Janine Beacham is the creator of the middle-grade mystery series, ROSE RAVENTHORPE INVESTIGATES.
BLACK CATS AND BUTLERS, the first book in the ‘Rose Raventhorpe Investigates’ series, was published by Little Brown (UK) in March 2017. It stars the fearless, feisty (sometimes foolhardy) Victorian adventurer, Rose Raventhorpe – the girl whose parents despair of her unladylike ways and whose best friend has a hair-do called ‘the Dead Poet’. When Rose’s beloved butler dies under mysterious circumstances, Rose investigates. She expects to find straightforward answers. What she doesn’t expect to find is a network of secret tunnels running under York, the disappearance of the city’s ‘guardian’ cats and danger lurking behind every neatly-cut cucumber sandwich . . .
Janine grew up on a dairy farm in Western Australia and has been writing all her life. She lives in a house near the sea with her daughter and an ever-increasing number of books.
When and how did you start writing?
I’ve been a writer ever since I can remember. I was the kid who made up games for my friends to play at school, and wandered off sometimes to tell stories to myself. Actually I’m still like that.
Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?
There were so many, but I do remember the wonder of reading THE HOBBIT (bought when I won a writing competition!) because it was packed with elves, hobbits, dragons, treasure. When I was younger there wasn’t much fantasy fiction around, so to find something like that was amazing. Tolkien spoke my language. I had similar feelings reading LM Montgomery’s 'Emily of New Moon' series, Tamora Pierce’s 'Alanna' books, and later, the 'Harry Potter' books. Those authors were my heroes.
Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?
My main character has been in my head since I was little – I entered a competition to win a butler and my mother said no butler would ever come to our place. So I dreamed up my ideal butler. I tried to write a story with him in a contemporary setting, but it didn’t really work. What I did know was that he was a skilled swordsman and crack shot. Many years later I tried again, this time in a Victorian setting with a murder mystery. Then I went to the UK on holiday and visited York. When I saw a cat statue on a ledge I had a writer’s epiphany – this was my setting! Back at home I wrote and rewrote and rewrote. I was determined not to send that manuscript out until it was ready. When I was finished, I felt I’d finally written something with real potential.
Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?
I’m Australian, but I’d written a rather British story, and I thought I would have a better chance with UK agents. There are also more agents for children’s books in the UK than in Australia. I was thrilled when the first agent I contacted loved the manuscript. However, they told me it would be hard to sell my work to a British publisher when I didn’t live in the UK for attending events and such. That was disappointing, but I wasn’t ready to give up. I gave the MS another polish and queried the Greenhouse Literary Agency. And Polly and Sarah offered me representation!
Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?
I have a toddler, so I can only write when she’s sleeping or playing and not wanting my attention. But I can think about my work when I’m pushing her on the swing, and writing in short bursts can still be productive. When I need inspiration I read other authors and do research. The internet is great for finding obscure facts to use in fiction!
Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?
Read, read, read – read the best authors old and new. Set the bar higher. And revise. A lot. It took me an embarrassingly long time to get my head around the hard work of real revision. Not just altering a few words in my first draft – rewriting and restructuring and changing characters and knowing the tenth draft still needed work. Write what you love, and persist.
Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you've developed as an author?
Revision was a big one. Also discovering the importance of setting. It’s hard to develop atmosphere without a sense of place. And it helps to have supportive friends, writers and otherwise. I found many through writing fanfiction – it’s great fun to share the love of a fictional world with others.
Which favourite authors would you invite to a dinner party? Which fictional character do you wish you'd invented?
Neil Gaiman, Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Roald Dahl. That would be one hell of a party. Especially after a few drinks. And I wish I’d invented Tiffany Aching from the Terry Pratchett books. She’s a down-to-earth witch who gets things done and I love her. As for interesting villains, Gollum in The HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS.