How author Jane Ions found literary success after retirement
Ready for her first public talk at the Morpeth Book Festival in March, Jane proves why it’s never too late to follow your dreams.
‘Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.’
We’re all familiar with Benjamin Franklin’s famous adage, but it’s easier said than done, isn’t it?
After all, we doubt Ben had to balance lunchbox packing and school runs with weekly food shops, caring for elderly relatives and being one of the founding fathers of the United States.
And when it comes to the advantages of procrastination, Morpeth local, former teacher and self-confessed ‘late-blooming literary talent’ Jane Ions is living proof that it’s actually never too late to follow your dreams.
See, Jane found literary success only after she’d retired.
Having worked as a teacher at Morpeth’s King Edward VI School for most of her career, Jane’s first foray into the writing world came when her children were both at school – and she couldn’t resist turning their previously unloved school newsletters into mini sit-coms.
The acclaim from fellow parents encouraged Jane to submit an unsolicited article for The Sunday Times Magazine’s longstanding ‘A Life In The Day…’ column. Usually reserved for celebrities, Jane has been the only non-entity ever to have featured on the page. This opened doors for articles in Punch, The Times, Today and, closer to home, the Carlisle News and Star and the Newcastle Journal.
But it wasn’t until she hung up her teaching hat for good that Jane wrote her first novel, Domestic Bliss and Other Disasters.
Jane’s funny, razor-sharp prose proved to be an instant hit – Domestic Bliss was chosen as Times Radio’s Book of the Week and made the shortlist for the prestigious ‘Comedy Women in Print’ award, alongside literary heavyweights Lynne Truss, Dolly Alderton and Mel Giedroyc.
Quickly followed by the intriguingly titled Love, Politics and Possibly Murder, Jane’s hilarious series of novels is already onto its third instalment – soon to be published.
And now, Jane’s writing has given her a remarkable full-circle moment: she’s been invited to talk to peers and public in her hometown at the Morpeth Literary Festival 2023.
We catch up with Jane to find out the secret to late-blooming success, what books we need to get on our bookshelves, and what we can expect from her live festival event…
You turned to writing once your children had started school – what inspired you to first pick up a pen?
I remember that light-headed feeling when my children started school and I was able to drink coffee sitting down and think my own thoughts. I’d been thinking for a while that I’d like to try writing humorous prose. I looked at the state of my kitchen after getting two small children ready for school and, to stop myself crying, I sat down and wrote an article about how funny it all was.
Despite your obvious talent, you only started writing novels after you retired. Why was that?
I have great respect for writers who can write novels while holding down full-time jobs. They either have to get up very early in the morning or stay up late at night typing away into the midnight hours. Sadly, I’m much too lazy to do any of that! I can only write anything worthwhile between the hours of eight in the morning, and six at night. Outside those hours, I can just write shopping lists and notes to remind me to do the recycling. So, I had to retire, before I could get down to work.
In hindsight, given your success now, would you do anything differently?
Years ago, when I first started writing for Punch and The Times, there was a lot of interest in my writing from literary agents and publishers. I realise now that this is like finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow and, at the time, I didn’t follow it up properly or make the best advantage of it. These days, I never turn an opportunity down.
How has teaching influenced your writing?
In my experience, schools are inspirational. Teaching and working in schools generally means you’re surrounded by people on a mission. Schools are not particularly laidback places; feelings run high and very good things and some bad things happen on a daily basis. In my books, my favourite character is drawn from all the pupils I have known and loved and been endlessly frustrated by at school.
And how would you say the people and places of the North East have inspired you in your work?
I was born and brought up in Morpeth, and lived in the North East until I was 35. Then, I only just hopped over the border to Cumbria in the North West. Cumbria and the North East are similarly very beautiful. One has more hills and the other has more sky.
The North East hasn’t just inspired me in my work – it has inspired me in my life. The people of the North East are lively, friendly and funny. When you grow up among them, that’s what you hope people will be in both fact and in fiction.
What can we expect from your next release?
My next book is written but is, as yet, untitled and unpublished. It’s a sequel to Love, Politics and Possibly Murder, and it completes the trilogy about the Forth family. There’s more love and politics in this book, and there’s drama and humour to make it easy to turn the pages.
What are 3 of your favourite books and why?
Shirley Jackson usually wrote horror, but her book Life Among The Savages (first published in 1953), is about the years she spent bringing up her young children in Vermont. Her description of these years is clear eyed, unsentimental, and very funny – I really enjoyed it.
I read A Gentleman In Moscow recently and was struck by the simple beauty of the story telling. I’d recommend it for anyone losing faith in human nature.
Three Men In A Boat by Jerome K Jerome has been a favourite since my schooldays. The humour bridges the gap between us and the Victorians.
You’ll be speaking about your writing at the Morpeth Book Festival, which promises to be a lovely full-circle moment for you. How special will that experience be?
I’m really looking forward to coming home to talk about my books at Morpeth’s own Book Festival. You’re right, it will be a very special experience. I’m very honoured to be speaking at the festival’s first day this year and will be talking about what makes humour work on the page. It’s a very subjective topic, but no less interesting for that, and I’m hoping there’ll be a few laughs when we explore it.
Who else are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?
I’m looking forward to listening to Bridget Gubbins, seems to know absolutely everything there is to know about Morpeth. I have her book, The Curious Yards And Alleyways Of Morpeth, and I found it fascinating.
Colin Youngman is speaking after me and I’ll be interested to hear how he devises his gripping plotlines. And I’m sharing the stage with Mark Iveson, who is an authority on the on-and-off screen lives of the stars of a wide variety of horror films. So there’ll be plenty to go at!
You’re living proof that it’s never too late to do what you love. What would you say to encourage other women to follow their passion, specifically after they’ve retired?
I would say, take yourself and your passion seriously. Squash that little voice in your head that says it’s not worth doing, or you’re too old for it now, or people will think you’re daft. Passions are always worth pursuing, and after retirement you will have the time to run after whatever yours is and grab it with both hands.
Chances are that your age and experience will work in your favour; in lots of ways, you will be better equipped to make something of your passion after you retire. Your age is not a disadvantage – it’s a head start.
Jane will be speaking at the Morpeth Literary Festival at 12pm on 31st March in Morpeth Rugby Club.
Find out more about Jane’s work on her website
Morpeth Rugby Club, Mitford Road, Morpeth, Northumberland NE61 1RJ