Jaye Ford is the internationally-selling author of four chilling suspense novels, Beyond Fear, Scared Yet?, Blood Secret and Already Dead. Her first thriller, Beyond Fear, won Best Debut and Readers’ Choice awards at the 2012 Sister’s in Crime Davitt Awards and was the highest selling debut crime novel in Australia that year. Under the name Janette Paul, she is also the author of the bestselling romantic comedy Just Breathe. Jaye is a former news and sport journalist, was the first female presenter of a live national sport show on Australian TV and ran her own public relations business before turning to fiction. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter
Did you grow up in a bookish house?
My parents read a lot, my mum still does. There wasn’t a lot of discussion about books or writing, just an understanding that reading was a part of life. I have memories of my mum sitting on the edge of my bed at night reading Black Beauty aloud. I loved reading in bed, there was always a book on the shelf above my pillow, stories about plucky young girls who did daring things – Heidi and What Katy Did, teenage detectives and girls who became vets.
When did you begin writing in a serious way, and what motivated that?
I can’t remember when I haven’t had a stories in my head, it just took a long time for me to start writing them down. I had some time after both of my children were born and started putting words to my stories. It was an off and on hobby for a long time and then I was almost forty, between jobs and thinking, ‘What do I want to do now?’ I realised if I didn’t actually put some real effort into my dream of writing a book, I’d be on my deathbed still wishing I’d done it. So I started in earnest – ten years and three manuscripts later, I made it.
How did your debut novel, Beyond Fear, come to be written and published?
I’d written two romance novels, trying to craft what I thought would sell, and had gotten zero interest from the publishing world. After six years, I realised it was possible I could write for my whole life and never get published so I decided to write the book I wanted to read and, if nothing else, I’d be entertaining myself. That was my first thriller Beyond Fear.
After so long just trying to get a response from publishers, Beyond Fear moved incredibly fast. As I was finishing it, one of my romance novels came second in a writing competition and was made an offer by a publisher. By then, I wanted to write thrillers and I’d pitched Beyond Fear to an agent at a writers’ conference. I emailed her and said, ‘Remember that book? Well, I’ve got an offer on another book.’ After years of hearing nothing, she replied in ten minutes, signed me up in a couple of days and Beyond Fear was on the shelves a year after I’d typed The End. The lesson in that: write what you want to write and put yourself out there.
What research did you have to do for your latest novel Already Dead and how did you go about it?
There’s always a lot of small, weird pieces of research for a crime novel – police road blocks on a motorway, how to survive driving into a tree – but the bulk of the research for Already Dead was around Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. When I started pulling ideas together for a fourth thriller, I’d been reading the media coverage of military personnel returning from Afghanistan and Iraq with PTSD. The stories of soldiers and their families dealing with this silent injury were heartbreaking. It seemed to me to be brave people being hurt by their own bravery and I wanted to explore that in the context of a crime story, perhaps recognise some of the battles soldiers face when they come home. I’d researched PTSD for my second novel Scared Yet? and knew a little about the disorder, so this time around I focused on the experience of it. I read mostly – media coverage, military and veteran reports and statistics, accounts from soldiers and the partners who have to live with them when they come home. For first-hand experience, I was fortunate to have a couple of friends willing to tell me their experiences, one whose former police officer husband suffers PTSD and another who worked in mental health with PTSD patients.
What are your writing habits?
I hate trying to create under pressure and I stress over deadlines and getting behind, so I’m pretty disciplined with my work habits. I write full-time, which for me means five days a weeks, nine to six, with a break for lunch and another for a walk (most days). I’m my own boss, so I take time out if I need to – my mum is unwell and needs help sometimes and my daughter lives in Melbourne and I try to combine work and a get-together.
I have a fabulous office, my daughter’s old bedroom that I converted about a week after she moved out! I get a view of the lake and the backyard and have a tonne of desk and shelf space. I start each morning with a coffee and emails, plod along on my story until lunchtime, then get the bulk of the day’s words down in the afternoon. I aim for a change of scenery at least once a week, writing somewhere else – a local cafe mostly, sometimes just the kitchen bench.
What do you do when you feel creatively stuck?
A year ago, I would have given you my standard plan for getting back on track – exercise, reviewing, pushing on – but last year I had surgery then a bad dose of the flu and the recovery and drugs just killed my writing. I couldn’t think what to say and was horrified at what I managed to write. It was awful and the story, a fifth thriller, was a mess. Two weeks on a boat over Christmas doing nothing but reading and swimming worked wonders and I wrote like a maniac for five months after that and finally finished the story. It was massively overwritten but the essence of it was all there and eventually uncovered by my clever publisher. Advice to self (and anyone else who’s struggling with creativity): take a break when you need it.
What are you working on now?
I’m still working on that fifth thriller and after those miserable writing months and the massive word count, I’m really excited by it now. It’s called Darkest Place and is about a woman who thinks someone is breaking into her apartment to watch her sleep but no one believes her. It’s creepy and dark and out next March.
What’s your favourite book by an Australian female author?
That’s a tough one for me. I’m not good at favourites, I like what I’m in the mood for – soup or curry, boots or shoes; with books it’s whether I want to get lost in a story or need inspiration or feel like something new or old. Also, I now know so many Australian women writers that I want to mention them all! I won’t, though. I only read crime when I’m writing so the Australian women crime writers I’ve enjoyed in the last year include: Wendy James, Honey Brown, Liane Moriarty and P M Newton.