Jana Petken is author of two highly-rated historical fiction novels. “The Guardian of Secrets” was her first release and sold very well on the market. Her new book “Mercy Carver” looks set to repeat that success. Enjoy this interview with a top-of-the-line author…
Kirkus Review “The Guardian of Secrets“
A dark debut novel about a woman’s escape from a life of abuse and her ensuing struggle.
By all appearances, Celia Dobbs has everything a young Englishwoman in 1912 could want. She’s newly married to Joseph Dobbs, a handsome man with whom she’s besotted, and is the daughter of Peter Merrill, a wealthy man whose ownership of a vast farm ensures that Celia and Joseph will live well.
But all is not as it seems: Joseph soon shows his true colours as a violent drunk with gambling debts, and he proves to be a severely abusive husband, flinging expletives and punches as swiftly as he once cast promises of love. His dark side takes on added horror when Celia learns that he’s responsible for the murder of her father.
With the help of her aunt Marie, Celia and her newborn son escape from Kent to Spain, and Marie promises that she will see justice served while Celia’s away. Once in Spain, Celia meets a man named Ernesto and begins the next chapter of her life.
After Joseph’s trial ends with a guilty verdict and order of execution, Marie decides to give Celia the dignity of being a widow instead of a divorcee, by destroying the divorce papers that would have freed Celia from her marriage.
Back in Spain, the novel details Celia’s recovery and her children’s developing lives, and they become key players in a tense, fast-paced story.
The writing is often captivating, with a consistently engaging tone throughout, although the violent scenes are somewhat graphic and disturbing. Celia’s growth as a character truly sets this novel apart as more than a simple drama: It’s also a commentary on how strong a woman can become when facing adversity.
A suspenseful, compelling historical novel.
An Interview With Jana Petken
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
How a poverty stricken woman from London was going to get to Virginia in the year, 1860. In this book, the plot had to be tailor made to the main character’s destiny and this led me down a very slippery road, at times.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
I really enjoyed Mercy Carver’s adventurous spirit and her precarious fight to survive. I also loved her journey from one continent to another because that enabled me to bring in some interesting characters and put, Mercy, in a world she knew nothing about.
Are there vocabulary words or concepts in your book that may be new to readers? Can you define some of those.
The vocabulary was challenging in this book because a poor area in the south of London used many different words to the Aristocracy and wealthy living at the other side of the bridges. The Virginians in the story spoke with Southern accents and a different speech formation. Mercy Carver really highlighted a clash of different societies in mid 19th century.
Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured if your book?
The entire concept of the book is based around slavery and highlights not only the American slave trade, up to the Civil War in 1861, but also the problem of human trafficking in England, involving white women. The present world is suffering a plague of slavery, which is still legal in a few countries. These men, women, and children abducted, tricked, and forced into what we call: Modern Day Slavery, are victims of crimes against humanity, and all those involved in its supply and demand chain are a stain on society.
Are there misconceptions that people have about your book? If so, explain.
Hmm, interesting question. The comments from readers have been very useful, with most readers saying that they found some of Mercy’s experiences, quite shocking and unexpected. This is a historical fiction/romance novel, but like, The Guardian of Secrets, it is also gritty and filled with a dark realism. I think my readers are beginning to realise that anything can happen in my stories.
What is the biggest thing that people THINK they know about your subject/genre, that isn’t so?
Many readers may think Historical fiction is a genre where imagination plays the biggest role – Not so. Historical novels require just as much research as story, and the further back in time one goes to look for a story the harder it becomes to develop a realistic backdrop for the characters.
What is the most important thing that people DON’T know about your subject/genre, that they need to know?
I would love readers to know that the historical genre is probably the most time consuming subject to write. For instance, I have had a plots in my head that I’ve had to abandon because historical facts work against them. Respect for history must come before the story otherwise you end up with a flimsy tale.
What inspires you?
It’s simple. The passion I feel when developing a story and characters. Having said that, there are days when inspiration has flown out the window. If I stare at the computer for more than 15 minutes without writing a word, I usually give up, and invite my dog out for a coffee!
How did you get to be where you are in your life today?
I suppose that hard work, bad luck, good luck, and sheer determination led me to this point. If anyone reads my biography, they’ll see that I’ve been on some very diverse paths in life. I believe we map our own destiny, even when we don’t realise that the hand of fate is guiding us. I wanted to write when I was a child but life got in the way. When I wrote my first book, The Guardian of Secrets, the timing was perfect and came about after a major twist of fate.
Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work? What impact have they had on your writing?
Ken Follett is a great author. I thought his, Pillars of the Earth, was superb. My favourite authors are those, who brought me a great story to read. I still think Margaret Mitchell was a great talent, as was Catherine Cookson. I like to read books that have been recommended. Word of mouth is a powerful thing.
What did you find most useful in learning to write? What was least useful or most destructive?
Patience! Researching, learning how to format everything from dialogue to paragraphs. I am learning the art of writing every day.
The most destructive element when writing is one that authors often bring on themselves. It is called, self doubt. To write means, being bold, and putting what you create down on paper, regardless of apprehension or fear.
Are you a full-time or part-time writer? How does that affect your writing?
I am a full-time writer. This is a luxury and I appreciate, very much, being able to write at any time of the day or night without restrictions.
What are some day jobs that you have held? If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.
I am ex military, bodyguard, security advisor, tour guide, and cabin crew for BA, Worldwide fleet. I think all my careers had an impact on my writing. All these jobs stirred my imagination. The most useful job, as far as developing writing skills are concerned, was my job as a tour guide in foreign countries. There was a great deal of studying involved. As a guide, it was my job to inform travellers about geography, history, and population, and at the same time, make the information entertaining.
For those interested in exploring the subject or theme of your book, where should they start?
Libraries are wonderful places. I hope they long continue. The internet is accessible to most people but I still believe that printed reference books and historical documents are more comprehensive and fun to work with. The American Civil War is widely documented, as is mid 19th century London.
How do you feel about ebooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?
I am a strong believer in print books. I worry that they are in decline. Everyone I speak to agrees, yet most people have ebook readers in some form or another. I dread to think of a day in the future, where printed books are antiquities. The world has been given amazing stories, penned by unforgettable traditionally published authors, but an unknown self published author can and does come along, from time to time, with an equally fantastic book. Unfortunately, self published books have a much harder hill to climb when trying to get their stories to a wider audience. I hope that book shops, blinded by tradition, start opening their doors to talent and not just to major publishing companies.
What do you think is the future of reading/writing?
I believe the entire industry, from top to bottom, is in a state of flux. The future of writing may involve millions of authors releasing short novellas, in order to sell multiple kindles on Amazon. The quality of writing will suffer and readers will lose trust in all self published books. This is my personal opinion and I am not speaking for anyone else. I believe that it is the duty of the book industry to make sure that good quality books are released into the public domain. There has to be gatekeepers, whether they belong to a traditionally published house or an online site, open to independent publishers.
What process did you go through to get your book published?
A very long process involving a publishing house that provides quality packages, from book covers, editing, formatting, and marketing. I am not the brightest bean in the tin when it comes to computers, so I handed the entire publishing process over to experts in their fields.
What makes your book stand out from the crowd?
The Guardian of Secrets stands out because it’s such a large tome. It’s an epic story, and there are not that many of those around. I would like to think that The Mercy Carver Series has something, just that little bit different. I have to say though, that most authors will tell you that their book is unique.
How do you find or make time to write?
Do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two? Summarize your writing process.
I go on pure gut feelings and instinct. Many actors delve into their characters’ minds. I believe many authors do too. If I write about a character, I become that character. Sometimes people defy logic, display flaws in their personalities, do wrong, hate, love. Logic plays no part when it comes to the heart and soul of a person, whether fictitious or real.
What are some ways in which you promote your work? Do you find that these add to or detract from your writing time?
Being self published means doing everything for yourself. No one will ever buy a book if they have never heard of it. I find self promotion the most difficult part of being an author. I want to write and tell stories, not cruise social media pages for hours, hoping that the world will spot my promotional ads.
What is your role in the writing community?
I am active on a couple of author forums and groups, which are informative and helpful, but again, I would rather talk to readers and write. Some forums can become like a big black hole. You go on there and never come off. Next thing you know, the day has ended and not a word of your novel has been written.
What do you like to read in your free time?
I have to be honest here. I enjoy reading when in a park or at the beach, but when I am at home, I prefer to watch documentaries, world news programmes, and I am a movie lover.
What projects are you working on at the present?
I am almost finished with Blood Moon, the second part of the Mercy Carver Series. It is fast paced with a lot of action. Mercy will go out with a bang!
What do your plans for future projects include?