It’s always lovely to meet a new-to-me author who writes books that look like just my kind of reading – and today I’m delighted to introduce you to Jo Bartlett. Jo’s latest novel, Somebody Else’s Boy, was published by Accent Press on 25th August, and is available in paperback and for kindle. I’m planning to read and review this one in November – and I’m rather looking forward to it. Let me share the story…
Will Nancy and Jack be allowed to embrace the future, or will their histories forever bind them to the past?
Drama teacher Nancy O’Brien puts her ambitions on hold to support her family, and returns to her idyllic seaside home town, St Nicholas Bay. Jack has his own reasons for heading to the Bay; a young widower desperate to come to terms with his loss, he hopes setting up home there with baby son, Toby, might just enable him to survive the future.
As Nancy and Jack become closer, not everyone is thrilled, in particular Toby’s grandmother, who can’t bear to see her late daughter ‘replaced’. When Spencer – the only man Nancy’s ever really loved – reappears, her living arrangements with Jack seem set for disaster.
I also plan to review the next book in the series… but come on, let’s meet Jo…
Jo, it’s lovely to welcome you to Being Anne. I think three people at the blogger/author event the other week told me I’d love Somebody Else’s Boy (and they weren’t all Write Romantics!). Tell me more about the story and where it came from…
Thank you for inviting me on to your blog, Anne. It’s lovely to hear that not all the advocates for Somebody Else’s Boy were Write Romantics, although I’m so glad the rest of the gang cheerlead for me so effectively! The novel is essentially about the ties that bind us, both to people and places, and the compromises we sometimes make to our own dreams as a result. The story centres around Jack, who is left to raise his baby son alone after his wife’s tragic death, and Nancy, who is the glue holding her increasingly fractured family together. There are some deep themes, ranging from Alzheimer’s to infidelity, but ultimately it’s an uplifting story, full of hope and lots of laughter, as well as a few tears along the way.
I love stories with a strong setting. Tell me about St Nicholas Bay. Your invention?
Lots of people who have read the first novel tell me they’re desperate to visit, and even live in, St Nicholas Bay, which is wonderful to hear. It is a place of my own invention, although I have to admit to borrowing elements of many of the Kent coastal towns near to where I live, as well as bits of both Canterbury and Rochester.
St Nicholas Bay is where Dickens is alleged to have written A Christmas Carol and the town becomes famous for this connection, with the atmosphere of a Christmas market all year round and lots of shops linked to the Dickens connection – including Tiny Tim’s Toys and Marley’s Chains DIY store.
And you’re planning a series of four?
That’s right, there will be two full length novels and two novellas. The second in the series, a Christmas themed novella, will be out in November. All four stories feature women who become mothers by non-traditional routes, so there are stepmothers, adoptive mothers and one protagonist who takes on legal guardianship of her niece. They all have a love story running through them too, but are perhaps more about family in a broader context and the importance for all of us in having that sense of home – something St Nicholas Bay offers each of the main characters across all four stories.
I know this isn’t your first novel – Among A Thousand Stars did ever so well too. What set you writing in the first place? Was it something you’d always wanted to do?
Thank you for those lovely comments about Among A Thousand Stars. I have always wanted to write and started off when I was about ten writing complete rip-offs (and I’m sure totally rubbish versions) of books like Pollyanna and The Secret Garden. I continued to write and moved on to reading books by Jilly Cooper and Jill Mansell, still dreaming that one day I might write a novel of my own. However, as it tends to, life got in the way as I got older and writing went on the back burner when I became a college lecturer and was busy raising a family of my own. It took a brush with cancer to make me take stock and decide it was now or never.
I was off work after an operation and followed a link to an article about Jill Mansell, where she talked about how the New Writers’ Scheme, run by the Romantic Novelist’s Association, had set her on the path to success. On a whim, I decided to see if I could get in for the upcoming January uptake – which I did. It provided me with the motivation to finish my novel, which got what they then called a ‘second read’, meaning it was deemed to have the potential for publication. That novel eventually became my debut release – Among A Thousand Stars – and during one week it appeared in the top ten of three Amazon charts at the same time and I achieved my dream of having a paperback with my name on the spine. I also wrote pocket novels for DC Thomson, with the large print versions being produced by Ulverscroft, achieving another dream of seeing books I’d written in WHSmiths and supermarkets throughout the UK, as well as in libraries across the UK, US and Australia. So for any aspiring writers out there, I’d definitely repeat Jill Mansell’s advice to sign up for the New Writers’ Scheme, if they have the opportunity.
And when the time came, did you just sit at the keyboard and write?
Absolutely. I really wasn’t much of a planner and I’m still not to a great extent, although writing a series with recurring characters means that I’ve had to take a bit more of a planned approach. Ultimately, I know the beginning, the end and the really important things that need to happen along the way, but I like to let the characters decide some of it for themselves, which I’m sure sounds really odd to non-writers!
When you’re writing, do you have a reader in your mind? A certain background, or age group maybe? Are they exclusively female?
I don’t think a particular age or background comes to mind really, but I guess there is a certain type of reader in that my stories aren’t completely light and fluffy, as I strive for light and shade. So if you want a novel that’s all about finding ‘the one’ and that sort of Hollywood ending that never happens in real life, then my books might not be for you. Don’t get me wrong, I love a happy ending and all of my stories have them, but I hope there’s a level of realism thrown in, with some acknowledgement that life is complex and even happy endings don’t all look the same. I suppose the novels are aimed predominantly at women, but I’ve had some lovely feedback from male readers too, who tell me they’ve enjoyed my books.
How do you manage to fit your writing around your busy life? What does a typical writing day look like?
There isn’t really such a thing as a typical writing day, as it depends on deadlines and what other work is going on. My day job is as a university lecturer, so there are peaks and troughs involved there, around semester start dates and marking commitments etc. I also have four children, four dogs but just the one husband! All in all life is pretty busy and I fit writing in whenever I can. Luckily I can write anywhere and, when I’m in the moment, I can happily write with conversation going on around me or the television blaring in the background, which is pretty fortunate really. I’ve recently finished a Masters degree and so I’m hoping that will free up more time for writing, but there are never really enough hours in the day, especially as I try to do some social media to help promote the books, although I’m pretty dire at that aspect of being a writer.
How did your current publishing deal with Accent Press come about?
I got the idea for St Nicholas Bay as a setting a couple of years ago, and the Christmas before last I wrote a novella set there. I self-published it and the story was so well-received that I decided it deserved a bigger audience than I could find on my own (owing to being useless at social media promotion!). I only sent it to Accent and one other publisher, as I was quite set on the sort of publisher I wanted to work with. Luckily Rebecca Lloyd at Accent loved the novella and asked me to consider writing a series of four books in the same setting. After discussion with Rebecca, I decided Accent were definitely the publishers I wanted to work with and so I withdrew the submission from the other publisher. Somebody Else’s Boy was already drafted and we decided that would be the first book, with the original Christmas novella undergoing a small edit to become book two. 2017 will see the third book in the series released, another full length novel with the working title of The Girl She Left Behind, and followed up later in the year by the last of the series, which will be novella length.
And I must ask you about the Write Romantics, mustn’t I? How does being part of that group help you as a writer?
Being part of a group is invaluable and, again, it’s something I urge every writer to do if they can. Writing is a solitary profession and there are lots of lows among the high points. Doubts about whether you can actually write, whether anyone will publish your novel and the even scarier prospect of letting strangers read your book! Having a ‘writing tribe’, as an author friend of mine terms it, is so important. We cheer each other on, listen to one another’s doubts, celebrate each other’s successes and provide a shoulder to cry on when things don’t go according to plan. I think I would have given up long before I got my first publishing deal if it wasn’t for the other Write Romantics. Plus there’s always someone willing to re-tweet your posts or share on Facebook that your novel’s up for pre-order, something which a social-media disaster like me couldn’t afford to be without!
And what writers do you particularly admire? if someone said “your writing reminds me of…”, who would you like them to mention?
I love Jojo Moyes, that knack she has of combining light and shade with just the right balance is something I really aspire to, and of course the original queen of the Rom Com, Jill Mansell. I also hugely admire writers who demonstrate expertise in characterising both individuals and the complexities of family life, like Maeve Binchy and Joanna Trollope. Although probably my all-time favourite writer is still Sue Townsend. I adore the Adrian Mole books, which definitely combine every day comedy and tragedy, and they are still my go-to read if I ever need cheering up.
So, when can we expect the next book in the series (no pressure!)?
The Gift of Christmas Yet to Come is scheduled for release on the 28th November and the edits are already in, as well as the final cover design. So actually the pressure’s off for this one, it’s book three in the series that’s keeping me up at nights at the moment!
Thanks so much for having me on the blog, Anne, it’s been great fun.
It’s been really lovely to meet you Jo – and I’m really looking forward to spending some time in St Nicholas Bay!
About the author
I’ve made up stories for as long as I can remember, but never really took it any further. Concentrating on my career and family, writing went on the back burner until a catalyst called cancer gave me a major kick up the proverbial. I decided I was going to write that novel after all.
In 2015 my debut Among A Thousand Stars was published by So Vain Books, which at one point appeared in the top ten of three Kindle charts on the same day. I also had two pocket novels published by DC Thomson in 2015, which fulfilled my childhood dream of walking into WHSmiths and buying something with my name on it.
I write mainly contemporary women’s fiction, when I’m not knee deep in assignments in my day job as a university tutor. Somebody Else’s Boy, the first of the four-book St Nicholas Bay series was published by Accent Press in August 2016. This series is set by the sea in Kent, where I live with my own family – so close to the edge of the Channel that we’re practically French.
My ambition is to drink tea and make stuff up on a full time basis, and, if you follow me on Twitter, I might even say something interesting one of these days… although I wouldn’t hold your breath.