One of the great things I have loved since I set up the blog is discovering new authors to read and that is definitely true for today's guest author Jo Spain. Over the last year or so I have re-found my love for reading crime fiction novels and Jo's debut novel With Our Blessing was one of the novels that I recently treated myself to. When Jo saw that I was planning on doing some giveaways to celebrate 5 years of blogging she kindly offered me a signed copy of With Our Blessing to give away so I thought it was also the perfect opportunity for us to get to know her better by doing a Q&A.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your writing journey?
I’m Irish and live in Dublin (that’s the best Irish county, don’t mind what anybody else tells you). I’ve four children, two girls and two boys, 11, 7, 5 and 2. I grew up in a very working class estate (think The Commitments, Roddy Doyle) but was lucky to go to a school where the teachers really encouraged my writing ability. In fact, I tracked down my teacher from when I was 11 and brought him as a VIP to my first launch to thank him for launching me on my writing career. He published a poem I’d written on the front page of a school journal and it was the start of me thinking . . . this is my dream job.
I was utterly addicted to reading, too, from a young age and spent my life in the library, my favourite place. That contributed so much to me wanting to be a writer.
When I left school I went to Trinity College Dublin to study politics. After graduation, I was a freelance journalist for a while, then became a political advisor in Leinster House (the Irish parliament). My whole life I’ve wanted to write fiction and in 2013 I decided to write my first novel, With Our Blessing. I don’t know what clicked that year in my head to make me do it – it meant a lot of late nights and weekends working on top of my full time job, but it did make a very pleasant change from writing speeches!
If you had to give an elevator pitch for Beneath the Surface, what would it be?
Think, House of Cards meets The Killing. Politics, corruption, seedy goings-on and murder. And there’s a broken lift in my first chapter . . . dum, dum, dum.
Describe Tom Reynolds in three words.
Clever. Compassionate. Witty.
Beneath the Surface is your second novel, how different did you find the writing/process to when you were writing your debut novel With Our Blessing?
Very. For With Our Blessing I had the bones of a plot and thought out the story as I wrote. It took a year and ran to a word count just short of War and Peace. With Beneath the Surface, I sketched an outline in advance and it took me a month to write the first draft.
How did it feel to have With Our Blessing as a finalist in the 2015 Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller competition?
Unreal. I hadn’t submitted the book to a single publisher, just the R&J competition, then got the email telling me I was shortlisted. I knew it was life changing. I didn’t win but Quercus, the competition publishers, contacted me very quickly to tell me they were offering me a two-book deal. My youngest baby was ten days old at the time and I just cried and cried – hormones, happiness, and sheer exhaustion. I’ll never forget how it felt.
What attracted you to writing a crime fiction series? And have you any plans to try your hand at something different in the future?
I write what I love to read – crime. I went with a series first, because that’s my favourite type of book, but I’m planning stand-alone thrillers for the future to run alongside the Reynolds books. And my children keep asking me to write for them, so you never know.
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
If I’m writing a first draft I’ll just go as long as my hands will cooperate. I’ll get the kids off in the morning and get stuck in. My husband works part-time so when he’s home, he’ll sort out the school collections, dinner etc and I’ll keep going into the evening, for a few weeks at the time. I just go off into another world. When I’m editing, I’m much more structured. I’m at my best then if I just go for a few hours at a time. That way I don’t lose focus. On a good writing day, I’ll do anything up to 10,000 words. On a good editing day, I’d aim for 40-50 pages.
Are you a meticulous planner or do you write by the seat of your pants?
My outlines are good guides, but they are just rough, usually a sentence or two per chapter reminding me what I want for that part of the book. I tend to let most of the story just spill out of my fingers onto the keyboard, but I ruminate on what I’m writing the following day when I’m doing tasks around the house or trying to go to sleep (I’ve sent myself many late night emails with plot developments).
What is the best piece of writing advice you have been given?
Write your next book while you’re waiting for something to happen with your previous. I always have one on the go – that way I never stop doing what I love and don’t get frustrated waiting for publication dates.
If you get a plot block during the initial writing phase, how do you work your way through it?
I take time off. Go for a run, cook, do something else. When I’m away from the computer, my brain relaxes and the answer always comes.
What essentials do you need to have close to hand when you are in writing mode?
Just my laptop and the odd cup of tea. I’ve no talisman, nothing like that. I do need it to be quiet and to be on my own.
Have you treated yourself to anything special to celebrate publishing your books?
Not really materially, apart from a bottle of champagne on launch day, but when the first book was published I did have a little chat with myself to appreciate what an achievement it was. I’ve a tendency to work very hard and keep moving the goalposts of success. I forget to stop sometimes and look at what I’ve done. So on each publication day I make sure I’m very nice to myself – and to my family who put up with the long hours!
Finally what can we expect from you next?
Lots more. The third Tom Reynolds is ready for its 2017 release and I’m editing my fourth book, a standalone thriller, at the moment. I’ll start on the next Reynolds in the new year. It’s all up from here hopefully!
It's true what they say . . . revenge is sweet. 1975. A baby, minutes old, is forcibly taken from its devastated mother. 2010. The body of an elderly woman is found in a Dublin public park in the depths of winter.
Detective Inspector Tom Reynolds is working the case. He's convinced the murder is linked to historical events that took place in the notorious Magdalene Laundries. Reynolds and his team follow the trail to an isolated convent in the Irish countryside. But once inside, it becomes disturbingly clear that the killer is amongst them . . . and is determined to exact further vengeance for the sins of the past.
As with all giveaways on the blog, this one is open to existing followers of the blog as a thank you for your support. The winner will be selected at random and contacted for their postal address for me to pass on to Jo to post the book to you.
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