The Big Break is happy to welcome Carolyn Jess-Cooke author of the The Guardian Angel's Journal, her debut novel released by Piatkus. You will find my review here.
Firstly, can I thank you for joining me today on my blog.
Hello! Lovely to be here! Thank you for having me.
What did you do for a living before writing became your chosen career?
I was an academic for about eight years. I spent four years lecturing in Film Studies at the University of Sunderland, then took up a senior post in Creative Writing at Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne. I resigned in January 2011.
How long did it take you to write your debut novel ‘The Guardian Angel’s Journal’?
This book happened very fast – though I should say that I think it was a bit of a fluke. I wrote the first chapter one night in July 2009 before I was due to head down to London to meet with a room full of top publishers and agents. I had seven weeks’ off work for the summer break, so I wrote about 10000 words, and then I heard from an agent who was interested and wanted to see the rest. I didn’t dare tell her I hadn’t finished the novel, so I said ‘can you give me 2 weeks’, which was how long I had left until teaching began again. I knew I’d never get a chance to write when the semester kicked off, so I cleared my schedule, booked in childcare, and wrote like a maniac. I was also in the throes of early pregnancy and was plagued with morning sickness, so I hardly ate, slept, or stopped to breathe – I just churned out the novel. About two weeks later she signed me up, and the next month she sold it in the first 5 countries.
How did you come up with the idea for the book?
I don’t know, if I’m honest. I think an idea is so light and fragile that it sort of drifts around a bit, gathering dust, and if it’s ‘sticky’ enough it collects all the lint that’s in your subconscious and becomes an actual story. I was working full time, had 2 kids under 3, and regularly forgot what day it was, so I kind of resigned myself to the fact that I’d never have a chance to actually write it.
What was your first reaction when you found out that your book was to be published?
There was much singing and dancing! My Italian publisher bought it first and wrote me a lovely letter – it was just incredible that someone else loved this story as much as I did. It was sold at auction in the UK and I was just overwhelmed by how passionate Piatkus was about it. Utterly life-changing.
Who did you tell first?
My husband, as he was standing beside me when I took the phone call! Then my mum, sisters, friends, and so on….
How long did it take for your book to reach publication after the initial agreement?
18 months. It seemed a long time, though my poetry collection had taken over 2 years from the point of contract. I was still working and juggling two other young children, and I had a terrible pregnancy – and I was also working on my second book. So I had a lot to keep me busy.
What was happening to your manuscript during this time?
I did minor revisions to it. It also got sold to the US and 19 other countries, so I had some dealings with the translators.
How have you kept yourself occupied as you wait for publication day?
The last month was particularly slow – I couldn’t stop googling my book and seeing what the reviews were like! But I’ve been working on my second novel too, which has taken a little longer than the first one…
How did you celebrate on publication day?
Publication day was immense! I got 2 bouquets and a bottle of champagne from my agent and editor, lots of well-wishing from friends, and ventured into town to see my book on the shelves. As soon as I walked into Waterstones, there it was on the front table, staring back at me! Couldn’t believe it.
Can you tell us a little about your next writing project?
I’ve recently decided to keep plot lines close to my chest until the book is in the can, so to speak – not for fear of plagiarism but because there’s an energy that’s retained by keeping it to yourself, I think. But I can say that it’s another stand-alone piece with a slight supernatural twist, though once again concerned with human nature, memory and motherhood. It’s out next April.
Tell us what a typical writing day would be like?
Since quitting my job I actually have writing days, which is nice! Generally there’s a lot of juggling as none of my three kids are yet at school, but I tend to get a space of about 3 hours when I try to refrain from being online, and I hammer away according to a very strict word count. Currently, my daily word count is 4000 words and I will not sleep until I produce that.
What advice would you give to aspiring and unpublished authors?
I think the most important advice is not to doubt yourself. Doubt is such a small word for such a massive obstacle. Remember that writing is rewriting. Keep going until your work gleams.
Thank you Carolyn for talking to us today. I am in awe of how quickly you wrote the book and how many words you write every day.
The Guardian Angel’s Journal (Piatkus, £6.99) is available from all good bookshops.
If you would like to know more about Carolyn, then please visit her website here.
If you would like to win a copy of The Guardian Angel's Journal then please enter your details in the form below. It is an INTERNATIONAL competition. Good luck.