Jo Woolaston talks about her writing, reading, and her debut novel.
1. Can you tell us more about your latest book, Pink Ice Creams?
Our central character, Kay, has reached make or break point – a failed marriage threatens and a life that has limped along without purpose looks set to continue unless huge changes take place. And the change must begin with her. Kay returns to the spot where her life changed forever – the Norfolk coastline she enjoyed as a child but where her little brother fled from her following a fight, never to be seen again. She hopes to make peace with her past to move forward in life once and for all, but Kay is weak. She is troubled, and she is trouble – and with very little support around her, success moves further and further from her grasp.
2. How did you come up with the plotline for the book? Is it in any way based on your own experiences?
There is definitely some of me in there, I have certainly experienced the feeling of isolation and hopelessness that Kay finds herself in. In terms of story it is very much inspired by two completely unconnected but ‘real’ events. The first – finding a broken and frightened stranger crouched behind a rock in the early hours of the morning, hiding from a bad marriage she felt she ‘deserved’ and secondly – a memory from being young and, ahem, ‘encouraging’ my little brother to jump in a river when I knew he couldn’t swim… (did he jump or was he pushed?)
3. What was the hardest part of the book to write?
After the initial flurry of ferocious scribbling (about two chapters) then the hard slog began – shaping, scrapping, scratching around for exactly the right word, re-writing, rubbishing, hating it but having to continue, finding a breakthrough but failing to pin it down exactly – all of it was the hardest part. The rest was an absolute joy (!)
4. Do you have a favourite character you can tell us a bit more about?
Yes – Pete! A local layabout who we are introduced to as ‘a pair of feet sticking out of the end of my bed that don’t belong to me.’ He is the light to Kay’s dark, doesn’t take himself too seriously, is totally bemused by Kay and her self-pitying woes, and offers her a genuine and uncomplicated friendship (should she choose to accept it). Everybody needs a Pete to hold a mirror up to themselves now and again!
5. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I am a middle-aged middle-England middle-child, come working-class working-mother with two school-aged boys and one not-very-new-age husband. I love cricket, beer, and diving into shops to avoid people I know. My nickname at school was Titch, I am a domestic misfit, but have quite a nice singing voice, and I have never read Harry Potter or watched Game of Thrones.
6. What comes to you first – the setting, the characters or some aspect of the story?
I always start with character, and find that the setting often comes along with them as part of their baggage. For me, forcing a change to that comfortable setting is when the story begins, and then it is just a case of waiting to see what happens next. I never really know what that will be.
7. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
Aaargh… tricky! I would probably say To Kill a Mockingbird as my copy is well thumbed, but then I am being unfair to Of Mice and Men, and Where the Wild Things Are… so, hmm… if we are talking desert island then I would have to say my pocket Thesaurus so when I am writing my novel in the sand and my brain won’t drag out the right word, I won’t throw myself into the sea in frustration…
8. When did you decide to write and what prompted you to start?
It started as a needs must when I was working on a production line in an engineering firm with drills and band-saws squealing in my ears. I couldn’t hear the radio from my bench and the old boys I worked with didn’t really know what to talk to me about (and vice versa) so I would construct conversations in my head, repeated scenes which would eventually get typed up on the computer in the packing bay at break time. I showed one to my friend once, a proper writer, who nodded and said ‘you know Jo, this is actually ok…’ but I didn’t take myself seriously as a writer back then. About fifteen years later I re-wrote the scripts and applied for an MA in scriptwriting, where I did better than ok.
9. Has any other writer in particular influenced the way you write?
I have been very lucky in recent years to have met many incredible tv and film writers – none of which I have left the company of without taking nuggets of their wisdom away with me that enhances and informs my own writing practices – whether script or prose. Billy Ivory in particular encouraged me to look towards my own home town and upbringing in order to locate the truth and heart of a story.
10. What projects are you working on now?
I have a new story ready in my head and plotted on the back of envelopes, based on two elderly and beautiful souls I have recently met that are about to embark on an adventure together. But Pink Ice Creams is the first novel I have written after a multitude of scripts, so which is it to be – book or script, script or book? Hopefully it won’t take these two old dudes too long to work it out. 😉
Intent on fixing her broken marriage and the alcohol-fuelled catastrophe that is her life, Kay Harris arrives at her grim and grey holiday let, ready to lay to rest the tragedy that has governed her entire adulthood – the disappearance of her little brother, Adam.
But the road to recovery is pitted with the pot-holes of her own poor choices, and it isn’t long before Kay is forced to accept that maybe she doesn’t deserve the retribution she seeks. Will the intervention of strangers help her find the answers she needs to move on from her past, or will she always be stuck on the hard shoulder with no clear view ahead and a glove box full of empties?
Pink Ice Creams is a tale of loss, self-destruction, and clinging on to the scraps of the long-lost when everyone else has given up hope.
Jo Woolaston lives in Leicestershire, England with her extreme noise-making husband and two lovely sons. She tries to avoid housework and getting a ‘proper job’ by just writing stuff instead – silly verse, screenplays, shopping lists… This sometimes works in her favour (she did well in her MA in TV Scriptwriting, gaining a Best Student award in Media and Journalism – and has had a few plays produced – that kind of thing) but mostly it just results in chronic insomnia and desperate tears of frustration. Pink Ice Creams is her first novel.