For Books’ Sake Talks To: Jayne Bauling

JAYNE BAULING

Author of seventeen romance novels, Jayne also has two published YA novels, both of which have won literary awards.

E Eights was awarded the 2009 Macmillan Writer’s Prize for Africa (senior category) and Stepping Solo was awarded the 2011 Maskew Miller Longman Literary Award (English novels, YA).

South African writer and poet Judy Croome caught up with Jayne at the 2012 Sanlam Youth Literature Awards, where Jayne was awarded the coveted Gold Medal (English) in the 2012 Sanlam Youth Literature Awards for her latest YA novel Dreaming of Light.

FBS: Your author credentials are impressive. Is there any downside to having such a successful writing career? Do you feel any pressure to make sure the next book is better?

JB: The pressure comes from myself. There’s always a degree of anxiety as I approach a new novel – can I do it again, and do it better? That usually subsides once I’m immersed in the actual writing, and only resurfaces in slightly different form once I’m ready to submit the book.

FBS: I first came across the name Jayne Bauling indulging in my favourite guilty pleasure: reading romances. You have 17 romance novels published by the UK publishing giant Mills & Boon. Now you’re winning awards writing YA novels. Why the change in direction?

JB: The romances were never intended to be my entire writing career. Starting out, I had it in mind that at some stage I’d move on. I think romance-writing became a bit of a comfort zone after a while, and I stopped thinking about other writing directions.

Then a move from Johannesburg to White River woke me up, kick-started all sorts of other changes, and here I am. The YA happened almost by accident. I was wondering which direction to take when I heard about the Macmillan Writer’s Prize and decided to give it a try.

FBS: Could you go back to writing romances? If not, why not?

JB: I don’t think so, but I’ve learnt never to say ‘never’! I don’t think romance-writing would offer the challenges that YA does at present. There’s excitement in my life that I never experienced as a romantic novelist.      

FBS:  At the height of your successful career as a romance author, you and Yvonne Whittal were the only South African authors published by Mills and Boon in a highly competitive and demanding genre. What was it like for you then, when upmarket bookstores refused to stock romance novels, and how have things changed today?

JB: There was the feeling that we weren’t regarded as ‘real’ writers. Any media attention was always rather jokey. Today people aren’t so hung up on what is or isn’t literary.

FBS: What differences and similarities did you find between writing romances and YA novels?

JB: My experience of YA so far is that I can do my own thing as an author, and let my characters do their own thing. There are certain constraints if you’re writing a conventional romance that don’t apply to YA.

For instance, with YA open-ended, happy or sad are all acceptable when it comes to that last page. As for similarities, the use of dialogue to move the story along is important in both YA and romance, and I learnt a lot in that area from my various editors at Mills & Boon.

FBS: One similarity between romances and YA books is that they’re both relatively short reads. A new study from Bowker Market Research found that 55% of the people buying young adult novels to read are actually adults. What do you think accounts for this phenomenon?

JB: I think it could tie in with our present taste for snippets and sound bites. It has to do with the pace of our lives. We need everything to be over quickly, even our pleasures, so we can move on to the next thing.

FBS: Have you ever wanted to stop writing completely? Why?

JB: Never! Even when everything has seemed to be falling apart, I’ve written.

FBS: Social media is becoming ever more important as a marketing/networking tool in the publishing industry. Do you find keeping up with social media a blessing or a burden?

JB: It’s a love-hate thing. I recognise the value of social media with regard to marketing, and I enjoy feeling part of a writing-related community, but oh, the chunks of time that are lost – writing time, especially.

FBS: What do you wish you’d done differently during your career as an author? Why?

JB: I have few regrets, and it’s hard to know what the outcome would have been if I’d moved away from romances earlier, but I do occasionally reflect on how much the awards of the last few years would have meant to my late parents.

FBS: In Stepping Solo you tell the compelling story of a young schoolboy, Ketso Chilwane, who has been forced into the role of head of his household although still a child himself. While the setting is uniquely South African, the challenges Ketso faces are universal. Yet he refuses to be a victim of the harsh realities that surround him daily: the struggle to earn a living while still at school, the great divide between rich and poor, abuse, sexual promiscuity and violence.

Did you consciously raise real social issues in the novel to help readers identify more closely with the characters, or did these issues flow naturally from plot and characterisation? Why do teens today want to read such gritty books when their own futures are so bleak in reality?

JB: My initial theme for the story was independence (stepping solo) versus valuing yourself enough to ask for help. A visit to Nyongane gave me my setting, and it seemed to me that Ketso’s peers would have certain attitudes and issues of their own.

I think teens want and possibly need to read about people their own age facing the same challenges as they do.  It’s a way of knowing they’re not alone, and while my stories can be quite dark, I believe they also offer a spark of hope.

FBS: What is your favourite line or passage from Stepping Solo?

JB:  I like the passage that’s quoted on the back of the book: “The lilies seem to flower earlier each year, which frightens me. It’s as if time is contracting and going to run out before I’ve had a chance to achieve all the things I need to. Before I’ve had a chance to be a real person.”

FBS: Where is your personal writing space? How is it conducive to triggering your creative imagination?

JB: My writing room is very bare, so I’m not distracted from what I’m seeing in my imagination. I have a lovely big desk to accommodate my messy mind-maps.

FBS:  In the online ether, I found a lot of information about Jayne Bauling: Author, but very little about Jayne Bauling: Woman. Tell us something about yourself that no one knows.

JB: I knew there had to be one difficult question. All right, there’s a long-running story going on in my head in which I am the all-conquering and gorgeous heroine, never at a loss and adored by all!

FBS: In January 2013, Tafelberg Publishers will be releasing another of your YA novels, Dreaming of Light. Tell us about this story. What else do you have in the pipeline? What’s next for Jayne?

JB: The release date was brought forward to October 2012, and I’m delighted that Dreaming of Light has won the gold prize in the Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature (English). It’s about illegal gold-mining and how our humanity can be lost in the struggle to survive.

What’s next? To keep doing what I do, but trying to do it better.

Some of Jayne Bauling’s work can be purchased here, including e-book downloads of her Mills & Boon stories.

(Author photo by Emil Bosch)

Judy Croome