Author Q&A: Jan Ellis

Today on Becca's Books, I'm delighted to be welcoming the wonderful Jan Ellis to Becca's Books for an author Q&A.

First of all, could you introduce yourself to readers? Tell us a little bit about you and the books that you write.
Thanks so much for inviting me onto your blog, Rebecca! I write contemporary romcom with the emphasis on humour rather than the soppy stuff. My stories tend to have small-town settings with realistic characters who range in age from young teens to 80-somethings.

Tell us about your most recent book, and where can we find it?
My most recent novella, which came out in April 2016, is called A London Affair. It’s a light-hearted romance that takes the reader from the King's Road to Cornwall with an eclectic bunch of characters including an old hippy, a Russian property magnate and an ex-boyfriend who doesn't know when to give up. Unusually for me the heroine Kate is in her twenties – I tend to create characters nearer my own age!

Are there any particular themes which you try to incorporate within your books?
I guess family and friendship are always at the core of my stories.

How do you hope to make readers feel while reading your books?
I would love readers to be caught up in my characters’ adventures and to laugh at the funny bits. 

If you had to choose three words to describe your most recent book, what would they be?
Delicatessen dating adventure!

When it comes to creating your characters, are they completely fictional or do you gather ideas from the people you know in real life?
A bit of both, really. Some are made up but many are inspired by people I’ve met. 

How do you choose the settings of your books?
When Endeavour Press commissioned me back in 2013 I had never written fiction before, so it made sense to write about things I was familiar with. My background is in publishing and I still work in the book trade, so it seemed natural for my character Eleanor Mace to own a bookshop. And – like me – she has moved to the West Country from London.

Have you visited any of the areas which you’ve written about?
Yup – all of them. I lived in the capital for most of my life so the posh deli where Kate works in A London Affair is based on a real shop. When I describe Rachel’s hilltop village in the South of France (in French Kisses), and the Devon bookshop and Mallorcan villa in An Unexpected Affair and A Summer of Surprises, I can see the settings in my mind’s eye. 

Who are some of your favourite authors?
I don't have favourite authors so much as favourite books, but I've just scanned my shelves and they're an eclectic bunch. In no particular order: Kate Mosse, EM Forster, CJ Sansom, David Lodge, Michael Frayn, Maggie O'Farrell, Liane Moriarty. I could go on . . .

Do you like to plan strategically, or do you let the characters lead the way?
I’m not a planner, though I should be! My next book (out in paperback in spring 2017) is a mystery and I had no idea how the puzzle was going to resolve itself. Thankfully my heroine – Eleanor Mace again – figured it out for me.

If you could sit down and have lunch with any author, who would you choose and why?
Thomas Hardy because Far From the Madding Crowd is one of my favourite books.

Is there a particular part of the writing process which you enjoy more than others?
I really enjoy writing dialogue – especially the funny stuff – and love it when the characters start chattering away and all I need do is write it down. It may sound a bit potty, but that’s exactly how it happens.

When it comes to the cover of a book, how important do you feel they are?
They are super important: my stories are coming out in paperback next year and I’ve had a sneak preview. The covers of the ebooks are dreamy and romantic, whereas the new illustrations are quirky and fun. I can’t wait to share them with you!

How do you keep track of your writing progress? Do you use daily word goals? Do you aim to get a set number of chapters written?
There’s always a word count and a deadline for delivery, so I figure out how many words I should write each day. Needless to say, it rarely works out . . .

Tell us the top three books you’ve read so far in 2016.
Tricky, but I think I’ll go for Benediction by Kent Haruf, Flowers for the Dead by Barbara Copperthwaite and Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell. 

When did your love of writing first begin to blossom?
I guess I must have been about seven.

How did you celebrate your most recent publication day?
A London Affair came out while I was working at London Book Fair, so I raised a glass with colleagues in a pub near Olympia.

What are your thoughts on the book-blogging community?
I think you’re an incredibly disciplined and hard-working bunch. Bloggers are without doubt the most influential commentators these days.

Which, if any, other genre would you like to try and write in?
As it happens, I’ve been having a go at ‘cosy crime’ and historical fiction. In my new paperback for Waverley Books (The Bookshop Detective), Eleanor Mace has a mystery to solve and part of the solution is historical so I had a couple of sections set in the 1870s. 

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far in your writing career?
Undoubtedly being commissioned to write fiction in the first place!

Are you working on anything at the moment? If so, tell us a little bit about it.
I’m expecting the publisher’s comments on the manuscript of The Bookshop Detective to arrive next week, so those will keep me busy for a few days.

What was the best piece of advice you ever received?
‘Just go for it.’

What do you class as a successful writing day?
Like many other word-wranglers, I have days jobs so I rarely have an entire day devoted to writing. If I can work for four hours and write, say, 1,500 to 2,000 words, I’m a happy bunny.

Writing in an apartment in New York City or writing in a cottage in the English countryside?
Spookily enough I live in a cottage in the English countryside . . .

Writing with a cup of tea or writing with a cup of coffee?
Tea. Lots of it.

Writing with a sandwich or writing with a cupcake?
A sandwich, though cheese doesn’t half bung up the keyboard.

Writing with music or writing in silence?
Silence – apart from the sound of my dog cleaning her feet. (She chews her claws.)

Writing outside in the sunshine or writing inside as the snow falls?
Cosy and warm inside. I’d nod off in the sunshine. 

And lastly, if someone told you that they wanted to be a writer, what would you tell them?
Do it because you love writing and the stories make you and your readers happy. Don’t do it for money, because you probably won’t earn very much!

About the author
Jan Ellis began writing fiction by accident in 2013. Until then, she had led a blameless life as a publisher, editor and historian of 16th-century Spain. She fell into fiction when a digital publisher approached her to write a history book, then made the mistake of mentioning women’s fiction, which sounded much more fun. She is proud to be a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

You can find Jan Ellis on Twitter | | Amazon


  1. Great questions, Becca! And thanks again for inviting me to be your guest. Xx

  2. Enjoyed reading this - looking forward to reading Jan's new books and seeing the new covers. I love this blog and enjoyed reading this interview. I really like Jan Ellis's dialogue. It is fun, sparky and her characters are very entertaining. I like Eleanor Mace a lot.

    1. What a lovely comment, Alice! Would you mind putting a few words on Amazon? That would really make my day. :-) xx