Interview With Author Jo Fenton

Please introduce yourself and your books! 

I’m Jo Fenton, a UK author of psychological thrillers. My debut novel, The Brotherhood, is based in a religious sect in North West England, and is set in a creepy gothic abbey.

The sequel, The Refuge, is due out on May 28th, and is also set in the abbey. It picks up just a week after the end of The Brotherhood.

Both are published by Crooked Cat books, and will be released in audiobook format by Spectrum Audiobooks later in the year.

What are the stories behind your books?

The Brotherhood is about a young woman, Melissa, who gets enticed in to a religious sect. However, it’s not as benign as it first appears. How far does she have to go to escape the abusive leader and save the lives of those she loves?

The Refuge follows on from The Brotherhood, and deals with the difficulties faced by Mel and her family when her sister, Jess, arrives at the abbey after 9 years imprisoned in a cellar. Now 19, Jess is tormented by her years in captivity, and the suspicion that her abductor is not prepared to give her up so easily…

What inspires/inspired your creativity?

I’m inspired by all sorts of things, and sometimes it’s difficult to pin down an exact cause. I have one novel in the pipeline that has been inspired by the words of a song by Lady Gaga.

Other sources of inspiration have been overheard conversations – so if you’re ever having an unusual conversation in public, beware – it may trigger off a whole murder plot!

The Brotherhood premise just popped into my head out of nowhere. One minute I was thinking of the classic Agatha Christie closed-room murder, and a second later the idea of a religious sect appeared!

How do you deal with creative block?

I start writing. I often have to delete the first sentence or two of each session, but once I get into it, the writing flows pretty easily. The bigger difficulty is in sitting down to write. Time constraints, work, family and friends can be more demanding, and it’s essential to force myself to allocate time to write. I have a tracker in Excel which shows how many words I’ve written each day, and how far I have to go to hit my targets. I don’t write every day, but my tracker makes sure I write at least a couple of times a week.

How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

It depends on the content of the review. If it’s genuinely constructive, I will try to take it on board and bear it in mind for the future. As authors, we need to be able to take critique and use it to improve our work.

I also accept that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and there’s probably never been a book written that’s been universally loved!

Unfortunately, some reviews are malicious, and feel personal. They’re harder to shake off, but I have to remind myself that not everyone in the world is nice, and that these people are in a minority and are not worth bothering with.

More irritating in some ways are the ones who review the service and give a poor review because Amazon didn’t deliver on the day the customer wanted it. This has happened to friends of mine, and is truly frustrating, as the review has nothing to do with the content of the book.

How has your creation process improved over time?

My first novel took 6 years and 10 drafts to write, because I just kept re-writing until it got to a point where it was as good as it could be.

For the sequel, I started writing, and did the first couple of chapters to get going, but then I started to plan! Using the stimulus of the early chapters, together with a knowledge of what I wanted to achieve, I wrote a chapter by chapter plan, a structural arc, and character profiles. These got tweaked as I went along, but kept me on track, and meant that I didn’t need as many re-writes. I got the sequel completed in 3 drafts, taking one year.

I’m using a similar process for my work in progress.

What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?

The best things are the surprising ones: those bits where the characters take over, and do something you weren’t expecting – these are the ‘where on earth did that come from?’ moments, and I love them.

I also love when I sit down to write and an hour or so later I emerge with an exciting scene, but have no idea of the passing of time to get there. I’ve sometimes been interrupted by a member of my family asking about dinner, and last time I looked it was four o’clock!

The worst bits are when I realise I’ve written a couple of paragraphs of complete drivel, and have to delete it before I can carry on. When I first started, I’d have left it to be edited out in the next draft, but I try to write a lot more tightly now, so that there are few changes between versions.

My first version might have a few plot holes, picked up in beta reading by me or writing friends. Second version eliminates the plot holes and tightens up the writing, and the third version is as good as I can make it, and is the version sent to my publisher for professional edits.

Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?

I get personal satisfaction from serving my readers. If my readers don’t want to turn the pages, I’ve failed both myself and the readers. I love to read a book that draws me in, and keeps me hooked until the end, so it’s important to me to do the same. It’s important to me that it’s well-written, but my chief satisfaction comes from writing a great story with engaging characters.

Do you have any creativity tricks?

I try to get into the heads of my characters. My books are written in first person, so it allows me to identify closely with the protagonist. It’s probably a bit like acting. I did a lot of improvisation when I was a student, so I use a similar technique. I become the character while I’m writing their side of the story.

What are your plans for future books?

My current work in progress is a crime thriller set in the late 1980’s at Manchester University. A young man is found hanged in his room at a Hall of Residence. His best friend gets drawn into a Kabbalistic group in an attempt to come to terms with what’s happened, but nothing is as it seems.

Meanwhile, another friend, Becky, is trying more objectively to solve the crime, but has difficulties of her own to overcome. Becky is the lead character of a series of crime thrillers set in the present day – which should keep me busy for a while!

Tell us some quirky facts about yourself

I ran my first (and probably last) half marathon on the same day as I finished writing The Brotherhood. The half marathon took me 3 hours and 16 minutes, and I loved doing it, but I’m sticking to shorter distances now.

There are definite parallels between running and writing. Both take persistence and stamina. It doesn’t matter how fast you run or write, as long as you get there in the end!


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