaly – both in his time and in the fae world, and being different is something he struggles with because his perception of both worlds is intrinsically altered. Other characters, for example, Henry Fitzroy, who we meet in book 2, are morally grey as a result of being made vampire. He’s also gay, which is almost a side issue, because his bigger issue is trying to reclaim a destiny he was promised. There’s ongoing themes about hope, and rising to meet the challenges of the hand you have been dealt in life as well. 

Where are you based?

I’ve lived near Manchester for about 22 years now – it’s not where I’m originally from but I’m proudly a northerner now! My spiritual home though will always be Wales where I lived for 7 years before moving briefly to London then up North.

Latest releases and upcoming titles?

I’m currently writing a prequel (another one!) which is a historical fantasy romance for the two main characters. I’m loving it – it’s set a century before the Tudors, Henry V and we are going to Agincourt so there’s lots of battle scenes as well! I try and write for both male and female readers, all my stories are also told in dual point of view so you get to see both sides!

I’m also co-authoring a historical thriller set over WWII which is a complete change of pace, genre and style but very enjoyable.

What are you currently working on?

At the moment, we are just finishing the re-writes on the historical thriller and thinking about book 2 in the series, and my prequel is about half written. Jumping timeframes isn’t easy – I never know from day to day if I’m in 1415 or 1945!

What inspires you to write?

I have two loves – getting lost in a story (escaping into a tale if you will) and running down a research rabbit hole. Where possible, I try to use first hand accounts of events (not so easy with the Tudor stuff but still possible if you dig around enough!), as I think that feeds into the immersion for the reader and I’m a bit of a stickler for accuracy. I suppose one might think I’m escaping my life, but actually, spending time in the past makes me appreciate what I have even more.

When and why did you get into writing fantasy?

I read fantasy from being a teenager – I sometimes say Anne McCaffrey has a lot to answer for and I really should write dragons! But when it really clicked for me was reading the All Souls series by Deborah Harkness – for some reason I had never read historical fantasy before and it all just made sense then as a genre. I’m hooked now even though I have an otherwise very wide reading portfolio.

Who are your favourite fantasy writers/ fantasy authors?

I’m a massive fan of Jodi Taylors Chronicles of St Mary’s as a romp back in time, as well as Bernard Cornwall – all low magic kind of stuff really because I find that more believable. I’ve recently discovered Ben Aaronovich’s Rivers of London series which is great as well. I do read some high fantasy stuff but I admit, unless the word building is very realistic, I struggle to get as absorbed in it as I otherwise would something with real world settings, as I tend to forget those little details. 

What is your favourite fantasy series and why?

I think it’s still going to be Deborah Harkness’s All Souls series. The depth of the characters, the interwoven plot lines, I just love it.

What are your favourite fantasy genres?

Historical fantasy without a doubt.

Who are some of your all-time favourite fantasy characters? And why do you think they became your favourites?

I love Diana from All Souls, and Uhtred from Bernard Cornwall. I think I have a soft spot for anyone who is inherently powerful but humble, and doesn’t understand their own powers, and isn’t afraid to ask for help whilst being a great leader. In my own books, I always have such fun writing Fairfax, my daemon wheeler dealer spy who swings every which way and gets into such trouble without intending to.

Do you follow any fantasy entertainment outside of books? (Video Games, Boardgames, Comics etc)

I used to D&D a little when I was younger, but not now. I love fantasy series though like, sorry to be predictable, Game of Thrones (couldn’t get with the books though but loved the TV series). I’ve promised myself I can watch Wheel of Time when I’ve finished the prequel as I need a reward to aim for when working on a big novel.

What kind of books did you read that contributed to your upbringing, as far as fantasy and science-fiction?

Anne MaCaffrey all the way – luckily my mum had the entire series so that kept me going a while! Also the classics I guess – Tolkien, Narnia etc. Not so much sci-fi literature though, but I am I’ll admit, a massive Trekkie. 

Was your upbringing pretty geeky?

Not geeky in the sense of how we think of it today. My parents dragged us to lots of historical places though, which at the time I wasn’t so keen on but now… I am my parents and ‘get it’ more. For the time, they were very strict – we were only allowed 30 mins of TV a day right up until I was doing my A levels, so our leisure time was spent outdoors or reading a book.

Why should anyone read your book?

If you like a good adventure, with twists and turns which do NOT particularly follow tropes, I’d say give my books a whirl. Probably terrible for marketing purposes, ok, definitely terrible for marketing purposes, but page turning once you get into them, then give them a shot. If you like to get lost in a world, or fall in love with characters you can relate to even though they are different (or perhaps because they are different), then I’m confident you will find one to root for in my books!

The writing process ( Inspiration, discipline, planning, software, editing) 

 

Do you have a process, do you plan or do you fly by the seat of your pants?

I’m a plantster – midway between absolute plotter and pantster. I have a plan. The plan does not always work and the characters take over sometimes, but I do know vaguely where they will end up. The challenge as a writer is keeping them on track to where I want them to go, but how they deal with the challenges I chuck at them is where the fun lies in writing.

How has your writing process changed since you first started writing?

I’ve learned I need peace and quiet to disappear into the world. My first novel took me ages because I started it when I had children underfoot, somehow finished it when we were in lockdown and I was homeschooling, and then realised I had totally not conformed to trope conventions (didn’t understand what they were to be honest!) when I started to get feedback from betas. The feedback was, however, great, which is encouraging, but they pointe out how hard it would be to market because of that. I now try and be a bit more aware of this is subsequent novels!

How long does it normally take you to write a fantasy novel, and what proportion of the time is spent doing what?

I aim to put out 2-3 books a year, because research is quite time consuming. I’d love to trot out more but realistically juggling work, family, research and then writing some 120k words isn’t easy.

What is your favourite part of the writing process?

I love all of it but especially when my characters run away with me. That moment when a jigsaw piece suddenly falls into place and the words just flow is indescribable. 

Have your previous vocations influenced your writing?

Perhaps more on the business side of things – I used to be a project manager so I’m quite used to setting deadlines and shifting around chunks of time to allocate to certain things. What I didn’t factor in as an author was how much time the business and promotions side of things would take when I started self publishing. But, it is what it is, and with every job there are things which you don’t enjoy doing as much, I suppose.

Do you involve other people in your writing, as collaborators or editors? How do you make this work?

Yes, I have a few beta readers who are also editors by trade so that helps! We use word/google docs and comments.

jan-foster-author

As far as writing goes, what do you use? Software, Apps, Hardware etc?

I write on a laptop with Scrivener in an ideal world. Co-authoring threw up some major challenges – we started in word, shared documents, but it got really slow and awkward with the size of the novel and number of comments with tracking etc. Then we switched to googledocs so we could real-time work together. Then split the book back into sections and worked on word docs again with version numbers. The next book we are going to do in Scrivener to get around this problem I hope!

Do you do a lot of research for each book? If so how do you conduct your research?

Masses! Online, in person visiting places, and I would love to get to the National Library or other archives. Luckily you can find a lot online like the other day I found the muster rolls for a commander at Agincourt, and there’s so much you can do with genealogy pages as well. When I’m writing in a specific period I only read that time-span and watch TV programmes set in that age as well – proper immersion!

How do you overcome blank writing spells?

I remind myself about the old adage – AIS – Arse In Seat. Or I take a walk or do some gardening to think about a tricky plot point.

A number of fantasy/sci-fi authors have bee known to use art, music, exercise, alcohol and even drugs as a way to find inspiration to enter the zone! Do you use any tools to enter into your creative headspace?

No.

Do you prefer to write in silence and or have some sort of sound in the background?

Silence – absolutely critical for me. I hate being interrupted as well!

Publishing (formatting, cover design, formats, marketing)

 

Describe the road you took to publishing your first novel? And how that has changed.

 

I’m a bit of a control freak and don’t take rejection well. I thought about querying for trad publishing but handing over my baby to be basically looked after by someone else didn’t appeal. Besides, I like to know instantly how well things are doing as validation of my efforts so self publishing is really the only way for me. 

What has changed is how much I’ve learned – you never stop learning really when you run your own business. Each time, I strive to improve – have a better launch, or reach more people.

Will your next book be traditional or indie published? 

Indie all the way.

Would you recommend self-publishing to aspiring authors, or would you suggest a more traditional path?

I think it depends on what you want to achieve with publishing and how thick a skin you have. I would LOVE to see my books on bookshelves in a supermarket but I also know that my genre is quite niche. Indie publishing is hard but doable. Trad publishing takes a long time unless you are unbelievably fortunate. Me? I’d prefer to hold my book in my hands a bit quicker!

What sort of input do you give to formatting, cover design, marketing?

I do my own formatting. My cover designer I give a brief outline to and then she does the rest with a few tweaks. Marketing is 100% my effort.

What do you do pre and post-release to help get your books noticed?

I have a plan which is a mishmash of advice from other authors and marketing specialists. I do as much social media engagement as I can – scheduling helps! 

Marketing is so important nowadays, what’s your best advice to fellow authors?


Start to build an audience before you publish. Use the social media channels you feel most comfortable with and remember to always ask Where are my readers going to be? 

An author website is a must have in my opinion. If you self publish you need a central place to point people to for where to get your books. Not everyone uses Amazon.

What legal publishing advice can you give?

Keep a good set of accounts. Know what is a business expense and be rigorous about keeping receipts. When you reach 100k earnings per year, look at the legal form of your business and make a decision which will best benefit your income stream moving forwards. 

Copyright your work. Pirates are out there but there isn’t a huge amount you can do to prevent it so set yourself up for success if the worst happens.

How did you decide the pricing of your material; how did you go about promotion/advertising and distribution of your work?

There’s a huge difference between indie prices and trad prices. Trad prices basically are higher because they have more costs to absorb (and pay less royalties to their authors!). 

A lot of research into what the ‘market’ will tolerate helps in terms of positioning your books; mine are priced in line with other indie authors but competitively priced so the reader can afford to take a chance on them. I drop my first in series to 99p sometimes to tie in with a promo but otherwise it’s a full price of £2.99 for an ebook. When I have more in a series then I’ll probably do a sliding scale of prices up to £4.99 but for now all of them are set at £2.99.

Paperbacks you are kind of restricted by how much it costs to physically print the book in the first place, again, it’s more about aligning your books to what the market will tolerate. Mine are priced at £9.99 because I think that’s a fair price for a (relatively) unknown author. 

Do you read digital, paperback or hardback or do you listen to audiobooks?

I love a paperback but also read e-books for ease. I also have no more shelf space on my bookshelves…

What are some difficulties you’ve experienced in your writing career; how do you handle book critiques/criticism?

I think it’s hard to mentally align your expectations with reality sometimes. In one way, I know I should set goals like I’m going to sell a 100k worth of books this year and work towards that, but in another way, I’m frightened to set big goals in case I fall short then end up beating myself up about it. I’ve learned to view this career as a hobby (luckily I don’t rely on the money right now!) until I have enough of a backlist of books to really push forward on the marketing and do ads etc. The chances of making a ton of money on a few books are slim. I’m in awe of those who do, and wish I knew what it was that made them stand out to the readers. My conclusion is that it IS down to genre and trope. I’ve read a few authors (beta read for them as well) who have gone on to have standout success with their first few books. What I can see now that they have done is a) targeted a market successfully with b) books which have standard tropes (coming of age or Tolkien-style quest for an object for example) and c) written and promoted them well. 

#thingsiwishiknewbeforepublishing !

What are the best experiences in your writing career?

Last November, I took a chance and went to the 20Books Vegas conference. It was only just about feasible with covid, but what a week! I had never been amongst people who ‘got it’ before and it was a total eye opener and made me feel so much better about being an author. I made friends for life and learned so much. It really was a game changer for me and provided me with the motivation I didn’t know I lacked to really go for this as a career. Then I came home and had to deal with children again and it all went downhill (lol – I jest!).

What are some encouraging words you’d give to another author/writer?

You don’t know what you are capable of until you try. Just keep at it, word by word, book by book. Someone, somewhere, will like what you have written, so keep looking for them!

Get in touch

Social Links

Websites:    www.escapeintoatale.com (Author Website)

        www.mitchandmooch.com

   

Facebook:    https://www.facebook.com/janfosterauthor

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/~/e/B084LF154S

Blog:        https://escapeintoatale.com/short-stories-and-articles/

Twitter:    https://twitter.com/escapeintoatale

Goodreads:     https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20093349.Jan_Foster

Instagram:     https://www.instagram.com/jan.foster.author/

Smashwords:  https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/JanFoster

Tiktok        https://www.tiktok.com/@janfosterauthor 

LinkTree    https://linktr.ee/janfosterauthor 

Book links

Disrupting Destiny – Book 1    www.books2read.com/disruptingdestiny

Anarchic Destiny – Book 2     www.books2read.com/anarchicdestiny 

Risking Destiny     – Prequel    www.books2read.com/riskingdestiny

Mitch and Mooch Try Swimming www.books2read.com/mmts

Newsletter?

Subscribe to my newsletter https://www.subscribepage.com/mailingsubscribe and I’ll send you a free copy of the Naturae Series prequel Risking Destiny (a full-length novel set in Viking Age Orkney!) to enjoy!

Fancy getting Advance Reader Copies of all of my books? Join the Launch Team here https://www.subscribepage.com/naturaelaunchteam

Any final words for the readers? 

If you like magical realism, adventure, and exploring the past, I hope you’ll enjoy the Naturae Series! I’d love to know what you think.

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