Artwork for podcast The Real Writing Process
The Real Writing Process of Jo Thomas
Episode 4033rd December 2023 • The Real Writing Process • Tom Pepperdine
00:00:00 00:40:32

Share Episode

Shownotes

Tom Pepperdine interviews award winning author, Jo Thomas, about her writing process. Jo discusses research, writing retreats, and why all it starts with food.

You can find out more information on Jo at her website: https://jothomasauthor.com/

And Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/jothomasauthor

And you can find more information about this podcast on the following links:

https://www.threads.net/@realwritingpro

https://www.instagram.com/realwritingpro

https://www.facebook.com/therealwritingprocesspodcast

Transcripts

Tom:

And this week I'm joined by Jo Thomas.

Tom:

Jo, hello.

Jo:

Hello.

Tom:

Thank you very much for being my guest.

Jo:

I'm excited to be here.

Tom:

Great, glad to hear it.

Tom:

And my first question, as always, what are we drinking?

Jo:

Well, my lunchtime tipple, because I do love going out for

Jo:

lunch, would be a glass of rose.

Jo:

A glass of Provence rose.

Tom:

Okay, very, very specific.

Tom:

That's lovely.

Tom:

Well, cheers.

Jo:

Cheers.

Jo:

Cheers.

Jo:

Then, of course, you know, evenings.

Jo:

A little gin and tonic.

Tom:

Nice.

Tom:

A little treat to end the day.

Jo:

Yeah.

Tom:

And where I'm speaking to you at the moment, is this your writing room?

Tom:

Where am I speaking to you?

Jo:

This is.

Jo:

This is my office.

Jo:

This is where I shut the door and come in in the morning.

Jo:

I'm trying to make sure you don't see the boxes that are in the corner.

Tom:

That's all right, it's audio only, it'll be our secret

Tom:

if any encroach onto the frame.

Jo:

I'm a little shy with yeah, boxes of books that I've got to unpack.

Jo:

But yeah, so I've got over here is mostly cookery books on the shelves and over here

Jo:

is my favorite writers on the shelves, books that I, you know, fiction writers.

Tom:

Nice.

Tom:

Handy inspiration, just your peers cheering you on.

Jo:

Yes, and actually my computer is propped up on a couple

Jo:

of my books, I think, yeah.

Tom:

Gotta get to the right level.

Tom:

You don't want RSI hand cramp.

Tom:

And so, with the rose, like you say, it's a lunchtime tipple.

Tom:

Is it, a working day or a treat day drink?

Jo:

Oh, treat day, because you can't, you can't write after you've had wine.

Jo:

It'll just be rubbish, honestly.

Tom:

Yeah.

Jo:

There's no point in going there.

Jo:

If you've had wine...

Jo:

Don't bother.

Jo:

So that's why I work really early in the mornings and I get my words on the

Jo:

page and then you're going to have a lovely little treat of a glass of wine

Jo:

if you go out for lunch or something.

Jo:

You know, don't bother trying to put words on the page if you've had a glass.

Tom:

No, no, that's fair enough.

Tom:

Some people, I think sometimes in films and TV, you know, you get the alcoholic

Tom:

writer, but it doesn't free the mind.

Jo:

No, no, it just fuzzes it all.

Jo:

You don't want to be doing that.

Jo:

No, start off with a good big mug of tea in the morning, words on the page, and,

Jo:

uh, when you've done your words, then you can have all the treats you like.

Jo:

But don't mix the two.

Jo:

Don't drink write.

Tom:

Yeah, don't drink drive, don't drink write.

Jo:

And don't drink text either, late at night.

Tom:

No, very good.

Jo:

Or Twitter, don't do that either.

Tom:

These are life lessons we're learning, Jo.

Tom:

It's very good to have.

Tom:

And you said, you start early in the morning.

Tom:

What's the usual start time for a writing day?

Jo:

Well, it's got a bit later.

Jo:

I do now start at about seven o'clock in the morning.

Jo:

And I actually find myself these days doing a little bit of social media about

Jo:

then before I get stuck into my words.

Jo:

But it used to be very different because I started writing when I had

Jo:

three children under the age of three.

Jo:

Like buses, you wait for years and three come along.

Jo:

And so, um, writing time became really, really precious.

Jo:

And what I would do is, I would take one to school, to nursery, one to mother

Jo:

and baby group and then get back in the car and the baby would fall asleep.

Jo:

And I knew from the moment they fell asleep that, I had

Jo:

an hour before he woke up.

Jo:

So I would just whip the computer out and start writing.

Jo:

And that's when I started writing short stories.

Jo:

because I just had an hour and it's a bit like going to the gym.

Jo:

You didn't really want to do it, but you felt so much better for doing it.

Jo:

And then as time went on, I wanted to just get up and write

Jo:

first thing in the morning.

Jo:

But I had one very early riser as a child, so I was getting up at

Jo:

six and thinking that's not enough time, so then it became five.

Jo:

And for a little while, when I was trying to write the first book,

Jo:

it was sort of four in there.

Jo:

So you make your time where you can.

Jo:

You know, if you want to do it, you'll do it.

Tom:

And do you have a set limit for a writing session?

Tom:

Do you have any target number of hours or a word limit on what

Tom:

sets a writing session for you?

Jo:

Well, yeah, yes.

Jo:

I mean, if you're just getting words on the page, if I'm just

Jo:

splurging, then, you know, a couple of thousand words a day would be good.

Jo:

With the kids, I used to write wherever, just if it's outside, you know, rugby

Jo:

training, drama classes, whatever, just getting the words on the page.

Jo:

Once you get into editing, of course, that changes, but a couple

Jo:

of thousand words when you're first trying to get that idea down is good.

Jo:

Actually, I usually stop round about the time that A Place

Jo:

in the Sun comes on the telly.

Tom:

Okay.

Tom:

And are you a laptop writer primarily?

Tom:

Do you use notebooks?

Jo:

Laptop.

Jo:

I do write in notebooks when I'm away researching.

Jo:

I've just come back from a research trip and I've got a notebook full of notes

Jo:

that I bet I don't even look at again.

Jo:

So I love the kind of like feeling that, that when I get a pen and paper.

Jo:

Somehow the information goes in if I put it on the paper, but, um,

Jo:

I may not even look at it again.

Jo:

But when I'm writing the actual words, it's, it's straight off the laptop.

Tom:

And, uh, geography is quite a part of your stories.

Tom:

There's a lot of globe trotting research and different foods and communities.

Tom:

How do you pick where next?

Tom:

So you say you've just come back from a research trip.

Tom:

How did you choose that location?

Jo:

it generally all starts with the food.

Jo:

So it's a bit like wandering into your kitchen in the evening and opening up

Jo:

the fridge and thinking, right, I've got a cauliflower for dinner or something.

Jo:

But only a cauliflower isn't very sexy so we won't use cauliflower.

Jo:

So I generally take the food that I'm interested in.

Jo:

And then you start to build it and you start to say, okay, what

Jo:

are the stories around this food?

Jo:

and once you discover the food of a place.

Jo:

You start to discover the culture, the history, just the way of life.

Jo:

If you go on holiday and you go to the market and you see what's in

Jo:

season and you see who's producing it, you start to understand.

Jo:

You know, that the actual place.

Jo:

And so I will start generally with a food that I want to do.

Jo:

So my first book was called The Oyster Catcher.

Jo:

And we were in Galway and we were about to move to Galway for

Jo:

a year for my husband to work.

Jo:

And it was pouring and pouring and pouring with rain.

Jo:

And we went to this little fisherman's cottage, it looked like.

Jo:

It was a restaurant and it was a fisherman's cottage at the end of a pier.

Jo:

And went in, and the fire was lit, and the candles were going in

Jo:

the windows, and I went, oh, wow.

Jo:

And we sat in this window, and just for a moment, it actually stopped raining.

Jo:

And the, the moon came out, and will do its shimmer across the water.

Jo:

And I sat there, and I ate these oysters.

Jo:

And it, they were just beautiful, I thought, God, this is really sexy.

Jo:

And Once you started to realize the role the oysters played within this community.

Jo:

Way back to the famine, to today where they have the oyster

Jo:

shell shucking competitions.

Jo:

You realize how these, these oysters were woven into the weave of the place.

Jo:

So it generally will start, just like with a recipe, you

Jo:

go, here's my main ingredient.

Jo:

Now, what am I going to add to this?

Jo:

So where am I going to set the story?

Tom:

That's great.

Tom:

That's really nice.

Tom:

And a really unique take, I don't think I've ever known an

Tom:

author to approach it that way.

Tom:

And it's just wonderful.

Tom:

I think some great writing and great stories have that

Tom:

evocative sense of time and place.

Tom:

And I think food is a great gateway into that.

Tom:

So that's really nice.

Tom:

And it was definitely with the diner in Countdown to Christmas, you really feel

Tom:

like that's a central community hub.

Tom:

And the food, and how Chloe ingratiates herself with the food

Tom:

of her home into the community.

Tom:

It's really, really nice.

Tom:

So you find the food, you find a location where that food comes from.

Tom:

Understanding the culture and the community, but your central character,

Tom:

how do they start formulating?

Jo:

So once I've decided on a food, and say we've gone from oysters to olive oil

Jo:

in Puglia, we've done wine in France.

Jo:

Um, honey in Crete, gin in Scotland.

Jo:

It's a case of saying, why would my character be there?

Jo:

Why would she go there?

Jo:

And that's the start point.

Jo:

Why is my character going to end up in this place?

Jo:

Does she want to be there?

Jo:

Does she not want to be there?

Jo:

Is it somewhere she's always wanted to go?

Jo:

Does she not want to, you know, so just to start teasing out

Jo:

why my character would go there.

Jo:

Now, generally, of course, I write slightly older characters

Jo:

than some of the younger Romantic comedies or romance books.

Jo:

I like to write characters who are at a turning point in their lives.

Jo:

Where they've either, you know, had career, got to the top of their tree,

Jo:

got to the top of their mountain sort of thing, and wondered if it

Jo:

was the right mountain to climb.

Jo:

Whether they've decided to have children, whether they've not had

Jo:

children, that kind of turning point in a woman's lives where you'll

Jo:

stand at the crossroads and wondering where life's going to take you next.

Jo:

And it might be that you weren't expecting to go there or it might be that you've,

Jo:

you know, specifically made a trip there.

Jo:

The new book now that I'm starting, she's made a conscious decision, a

Jo:

leap of faith to go to the new place.

Jo:

Whereas say, in Coming Home to Winter Island, she's had to

Jo:

go there for a legal reason.

Jo:

And in Countdown to Christmas, she has made a choice to go there, but she's been

Jo:

encouraged by, an offer, an invitation that she gets and encouraged by her son

Jo:

who wants her to be very positive while he's away having Christmas with his dad.

Tom:

And is there, in the researching and the development of a story, where's

Tom:

the fun for you, where's the real drive of a project that gets you excited?

Tom:

Is it actually going to these places?

Tom:

Or is it, you know, picking the foods?

Tom:

And is there any part of the planning bit that's a real chore?

Tom:

A challenge for you?

Jo:

I mean, well, yes.

Jo:

And the research obviously is fun.

Jo:

But you are very much there going, right, where's the story?

Jo:

Where's the story?

Jo:

Where am I going to take this character?

Jo:

So whilst that is fun, you're, you're sort of, in this kind of moment.

Jo:

What's my story?

Jo:

What's my story?

Jo:

And you're waiting and waiting just for the story to show itself.

Jo:

Now I might just start writing and wait for the story to show itself.

Jo:

Often the really fun part is just when you start writing, when you start to dive in

Jo:

and you just write those first few scenes and you go, Oh yeah, now this is fun.

Jo:

You know?

Jo:

You know, no idea where it's going, but it's great fun to be here.

Jo:

So you start to create and you think, well, yes, I've got the story.

Jo:

I've practically finished it by now.

Jo:

And then you've got another 80, 000 words to write, you know?

Jo:

So that is the hard slog.

Jo:

It's often, I compare it to Running a marathon.

Jo:

Now, not that I've ever run a marathon or I'm ever likely to, however,

Jo:

when you run a marathon, you sort of know, you know, where the beginning

Jo:

is, you know, where the end is.

Jo:

And you, you really I think once you set off, you take it in stages.

Jo:

You know, you've got to run to this point next.

Jo:

You're not thinking, I've got to get all the way to the end.

Jo:

I've got to get to this point next.

Jo:

Phew, I'm at that bit.

Jo:

Right.

Jo:

Okay, we've turned that corner.

Jo:

Now I've got to pick up the pace here.

Jo:

And you're running to the next bit, and I've got to take it to this point here.

Jo:

And okay, okay, let's steady things out or whatever.

Jo:

And then, you know, finally, the end is in sight.

Jo:

You go, right, come on now, big push.

Jo:

Let's get this to the end.

Jo:

So it's about chunking it up and getting to the end, getting it over the lines.

Tom:

And certainly writing in the romance genre, there are certain expected

Tom:

beats of the story that the audience really enjoy and look forward to.

Tom:

So does having the genre structure really help on that route of just going,

Tom:

okay, well, I need to introduce romantic interest by chapter or, you know, this

Tom:

many words in or by page, whatever.

Tom:

Is it that structured or is it just more of a background guideline?

Jo:

Like going to a restaurant for dinner, right?

Jo:

You've picked out your restaurant, you know the sort of food that they serve.

Jo:

You go in, you enjoy the ambience, you have a little drink to start

Jo:

with, you're reading your menu.

Jo:

You're then going to have your starter, your main course,

Jo:

your dessert, and your coffee.

Jo:

But that starter will be different .Will be, you know, something you're not

Jo:

expecting but something you plan to enjoy.

Jo:

The main course, spectacular, lovely, first I've ever had it that way.

Jo:

So there is a structure to a meal.

Jo:

You don't want to walk in and be given your dessert as soon as you get in,

Jo:

and you know, have your coffee before you've even had soup or something.

Jo:

So there is a, you know, when you go out for a meal, there is a, a certain order

Jo:

of play, but you want that to be the most enjoyable experience that it can be.

Jo:

Maybe one that you haven't had before.

Jo:

The wine to go with it, so that you come out fully satisfied with a

Jo:

smile on your face going, that was one of the best meals I've ever had.

Jo:

So you don't want the same old chicken and chips every time you go out.

Jo:

You know, but you do want it in the middle of your meal.

Tom:

Yeah.

Jo:

Not at the end, or just as you walk in.

Tom:

You said earlier about how you just start like free formatting writing

Tom:

and just getting words down on a page.

Tom:

Is that where you find the secondary characters and developing those is

Tom:

just writing out scenes and doing that, does that help solidify the story or

Tom:

does it sometimes derail it and can you just suddenly have a character pop up.

Tom:

And just go, Oh, I wasn't expecting you.

Tom:

How do you fit in?

Tom:

So does it help or does it hinder?

Jo:

It is how the secondary characters start to pop up.

Jo:

And that's when you can have some fun and start playing with some characters.

Jo:

And you do have to be careful not to let them take over the story.

Jo:

But you want characters that will enhance the story.

Jo:

And play into the story.

Jo:

So, And I'm just at that moment now in my new book where I'm

Jo:

starting to build a community.

Jo:

And, you know, communities are all different characters and there's

Jo:

going to be tensions and whatever.

Jo:

So, you want varying characters and then you want to find ways

Jo:

of working with these characters and bringing them together.

Jo:

So, that often happens as I'm writing my way into the book.

Tom:

And I found that what was really great with Countdown to Christmas is

Tom:

how everyone's got their own motives and everyone's got their own backstory

Tom:

and there may be antagonists, but they're very Believable people who

Tom:

they're the hero of their own story.

Tom:

Which I always thinks it's like the best kind of villains, best conflicts.

Tom:

Is that a learned technique to develop characters?

Tom:

Is it just free formatting and keeping in mind that people are

Tom:

different, or do you have any techniques into developing characters?

Jo:

It's all about layering.

Jo:

So you start with the sort of character that you know you want to

Jo:

play this role, but it's all about layering and all the time asking why.

Jo:

Why are they behaving like this?

Jo:

Why do they do this?

Jo:

And what if they did this?

Jo:

Why and what if?

Jo:

Asking the questions.

Jo:

Why are they there?

Jo:

What do they want?

Jo:

And what if they had this side to them?

Jo:

What if they had that side to them?

Jo:

And so it's just about asking the questions as you're going along.

Jo:

And when you're writing a book.

Jo:

When you start writing, it's like if you decided you want to play the

Jo:

piano, you're not going to sit down and learn to play Mozart as soon

Jo:

as you sit down at the keyboard.

Jo:

What you do is, you know, you sit down and you start slowly and then

Jo:

you build and you build and you build.

Jo:

So, As I say at the moment, it's like throwing a load of paint at a

Jo:

canvas that you want to just fill and then you start working in the detail.

Jo:

And what about that bit over there?

Jo:

And how does it work with the rest of the picture?

Jo:

And what about if I gave it a bit more of this, that and the other.

Jo:

It really is like building a picture.

Jo:

You layer and layer and layer until they really do come to life.

Tom:

And, I'm going to try and use the restaurant three

Tom:

course meal metaphor for you.

Tom:

So if you're the chef in the kitchen and you're crafting out your feast,

Tom:

are you someone who does a very basic starter, main, dessert, coffee.

Tom:

And then go back and go, okay, how do I put some complexity in this?

Tom:

How do I compliment these flavors?

Tom:

And do you give yourself any time limit or goal to say, okay, the

Tom:

basic starter main dessert needs to be done by a certain time.

Tom:

And what sort of time limit do you give yourself for your first draft?

Jo:

It's coming up now to National Novel Writing Month.

Tom:

It is, yeah.

Jo:

Which a lot of people will take part in starting the beginning of November.

Jo:

And the aim of that is to get 50, 000 words down on a page,

Jo:

your outline of your story.

Jo:

So in a month, so just go for it.

Jo:

You know, where you want to start, you know where you want to end up.

Jo:

50, 000 words and then give yourself the time you say to

Jo:

go back and add your flavors.

Jo:

And go, right, how do I take this to another level, how do I end up being

Jo:

Heston Blumenthal and, you know, whatever.

Jo:

So yeah, you just start and just because something on a

Jo:

page can always be made better.

Jo:

But if you've got nothing, then you've got nothing.

Jo:

So just start, get something on the page and then start to really work it.

Jo:

Get to the end and start fleshing it out, putting some color in there and

Jo:

layering in those characteristics that really bring the story to life.

Tom:

Yeah.

Tom:

And on to your daily writing schedule, you mentioned earlier, obviously, that

Tom:

you tend to write in the mornings, you have like a big cup of tea before,

Tom:

is there any other sort of rituals or requirements for a writing session?

Tom:

Do you have ambient music?

Tom:

Do you need complete silence?

Tom:

Does it have to be like comfy clothes or do you dress like

Tom:

you're in the office for work?

Tom:

How do you approach?

Jo:

So, I'm sure that's lovely for people who have those

Jo:

kind of rituals and whatever.

Jo:

I live in quite a chaotic household.

Jo:

There are three youngsters with various partners now.

Jo:

There's dogs, there's cats, there's all sorts going on.

Jo:

You grab your moment when you need it.

Jo:

You grab whatever you can to wear.

Jo:

You just keep the tea coming and get to that desk.

Jo:

And as I say, there'll often be a head pop around the door, or this morning I've been

Jo:

out, my daughter's just passed her drive in test, so we've been out doing that.

Jo:

You know, life still takes place, so you have to work around life, you know,

Jo:

sometimes I'll just be writing in the kitchen and everyday life is going

Jo:

through it, people coming and going.

Jo:

And I love that, but every now and again, you do need to just be with writers.

Jo:

So we whip off for a bit of a writer's retreat, just to get words on the

Jo:

page when you just need to get up in the morning and you can just talk

Jo:

through a plot problem or whatever over your cup of tea in the morning.

Jo:

We go and I'll go away with writers like Katie Ford, Millie Johnson.

Jo:

We go away, and hire a house somewhere.

Jo:

Or I go to France and I run writers retreats there for

Jo:

people to get words on the page.

Jo:

And it's just about, look, you've given yourself this time out of everyday life.

Jo:

You paid your money, you've got yourself here.

Jo:

Give yourself the best chance that you can and just put words on the page.

Jo:

And you're not gonna get a whole novel written in a week.

Jo:

But work out where you're going and when you leave here, how you can go back

Jo:

into everyday life where there aren't candles and all of that stuff going on.

Jo:

Where there's the madness of daily life going on and you can just carry

Jo:

on and get your book over the line.

Tom:

Yeah.

Tom:

And is that something that you do like, once per project, or is it

Tom:

sometimes two or three times a project?

Jo:

I write two books a year, and I also do an awful lot of short story writing.

Jo:

I've got five short stories to do now, once I've got this

Jo:

first draft down of this book.

Jo:

Uh, I do two retreats that I lead in France.

Jo:

I do April and September.

Jo:

Then there'll be other times where an opportunity will come up and

Jo:

we'll just go, writing retreat.

Jo:

We're just planning a big one now for the new year, where I'm planning to do a big

Jo:

Christmas dinner for them all as well.

Jo:

So just to have some time just to be with other writers and just all lock

Jo:

on and understand each other and before we go back to the chaos of family life.

Tom:

And mentioning there, doing the two novels a year and short

Tom:

stories, is it good to have a few ideas percolating at any one time?

Tom:

So if you're sitting down to do some writing and you've kind of hit a block

Tom:

on a story or there's a story problem that you haven't quite solved yet,

Tom:

you can just switch gears and go on to one of the other projects or is it

Tom:

very much do one project then another then another, and it's all sequential?

Jo:

Yeah, I can't do that switch in between projects.

Jo:

But if I've got to do some work on something else, it's got to be

Jo:

in a place where I can park it up, so I'll get to that stage in the

Jo:

marathon and I can park it up and then I can do what else I need to do.

Jo:

So I can't flip between the two stories.

Jo:

Because when you're writing in that free flowing bit where you just

Jo:

want to get the story on the page.

Jo:

If I'm sure if I was a person who sat down and wrote out chapter by chapter,

Jo:

how I was going to write this story out, you could probably do that.

Jo:

Oh, I've got to chapter three.

Jo:

I can just go to chapter eight over here and do that.

Jo:

I've got to have that run at it to get the story on the page.

Jo:

And then once you're much more into the editing stage of it,

Jo:

it's easier to do other stuff.

Tom:

And obviously you with running your own writers retreats

Tom:

as well as being with your peers.

Tom:

Are there bits where you, you must see a lot of it and discuss

Tom:

a lot about imposter syndrome.

Tom:

I think it's a very common feeling amongst writers that, Oh, this is the

Tom:

book where I'm going to get found out.

Tom:

This is where the creative juice is gone.

Tom:

Do you get that on your projects?

Tom:

And if so, how do you deal with it?

Jo:

There is always a worry, is it going to be as good as the last one?

Jo:

You know, you wait for the book where they go, Oh yeah, you know,

Jo:

the last one was good, but this one.

Jo:

So you always worry that it will be as good as the last book.

Jo:

Because you are only as good as the last book.

Jo:

But actually, do you know what?

Jo:

You can only write the book that you can write at that time, the

Jo:

best book that you can write.

Jo:

So, so you have to just knock that on the head and just put your head in the story.

Jo:

What makes this story as fun as it could possibly be, as exciting

Jo:

as it could possibly be, and as, and as hopeful as it can be.

Jo:

So you just have to keep pushing yourself forward and not compare it to books that

Jo:

you have written or ones that you might like to write when you finish this one.

Jo:

So you have to turn up, put your fingers on the keyboard and keep

Jo:

going with the best book that you can possibly write, no matter how

Jo:

painful it is at times, you know.

Jo:

Some books just do flow easier than others.

Jo:

The one I've chosen to write now has got me in a few tears, but we'll be fine.

Jo:

And you just have to keep going.

Jo:

The only difference between an unpublished author and an uh, a published author

Jo:

is that the published one kept going.

Tom:

Yeah, absolutely.

Tom:

And we've talked a lot about getting those the words down just

Tom:

to formulate the story and find the story that you're writing.

Tom:

How do you approach rewriting your work?

Tom:

I've had some guests who literally bin that first draft or just use it as a

Tom:

starting point and then write again from scratch, another beginning to end draft.

Tom:

Or is it just tweaking scenes and just going back and going, Oh, actually

Tom:

now I've got this bit in the third act, I need to seed it and put a

Tom:

little bit extra in the beginning.

Tom:

So are you someone who just sort of tweaks bits or rewrites from scratch?

Jo:

So I'll do this first bit now where I'll just put a little mess down.

Jo:

Then I go through and it's like taking a lump of clay and you're molding

Jo:

it into shape to get your story.

Jo:

Then I'll have another draft by me to actually give it a polish

Jo:

before it goes off to my editor.

Jo:

Um, so I was a radio producer in a former life.

Jo:

And as I was saying to you earlier, I was Training as a radio producer

Jo:

when we recorded onto tape.

Jo:

And if we wanted to make an edit, we had to cut with a razor blade and use

Jo:

a bit of sticky tape and whatever.

Jo:

And then if you had an important bit and you went, I want to put that

Jo:

at the end of the story, you take it out, put it around your neck.

Jo:

And then you stick that bit together, because if you

Jo:

didn't put it around your neck.

Jo:

Where's it gone?

Jo:

And you'd be on the floor looking for the really important piece.

Jo:

So I approach it a bit like that, which is, yes, I've got that bit there.

Jo:

So I need to stick in a bit there, you know, and I need something to sort of

Jo:

bridge this bit here to smooth it out.

Jo:

So I do approach it in very much in the same way that I would have

Jo:

made radio stories and features.

Tom:

And, uh, you then said it goes off to your editor.

Tom:

Now, how long have you been working with your current editor, how many

Tom:

books have you done with this editor?

Jo:

Oh, good grief.

Jo:

Well, I did eight with the first editor.

Jo:

And then actually I had three editors in that time.

Jo:

This has been a good run, this one.

Jo:

We've done quite a few together now.

Jo:

Even though I think we've lost two because she had maternity leave.

Jo:

But we've had a good run of, yeah, maybe eight as well.

Tom:

Okay.

Tom:

Well, I think editors, they're kind of like the unsung heroes of books.

Tom:

You know, and certainly through a lot of my interviews, editors can come and go,

Tom:

there's been a lot of talk about burnout and having to take on lots of clients.

Tom:

So I always like to celebrate editors where I can, and it's really nice to hear

Tom:

that you've got a prolonged, like you say, a good run with your current editor.

Tom:

what is it that you feel makes a good editor and is really key to that

Tom:

relationship between writer and editor?

Jo:

I'm with you.

Jo:

I think, if you get a good enter that you work well with, it's like a rugby

Jo:

coach can walk into a fairly good team and make them into a brilliant team.

Jo:

I'll never forget it happening with my son when he was playing rugby.

Jo:

They were an okay team, you know.

Jo:

And then the coach left and we had somebody who had been an international

Jo:

player come in, who was a dad.

Jo:

And started coaching him.

Jo:

I mean, I will never forget the day he said, right, we're all going

Jo:

over the sand dunes and we were going to start doing some training.

Jo:

Well, my son, I'd given him macaroni cheese before he left.

Jo:

He came back and said, mom, I'm never going there again.

Jo:

I'm never going again.

Jo:

As he nearly brought his macaroni cheese back up.

Jo:

But he did go back and this coach absolutely transformed this team

Jo:

with no other changes to the actual people who were playing.

Jo:

And so they just weren't beaten.

Jo:

It was unbelievable what a good coach can do in the same way that a

Jo:

good editor can do that to a book.

Jo:

And my editor and I work really well together.

Jo:

You've got to trust your editor.

Jo:

You've got to trust that if they have a suggestion, then

Jo:

that is for a very good reason.

Jo:

And it's not just the editor, there is a whole team.

Jo:

There's also marketing and publicity and, and everyone else in that team

Jo:

that brings the book to the shelf.

Jo:

And they know their role way better than I know their role.

Jo:

And it's the same with the editor.

Jo:

What they will bring is just a fresh eye on things and say, well,

Jo:

hang on, what if we did this?

Jo:

Or what if we pulled that bit out of there and elevated that?

Jo:

I mean, it was one of my, my first ever editor who told me that, you

Jo:

know, stories were all about layering.

Jo:

Don't panic if it's not on the page to start with, you know, you can put it in.

Tom:

Yeah.

Jo:

And my editor now, she leaves me alone.

Jo:

I get on with it.

Jo:

And then I send to her and then wait to hear her thoughts.

Jo:

And really, I just agree mostly with, with what she tells me.

Jo:

Because we have a mutual understanding of who our audience is and what we want

Jo:

from the book and anything she adds is just going to make it a better story.

Tom:

Yeah, because I think, when people first start on the professional

Tom:

publishing journey, there is always that little part of you that just wants it

Tom:

to be sent off and them go, no notes.

Tom:

It's perfect.

Tom:

Another bestseller.

Tom:

But it's not that.

Tom:

Actually, sometimes there's quite a lot of notes.

Tom:

But as you say, they're for a good reason.

Tom:

And when you get that first feedback back, is it just like red

Tom:

marker on the side of manuscript?

Tom:

I guess if you're doing it electronically now, it's a little footnotes.

Tom:

And is that like a gleeful moment of like, great, okay, now

Tom:

I've got some more work to do.

Tom:

Or if it's like, I need a gin and tonic before I look at these, or I've read these

Tom:

and now I need a double gin and tonic.

Tom:

What is your reaction when those notes first come in?

Jo:

Well, the editor is very aware of how you're going to be

Jo:

feeling when you get edits back.

Jo:

It's a bit like teachers comments coming back.

Jo:

And so they'll always tell you, first of all, what a lovely job you've done.

Jo:

And then they'll say, but I think we could do a few things to this.

Jo:

And you go, you've done a lovely job.

Jo:

It's going to sell wonderfully.

Jo:

Yay!

Jo:

Um, but look, you know, you just have to get stuck in if you

Jo:

don't want to write, don't write.

Jo:

You know, it's, it's a job.

Jo:

And so you get stuck in, go through the comments.

Jo:

But also when you have a very thoughtful editor who is not just picking out the

Jo:

things where perhaps we could do this to here and whatever, but is going, I love

Jo:

this bit and I love this bit and reminding you why you love writing that story.

Tom:

And yeah, I think that's a thing in any kind of walk of life.

Tom:

If you Ask someone who has to give feedback to people, it's

Tom:

carrot and the stick, you know?

Tom:

It's don't just criticize, when something's great point it out

Tom:

and say, this bit is excellent.

Tom:

I love this, this line is hilarious, or I love what the character is doing here.

Jo:

They're your first reader of the book that you've just written

Jo:

as well, so you're waiting to hear that it's hit the right note.

Tom:

With your writer's retreat, because you mentioned a few

Tom:

people that it's your peer group.

Tom:

Do you ever use beta readers as part of your development, or is it

Tom:

very much, I know what I'm doing, and then it goes straight to the

Tom:

editor, and it's just the two of you?

Tom:

Or do you like to have other people's input along the way?

Jo:

Uh, no.

Jo:

No beta readers.

Jo:

I will often be there early in the morning with my friend Katie Ford,

Jo:

going, I'm trying to do this with my character, and she'll be doing the same.

Jo:

And then one of us will go, Oh, why didn't you do this?

Jo:

And then we'll go, nah, but I could do this?

Jo:

So we might bat things around like that.

Jo:

So ideas and just on emails or say, when we're on a retreat,

Jo:

cup of tea in the morning.

Jo:

Want to do this, want to do that.

Jo:

Why don't you do this?

Jo:

So it's just nice to have those conversations.

Jo:

But no, the first person that's going to read my book is my editor.

Tom:

And doing two books a year, when you've actually signed off on

Tom:

a project, it's like, okay, you've done the edits, everyone's in

Tom:

agreement, it's off to the proofs now.

Tom:

Is that a sense of relief, another one done, or is it a bit of a grief

Tom:

of, I've spent, you know, half the year with these characters,

Tom:

and I've got to let them go now?

Jo:

Well, by the time I get to that stage, by the time it goes to copy

Jo:

edit, I've started the new book.

Tom:

Okay.

Jo:

So you don't kind of get to meet them again until you're doing this and you go,

Jo:

Oh, yes, I'd like to meet him back here.

Jo:

Yeah, back with all the characters in the diner.

Jo:

Because next summer's book is completely done and ready to go.

Jo:

So that's sitting there.

Jo:

And I am writing next winter.

Jo:

So I'm quite a long way on from Countdown to Christmas.

Jo:

So it is lovely to be going back and hagrid the dog.

Tom:

Yes.

Tom:

I always like a dog.

Tom:

Dog in a book.

Tom:

Always, you know, a winner for me.

Tom:

And yeah, I wanted to pick up on uh, one other thing that you said right

Tom:

at the start about social media and that sometimes you deal with social

Tom:

media first thing in the morning.

Tom:

I have seen some of your Instagram lives, where you're cooking and chatting.

Tom:

And I just think that's a great thing.

Tom:

Again, I've not seen other writers do.

Tom:

Would you like to tell us a little bit about your interaction with your audience?

Jo:

Well, we've ended up calling this Bookery Club.

Jo:

I'm not really sure how it came about.

Jo:

It was that thing again of, you know, people are doing things.

Jo:

I thought, well, I don't do anything apart from write and

Jo:

cook and talk about cookbooks.

Jo:

So I just sort of thought, well, I would talk to my audience about that.

Jo:

So on a Friday at five o'clock, I go live on Instagram and it's from my kitchen.

Jo:

And I'm not there trying to teach anybody how to cook anything or teach any recipes.

Jo:

I'm just cooking my dinner.

Jo:

And, as I said, it's the usual hubbub of my kitchen.

Jo:

I might not know how many people are going to be there for dinner.

Jo:

There's dogs, there's cats.

Jo:

Not on the work surfaces when they're on.

Jo:

But it is just, you know, very much in my kitchen, and I'll talk about what

Jo:

I've been doing that week, what I've been writing, and what I've been reading.

Jo:

And this week I will be talking about the fact that I'm reading Millie Johnson's

Jo:

new book, The Happiest Ever After.

Jo:

Oh, the Hairy Biker's new book.

Jo:

Oh, lovely.

Jo:

So I might have picked something to cook from one of those books, or I might not.

Jo:

I mean, you know, it's just what happens on a Friday night.

Jo:

And then there are people who join every week and tell me what

Jo:

they're cooking, what they're reading, what they've been up to.

Jo:

We have people from Sweden, from Canada.

Jo:

from all over the place.

Jo:

Um, Australia, which must be in the night for them.

Jo:

And I'll just stay on there for about half an hour and chat to my readers because

Jo:

isn't it amazing that we can now Stay in touch with our readers so well through

Jo:

social media and really connect, you know?

Jo:

So that's Oddball Club, Bookery Club, on a Friday, 5, come and join us.

Tom:

And yeah, well that's fantastic.

Tom:

And I think you've been an amazing guest, Joe.

Tom:

Thank you so much for being on the show.

Links