Jesobel Jones Blog Tour

How did you come up with the idea of Jesobel Jones?

In the first few weeks of my Creative Writing MA, we were set the task of writing from the point of view of someone who had a disability. Being overweight was given as an option. It seemed to me more interesting to write about someone who didn’t seem that being overweight was a problem for her, just a problem for other people. I wrote a short piece and received lots of compliments about the voice in the exercise. She soon had a name, at this point Alyssa, the name Jesobel came along much later in the process, and she would not stop talking to me. This co-incided with NaNoWriMo so I decided to just let her talk. By the end of the month I had 55,000 words of Alyssa. To cut a long story short, it took another two years before I had a finished manuscript but that is how it all began.

Is it based on your experience as a teenager?

No. I’m a secondary school teacher and in fact it’s based more on conversations that I’ve overheard in recent years about body image, girls’ relationships with food and various pressures that face them. I think being a teenager currently is very hard! Any mistake you make can be recorded on social media for ever. When I messed up as a teen, it was all forgotten quite quickly. Not so much for modern teenagers. So whilst the novel isn’t based on my experiences, I did try to re-capture the intensity of things I felt then even if Jess’s life isn’t mine. I wish I’d been a lot more like her then but there you go!

What was most challenging when writing the book?

Plot! I found writing in Jess’s voice relatively straightforward and I had very few edits to do in terms of how I wrote it. But it took me eighteen months to get the plot right. My initial draft was too over-dramatic and my second draft had an end that didn’t fit the beginning. Unintentionally I wrote myself into a corner after the party scene. After a lot of planning and thinking about Jess as a character and what was at the heart of her story I realised that I needed to re-write everything after the party. This meant cutting 16,000 words! At the time it hurt but the novel then worked which previously it hadn’t. It was a hard lesson but I suppose that’s what happens when you start with a NaNoWriMo draft!

What do you like most about Jess?

Lots of things! I like that fact that she’s confident, that she goes her own way, that she puts her friends first. She doesn’t always get things right but her heart is always in the right place. I think she’s very resilient – she always bounces back from setbacks. And of course she is a very, very good cook.

You’ve gone the self-publishing route, tell us a little about that. What most the most fun and the most difficult side of it?

That’s a big question. Initially I was disappointed that despite lots of interest none of the big publishing houses made an offer for Jess. But just like her, I decided to be positive and self-publish. The best part has been the freedom and that it can happen quite quickly. If I had have been offered a book deal then it would have been at least another year until Jess would have seen the light of day. I’ve had lots of input from other people into Jess but I can make the final decisions about the copy, the price etc. It’s like running your own business and so it does require a lot of time and energy. I don’t think that that is actually much different from being launched in a more traditional way as it seems that publishers do expect you to do most of the publicity yourself. The most difficult thing is the same regardless of how you publish – having people read your work! Fortunately I’ve only had lovely comments to date. I just need to brave for as and when that one star review comes. Apparently though it’s a badge of honour and I should welcome it when it comes!

Do you have a recipe to bake the best cupcakes?

I’m much lazier than Jess and not such a good cook. But the following always works for me!

  • Oven at 180 degrees
  • 4 oz self-raising flour
  • 4oz room temperature butter or Stork margarine
  • 4 oz caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • a tsp of vanilla essence.

Whilst oven is heating, mix in the butter and sugar. Then add the beaten eggs bit by bit. Stir in the flour and add vanilla essence. Put into baking cases – I like mini cupcakes rather than big ones. Bake for ten minutes then check. Larger cakes might take up to 15/16 minutes depending on your oven.

I cheat with the decorating and use pre-prepared icing. But from then on you can decorate with any colour and pattern of icing. The only limit is your imagination…

Thank you for this interview.