The Sweetest Debut: Jane Corry on Working at a Prison — And Getting Inside Tinkerbell’s Head


Welcome to The Sweetest Debut, a regular installment in which we reach out to debut (or near-debut, we’re flexible!) fiction, poetry and nonfiction authors working with presses of all sizes and find out about their pop culture diets, their writing habits, and their fan-fiction fantasies.

My Husband’s Wife, Jane Corry’s debut novel, arrived on American shores a few weeks ago. It’s a thriller about marriage, crime and secrets inspired in part by Corry’s time as a writer-in-residence at a high security UK prison. She spoke to us about her patchwork family, her fascination with Tinkerbell, and the painting she found in prison that inspired the book — and weirded out her husband.

What is your elevator pitch to folks in the industry describing your book?

My Husband’s Wife is a story about first wives, second wives, murder, marriage, prison. No one is quite who they seem.

What you tell your relatives it’s about?

“This is something I wrote about prison. You might find it a bit dark. You don’t have to read it.”

How long was this project marinating in a draft or in your head before it became a book deal?

Three years of mental cooking when I worked in the prison followed by a year of writing and revision.

Name a canonical book you think is totally overrated.

I don’t like criticizing others. I belong to the “If you can’t say anything nice about someone, then don’t say it all” camp. We all have different tastes and it would be boring if everyone liked the same thing!

What’s a book you’ve read more than two times?

Anne Tyler’s Back When We Were Grownups. It means something different to me at each stage of my life.

Is there a book or other piece of art that influenced your writing for this particular project?

I wasn’t influenced by another book but my writing is always inspired by art. We have had painters in our family down the generations and I dabble in watercolours. I did have one particular painting in mind when I wrote My Husband’s Wife. It’s a floral composition which was created by the then artist-in-residence of the prison where I worked.

I bought the painting when I left the prison to remind me of it. (My husband hadn’t seen it then although he did give me permission to buy it anyway!)

I used to travel home from the prison in a big white officer’s van and he says he’ll never forget me getting out at a service station with this huge painting.

My husband loathed it on sight and says it has “sexual connotations,” but I can’t see this! We’ve hung it above one of the guest beds and I always ask friends whether it disturbed their sleep. I get varying responses.

What’s your favorite show to binge watch when you’re not writing?

We’re watching Better Call Saul at the moment, which I enjoy because of the characterization and plot twists. Before that, my husband got me into Breaking Bad, which terrified me. But I was also utterly addicted because it showed how easy it was (and is) to slide into the darkness. It’s really interesting to compare US television with our programs in Britain. I also love Last Tango in Halifax which is about an elderly couple who have just got married, and their extended families. My bachelor husband took on a divorced mother of three when he married me, so we identify with some of the plots!

What’s the last movie you saw in theaters?

Last night we saw La La Land. I loved it. We live round the corner from a cinema in our seaside town so we are always at the pictures. The other week we saw Passengers (which I didn’t think I’d like but did) and then Collateral Beauty which still haunts me.

Once a month, I make a 12-hour round trip to visit my 92-year-old father and my stepmother. Daddy and I always watch an old film together. We say that his sitting room is the ‘best little cinema in town’. My husband and I also go to our local theatre to see plays. The last one was a pantomime. We took my granddaughter, my daughter, her husband, my first husband and his wife. It’s taken us all a while to build bridges after the divorce but I think we are getting there.

Do you listen to music while you’re writing? If so, what kind?

No, no, no! I need complete silence!

Who is your fashion icon?

My daughter. She has great style. Also my instinct. I don’t really try to dress like a celebrity. I actually loathe shopping for clothes because I can never find what I set out to buy. So I go for impulse buys. I do the same with husbands and houses. (Only joking.)

If you could buy a house anywhere in the world just to write in, where would it be?

Menorca or Italy. I love the colors and passions of Italy. But I’ve been hooked on Menorca since last summer when we had a family extended holiday there. My first husband and I used to stay there when the children were little so I thought it would be painful to go back, nut it was wonderful.

What did you initially want to be when you grew up?

A writer!

Did you have a new years resolution for 2017? If so, what?

To be on time for friends and family. I often try to do too much. But I never miss a work deadline.

What freaks you out the most about four years of Donald Trump as U.S. President?

I never discuss politics. But I am interested in the characters on the throne. During the last year, there have been some unexpected cast changes on both sides of the pond.

Do you prefer a buzzing coffee shop or silent library?

Please! Silent library. I used to be the geeky school librarian at school. It was a beautiful eighteenth century room with a real Robert Adam fireplace. Bliss.

Do you write at a desk, bed or couch?

At a desk, overlooking the sea. I have a sofa behind me where the dog sleeps. When he thinks I’ve written enough, he lets me know and I run him along the beach.

Is morning writing or late-night writing your go-to-time?

I’m a lark, so definitely a morning person. I have this theory that your writing time depends on the time you were born at. I was born in the early hours of November. When I was a single mum, working at the prison, I couldn’t write in the morning so I had to teach myself to write at night instead.

Do you tend towards writing it all out in one big messy draft and then editing, or perfecting as you go (or something in between)?

The first. Characters change as you progress through the story. They become more fully fleshed-out people. By the time I get to the end, I really know them. So then I have to go back and make changes. I have about four stages of revision. I check the plot hangs together; I make sure the characters are living and breathing; I add setting and color and smells etc; and — crucially — I read out loud from the printed page rather than the screen. Sometimes I read out loud to my husband. It’s good to have another ear.

How do you pay the bills, if not solely by your pen and your wit?

I also run courses and write short stories for magazines. But I’m very lucky that my husband pays the household bills. When I was on my own with my youngest son, I had about four writing jobs on the go at the same time. I did have maintenance, but as any single parent knows, it’s not easy. I do quite a lot of (unpaid) voluntary work now and I look after my baby granddaughter for two days a week.

What is your trick to finding time to write your book while also doing the above?

If you want to write, you just do. It’s like breathing. My mornings are normally sacred time for writing. Sometimes I’ll sneak up to my study for half an hour at night and then come down to find everyone in the house is asleep.

If you could write fanfiction about any pop culture character, real or imagined, who would it be?

‘Tinkerbell’ from Peter Pan. I’m sure there’s more to her than meets the eye. Why is she so spiteful? Is it just jealousy of Wendy or did she and Peter have unresolved history that they haven’t told us about? There’s usually a reason for a ‘baddie’ to act in the way that he/she does. It’s something I’ve tried to show in My Husband’s Wife.

Care to give us a few sentences of micro-fiction about that character?

Tinkerbell happened to be flying past an open window when she stopped dead in mid-flight. Who on earth was that girl with blonde hair and a dreamy expression on her face?

Every hair on Tinkerbell’s arms went up as she saw Peter – her Peter – gazing longingly into the little hussy’s eyes.

‘He’s not allowed to do that,’ she told herself fiercely. ‘Doesn’t he remember his promise?’

And that’s when her wand began to twitch. ‘Don’t worry,’ it whispered in Tinkerbells’s ear. ‘I’ve got a plan on how to get rid of her…’