Friday, 7 July 2017

Author Interview: Debbie Johnson

Today it's my absolute pleasure to welcome author Debbie Johnson back to the blog on the final stop of her blog tour for her latest book The A-Z of Everything.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your writing journey? 
I’m a 40-something mum of three who lives in Liverpool. I worked as a journalist for many years, then spent quite a long time doing a crazy combination of trying to be an author, doing PR and marketing, and freelance journalism. Like most writers, it took me quite some time to reach the point where I could even dream of making a living from fiction – the overnight successes are few and far between! 

My big breaks came from winning the Harry Bowling Prize in 2010, and then getting a book accepted by HarperImpulse in 2014. I was in all honesty ready to give up by then, but as it happens that book was called Cold Feet At Christmas, and went on to be my first proper success. 

If you had to give an elevator pitch for The A-Z of Everything, what would it be? 
I’m always rubbish at these – can our elevator be like the one in Charlie and the Chocolate factory and go flying around for a while?? In essence, it’s a story about love, and family, and forgiveness. It tells the tale of estranaged sister Poppy and Rose, who haven’t spoken for over a decade until their mum, Andrea, passes away. Andrea’s greatest wish has been to bring her girls together again, and she does that by spending her last few weeks compiling an A-Z of Everything – videos, diaries, photos, treasure hunts, road trips and challenges, running through every letter in the alphabet, in an attempt to show the sisters how much stronger they are together than apart.

The A-Z of Everything has more of an emotional tone than your previous novels, where did the inspiration come from?  
I think as we get older, we start to experience more loss. I’ve said goodbye to both my parents and some very close friends, and it really does change you. It also makes you appreciate what’s important in life, and how petty things that seemed important years ago really are. I don’t think there’s any such thing as a ‘normal’ family, and this book is about that as well – the ways we love each other and hurt each other and protect each other. That all sounds a bit morbid, but I hope it’s not – there are plenty of laughs in the book as well, as there are in life – you have to find the humour in even the darkest of situations, don’t you?

What message would you like readers to take from reading The A-Z of Everything? 
That life is short, but love is long – don’t hold grudges or judge too harshly; none of us are perfect, we all make mistakes, and loving someone is sometimes about accept them warts and all.

What does a typical writing day look like for you? 
Condensed! I fit in my writing between school runs, and when needed, also squash some in at weekends or in the evenings. I miss the company and banter of working in an office sometimes, but do love creating completely fictional characters who I even feel are my friends!

If you get a block during the initial writing phase, how do you work your way through it? 
I am terrible at planning, so that does sometimes happen to me. When it’s all flowing, it’s wonderful, but there does inevitably come a point where you hit a brick wall and simply have no clue what happens next! For me, solving that problem is all about thinking time – letting my mind wander, either in bed at night as I try and drift off to sleep, or when I’m providing taxi service for the kids, or walking the dogs. The first few times it happened to me it was terrifying – I was convinced I would never, ever finish the book!  But now, with a bit of experience under my belt, I know I will – the characters will lead me in the right direction. 

What essentials do you need to have close to hand when you are in writing mode? 
Nothing much. I don’t have a glamorous writing space – I just set myself up on the sofa with my laptop, several giant mugs of coffee, and my dogs snuggled up by my side.

Finally what can we expect from you next? 
I’m currently working on the as-yet untitled next edition of the Comfort Food Cafe books, featuring some new characters and a lot of old faces. It feels kind of like coming home, getting back to them, to be honest!

P is for Paris where it all began. J is for Jealousy where it all came undone. But the most important letter is F. F is for Forgiveness, the hardest of all.

Sisters Poppy and Rose used to be as close as two sisters could be, but it’s been over a decade since they last spoke. Until they both receive a call that tells them their mother has gone – without ever having the chance to see her daughters reunited.

Andrea, though, wasn’t the kind of woman to let a little thing like death stand in the way of her plans. Knowing her daughters better than they know themselves, she has left behind one very special last gift – the A-Z of Everything.

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