Name Jane Risdon
Age Old enough to know better!
Where are you from
Here, there and everywhere since a very young age I’ve travelled.
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc
I Married a Rock musician when very young and we have one son. I worked for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Ministry of Defence and various other Government departments, and then went into International Music Management, Production and Publishing with my husband when his band split. We’ve worked together all over the world managing bands, singers, songwriters and producers. We also worked with major Movie and Television projects and series, mainly providing soundtracks. We’ve lived all over the world. Now we have three wonderful grandchildren based in the USA.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
I am preparing various pieces of work for submission to publishers. Very exciting.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I’ve always written, even as a child, but after a few aborted attempts throughout my younger years I had to give up because of our life-style; on tour, in studios and travelling all the time is not really conducive to writing. Supervising songwriters and trying to get the best out of them left little for my own creative activities.
Four years ago a very old friend (once my husband’s (band) fan-club secretary) then a rock journalist – and now an award winning author – persuaded me to give it a proper go once she’d read some of my work. So my real writing life started four years ago, very slowly and cautiously.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
As soon as I saw my name in print in a book and people told me they’d read my work and liked it. I felt reluctant to call myself a writer but friends who write told me that if you write, you are a writer! So that’s when I guess.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
I started my first book after someone said I had lots of interesting experiences in life and I should write about them and share them. I began writing about our music business experiences and then quickly realized we might end up getting sued, or worse! Also, working in Hollywood with some of the most powerful people involved in the entertainment industry, still very much alive and influential, suddenly made me stop and think. So I’ve put this on the back-burner for a while, though I still write about some of our experiences in short stories, dressed up and heavily disguised. We don’t want the horse’s head or concrete boots!
I decided to tap into my experiences in my other world; that of working for the FCO, and coupled with my love of crime fiction and spy thrillers I now write mainly Crime/mystery novels and short stories. I have 4 novels and several short stories on the go at the moment.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I think I have my own style. I don’t know how it describe it. I try to keep sentences short and to the point and I often have some humour in the stories and a twist in the tale.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Funnily enough I get the title of a book or story long before I get the actual story. Something will set me off and as soon as I get the ‘feel’ of the title, the story comes soon after and quite fast. I compare it to writing and recording songs. Things come from thin air and as you work on the song, the whole thing suddenly takes shape and direction and before you know it the song is all there.
I am writing a series of books called ‘Ms Birdsong Investigates’ about a former MI5 Officer ‘retired’ from the service and living in rural Oxfordshire. Her title came to me all at once.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
No I don’t think so. I can’t say I get any messages from what I read but then perhaps I am not ‘getting it’ with other writers. I just hope anyone reading my efforts enjoy the book/story and lose themselves in it for a while.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
Ms Birdsong is very realistic and some of her situations are very real and normal. My other stories are all realistic too. I cannot do out and out make-believe. At least I don’t think I can. I use reality and then poetic license as I said before. Stretching the truth or using the truth as a base and then embellishing the story from there.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
With the life I’ve led and the experiences I’ve had and those around me have had, I should say my stories are based on real life – with a little poetic license – and for those involved in Music and the workings of the Secret side of Governments, I am sure things ring true. You can only really write about what you know I gather. So I do.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most?
This is a hard one. Early on Enid Blyton and all her books and then adventure stories such as Frenchman’s Creek, Rebecca and Jamaica Inn; I adore Daphne Du Maurier. Kidnapped, Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe are still favourites.
Later I loved Mickey Spillane, Rex Stout, Agatha Christie and many authors in similar genres. I moved on to John le Carre, Frederick Forsythe, and many writers like them.
Now I enjoy Tess Gerritsen, Karin Slaughter, Michael Connolly, Peter James, Peter Robinson and many of the Scandinavian writers.
I love a good story and a good story-teller.
Fiona: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
It’s a toss-up between Agatha Christie and Michael Connolly I think. Hard one.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I am reading several books at the moment. A couple are by authors who’ve consulted me about musical matters – their books are about Rock stars – and they are in the romance genre; Jo Lambert (The Other side of Morning) and Nicky Wells (Sophie’s Encore). I needed to understand the genre so reading them helps. I’ve enjoyed their books a lot.
Also I am reading the latest publication by the friend who encouraged me to write, Christina Jones (An Enormously English Monsoon Wedding) – also a romantic writer – who has written several wonderful books which I enjoy reading, unusually for me as I really don’t think I have a romantic bone in my body. However, my bedtime reading at the moment is Michael Robotham’s ‘Bleed for me’.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
I’ve never read Harry Potter – just does not appeal to me – however, I’ve been given the (JK Rowling) Robert Galbraith novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling,’ so I’m going to give it a whirl. I have also added many books to my Kindle collection written by authors I’ve got to know on Facebook and via my Author Blog. I am working my way through their books.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
How long do you have? I am working on the series ‘Ms Birdsong Investigates’ and so far there are three books almost ready. Ms B is a retired MI5 Officer who moves to rural Oxfordshire where old habits die hard and where she continues her surveillance habits; she soon finds herself involved in murder and intrigue.
I’ve co-written a novel with my long-time friend and hubby’s ex fan-club secretary which is not crime or anything like it. She is putting her touches to it as I write. We call it OOW – but it is all under wraps for now…it is based in the Swinging Sixties and features two girls in love with the same musician. It is told from both their points of view.
I am writing a book loosely based on my music experiences about two rock musicians in LA to audition for a super group. This is about half way through and I call it ‘LaLa Land’ for now.
Recently I started a short story for a Charity Anthology but it has ended up going in the direction of a longer book and so I think it will be a full length book now. It is based on the Mumbai bombings in 2009, it is a crime story and involves the Bollywood Movie Industry. It is called ‘The White Haired Man’ – it is about half way through as I write.
I have written another short story for the Charity Book. It is called ‘The Stalker’.
Recently I’ve been submitting to publishers for the very first time and I’ve sent off a short story for one particular American publisher, called ‘Vegas or Moscow’.
Also, believe it or not, I write what I call observational humorous stories based on a real rural village and its inhabitants – I call it ‘God’s Waiting Room’ – and this series of short stories may well be a complete book or series of books.
I’ve almost finished writing ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ – a family find long lost relations after researching their Family History and visit Ireland to meet them; it is a humorous tale and shows up the differences between the English and the Irish.
As well as all this I write short stories and flash fiction – do I ever sleep you ask? Not often and not for very long.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Can I be naughty and name two? Firstly my husband has always believed in me (whatever I’ve done) and he has encouraged me forever. Secondly, Christina Jones for making me get off my backside and do something about writing, and for her encouragement. I cannot thank them both enough. I have had some wonderful support from author/blogger and educator Margot Kinberg too. Cripes, that’s three!
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
It is now my career. After a lifetime in music promoting and guiding others in their chosen field, I needed to do something for me. This is for me.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I’ve recently had two short stories in an anthology, ‘In A Word: Murder’. The stories are ‘Dreamer’ – about a 1989 rock band based in England and about to hit the big time and internal disputes result in murder. I am happy with the way it has turned out; people tell me they love it.
The other story is called ‘Hollywood Cover-up’ and is set in Music Publishing in Hollywood and is about the ‘movers and shakers’ in the entertainment business and politics and again there is a murder and the involvement of the Secret Service. I would like to have been able to change a few little scenes in it. Otherwise I am really happy with them both. Those purchasing the book have been really generous with their positive feedback.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
When I was little I was able to read and write before I went to school – incidentally so could my husband and our son – and I loved copying the stories from Dick and Dora, Janet and John, Peter and Jane, and forming the letters. As I grew up I had a diary and then I wrote stories and this has carried on right throughout my life. I love writing and receiving letters (snail-mail) and so somewhere back when I was little I think I must have decided I enjoyed writing. I love to read so I think writing is the next step.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
This is an extract from ‘Ms Birdsong Investigates: The Safe House’. © Jane Risdon 2014. It is a work in progress and un-edited so keep this in mind please.
Lavinia Birdsong has been asked to be a ‘plus-one’ wedding guest, accompanying her new cleaner, Nancy Weston, who is a bridesmaid and without a boyfriend. Ms B agrees to go once she realizes where the wedding is going to be held – a venue she is very familiar with. Here Ms B. is enjoying watching the other guests before the evening festivities begin.
Here we go:
Nursing her glass of Pinot Noir and nibbling on salmon blinis Lavinia gazed around the library at the guests sipping their drinks and chatting. The last time she’d been in this room she’d been partnered with Michael Dante, her then colleague and lover. They’d been debriefing the GCHQ whistle-blower, Malcom King, who’d been arrested on his way to Heathrow with several memory sticks containing Top Secret details of the Government’s latest Internet back-door surveillance programme. They’d had him marked for arrest following an internet broadcast during which he had made some of his discoveries public, and he’d led them a merry dance all over the country until they’d been informed he was booked on a flight to Moscow via Finland, where his masters were anxious to get their hands on his information. He’d been picked up by Lavinia and Michael and spirited away to the Safe House on the Berkshire Downs. Was it really only three years ago?
She took another blinis and smiled at someone in a large feather fascinator, far too much red lipstick, blue eye-shadow, and whose tight fitting dress ensured every stitch did its duty. How the hell did I get dragged into this wedding? She thought, looking around the room which held so many mixed memories; Michael. She shook her head not wanting to go there. Not now at any rate.
Lavinia wondered what the odds were on being invited to a wedding where she’d spent so much time when she was an Intelligence officer with MI5. She’d lost count of the number of people she’d ‘accompanied’ or interrogated in this house. Its cover was as a conference centre, wedding venue, and grand house for hire as far as the public was concerned. In reality it was Government owned and run – all the staff being Foreign and Commonwealth officers or MI5 – and the venue for high level Government and international meetings, debriefings, and a safe haven for those who needed to disappear until things cooled down in the world of espionage. When she heard where the wedding was to be held, well, she couldn’t miss the opportunity to journey down memory lane and the wedding was as good an excuse as she could wish for. *****
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Trying to keep in the tense I am writing in. I get carried away and sometimes start writing as it if is in the present when the story may well be in the past or future. I hate all the formatting stuff too. I just wish I could write and let someone else do all the messing around.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I really don’t have a favourite author. I enjoy books by those I mentioned earlier but I cannot think of one who is my absolute favourite. I go back to several authors time and again. Whatever I am reading and enjoying turns out to be an author I might revisit again.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
I’ve travelled since the age of two and lived all over the world so I tap into all that experience. I do walk a great deal and get a lot from the countryside which inspires me.
When writing ‘The Safe House’ I based it on a real wedding I attended, in a real Safe House. I suspected it was as I wandered around it and then struck up a conversation with one of the staff, who confirmed those suspicions. She was FCO and the venue was indeed Government owned. Ms Birdsong pestered me all the way home.
Another example of travel inspiring a story was when I visited Herstmonceux Observatory in Sussex for my birthday (you can read all about my birthday ‘jolly’ on my Author Blog), as soon as I entered one of the Domes where a famous telescope was focused on the Moon, I had another idea for a Ms Birdsong story; ‘Murder at the Observatory’.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
The three books featuring my stories were all designed by the publishers or those supervising the publication of the books. I hadn’t any input. When my Crime stories come out later this year I shall have to think hard about covers. I am a keen photographer so I may well design the covers myself; we shall see.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Finding time and finding a time when I am able to move and I am not in too much pain. I have an elderly mother who is very demanding upon my time and I had an accident (fell down the stairs Boxing Day 2012) which resulted in my having a broken shoulder and collar bone. January 2014 the surgeon had me in for an operation and I was actually on my way to theatre when he decided the damage was still too unstable to risk operating; he could make things a lot worse, and at best a little better, so until the whole thing stabilizes sufficiently he is reluctant to operate. I see him again next week. Therefore I am in constant pain and discomfort and everyday tasks are difficult or impossible. Typing is hell. So the last 18 months have almost been a write-off for me and my plans.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Every time I write I learn to be better at it. I know I can concentrate and shut the world out when I start writing. I’ve learned that my life has not been as boring or mundane as I thought it was and using my experiences as backgrounds for my stories has shown me this. We all really do have a book inside of us.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Fire up the computer, or grab a quill and parchment and stare at the blankness for a while and then just write whatever comes into your head. Suddenly things take shape and there are the bare bones of something.
It is like song-writing; you sit in a studio staring at the mixing desk knowing that at $XXX per hour/day or whatever, the record company is expecting to hear what you’ve written and recorded during a set time period. Fear and pressure is a great motivator. Someone might play a few chords and before long something is taking shape. I equate this with writing a story – I’ve experienced both. No-one is standing over me expecting a hit record in six weeks any more, but mentally that is how I go about my writing – without so much of the fear of course; there is fear and pressure, but it is my own creation and motivation, not the VP of the Record label. I fear I won’t be good enough and I won’t be able to make sense of the plot and I try and give myself deadlines – a word-count or a timeline – otherwise I would still be gazing at a blank screen or making tea or going on Facebook all the time. Fear and pressure works for me. It may put others off.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I would like to thank those who have already read and purchased my work and have taken the time and trouble to comment upon it. I appreciate their input and encouragement. I have been asked to get a move on with Ms B as I know lots of kind people are waiting to read about her and although it seems as if the books(s) have been taking an age, I am almost there. I hope they don’t disappoint and I hope that they are liked enough to make the series worthwhile.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
It was Dick and Dora story books from infant school. Followed by Janet and John I think.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
I love photography and I spend a lot of time walking in the countryside photographing everything I find of interest. I love history, science (astronomy and archaeology) and general knowledge quizzes. I have a thirst for knowledge so learning new things can almost be called a hobby.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I love thrillers and espionage movies but I am also a huge Doris Day/Howard Keel fan and so ‘Calamity Jane’ (a favourite) and musicals such as ‘Kiss Me Kate’ (another favorite) are what I really love; though not modern musicals such as ‘West Side story/Grease’ or anything by Lloyd-Webber; cannot abide them. I and a group of people walked out in the midst of the stage version of ‘Les Miserables’ (I know, I can hear the gasps) – I hated it, and so did a large number of others. My favourite movie is ‘Some Like It Hot’.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
Not a foodie. I am almost completely vegetarian and so salads are a favourite. I eat if I am hungry and I really could care less otherwise. I’ve eaten all over the world and ‘enjoyed’ some weird things such as Frog’s lymph glands, Field Mouse and a few other dubious offerings served to me by various hosts and so salad seems safe to me. I adore cheese.
When I was young I lived and died in Purple and Black. I like blue. But I have no real preference.
Music – ah, after forty plus years in music I think I’ve heard it all. I love Doris Day but I have worked with Thrash Metal (I like it a lot), all forms of Rock (love it) and R&B (when done well) and also Pop and Dance and even Chinese Opera. I love Gershwin, Berlin and Noel Coward….the list is endless. If it is played and performed well, written well and with passion I love anything.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
I have worked in the Diplomatic Service, been involved in Music and Movies etc., and am now writing. When I was at school I wanted to be a journalist. I am glad I never did that. I think if I’d known back when I was a teenager that there was such a thing as a Forensic Pathologist I might well be doing a post mortem now, instead of chatting here. Detective work enthrals me too.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
Yes I have an Author Blog where there are samples of my work, links to online publications and pod-casts and also the books I have been lucky to have been involved with and much, much, more.
I have a Facebook Author Page as well
Fiona, thanks so much for hosting me and for giving me the opportunity to chat with you and your readers. I do hope this is not too long and boring and I would love some feedback on the story extract if anyone wants to contact me.
Many thanks again.