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On The Table Read, The Best Book Reader Magazine in the UK“, EE Byrnes shares the story of her new YA novel, Jenelyn’s Journey.

JJ Barnes editor of The Table Read online creativity, arts and entertainment magazine

Written by JJ Barnes

I interviewed author EE Byrnes about her YA novel Jenelyn’s Journey, what inspired her to write it, and her creative writing process.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

I’m originally from northern California and grew up riding horses, singing in choir, and writing books. After school, I pursued an equestrian career teaching the Olympic disciplines and managing horse boarding facilities. I experienced a painful divorce in 2013, and decided to visit Ireland in 2014.

EE Byrnes, author of Jenelyn's Journey on The Table Read
EE Byrnes, author of Jenelyn’s Journey

I met my husband while visiting and decided to relocate to Ireland. We lived in Dublin for five years before moving north to Donegal with our three children where we currently reside. I enjoy hiking and reading on my spare time when I’m not writing the next book.  

When did you first WANT to write a book?

I first began writing stories when  I was ten years old, inspired by my favourite authors Ann Sewell of Black Beauty and Walter Farley of the Black Stallion series. I also connected strongly with the character Jo from Little Women.

I knew I had stories in my head and could picture myself being like her where she would sit down to write them.

When did you take a step to start writing?

My first story was written by hand in a spiral-bound notebook. I was ten years old, had an idea, and so I just sat down to write it. I connected strongly with the character Jo from Little Women. I knew I had stories in my head and could picture myself being like her where she would sit down to write them. So I used her as an inspiration to begin the process of sitting down to write.

How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?

Writing books was always a second passion to horses, so my stories would sit on the back burner while I focused on my equestrian career. I had the idea for my first book when I was 12 years old. I began writing it, and over the next 22 years, I kept adding to it and making changes where needed. But the original story was always the same. But it sat in the background of my adult life until I was finally able to finish it.

How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?

I began writing my latest book when I was 14 years old, so it has a similar timeline as my first book. I was only able to finish Tom’s Song about four years ago, so it took about 20 years from the original idea to finishing it.

Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Jenelyn’s Journey?

The idea for Jenelyn’s Journey was inspired by the movie Chocolat and my love for travelling. I was intrigued by the idea of travelling everywhere and the story evolved from there. I thought of my character, Jenelyn, and wanted to see where she would travel and eventually end up living. I’ve always been interested in learning about different cultures around the world, and thought that writing about the different places Jenelyn goes would be a fun way to learn about them.

What were your biggest challenges with writing Jenelyn’s Journey?

Writing this book required an extensive amount of research. From languages to foods to cultural behaviours, the research for everything was quite challenging and tedious.

Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?

I never get inspiration for my characters. They introduce themselves to me when I begin to write them. I have a general idea of gender and age, but personality and characteristics come to me as I write. I didn’t know who Jenelyn was going to be until she showed her personality to me. After that, she decides where to take the story and I merely try to guide her in the direction I want to go.

Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?

EE Byrnes, author of Jenelyn's Journey on The Table Read
EE Byrnes, author of Jenelyn’s Journey

Again I didn’t really have any inspiration. It was more just an idea of how the Spirits would contact Jenelyn when the time came. I decided to use genuine local legends to have them connect with her. So the werewolf in the story is an actual legend in Wittlich and it took quite a lot of research to learn about it.

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What is the inciting incident of Jenelyn’s Journey?

The inciting incident actually occurs at the very beginning of the story. Jenelyn has turned 18 years old and her parents give her the earth-shattering news that she must undertake her Journey, which is a traditional quest all members of her family make when they turn 18.

She has to do it alone, travel to a different country, and try to listen for these mysterious Spirits that she doesn’t know much about, in order to follow their advice about where she needs to go. The goal for her Journey is to find her true home. The Spirits will tell her where she belongs.

What is the main conflict of Jenelyn’s Journey?

Jenelyn’s personal challenges of finding herself alone and having to face a new country and quest is the biggest conflict. She struggles a lot with how to cope with everything at the same time as experiencing the normal growing pains of every 18 year old. Not only is she transitioning from childhood to adulthood, but she has this Journey to contend with at the same time. She’s constantly filled with conflict.

Did you plot Jenelyn’s Journey in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?

I knew the general idea of the story, but once I start writing the characters take it from there. So it was definitely written on the seat of my pants.  I never knew where the story was going to take me, even when I thought I had an idea!

Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Jenelyn’s Journey need?

Yes, I hired Amy Scott of Scott Editorial to edit the full book for me. She did a marvelous job and I don’t think it needed as much editing as I originally thought it would. It did need quite a bit, especially in the beginning parts, but overall the story remained true to the original.

What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?

Never forget that stories thrive on tension. There must be conflict, be it as a villain or challenge or tragedy, to keep the story interesting. Tension is what makes readers cheer for the characters and what keeps activity in the book to keep it moving. Not to say that it needs to be horrific tension, but just enough to make sure that it isn’t all easy sailing.

Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?

Jenelyn’s Journey is a 6-book series, so I’m currently writing the second book of the series now. I also have a fantasy trilogy that I wrote years ago, but needs a lot of rewriting, so I’ll be working on that as well. In the meantime, I did finish a romance book that just needs to be edited, so hopefully that will be coming out soon.

And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

I am proud, albeit feeling surreal. It still doesn’t feel real that my books which I’ve had for over 20 years are actually out in the world for people to read. But I’m thrilled to finally share them with everyone, so I’m happy that I stepped out of my comfort zone and made the effort to get them published. It’s been a huge learning curve and is a lot of hard work, but in the end, I get to share my characters and stories with everyone, which is all that matters.

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