Yesterday Jo Chumas told us about her book. Today she is back to tell us more about herself.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I was born in England in the 1960s but grew up in Belgium and France. My father was a diplomat who worked at the European Commission in Brussels, and we travelled widely when I was a child. I started writing a diary when I was six years old (I still have it) and have written a diary all my life. My diary was always with me. When we travelled I would stick postcards in it and write descriptions of the people we met. From a very young age I loved observing people and spent hours coming up with stories inside my mind based on characters I’d seen on the streets of the cities we travelled to.
Because I grew up in Europe, I was exposed to many different languages from an early age. I went to the European School in Brussels, Belgium and was bilingual (French/English) from an early age. At the time the school was a kind of experiment to see if young people from seven European countries could study together. I went to school with kids from all over Europe. We played together in the playground and had some lessons together. We even sat in detention together. All cultural and national barriers were removed. It reinforced from a very young age my love of all cultures and my desire to learn lots of languages. As an adult, I have lived in a number of places including Australia, England, the United Arab Emirates, and my current home, Spain.
Do you write full-time or part-time?
I write full-time ‘in my head’, meaning that I conjure up stories and come up with ideas continually throughout the day, and make notes on my phone, or in my notebook as I think of things. The act of writing a novel can’t really be defined, for me, by a full-time or part-time scenario. A novel takes thousands and thousands and thousands of hours of brain work – thinking, analyzing plot possibilities and writing notes – then the actual work starts, and that’s really just the beginning….then there’s the rewriting. But, it’s all a place I feel comfortable in and the place I am happiest.
What is the hardest thing about writing?
Getting the headspace in a world full of distractions – good and not so good. I never consider anything about writing actually hard as such. I mean, writing a novel is very hard, but it’s also very easy, for me, because I love doing it so much. The hard bit is finding the clarity of mind to plot out a story. This clarity is paramount, but all too often my mind is taken up with the chores of daily living, family needs and errands to run. But that’s life. Plotting, when the mind is distracted by the mundanity of life, gets difficult, but it’s quite often the case that in the most mundane situations I will get an idea, or a plot problem will tease itself out and I’ll find a solution to a character issue that has been bugging me for a long time. This is going on behind the scenes all the time.
I also find it very hard to say goodbye to a novel, once I’ve finished it. My characters have been my friends for many months, so to finish a novel is hard because it means I can no longer be ‘inside’ the story. Time to move on to the next one.
What is the easiest thing about writing?
Throwing ideas down on paper, writing notes that eventually make their way into my stories, researching topics and reading……To be a writer, you have to be a reader, and reading is my favourite thing to do, apart from writing stories.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
About six months, but then there’s the rewriting, always good fun. I am pretty motivated and, as a former journalist, I work to deadlines which keep me going. I thrive on the adrenaline rush. In the past, as a journalist, I had to fill pages with news stories, and usually had a 24-hour deadline. I loved this type of pressure. It fired me up. So with a novel, it’s all about keeping to deadlines I have imposed on myself. I am a planner and go a bit crazy if I can’t plan things.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am working on another thriller and I am loving every moment of the whole process. I hate labels that try and ‘define’ women, their lives, their futures, and these themes are coming through very strongly again. My current work-in-progess novel is a lot darker than TTHE HIDDEN. I want to go to those dark places; it’s a must for me as a writer. In the novel I am writing at the moment, I am going deeper into the issue of family and other human relationships. I loved Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy and read all three novels without stopping. I couldn’t put them down. I recognised the darkness of his novels, recognised the intimate geography of the places he took me to. In my current novel I am in those places too.
When do you project your next novel will be available?
I am about six months off completing my next political thriller, A Strange Girl. I am in the exciting phase of things, moving forward with the writing of chapters and totally into the story. In this novel, my narrator is a man, but the central character is a young Italian heiress who got caught up in a British-Italian Intelligence cover up which nearly brings about the collapse of the British Government. It’s set in the past, but not so long ago. It’s about corruption, shady politicians, dirty dealings in Europe and contains a cast of really nasty characters. It’s a very dark story. I deliberately wanted to go even darker with this story, get behind the mind of evil humanity. This, again, is about my need to understand things, understand the darkest side of human nature. I would like this novel to be available this time next year, if possible.