Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Debut Spotlight: Jo Jakeman

Today it's my stop on the Sticks and Stones blog tour and it's my pleasure to be shining the spotlight on author Jo Jakeman and her debut novel.

Jo Jakeman was the winner of the Friday Night Live 2016 competition at the York Festival of Writing.

Born in Cyprus, she worked for many years in the City of London before moving to Derbyshire with her husband and twin boys. Sticks and Stones is her debut thriller.

Twitter: @JoJakemanWrites

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your writing journey?
I have always loved writing but, with work and family commitments, I only ever treated it as a hobby. It felt self-indulgent to lock myself away and write. When the children started school it was time for me to see whether I could produce something that people might like to read. I made up my mind to really go for it. I started volunteering at the local book festival, read several writing books, and enrolled on an online writing course with Curtis Brown Creative. I signed up for writing festivals and entered a couple of competitions. At York Festival of Writing I was shortlisted for Best Opening Chapter and Friday Night Live. I went on to win Friday Night Live. It was there that I met my agent, Imogen Pelham. A few months after that, she submitted my book to publishers and it found a wonderful home with Jade Chandler at Harvill Secker.

If you had to give an elevator pitch for Sticks and Stones, what would it be? 
My agent judged the ‘pitch perfect’ competition at York Festival of Writing. My pitch was so bad she didn’t even recognise it. I’ve worked on it since then!

Sticks and Stones is a dark thriller about three women who lock their abusive ex in a cellar. It puts them in a position of power over him but, even locked up, Phillip still has the potential to hurt them. Should they forgive him, or take their revenge?

I'm sure we've all wanted to seek revenge on an ex at some point in our lives, what inspired you to choose this subject for your debut novel? 
It all started with a funeral I went to. There was a lot of tension because of family fall-outs. As it was, the person who had died was much loved, but I started wondering about a funeral where the deceased wasn’t a very nice man. Where perhaps someone in the church was happy that he was dead, perhaps even had a hand in it. Sticks and Stones is obviously a work of fiction, but I didn’t have to look far to find countless accounts of women who have suffered domestic abuse at the hands of their partners. You’d be amazed what people tell you when they find out you’re writing a book.

What lessons have you learnt during the whole writing/editing/publication process?
So many things! I had no idea how many people would be involved in getting this book to publication. I had a message from a woman in South Africa who is responsible for getting shops in Cape Town to stock my book. It made me really appreciate the countless un-named people that are working on behalf of the book.

What advice would you give to other aspiring authors who are thinking about writing a novel?
Be patient but focused. Many years ago an author told me not to get my first book published. He said that ideally it’s your third book that should find an agent because that’s when your writing is up to scratch. Obviously I ignored him, thought I knew better, and sent my first novel to countless agents who all rejected it. Sticks and Stones is, naturally, the third novel I’ve completed, and I can see why that first one didn’t get representation. As writers we see many success stories and feel disheartened when we don’t succeed straight away. ‘Over-night success’ is rarely what it seems. 

Did you treat yourself to something special to celebrate your publishing deal? 
On the day we accepted the offer from Harvill Secker I went out for lunch with my husband and we just sat there saying, ‘Wow’. It was what I’d wanted for so long, yet when it became a reality I was in shock. When I got the American deal, I did go and buy a car. The salesman asked if my husband should test drive it. It was so satisfying to say, ‘Why? It’s my money, my car.’

I open the curtains in the morning and look out at Fifi (yes, that’s her name!) and know that I earned it. It’s a great feeling.

Have you anything exciting planned to celebrate publication day? 
I don’t have anything planned during that day, but if I don’t get breakfast in bed there’ll be trouble! In the evening I’m having a launch party at my local Waterstones. It’s a chance for me to thank everyone for their support, and perhaps have a glass or two of Prosecco!
Finally what can we expect from you next? 
I’m working on my second book at the moment. It’s another stand-alone psychological thriller about a woman who has been recently released from prison and is trying to start again with a new identity. But, of course, it’s never that easy. It appears that someone knows who she is and doesn’t think she has been adequately punished for her crime.

It’s starting to come together nicely, and will be out in summer 2019.

Imogen’s husband is a bad man. His ex-wife and his new mistress might have different perspectives but Imogen thinks she knows the truth. And now he’s given her an ultimatum: get out of the family home in the next fortnight or I’ll fight you for custody of our son.

In a moment of madness, Imogen does something unthinkable: she locks her husband in the cellar. Now she’s in control. But how far will she go to protect her son and punish her husband? And what will happen when his ex and his girlfriend get tangled up in her plans?

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