Jo Baker, author of Longbourn – here's our review – recently answered a few questions for our Novelicious readers about her writing and her latest book. Here's what she told us…
you tell us a little about your average writing day?
Once I’ve got the kids off to school,
I scurry down to a coffee shop in town and just get started. If it’s at an
early stage, I’ll write longhand; if it’s second draft, I’ll be moving onto the
computer. Longbourn was actually written on an iPad, as I was suffering from
RSI, and the tablet-format seemed to help.
How much I actually write very much
depends on where I’m at with a novel, but I do like to get three hours or so of
good work done.
They’re very tolerant in the coffee
shop – I have the same table pretty much every day, and usually only get one
Americano and they don’t ever ask me to leave… If I stayed at home, there’s a
risk I might waste my time doing something pointless, like housework.
you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
Occasionally I’ll ‘cast’ a character –
imagine a particular actor in that role. That can really help capture the
individual physicality for me.
is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
It’d have to be Pride and Prejudice.
The characters are so clearly and briskly delineated, the voices so
individuated, and the thing just moves like clockwork.
is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you
I blundered through my first novel,
not really knowing where I was going, and only really finding out when I’d got
there. As a result, I had to cut tens of thousands of words, and that was a
very difficult process for a new writer. Since then I’ve always had a clearer
sense of what the book’s going to look like before I actually start writing it.
Longbourn in particular required very careful plotting and planning as it is
woven so closely into Pride and Prejudice.
I have to admit, I lose count of
drafts. I redraft sections, I redraft elements of the story, I rejig a
character…and then I ‘write through’ several times. And then I show it to my
wonderful agent, who usually gives me notes, and then I’ll redraft again before
she shows it to my editor. And what I want from my editor, frankly, is more
notes… it’s all about making the book be the best version of itself that it can
was your journey to being a published author?
I’d always written as a child, but the
creativity got somewhat beaten out of me when I went off to college. I did an
English degree at Oxford – a slog through the Greats from Beowulf to Virginia
Woolf – and though it laid down a great foundation in English Literature for me
as a writer, at the time it felt like I was wandering through a graveyard full
of monuments to dead men. There was nowhere for me to pitch my little tent and
I wasn’t even sure I wanted to anymore.
After college I moved to Belfast, where there was – and is – a thriving
literary community. I met real, live writers, and that just started to change
my sense of what writing was – that it could be done by real live people who
were not, truth be told, that different from me. I started writing some short
stories, and sending them out. An agent gave positive feedback, but said a
short story collection by an unknown writer just wasn’t going to get published…
had I thought of writing a novel? I said, ‘Funny you should ask, as a matter of
fact, I am currently working on a novel.’ Complete bluff. But knowing there was
someone who was interested in reading it really sharpened my focus. I set to,
and wrote the first draft of my first novel, Offcomer, in six months.
do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
People often say ‘Oh, I’d love to be a
writer,’ when what they really mean is ‘I’d love to be a successful writer.’
advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Write it. (Because nobody else is
going to write it for you)
are you working on at the moment?
It’s a secret, sorry… I’m actually
afraid to talk about it, in case I talk it out of existence.