anna cheska
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Jan Henley writes popular women’s fiction under her pseudonym, Anna Cheska. Here, she talks about fiction writing from her perspective as both a novelist and a creative writing tutor.

What inspires you to write?
Ideas appear from a variety of sources - conversations/ media/ personal experiences and things that have happened to other people. They start tumbling around in my head until I'm itching to write about them. I love being able to put things down in words and to assemble a whole cast of characters that I can play with and hopefully say something through.

How long does it take you to write a novel?
From initial idea to the completion of a draft that I feel I can show my agent is usually about 9-10 months. That leaves me another month or so for final changes, and that way I can hopefully produce a book a year. It does also depend on my other commitments.

Do you have a writing routine? If so, what is it?
No! I hate routine and my life is too chaotic to have a regular writing slot. I have to fit writing around my family (I have 3 children) and my teaching commitments (I teach 3 weekly creative writing groups and also do Saturday workshops and residentials) and my writing appraisal service. However I do try to do a little every day. It doesn't matter what time of day though I have found I think best in the bath (difficult because the paper gets soggy and the ink runs) and early evening is also good, preferably armed with a glass of wine. I find I write better when I am busy - I don't get much done when i have too much time.

Has your life changed since you became a novelist?
Since getting published I feel that I can justify my writing time, whereas unpublished writers have to deal with that awful 'it's only her little hobby' thing. My life would have changed if I'd made a lot of money out of writing, but sadly that is not the case. I get no more respect from my children and no-one takes any more notice of me than they did before... But I feel a wonderful sense of achievement and am thrilled to have a job that I enjoy so much!

How do you cure writer's block?
I've never had it - touch wood. I suggest to students that they have a long thoughtful bath, listen to other peoples conversations, get out more, listen to Radio 4, brainstorm from visual images/ headlines/ words, join a creative writing class, do a bit of 'wild mind' writing or have a drink and try to forget about it. Everyone gets blocked from time to time - maybe it only becomes a problem if you make it into a big deal.

Who is your all-time favourite author?
This is a tricky one - I like so many. And different things from different authors. And different books from different authors. From the past probably DH Lawrence who was so wonderfully intense and Jane Austen who is the mistress of subtle irony. From now, I like Mary Wesley, Joanna Trollope, Raffaella Barker, Sarah Harrison, Anna Tyler, Mavis Cheek , Frances Fyfield, Helen Dunmore, Minnette Walters, Claire Chambers, Kate Atkinson, Madeleine Wickham and loads of others.

Why do you use a pseudonym?
I wrote my first published short stories under the name of Jan Page but then re-married and wrote for Hodder as Jan Henley. When I left Hodder I wanted to change genre and I also changed my agent so it was considered a good idea to change my name too. Anna Cheska was what my youngest daughter used to call herself (she is Anna Francesca) so I stole it. Heartlessly.

What's the biggest myth about being a writer?
That once you've been published you've made it.

What advice would you give budding authors?
Keep writing. Be determined. Have faith in yourself but listen to advice from those you trust. Be prepared to edit your work. Keep trying until you can no longer hold a pen in your hand.

What can readers expect from Anna Cheska in the future?
I have finished a new novel but it is rather different and I am working on another that is also different. I am not sure if they will be Anna Cheska novels at this stage. I am also writing a non-fiction book entitled The Secret Structure of Fiction.

VISIT JAN’S SITE