Author Spotlight Interview: Jane Harvey-Berrick
Today’s interview is with award winning, multi-genre author Jane Harvey-Berrick. Jane has been publishing for years and it was an honor getting to know more about her writing process and life outside of writing.
HG: How would you describe yourself to somebody who isn’t familiar with your writing yet?
JHB: The short answer is contemporary romance and women’s fiction – but I don’t really like to categorise like that (even when I have to!).
I write stories about people with all their flaws and failings, but people who haven’t given up, people who perhaps just need to meet the right person to find the next steps on their journey through life, their place in the world.
HG: Beautiful. Tell us a bit about your publishing journey. When did you know you were ready to take on the “author” role?
JHB: Oh, I’m still working on that! I never want to stop learning.
I met my late husband 23 years ago. At the time I worked for a children’s charity and, having been a teacher, wrote a lot of educational resources. John encouraged me to go freelance, which was a huge and scary jump, but he was my safety net. Luckily, I found work straightaway and started writing literacy resources. That turned into ten years of writing children’s books … and then I read Fifty Shades of Grey.
I wonder if EL James knows how many writers she inspired? Probably not.
I started writing The Education of Sebastian, a taboo romance between a 17 year old surfer (nearly 18) and a 30 year old woman trapped in an unhappy marriage. To be honest, I hadn’t realized how taboo the story would be. Perhaps that’s because I’m English and in Britain, the age of sexual consent is 16, so although their story would be frowned on, it wasn’t illegal. But I’d set the story in California, so that immediately changed the dynamics.
I was so caught up in their story, that I said to my husband I wanted to take some time off work to finish the sequel, The Education of Caroline. I was the main wage-earner at the time, so it was a big decision. He completely supported me – my darling safety net.
Both books were really well received, although, I won’t lie, a few people thought the age gap and illegal nature of their first relationship was wrong. It hurt, especially when the comments were from people who hadn’t read the book. Thinking back though, I didn’t have that comment from anyone who had read it. I think they understood it instead.
The Sebastian and Caroline duet were translated into Italian, Polish and Portuguese.
I then went on to write a New Adult / College Romance, Dangerous to Know & Love. It’s my longest book 153,000 words and was an immediate bestseller. It shocked me how word of mouth support spread like wildfire. Wow! What a ride that was!
I wrote that book while my dad was dying. I spent a lot of long train journeys travelling from my home to my parents so I could look after him and support my mum. Without giving away too much of the book, there was an aspect of my dad’s illness that related to one of the main characters. The book was a huge emotional investment – but I guess that’s what we do, as writers – our personal experiences spill over into our writing. It wasn’t the first time that I’d typed through tears; it definitely wouldn’t be the last. Colleen Hoover was kind enough to say how much she enjoyed this story – it’s in the same genre as Maybe Someday.
I met EL James when I was signing at the Romance Author and Reader Event in London some years back. I told her that I’d changed from children’s books to writing romance – but had to change my name because I didn’t want kids reading the ‘adult’ books by mistake! She thought that was hilarious and demonstrated a great ‘giggle-snort’.
HG: What an amazing journey so far! You write across multiple genres. How does your writing process differ for each? How do you switch gears?
JHB: I’m not sure I do switch gears, I think because all the stories are character driven. I’ve written about characters of all ages – from high school to college, to work, to families, to retirement, to old age.
I suppose the differences are that with children’s books, the language was simplified and the books were shorter, of course. But I remember reading The Red Badge of Courage when I was eight. I think children take what they can from stories and the rest passes over their heads allowing them to rediscover the book again in different ways when they’re older.
I write stories that I’d like to read – boy, that sounds pretentious LOL. I promise I’m not like that!
HG: Your books are published in seven different languages. What has that process been like?
JHB: Humbling. It’s time-consuming and expensive for a foreign publisher to have the books translated, then edited and printed. It’s an amazing feeling when I get emails from readers all over the world who’ve read the books in their own languages.
I’m always intrigued by the things that throw the translators. I had a long email conversation with a French translator wanting to know what a ‘Hoxton quiff’ was (it’s a modern Mohican than you see in a trendy part of London), or a Polish translator trying to understand ‘kitten heels’. I remember being confused the first time I heard of a car being parked ‘catty corner’.
HG: What have been the challenges you’ve faced in your publishing career?
JHB: Time is a big one! I’ll never have enough time to write every idea I have for my stories. I have a loooong list of books waiting to be written.
I have to admit that 2020 knocked me sideways. Lockdown was a tough time for everyone but sometimes I’m not sure how I got through it. In January, I lost my little dog Pip. She was not quite 15 and had been my constant shadow. The vet was kind enough to come out to my home and she died in my arms.
I got really sick after that, and in February, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. That’s a continuing challenge. Then in April, my mother died, and two weeks after her funeral, my husband died suddenly.
I was adrift – so many losses in such a short space of time. My older brother and sister-in-law were wonderful, and my friends were the best anyone could wish for. But it had to be my decision to get up and face each day.
For several months, I didn’t write anything, and then one day, I started again. I poured all that love and loss into The Lilac Cadillac. It unlocked all the grief and helped me get through. I’m proud of that story and that it ends on an uplifting note – that’s important to me.
After John died, one of the first people to come and stay with me was my co-author Stuart Reardon. He came with his lovely fiancée, Emma, and they really took care of me. Stu did most of the cooking (he’s very good), and we walked and talked, and laughed at the antics of their French Bulldog puppy, Rocket.
Since then, we’ve had great fun writing romantic comedy, laughing at ourselves and our characters as they stumble and wobble through life.
HG: Thank you for sharing that. I’m sorry for your losses. Switching gears a bit, tell us, do you have a routine for where and when you write? Any interesting quirks?
JHB: Oh, I’m not one of those people who have to go and do the washing up and hoover the house before starting to write – no! I’d rather write than almost anything. But the most important thing is take my little fur ball, Winnie, for a walk first. I suppose my quirk is reading out loud to her! She’s very encouraging – she loves everything I write LOL.
HG: Love that! Tell us a bit about your books. What series or title do you recommend new-to-you readers start with if they love romance? If they love suspense?
That’s kind of like asking me to pick a favorite puppy!
Okay, let me see…
Alternative lifestyles – the Traveling series, set in a carnival that travels all over America. I so loved doing the research on this – where they live and how they live. How the carnies all become family.
Escort story – At Your Beck & Call – it’s absolutely NOT a glamorous story. I did a lot of research about the porn industry and escort business for this book. It was really upsetting at times. It’s also an age-gap story where the guy is 28 and the woman 48.
New Adult – Dangerous to Know & Love, or the first book in the Traveling series, The Traveling Man
Suspense – definitely my Tick Tock series, about a bomb disposal officer. I have friends in the Army who work in EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal). What kind of a person can walk towards a bomb when the rest of us are running to hide?
Sport romance – I wrote Undefeated with Stuart, based on his experiences as a professional athlete and rugby player. It was going to be a one-off but we loved working together … and five years later, we’re still doing it!
Historical romance – The Lilac Cadillac – it’s a dual timeline story, starting in London during World War II, and then modern day USA for the road trip of a lifetime (or several lifetimes)
Romantic comedy – the Gym or Chocolate series with Stu Reardon. We came up with the idea for that when we were returning from Colleen Hoover’s first Book Bonanza in Denver – him being all about Mr Fitness, and me being all about the chocolate. We enjoyed it so much, we ended up writing it as a trilogy: The World According to Vince and The Baby Game.
And although they’re romantic comedies, they look at serious issues, too. Gym or Chocolate is about a BBW who is trolled by a Z-list ‘star’ on social media, so there are issues around size and fitness. The Baby Game is partly based on Stu’s experiences as a father, and partly on my nephew, Ernie, who has Down Syndrome – so a child with special needs is at the heart of that story.
HG: Incredible! Something for everyone, surely. So, overall, what feeling do you hope readers are left with when they finish one of your novels?
JHB: A strong emotional response and a story that they’ll remember across the years. That would be the best outcome.
HG: If The Education series was turned into a movie or a television series, who would you cast as the main characters?
JHB: Ooh, tough one! Hmm, Zac Efron in The Lucky One would have made a good Sebastian, but I think he’s too old now (sorry, Zac!). Probably an undiscovered young actor who could convince as 17 as well as 27. Caroline would be someone with the range of Julianne Moore. I love her!
HG: What can you tell us about any other projects you have in the works?
JHB: Stu and I have just finished a standalone romcom, Survivor Love Island. It’s about a reality TV show that’s a mashup between Survivor, Who Dares Wins, and Love Island. The producers are completely amoral, caring only about viewing figures. Honestly, we tried to make them as awful as possible, but everything has already been done for real on these shows! So it’s a comedy about two ordinary people trying to survive the producers, the divas, and a tropical island with a volcano! It’s coming out this winter.
HG: That sounds awesome! We’ll keep a look out. So, what do you enjoy doing when not writing?
JHB: Playing with my pup, walks on the beach, swimming in the sea, body boarding sometimes, having friends over for movie night. Oh, and I’ve started doing Pilates. My teacher is a former ballet dancer and French – he’s amazing. He keeps telling me to use my abs, but I don’t think I have any…
Oh, and I’m working with a police officer friend on an exciting new series. Shhh!
I did a sky dive with Stu in Denver when we were doing Book Bonanza – although not quite an everyday event!
HG: Fantastic! Tell us, what was your last 5-star read?
JHB: Spider Bones by Kathy Reichs – I love her books and the character of Tempe Brennan. She’s so relatable and human.
HG: For fun, before we wrap up, let’s do a fast five! First one…cookies or cake?
JHB: Cake – any kind! But especially chocolate, or Black Forest Gateau! But it would have to be gluten-free, cos, ya know, celiac.
HG: Movie or book?
JHB: Book! Always.
HG: Pool or ocean?
JHB: Ocean. I live less than a mile from the beach and walking on the shore feeds my soul. I get my best ideas when I’m splashing through the water, my little dog Winnie trotting behind me.
HG: Introvert or extrovert?
JHB: Both, but mostly introvert. My nightmare is going to a party where I don’t know many people and none of my friends have arrived yet. Ugh. I’d rather hide in the bathroom – or leave.
I can do public speaking (and have spoken at conferences to hundreds of people), but I get so nervous that I start to shake, even though my voice stays steady. I’ve even felt my knees give way and have to grab onto something! But I push through, and the adrenaline rush after is something else! I’m not sure why I put myself through these things – it’s like hitting your head against a brick wall: great when it stops.
HG: eBook, print book or audiobook?
JHB: ebook! I don’t even have a complete set of the books I’ve written.
HG: For readers that want to find out more about your stories and keep up with you, where should they go to connect or learn more?
JHB: My website is a good place to start!
Thanks for the questions! That was fun and made me think. I used to say that my favorite phrase is ‘Be nice’ because ‘nice’ is such an underrated word, but I’ve recently switched it up to ‘Be kind’. I think I need that on a t-shirt ☺
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