Janet Dean Knight – Q&A

Janet Dean Knight

Janet Dean Knight

Janet Dean Knight explores contemporary themes through historical fiction. Her debut novel, The Peacemaker is a moving story of a young woman’s struggle to make peace with her father on the eve of the Second World War.

Born and raised in a coalmining village, Janet draws on her experience and family history to tell compelling stories about the past that resonate with current issues, particularly in the lives of women and working class communities. Janet writes strong characters and engaging plots about the past which help her readers to think more deeply about what matters now. Her writing is challenging yet respectful, passionate and accessible.

Contact details for Jean are:
Website: www.jdeanknight.com
Twitter: @jdeanknight
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jdeanknight
Instagram: jdeanknight

Tell me what inspired you to write your (debut) novel?

My mother told stories all the time and she often talked about her parents and her mother’s first husband who died in the First World War. When the 1911 Census was published I started doing family history research I was able to both corroborate and correct some of my mother’s stories. This is what inspired my debut novel The Peacemaker which is about a young woman who discovers that that her life in 1938 is about to follow the path of her mother’s in 1914.

What came first the characters or the world?

The characters, but they are in their home settings of industrial South Yorkshire and the North York Moors, and when I decided to focus on the two world wars, the whole thing came together.

How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?

I tried for about a year to interest agents and through them mainstream publishers without much success, despite reasonable feedback about the book. I then tried independent publishers who take manuscripts direct and Top Hat Books offered me a traditional publishing contract without an advance but with slightly higher royalties than normal.

How long did it take to write?

The family history research was an obsession for a couple of years, then I started an MA in Creative Writing because as a poet I wasn’t confident about my ability to write long-form prose. I started that in 2013 and graduated in 2015 with the first few chapters forming part of my dissertation. I completed a first draft in 2016 and final edits in 2017. It was accepted for publication in 2018 and published in 2019. Put that way, it took at least 6 years if not 8!

Do you have a writing playlist? If so do you want to share it?

No, I don’t although Violet my heroine, likes music so there is reference in the book to some of the music of the time, which my parents would have danced to – big band tunes, songs from the Hollywood musicals, crooners like Bring Crosby.

How many publishers turned you down?

I only had a couple of direct rejections from publishers before I accepted the contract from John Hunt. I had some feedback that the lack of interest was because I hadn’t got a series lined up, or that my book wasn’t commercial enough.

What kind of reactions have you had to your book?

Very positive. It deals with some difficult issues and because it has a female heroine, it is seen as ‘women’s fiction’. But it also focuses on Violet’s father Ellis, who is based on my grandfather and takes a viewpoint of his experience in the First World War. The feedback I’ve had from male writers has been particularly positive and rich. Quite a lot of readers have described it as absorbing, a page turner which is always great to hear.

What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?

Two very different ones. A writing friend compared my book to Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, not sure about that, but I’ll take it, and a woman with a small boy asked me when I was promoting my book in WH Smith if it was about trains because it has a picture of the North York Moors Railway on the cover. She said her little boy liked trains, but I couldn’t recommend it to her – although there is a train journey in it.

What can you tell us about your next book?

The Peacemaker

The Peacemaker

I have a completed manuscript called Does She Love Us? which is in search of a publisher. It started as a sequel to The Peacemaker, which a lot of readers asked for, but I couldn’t make it work that way. It’s a family drama set in 1963 about working class women trying to find independence through work and through living their own lives. I think the challenge I have is that the book is what I would call accessible literary fiction – this means it is not as commercial as some publishers would like, nor as literary as others would want.

Do you take notice of online reviews?

Yes of course, if they’re positive! I have one one-star review on Amazon which is from somebody who bought the book by mistake. They were very annoyed, my guess is more with themselves, but they took it out on me. I use the advice that writers often give – check the reviews of your favourite book, somebody will have hated it, there’s no such thing as a book that everybody loves.

Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?

Yes, I have ideas for all sorts of plots – crime, psychological thriller, romance. Some historical, some contemporary. I am unlikely to write fantasy or sci-fi, but never say never.

What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?

I worked in the public sector as a Director and Non-Executive Director in housing, health, social care and regeneration. I still do some voluntary non-exec work, but mostly I write now.

Which author(s) inspire you?

A long list: Margaret Atwood, Anne Tyler, Sarah Waters, Kate Atkinson, Maggie O’Farrell, Donna Tartt, James Baldwin, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Patrick Gale, Sebastian Barry.

Which genres do you read yourself?

Mostly literary fiction at the moment, although I go through periods of reading a lot of crime – I like Michael Connelly, George Pellicanos, Nikki French, Jo Nesbo. I tend to read something from a prize list followed by something lighter in rotation.

What is your biggest motivator?

Getting feedback from readers, and talking to readers about writing. I love talking at events and book groups.

What will always distract you?

Lots of things – emails, Twitter, Wordle, The Guardian on my phone, writing prompts, webinars, Zooms, lunch, dinner. This is why if I really want to concentrate I need to go away to write – to the library or an isolated cottage or a friend’s house if they’re away.

How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?

I was asked too suggest three images that I liked and the publisher chose one of them and designed the cover. I could make comments about the layout and fonts, etc, and this was taken on board. Overall the design has a vintage feel which is great.

Were you a big reader as a child?

Yes, I liked to read, but we didn’t have a lot of books in the house. My parents read – my mother borrowed books from the library, my father swapped books with his friends, but there were very few children’s books until we got a new library in the village when I was about 10. My love of books really took off from about 12 or 13 and I went straight to adult books – there was nothing in the middle back then, really.

What were your favourite childhood books?

The first book I remember was a picture book called Prudence and Priscilla about two cats who go shopping for hats and gloves. I loved What Katy Did and What Katy Did Next and at school I remember reading The Television Twins. A family friend used to send the Scottish comic books The Broons and Oor Wullie for Christmas and I would pour over them for hours.

Do you have a favourite bookshop? If so, which?

The Little Apple Bookshop in York is 10 minutes from our house on the way into town, so I’m often drawn to its window. It provides a great personal service. We have friends who live in Portobello near Edinburgh and the bookshop there is stunning, bright, stylish and full of wonderful books.

What books can you not resist buying?

If I like a book by an author I tend to buy up everything they’ve written, or ask for them as presents – Maggie O’Farrell and Sebastian Barry are doing very well from this at the moment.

Do you have any rituals when writing?

I am a plotter, so I will write an outline before I start writing. I then write freely and edit when finished, not as I go along. If (when) I get stuck I make mind maps to look at possibilities. Not sure if these are rituals or sensible methods. I always make a coffee before I start.

How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?

I have two on the go at the moment on my bedside table, about eight under the table, only two of which I am likely to read soon, and then another pile of ten or so on a table in my study from which I will pick. But then, if I read a new author, I might buy another of theirs and I won’t get round to the TBR pile.

What is your current or latest read?

I am finishing Lowside of the Road by Barney Hoskyns, which is a biography of Tom Waits. It’s a thick tome, so I didn’t take it on a recent holiday, so am also reading Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture, which I did. I should also be reading Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon for my book group next week – I’ve started it on Kindle.

Any books that you’re looking forward to in the next 12 months?

A couple in particular where I bought but didn’t read the debut and now plan to read that and the follow up – Shuggie Bain and Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart and Queenie and People Person by Candice Carty-Williams

Any plans or projects in the near future you can tell us about?

I also have a book called The Man In The Street Has No Shoes which is at final edit stage and this is probably a little more commercial. It is about a woman who passes a homeless man in the street and recognises him as the person she almost married forty years before. Set between the present day and the 1980s, the novel explores how people’s lives are affected by decisions they made in the past.

Any events in the near future?

I’ve missed events over the past two years, but this March I was lucky to be able to speak about writing as a later life or ‘encore’ career at the York Literature Festival with my friends poet and memoirist Yvie Holder and novelist Jane Austin who was launching her new book Renegade. I’ve got a private event lined up for a group in September and a book group in May, but would love to get back into the swing of small festivals and book groups. I am involved in poetry events online in April and May which is great, but there’s nothing like real life, is there?

and finally, what inspired you to write the genre you do?

I was never a great reader of historical fiction, so surprised myself by writing it. Family history inspired me, especially my mother’s willingness to talk about the past, and I really enjoyed the research, so I hope to do more in future.


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Gill Thompson – Q&A

Gill Thompson

Gill Thompson

Gill Thompson is an English lecturer who completed an MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University. Her first novel, THE OCEANS BETWEEN US, tells the heart-breaking story of a mother and son separated by war and by continents, fighting their way back to each other. The first three chapters of THE OCEANS BETWEEN US were longlisted for the Mslexia novel award and the first page of her second work in progress has been selected to feature in Mslexia magazine. Gill lives with her family in West Sussex and teaches English to college students and hosts a creative writing blog.

Tell me what inspired you to write your (debut) novel?

My debut novel (The Oceans Between Us) was inspired when I happened to catch the lunchtime news and heard Gordon Brown apologising to the ex child migrants who’d been sent to Australia decades previously. I was horrified to discover the children had been told their parents were dead, when they were often alive and searching for them. This led me to research the topic and eventually weave a story around it. I then wrote a novel based on a Czech girl rescued by Sir Nicholas Winton in World War two (The Child on Platform One). But in my third novel, The Lighthouse Sisters, I explore my own family history in a story set on Channel Island Jersey.

What came first the characters or the world?

Because I write historical fiction, I start with the historical events then gradually start to shape protagonists who encounter those events.

How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?

I was lucky and got an agent and a publisher fairly quickly. Although I was unaware of it at the time, writing about World War two turned out to be a good decision as it was becoming a popular topic and editors were actively looking for WW2 stories.

The Oceans Between Us

The Oceans Between Us

How long did it take to write?

It took me nine years from first draft to publication – although I did an M.A in Creative Writing in between.

Do you have a writing playlist? If so do you want to share it?

No. I’m very boring and have to write in complete silence! I did have a playlist for the launch of my first novel though, as I’d mentioned about 40 songs in the book.

How many publishers turned you down?

Um … maybe 5 or 6.

The Child on Platform One

The Child on Platform One

What kind of reactions have you had to your book?

I’ve had some lovely comments. The best ones are from ex child migrants, for my first novel, and people whose parents were on the kindertransport for the second, saying how moving they found my writing. That means a lot.

What can you tell us about your next book?

The Lighthouse Sisters is set on Jersey during the German occupation of the island and features two sisters – one who joins the Resistance, and the other who’s deported to Germany. As I say, it’s a story close to my heart as my family came from the island originally.

Do you take notice of online reviews?

I do. Most of them are nice and I always welcome constructive criticism.

Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?

I’ve been a teacher for over 40 years so I’m very tempted to write a teaching memoir. I’m under contract for another World War two book though so I need to finish that first.

What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?

See above.

Which author(s) inspire you?

Helen Dunmore. Ian McEwan. Kate Atkinson. Victoria Hislop. Maggie O’ Farrell.

Which genres do you read yourself?

I do read historical fiction as I like to know what other authors are doing. I also read a lot of books by writers I know and want to support. I teach English Literature so I read a lot of A Level set texts too.

What is your biggest motivator?

Myself aged ten, desperate to become a writer. How I wish I could tell my childhood self that it would take 50 years to realise that ambition but I got there in the end.

What will always distract you?

The fridge!

The Lighthouse Sisters out August 2022

The Lighthouse Sisters out August 2022

How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?

My editor always shows them to me and asks for my opinion, and the designer tries to accommodate my views.

Were you a big reader as a child?

Yes. Voracious!

What were your favourite childhood books?

Enid Blyton. Jean Plaidy. Georgette Heyer. C.S Lewis.

Do you have a favourite bookshop? If so, which?

I love the Haslemere bookshop, which is near me. The staff there are really inspiring – and very supportive of local writers.

What books can you not resist buying?

Anything by my favourite authors (see above).

Do you have any rituals when writing?

I’m a terrible procrastinator so I faff around on social media for a bit before finally trying to ‘get in the zone.’

How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?

I’m currently doing some research for book four which is set in Hungary and Scotland so I’m reading about World War two in those countries.

What is your current or latest read?

I’m reading ‘The Tenth Gift’ by Jane Johnson. It’s a dual time novel set in the current day and the seventeenth century. I’m really enjoying it.

Any books that you’re looking forward to in the next 12 months?

I hope Maggie O’Farrell has a new book out soon. I thought Hamnet was stunning.

Any plans or projects in the near future you can tell us about?

I was lucky enough to be offered a second two book deal by my publishers, Headline, so I’m currently researching my fourth book..

Any events in the near future?

Unsurprisingly there were very few events during lockdown but things are just opening up again. I love giving talks about my books and I’m speaking about my second novel at Farnham library on 31st March and running a workshop at the Chichester festival in June.

and finally, what inspired you to write the genre you do?

I didn’t set out to become a historical fiction writer, but having found out and written about the child migrants to Australia after World War two in my first novel, my publishers were keen for me to carry on writing about this time in history. There are still some fascinating stories coming out about the war – and it was a war my own father fought in – so I never get tired of writing stories set in that time.


If you want to help and support this blog you could become a Patreon which would help pay for my hosting, domain names, streaming services, and the occasional bag of popcorn to eat while watching films.

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Secrets of a Sun King

Emma Carroll. Faber & Faber. (304p) ISBN 9780571328499

Secrets of a Sun King

Secrets of a Sun King

In Emma Carrol’s latest historical adventure for Middle Grade we find Lilian and her friends in a race against time to stop the Pharaoh’s curse.

Right from the start this goes at a cracking pace that pulls you along in anticipation of the next part of the adventure, set in London and Egypt (and a few places in-between) there is a real feel of nostalgia throughout. Wonderfully described scenes and believable characters help with his pace.

There is also a thread about families and secrets that weaves through the story which adds to the mystery.

Bravery, love and friendship are some of the main themes of this book and are explored so well.

Get Secrets of a Sun King as soon as it comes out on the 2nd August 2018, you really won’t regret it.


If you want to help and support this blog you could become a Patreon which would help pay for my hosting, domain names, streaming services, and the occasional bag of popcorn to eat while watching films.

If you can’t support with a monthly subscription a tip at my Ko-Fi is always appreciated, as is buying things from my Ko-Fi Shop.

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The Secret of Nightingale Wood

Lucy Strange. Chicken House. (304p) ISBN 9781910655030

The Secret of Nightingale Wood

The Secret of Nightingale Wood

The Secret of Nightingale Wood is Lucy Strange’s debut novel and begins with a setting similar to ‘The Railway Children’ by E. Nesbit. It is set in the early 20th century and in a country setting reminiscent of ‘The Railway Children’, with a change in family home, with a similar family make up, and an unspoken tragedy at the centre of the story.

The similarities do end quickly though, as Henry has to deal with difficulties that are reminiscent of those in ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ by Jean Rhys and are slightly harsher than those Nesbit’s era were prepared to deal with in a children’s book, though Nesbit did write horror stories for adults which were much darker than her children’s stories.

Lucy Strange’s hero, Henry has to face a lot of problems and feels that she has to do these alone, but as the story develops, so does the friendships she makes develop. She finds support and friendship in some strange places.

The two main shadows over the story are the loss of her elder brother and the aftermath of WWI, both of these are themes throughout the book and weave all the way through the book and each other.

This is a well written book that flows from the moment you open the page and is lovingly decorated throughout with pen sketches of various locations and objects from the story.


If you want to help and support this blog you could become a Patreon which would help pay for my hosting, domain names, streaming services, and the occasional bag of popcorn to eat while watching films.

If you can’t support with a monthly subscription a tip at my Ko-Fi is always appreciated, as is buying things from my Ko-Fi Shop.

You can always email me on contact@bigbeardedbookseller.com with any suggestions.