MJ Baker

Mary Jayne Baker is a romance author from Yorkshire, UK. Her first novel The Honey Trap was published by HarperImpulse in August 2016; her second, Meet Me at the Lighthouse, was published in June 2017. She is represented by Laura Longrigg at MBA Literary Agents.

Mary Jayne Baker is a pen name for an international woman of mystery…

Author profile

Tell us about yourself in 100 words or less

I grew up in rural West Yorkshire, right in the heart of Brontë country… and I’m still here. After graduating from Durham in 2003 I dallied with living in cities including London, but eventually came back, with my own romantic hero in tow, to my beloved Dales. I live with him in a little house with four little cats and a little rabbit, writing stories about girls with flaws and the men who love them. I go to work every day as a graphic designer but secretly dream of being a lighthouse keeper.

What was your first ever job?

Paper girl! But my first grown-up job was doing data entry in a bank (fascinating I know…)

Have you always wanted to be an author? If not, what did you think you were going to be when you grew up?

As a kid I always wanted to be a writer like the ones I most admired (CS Lewis and Enid Blyton), although after seeing Flight of the Navigator I briefly toyed with becoming a space explorer. The first proper story I remember writing, age 7, was called The Red Unicorn, about a tiny unicorn that could shrink and grow at will (heavily plagiarised from the Mrs Pepperpot stories!).

What inspired you to start writing?

Good question! After a brief attempt to write a romantic novel at university (in fact a very early draft of The Honey Trap, sort of), I lost confidence in my writing for a long time and gave up altogether. I did eventually return to non-fiction writing, but it took me a while to dust off my fiction writing skills. The catalyst for this was the discovery of the NaNoWriMo event and forums, which gave me the support I needed to get over my confidence problems.

When did you realise your potential as a writer?

When I first let other people read my writing and received some lovely compliments – and when I opened HarperImpulse’s acceptance email!

What was the inspiration for your first novel?

I suppose the characters came to me first, with only a sketchy idea of the plot. I wanted to create a heroine who was realistically flawed and complex, with a wry, pithy sense of humour and a strong sense of her own worth, and a hero who was a person rather than a type: generous, funny, capable of a range of emotions and steering far clear of the alpha stereotype common in some romance. I also wanted the secondary characters to have range and not just be plot props. Once I had the characters I let them guide the plot, and was surprised where I found it going. The charity ReelKids, for example – a workshopping project for disadvantaged young people run by the hero which features heavily in my story – didn’t exist at all in my plan!

What is the best advice anyone has given you about writing?

“Push on into the white space” was my mantra when finishing my first draft, provided by someone on the NaNoWrMo forums. This was the advice I needed to finish – don’t worry about quality, don’t go back to edit and obsess. Just tell your story and worry about the tidy-up later. And remember Hemingway: all first drafts are s**t, so don’t expect yours to be any different!

Aside from writing, what is your favourite thing to do?

I love rambling around the moors, and I’m also a crafter (knitting and crochet). I like to read, especially the classics, and (unsurprisingly given it features heavily in my novel) I love vintage film!

What are your top ten favourite books?

Wuthering Heights – absolute classic, and written only four miles from my house! The one book I can read over and over and still find something new.

Catch-22 – very powerful, funny and harrowing, a masterpiece. Never known anyone able to combine humour and poignancy in their writing as seamlessly as Heller. An emotionally draining read though.

Mrs Dalloway – always get this out in the summer as an uplifting read (odd for a book about existential angst, maybe, but I find it life affirming). Love the way the domestic dramas play out in the characters’ heads.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – never fails to make me laugh out loud, and love the quintessentially British tone in a science fiction setting.

Pride and Prejudice – Lizzie is a standout character in literature for me. Not sure we realise now what a brave (even foolish) thing it was to turn down proposals willy nilly in Regency times!

Vanity Fair – again, another standout character, Becky Sharp. The wry, darkly comic tone of this book and the contrast between the two heroines draw me back to it on a regular basis.

Soul Music (Discworld) – my favourite of the Terry Pratchett Discworld books. Like Hitchhiker’s Guide, I love the placement of a very British sense of humour in the environment of a Tolkienesque fantasy world, and Pratchett’s witty tone and tight plotting.

Jane Eyre – another locally written book I come back to a lot. As stated below, I love the equality between Jane and Rochester, and the hero’s willingness to display vulnerability with her.

The Awakening – this was the book that first made me identify as a feminist I think, and consider a woman’s right to make her own choices.

To Kill a Mockingbird – very powerful exploration of justice and social isolation through a child’s eyes, and I love Scout as a character.

What are your top three romantic books and why?

Jane Eyre – I love the equality between Jane and Rochester that she defiantly claims for them, despite the difference in social station and gender; the way she always stands up to him and he loves her for it.

Wuthering Heights – essentially a love story between two highly dislikeable people, but very powerful in its portrayal of that, and again, the characters of Cathy and Heathcliff have a very equal relationship.

The Hunger Games – I read this trilogy recently and very much enjoyed the portrayal of the love story between Katniss, Peeta and Gayle, the way it was coloured by their experiences and the way the two men respect her right to choose. Always love a love triangle, and I think she made the right choice in the end!

What are your top three romantic movie/TV kisses and why?

Tim and Dawn in The Office – love the choreography of this, his thumb on her cheek, the tears, and the way we all had to wait so long for it.

Katniss and Gayle in The Hunger Games – I don’t often cry over kiss scenes but when Katniss kisses what she thinks is an unconscious Gayle and he later tells her he’d have to be dead to forget it, awww!

George Bailey and Mary Hatch in It’s A Wonderful Life – when they’re on the phone together and can’t seem to keep their hands off each other despite trying to resist, always gets my heart fluttering!

If you could ride off into the sunset with a fictional character, who would you choose and why?

Tough one. Probably Han Solo from Star Wars, 1977 edition of course…