Hi folks, today I’m really pleased to bring you a Q&A with Jo Jakeman, author of the fantastic debut thriller, Sticks and Stones. I was really pleased to get the opportunity to read this book, as it’s one of a growing number of thrillers written by women, about women who are the heroes in their own stories. I won’t spoil it too much, but will hand over to Jo to whet your appetite, and don’t forget to check out the giveaway!
Imogen’s husband is a bad man. His ex-wife and his new mistress might have different perspectives but Imogen thinks she knows the truth. And now he’s given her an ultimatum: get out of the family home in the next fortnight or I’ll fight you for custody of our son.
In a moment of madness, Imogen does something unthinkable: she locks her husband in the cellar. Now she’s in control. But how far will she go to protect her son and punish her husband? And what will happen when his ex and his girlfriend get tangled up in her plans?
Phillip is a fantastically nasty character – from what roots did you bring him to life?
I was reading a lot of classics when I started writing this book. I’d just finished re-reading Jane Eyre and I was talking to my course tutor about the abundance of narcissistic men in classic novels that women seem to swoon for. It’s no accident that Phillip’s surname is Rochester – the name of the man who Jane fell in love with who locked his ‘mad’ wife in the attic. I decided to turn that classic on its head and have the wife lock her husband in the cellar. I channelled the worst traits of tortured Heathcliffe and arrogant Darcy, who I grew up reading about. Books about zombies don’t scare me because they don’t affect me emotionally – but books about someone trying to take a mother’s child away, or leaving a woman without a voice and scared for her life – that terrifies me!
On the surface, Imogen, Naomi and Ruby are very different characters – how important was this is forming their responses to Phillip and his actions?
This was really important to me. Three different women with different strengths and weakness and yet they all found themselves falling in love with this charming man and then being mistreated by him. It shows that it can happen to anyone, not just because a woman is ‘naïve’ or ‘weak’. Victims come in all shapes and sizes. But it also gave me the ability to explore different ways of reacting to Phillip. Ruby’s initial response is to believe the best in him and give him another chance. Imogen wants him to agree to something in writing and for them to come to a compromise over their son. Naomi is possibly the most angry of them all and has the least invested in him so is quicker to wash her hands of him.
It’s a very bold decision to let the reader know that your villain is dead at the beginning of the book – what made you choose this approach?
I knew that the story I wanted to tell was about the women and their friendship not about Phillip. I didn’t want the reader to be wondering how it was going to work out for Phillip, or worry whether the women or Imogen’s son, Alistair, would get hurt. From the first chapter you know that it’s going to be alright in the end, you just don’t know how. In a sense I’m saying to the reader, it’s okay, trust me; the bad guy gets the ending he deserves and the women live to fight another day, now sit back and enjoy finding out what happened. I am quite an emotional reader. I’ve flung books across rooms when authors kill off beloved characters or write a sad ending that leaves me sobbing. I want to give the reader permission to love the characters and know I won’t break their hearts.
In your piece that came with my review copy, you ask what we would do if we were in Imogen’s position. So I ask what would you do?
Oh, that’s such a good question! I am generally quite laid back and will give people chance after chance. I want to believe that everyone is capable of change (even in the face of evidence to the contrary!) and I HATE confrontation. But if you threatened my family..? No, no, no. That’s not happening!
I am fiercely protective of my brood and go full-on tiger mode. Out of the three women I’d say I was somewhere between Imogen and Ruby on the Sticks and Stones scale. I’d have tried to reason with Phillip, and if that didn’t work I’d make sure he never saw his son again! I have a lot more faith in the police than Imogen does and I’d have been down the station making complaints and giving statements from day one until I found someone who’d listen.
Though, it’s easy for me to say that sitting here behind my keyboard, isn’t it? There are thousands of women, and men, in abusive relationships right now who don’t feel they have anywhere to turn. So, who’s to say I’d be able to react in that way if I was stripped of all my power?
You have said that Sticks and Stones came out of your attending the Curtis Brown Creative Writing Course – how much help was this course in allowing to produce a full novel? Would you recommend writing courses in general?
Yes, I would absolutely recommend a writing course. The market is competitive and overcrowded, and if you want to either get published or just improve your writing for your own enjoyment you have to take every opportunity. Why wouldn’t you want expert opinion on your work? Why wouldn’t you want to be the best you can be? I had no idea how to write a synopsis, or even simple things like how long a novel should be.
Without the structure that the course gave me, I’d still be pootling along and writing when inspiration struck – in other words, it still wouldn’t be finished! Having said that, some courses are incredibly expensive and it’s a huge outlay when there’s still slim chance of a publishing deal at the end of it. Before the Curtis Brown course I did one at the local museum and one at the library. I did a free Open University course on creative writing too. There are plenty of resources out there, but there’s no substitute for passion and hard work.
Huge thanks to Jo for answering my questions – Sticks and Stones is really worth your time, as you’ll see from my review!
This post is part of the blog tour to celebrate the release of Sticks and Stones on 12th July, so why not check out some more exclusive content, reviews and giveaways below and don’t forget to enter the giveaway!
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Sticks and Stones is Published by Harvill Secker.