Jenny Hale Author Bio:
When I graduated college, one of my friends said, “Look out for this one; she’s going to be an author one day.” Despite being an avid reader and a natural storyteller, it wasn’t until that very moment that the idea of writing novels occurred to me.
Sometimes our friends can see the things that we can’t.
While I didn’t start straight away, that comment sowed a seed and several years, two children, and hundreds of thousands of words later, I completed a novel that I felt was worthy of publication. The result is Coming Home for Christmas - a heart-warming story about friends, family, and the magic of love at Christmas.
I am currently at work on my second novel, also under contract.
When I’m not writing, I’m a District Teacher of English to Speakers of Other Languages, a mother of two boys, and a wife to a very supportive husband.
Your novel is called 'Coming Home For Christmas' please could you tell me about it?
Coming Home for Christmas is a story about family, but it’s also about finding that one person who makes everything in life right. Allie Richfield has grown up with her sister and mother in a lovely, but small, family. She takes a job as House Manager for the Ashford estate where she encounters a larger and more dysfunctional family, The Marleys.
Heading it up is the 92-year-old grandmother, Pippa, who has three grandchildren: Robert, who controls the Marley home and wants to sell it, Kip, a well-known playboy, and Sloane, a divorced mother of two children.
They’re all coming home for one last Christmas gathering before Robert sells Ashford out from under them. All Allie has to do is plan it. What she finds out is that pulling off this last family Christmas might be harder than it seems, and the choices she makes while at Ashford may be the biggest ones of her life.
'Coming Home For Christmas' is about Allie Richfield, please could you tell me about her?
Allie has a happy life, but she’s a little lost. She thinks everything through so much that she can never make her own decisions because she’s afraid they’ll be the wrong ones. Therefore, she loses out on opportunities, and so she relies on her sister to help her. If that doesn’t work, with nothing left to do, she flips a coin. Because of this, she finds herself alone and moving back in with her mother at the age of thirty-two, when all she really wants in life is to settle into a family of her own. As she transitions into a new job, Allie decides that it’s time to make her own decisions, but doing that isn’t as easy as she thinks.
They say the journey to being published is one of the hardest an author can take, please can you describe the journey that you went on?
One night, I sat down and decided to play around with writing a story. Many evenings—and curious glances from my husband—later, I had a manuscript. I knew that it wasn’t perfect, but I’d done it. After that, I spent the next seven years reading about writing and publishing. I also wrote another manuscript. This one was called Flipped for You. Then, I began submitting.
I submitted queries to agents and publishers and received rejections, so I revised my query letter and tried again. Then, once I had a solid query letter, I began to get requests for partials and even the full manuscript. The personal feedback I received kept me going.
I spent the whole of every night, after the kids had gone to bed, plopped down beside my husband on my laptop, writing another manuscript and searching for publishers and agents who interested me. One night, I found Bookouture, and I really liked what I saw. I submitted, and here we are. Flipped for You has been re-titled Coming Home for Christmas, and it will be released October 4th.
Are any of the characters in 'Coming Home For Christmas' anything like you?
Allie is like me in some ways (more so than any other character I’ve written). She has a teaching degree, as have I, and we both enjoy children. Many of the activities that Allie does with the two boys in the story, I’ve done with my own kids.
We see the world similarly: we believe that, regardless of wealth or status, everyone possesses the same emotions, and we are both sensitive to those feelings. Allie and I also become invested in the people we meet along life’s journey, and we feel a need to try and make things better when life throws a curveball. Also, without giving anything away, we both fall for the same type of guy.
Writers put so much time and energy into their characters and I have been told in the past that a writer carries their characters around with them.
So my question is if you could go out for a day with any one of your characters: who would it be, what would you do and why did you pick this particular character?
I would spend the day with Pippa. I’d go anywhere quiet—a café, a library, a park—anywhere that I could listen because I’d want to hear her stories. Also, Pippa has nearly lived her whole life, beginning to end. She has a century of perspective about what’s important and what’s not. I’d want to hear her thoughts about my own choices, from her point of view.
If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?
If I had to pick one, it would be to wait to publish until the aspiring author feels comfortable writing more than just that first book. In this process, I’ve had to write or rewrite pieces of my current manuscript, but I’ve also had discussions regarding what comes next. By the time I’d accepted this offer of contract, in total, I’d written three and a half manuscripts.
This process takes teamwork and a whole lot of discussion. The author has to be able to rethink old ideas and sometimes even scrap them as well as think up brand new ones and work through those. So, keep writing!
What can we expect next, any future books in the pipeline?
We’re toying around with plot lines, and I’m currently under contract for two. I absolutely see more books in my future.
Was there any book you read as a child that convinced you that you wanted to become a writer? If so, which one was it?
I didn’t realize my ability to write novels until adulthood. I honestly believe that writing came out of life experiences coupled with my love of reading. There wasn’t one book in particular, but many—each one giving me something new and lovely to store away until I had so many wonderful fictional experiences that I said, “I can think up something of my own!”
If there was one saying that could sum up your life, what would it be?
It’s hard to sum up my life because I haven’t finished yet! So, if we look at today, I’d say, in the words of Dr. Seuss, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than you.” (Anyone who knows me knows exactly who I am because I live my life being absolutely myself with everyone I meet.)
Quote Source: Dr. Seuss (1959). Happy birthday to you! New York: Random House.
If you were told that you could live any day without repercussions for your actions, what would you do and why?
By nature, I’m a rule-follower, but if I had to, I suppose, I’d skip work and board a plane to somewhere fantastic. But only after securing a sitter for the kids, arranging time off for my husband, and packing meticulously. Even still, I’d worry about skipping work.
If you could choose one book that you think everyone should read, what would it be and why?
Anything by Bill Bryson. My favorite is Notes from a Small Island. That one made me laugh out loud.
What or who in life inspires you?
Children inspire me every day. I have learned my greatest lessons of strength and perseverance from children.
What is your all time favourite book?
I don’t have just one favorite because I keep finding new favorites, so if I were to list one here, I’d be annoyed in a week when I read something else that I loved even more! When I’m reading, certain lines, imagery, ideas—all sorts of things—will grab me and hold me there for a minute. (And that’s regardless of the genre of literature. Even those light, quick reads sometimes give me something great.) Those are my favorite books. So, since I don’t have a favorite, here’s a peek into my bookshelf—the keepers—right now.
Top three in no particular order…
The Hunger Games Trilogy, Suzanne Collins
Remember Me, Sophie Kinsella
Starter for Ten, David Nicholls
If 'Coming Home For Christmas' was to be made into a film, who would you like to star in it?
(These are the people who most resembled the characters in my head. I focused on their faces; hair color and eye color can change.)
Allie – Emilie de Ravin
Robert – Paul Walker or Chris Pine
'Coming Home For Christmas' is set at Christmas time, what was your inspiration behind picking this season?
Originally, I had only created the Ashford home and Robert Marley, its owner, when the idea was first born in my mind, but when I placed the other characters there, and started to construct the rest of the Marleys, I tapped into my strongest and happiest memory of family. Here’s a glimpse into that memory:
I got married in December, my favorite month. My wedding reception was in an old plantation house with white clapboard siding and hinged black shutters. There were fires in all of the fireplaces, and hot, cinnamon apple cider waiting in warmers near antique settees where my friends and family could sit and have a chat. The banisters of the wooden staircase in the center of the home had fresh greenery all the way to the second floor, filling the air with the scent of evergreen. White twinkle lights hung from various surfaces of the interior, and the flicker of candles on tables illuminated groups of friendly faces. On the back porch that had been enclosed, creating three sides of large, thick-paned windows with whitewashed woodwork, we danced all evening.
The Ashford estate is not anything like the plantation house from my wedding day, but my reception inspired the feeling that I wanted to ultimately achieve within the Marley family—that mixture of faces, some who had been around a long time and others who hadn’t, shared stories, laughter. So, I suppose, it was only fitting to set the story at Christmas time.
Please could you tell us a bit about your writing process?
i get inspiration in many different forms: sometimes it’s a song, sometimes a title, it varies. Anything can inspire a thought. From that thought, I may get a character or pieces of a plot. I keep a ton of small, spiral-bound notebooks and I generate lists and notes and plot ideas, situations, and story themes in whichever notebook is handy. I put the characters in a particular situation and then I watch them go.
After I have enough ideas spread across a few notebooks, I start typing. When I have a rough story idea, I tweak things as I get feedback, or feel the need, to make the story work. If I get stuck, I listen to music. Sometimes one song can give me a couple of pages.
With Coming Home for Christmas, I kept the whole structure in my head—nothing written down—and just wrote it from beginning to end, but now that I’m working with Bookouture, and their atmosphere is so collaborative, I’m discovering the importance of a synopsis. I’m writing that first these days. It makes total sense, since I can expand quite easily once I have the idea solidly defined. (And it cuts down on notebook purchases.)
What are your favourite things about Christmas?
I enjoy carrying over Christmas traditions that I had as well as making new ones with our own children. One of my traditions as a child that I do with my own kids is to make homemade cookies for Santa the night before Christmas eve. It’s funny, but we always pick their Daddy’s favorite recipe when we make our Santa cookies. Both Daddy and Santa like the exact same kind.
A new Christmas tradition that I’ve started with my children—and one that I mention in Coming Home for Christmas—is building a gingerbread house. It’s a struggle every year to have enough candy to actually put on the house.
I also love Christmas morning when my kids get me up. They wake up before dawn and come and get us. We all go find Santa’s loot together—the whole family.
What would your dream Christmas gift be?
A live-in housekeeper like Alice on The Brady Bunch! (I’d probably produce double the books if I had one. I so dislike having to stop writing for things like meals and cleaning… Who has time for that!)
A big thank you to Jenny for talking to 'The Love Of A Good Book' and bringing the festive spirit with her!