Stephanie: Thank you for chatting with me today, Janet and congrats on the B.R.A.G. Medallion for your story, To Venice with Love. Tell me a little about your story.
Jane: My heroine Isobel is free for the first time in her life from a philandering ex-husband, the necessity to work and the demands of the family. She decides to take herself to Venice, a place she’s longed to visit. She leaves everything behind in an uncharacteristic bid for time on her own, time to be self-indulgent.
She meets Rupert, a widower, half-Italian and an architect, before she has left Heathrow, and they discover a mutual love of Venice, which crystallizes into love for each other as he shows her around the city where he lives for half the year. If I were to sum up the story I would say that it is a combination of wishful thinking and an over-active imagination! Venice is a city designed for lovers and it is easy to create an ambiance against which the love story can play out. There would be no novel without tension however and I’ve used various members of both Isobel and Rupert’s families to create this. Some of them have their own very good reasons for being against a final happy-ever-after story between Isobel and Rupert.
Stephanie: Why choose Italy and England as the setting of the story. What is so fascinating about the two countries?
Jane: Write about what you know is a golden rule and it makes lifer easier when creating a background for the story. Isobel and her family are English, have always lived and worked in England and have all the usual characteristics. Venice is awash with beautiful buildings and almost every one of its picturesque calles could be straight out of a painting by Canaletto. Incidents like the brief story of the monk in the lift to the campanile of San Georgio Maggiorer lend a realism which, I believe, helps the story to become more real to the reader. The same can be said about the concert at the Scuola Grande de San Rocco with the beautiful paintings by Tintoreetto. Several readers have commented about the descriptions of various buildings, pieces of sculpture, paintings and so on and I think they all help the reader to escape to a different world. “You take us to exotic places.” One reader told me.
Stephanie: Why did you choose an older woman as your main protagonist and what can younger women learn from her?
Jane: Granny Lit wasn’t even a genre when I started to write this book, but in recent years it has become popular. I feel it is important that neither sex is written off when they reach retirement age and I’m delighted to say that the dreaded phrase ‘past it,’ isn’t flung around in quite the same way that it once was. I wanted to tell the world that women could be sexually active at sixty, if they felt it was right for them. Just a few short years later and you can substitute seventy and get away with it! For me it is important that Isobel invited herself to spend the night with Rupert. I wanted her to be in the driving seat. I believe she handles the intimacy between the two of them with discretion and consideration; she takes him a bunch of lilies when he invites her to his apartment for supper, but crucially he cooks the meal! I like to think that younger women will carry on erasing traditional stereotypes and I think this is happening already. For example it is now OK for a woman to invite a man for dinner or an evening out, rather than waiting for him to take the initiative.
Stephanie: Isobel’s ex-husband seems to have a sense of self-entitlement. He wants what he wants and seems not to consider his ex-wife.
Jane: James is, I believe, typical of many men of his generation. Throughout their marriage he has had affairs but has always come back to Isobel, until he meets Zelda who will not settle for anything less than marriage. Then he is quite happy to trade Isobel in for a younger model but he has very mixed feelings when he hears that Isobel is pursuing her own romance. He finds it difficult to keep up with the demands of a younger wife and there are times when he longs for the peace and quiet and order of his old life. He also hates the idea of another man making love to Isobel so I feel perhaps he is still a little in love with her.
Stephanie: When the book came out in 2007, you had a message for your readers. What was it?
Jane: Retirement is a beginning not an end. It provides an opportunity to change the patterns of living which might have been practised for as long as forty years. It offers freedom on a daily basis – what would I like to do today rather than what must I do today? We are fortunate to live at a time when the possibilities are endless. There are courses, groups, societies, social networking, and opportunities for charitable work. The list is endless. The only cautionary message I would add is that, as with the rest of life, you need to take the initiative. The world is not going to beat a path to your door, but then, with very few exceptions, it never did.
Stephanie: You have quite the cast of characters and they all have led what seems to be a very dramatic life. How did you keep up with them all and is there one particular character that has stood out to you the most?
Jane: I had no idea of most of the characters when I first began to write the book. I knew about Isobel, her ex-husband, her two sons and her new lover but they existed only as two-dimensional characters with names. As I got to know them better they revealed things about themselves about which I was originally unaware. I don’t know how this happens but sitting down to write a novel is like walking into a roomful of people at a party and, by the end of the book, you will know some of them very well. I didn’t start out with a long list but they came to me on the spur of the moment at times when I felt the reader was ready for another bit of drama or diversion. It sounds crazy because they are all coming out of your head but it’s almost as if they exist in their own right and they confide in you as and when the time is right.
Barbara, James’ sister, is a really horrible, mischief-making, loud, bossy woman. One of my readers told me that if he spent ten minutes alone in a room with her he would either have shot her or himself! As the story progresses however we discover that her father didn’t allow her to go to university – not the ‘done’ thing for women. So she has a grudge against James who went off to read law. Her first and only child died as a result of cot death syndrome; her husband fancied Isobel at some stage, over-indulgence in the good things in life have made her overweight and we get the feeling that she isn’t attractive to anyone. She doesn’t have any friends. So we begin by disliking her and end up feeling sorry for her.
Stephanie: What are Isobel’s weaknesses and strengths?
Jane: During the years she was married to James she deferred to him on the choice of holiday destination and did her best to support him in his early years as a struggling lawyer, gave him two children and put her own career on hold. When she discovered his infidelities however she was back to work in a flash showing the reader that she has a strong backbone. Her experience with James has given her a rather jaundiced opinion of men in general until Rupert comes along and helps to dispel it and in the process re-kindles a passion which has been dormant for many years. Like many women of her generation she was brought up believing the fairy stories – ‘someday my prince will come,’ and it was a bit of a shock when the –‘happy ever after,’ myth failed to materialise. She is resilient, competent and organised but perhaps a little too ready to blame herself when things go wrong.
Stephanie: How long did it take to write the story and what was the process?
Jane: The first draft took the best part of a year, but, having been a working woman all my life, I saw writing the book as a part-time occupation. I find my creative juices work best in the afternoon so I get all the chores out of the way in the morning and write after lunch. I carry on until I feel I’ve said all I want to say for that day and then take a break.
When I sit down I always read through from the beginning of whichever chapter I’m working on and this gets me going. I may have scribbled down a few notes in the meantime if I’ve been thinking about the characters or if something occurs to me when I’m doing something mindless like dusting! When I get to the end I will do four or five more edits, including a hard-copy edit. The first printout usually reveals mistakes that went unnoticed on screen.
Stephanie: What is up next for you?
Jane: My next book For Better For Worse was published in 2011 and is much more autobiographical than the first. I think it is normally the other way around. I’m currently halfway through my next book, Goodbye Vienna. My late husband was Viennese, the family has some interesting history and I’m quite happy to plunder the archive for suitable copy.
Stephanie: How did you discover indieBRAG?
Jane: A Facebook friend Alison Morton mentioned that she had been nominated for an IndieBRAG Medallion. I checked them out on the internet and decided to have a go. There are so many writers that one needs all the help one can get to put one’s name around.
Stephanie: Where can readers buy your books?
Jane: To Venice With Love is available from Amazon, Kindle, Authorhouse (the publisher) or via the local library if in the UK. It does have a Library of Congress number as well as an ISBN so it may be available through the US library system.
Jane Beck was born and educated in Yorkshire and describes her life as fairly uneventful until she married at the age of twenty three. Over the next four years she had two children, three jobs and was widowed. ‘Fate took the life I’d been living, screwed it into a ball and threw it into the trash can,’ she says, and almost overnight all her hopes and dreams for the future became so much detritus. She was faced with the daunting task of re-building a life which would be secure for herself and two children who were then under three years old.
It wasn’t until she retired from full time work that Jane had the opportunity to write novels, although she managed to co-author one book, Beyond The Great Divide, a guide to introducing Equality into the Company. This was published by Longman in 1989. During her working life as a training consultant she wrote many articles on Equal Opportunities and various aspects of personal development, the subjects in which she specialised, these were published by a variety of magazines including the popular publication Elle.
Although her marriage was brief she was fortunate to marry into a family who had an interesting history. Her late husband was born in Vienna, had a Jewish father and came to this country to escape from Nazi Austria. The background stories of some members of the family are woven into some of her work, particularly her second novel, For Better For Worse. She has won two first prizes, one British, one international for her short stories.
‘Coming back from a devastating experience,’ she says, ‘is not achieved by any overnight miracle, but by a slow, almost uneventful and distinctly painful process. Most of us have experienced love and loss and the joys, sorrows and trials of recovery. Far from “Leading lives of quiet desperation,” as Henry Thoreau reminded us, we embark on an exciting journey of self-discovery which gives depth to our character.’
Such experiences inform Jane’s writing and help her to make her characters believable human beings who love, lose, suffer and recover. Jane aims always to write a narrative which will keep the reader turning the pages. She has letters from some of her readers who confess that they identified with a particular character and from others who enjoy her vivid descriptions of Italian art and architecture which are a feature of her work.
A message from BRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Jane Beck, who is the author of, To Venice with Love, of our medallion honorees at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, To Venice with Love, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.