Featuring Anna and Jacqui Burns
Updated: Jan 1
I'm delighted to have this debut mother and daughter writing team visiting me, especially at the beginning of a brand-new year! Jacqui and I have kept in touch since we met on a Creative Writing MA course and she has recently joined the Romantic Novelists' Association to which I've belonged for some years. I couldn't be more thrilled that she and daughter Anna, have a novel currently in demand, with another one in progress.
Over to you now! Please tell us which of you had the brilliant idea of co-writing a romantic novel? And did your writing partner need much convincing?
Jacqui: We both love writing and a few years ago we even started a play script together, which we never finished. It's hard to remember who had the initial idea. I think Anna was the one to push it. During lockdown, we had a little more time and started the novel, never really knowing whether we'd finish it and if the story had 'legs.' However, the further we got into the novel, the more the ideas came and it seemed to gain a momentum of its own. Actually finishing it left us euphoric, even if we had no idea whether anyone would actually want to read or publish it.
We'd love to know how you agreed what to write about. Was it always going to be set in Montenegro?
Anna: We chatted about a few ideas and decided to write from a mother and daughter's viewpoint, although I hasten to add that it's not us! Montenegro was one of the stops we made on a cruise in 2019. The scenery was so captivating and it inspired us both. We had to do a lot of research though, as we only spent an afternoon there. We're dying to go back one day - Covid restrictions permitting!
Was there a certain amount of intuition involved during the writing process? Did you find yourselves thinking along the same lines regarding plot progression? Or did you sometimes want to follow different paths?
Jacqui: We'd email each other the chapter when we finished and discuss it. As the novel took shape, we started to plan a bit more. Neither of us was really 'precious' about our writing and we did criticize something if we didn't feel it worked. I remember once when Anna introduced a new character and made a plot change we hadn't planned. It worked, though, and I liked it. In fact, it was quite exciting reading the other's work as we had a rough outline of the chapters and had no idea how the dialogue and description were going to be handled.
Jacqui and Anna, you chose a poignant, potentially difficult theme for your debut novel. You handle the situation beautifully, but did you sometimes find yourselves angry with the husband's deception, knowing that this kind of thing can and does happen in real life?
Anna: Well, yes. One of the more difficult aspects was trying not to demonise Dan. He was a flawed character, as human beings are. One way we got around it was to make my character, Kat, Dan's daughter, idolise her father to show that he was capable of unconditional love and to soften him. However, Kat's perspective inevitably changes when they find out about his deception. There were logistics to work out too. How could Dan deceive Grace and Kat so thoroughly and how could we get him out of the country for long periods without them being suspicious?
You've included scrumptious food references. Obviously, you enjoyed the local cuisine while on holiday. Back home in real life, which of you is the better cook?
Anna: Oh, that's a tricky one. I love my mother's cooking, but in the last few years my interest has grown. I am an avid fan of Masterchef and it was great fun thinking of British and Montenegrin fusion dishes. Lots of people have commented about whether I have a background in catering, which I don't, though it's flattering people think that, though. I've managed to give you a very diplomatic answer there, I think!
Your readers can enjoy watching two love affairs developing - one with two younger characters and the other between Grace and a man of a similar age . Was it a given that you, Anna, would write the former and you, Jacqui, would develop Grace's relationship back in Bath?
Jacqui: I suppose it was natural that I would have the older one and Anna the younger character. I do think Milo is a rather attractive character - a cross between Jack Savoretti and David Gandy perhaps.
We did have these conversations. I think it was harder thinking of an equivalent attractive older male for Neil Hadley. I did want to portray Grace's awakening too. She is in her fifties, but the physical side of the relationship is just as important. She has confidence issues, though, as most women do. For Grace, after what happens to her, she finds trusting someone very difficult.
Hands on hearts! Did you ever fall out over any particular issues while writing Cafe Lompar?
Anna: I can promise you we didn't. We do get on really well and speak to each other every day. I think our writing styles are different, although we have been told they're quite similar. It's nice to have two perspectives, I think. I'm not sure there are any other mother and daughter writing teams.
Jacqui, I think you've written a lot of scripts? Did you find this skill helpful when writing dialogue for your novel? And, Anna, did you draw upon any memories of your own daughter/mother relationship?
Jacqui: I admit that I do love writing dialogue. I think Anna does too. It's the best way to present characters - their attitudes, values, fears and so on. I remember reading once that a reader should be able to tell which character is speaking just by reading the dialogue. Making a distinctive voice is difficult to achieve. You can have a lot of fun with dialogue, too. I think Claire, Grace's sister, was the most fun to write dialogue for as she is witty and can be sharp-tongued (and she swears a bit!)
Anna: It's inevitable that you draw on your own experiences when you write. I think Grace and Kat have a more fiery relationship than we have, though. Kat is closer to her father, which makes it more difficult when she loses him.
Do you each read mainly romance? Or, are you partial to other genres?
Jacqui: English is my subject and I lecture in a local sixth form college. Of course, I do read the classics but I love fast-paced thrillers.
Anna: I love all genres. I follow Reese Witherspoon's Book Club on Instagram and get lots of great recommendations from that. A recent favourite was Sarah Pearse's The Sanitorium, Tia Williams' Seven Days in June and Anna North's Outlawed.
If Love at Cafe Lompar was made into a movie, which actors would you choose to play Grace and Kat?
Jacqui: We've chatted about this as I think it would make a great film or series on Netflix. A nice fantasy, I know. Ha-ha! Emma Thompson would be great as Grace Lompar. She could play anyone and she has the ability to convey humour and poignancy.
Anna: Lily James, without a doubt.
I know you both lead busy lives. Do you find settling down to your writing therapeutic?
Anna: Yes, but it can also be stressful. There's always that doubt about whether you can finish the novel or chapter. Do I have enough ideas to sustain it? I have to write a lot of reports in forensic psychiatry, but it’s a different kind of writing.
Jacqui: There’s nothing quite like getting lost in a character and when it comes easy. Lots of times it’s hard work, though.
Jacqui, what is the earliest thing you can remember from your childhood? Anna, what is your favourite childhood memory?
Jacqui: It’s hard to think of my earliest memory. I did have a lovely childhood even though we were quite poor. I remember disappearing up the fields and climbing trees, chasing tadpoles and building dens. Long before the internet was even thought of. Simpler times, but happy times!
Anna: Reading stories at bedtime. I used to love ‘The Naughtiest Girl in School’ by Enid Blyton and couldn’t wait for the next night to find out what happened.
It’s been a huge pleasure to host you both on my Jill Barry blog. Like many others, I look forward to your second novel and wish the Jacqui and Anna Burns team much success in the future.
Love at Cafe Lompar is published by Honno Press - honno.co.uk
It is also available from:
Waterstones and independent book stores.