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Author Interview Part 2: Jo Verity

Welcome back for Part 2 of my interview with Honno author Jo Verity. (You can read Part 1 here.) Today, we’re talking about her latest novel, Left and Leaving

Photographer Gil is on an extended grey gap-year, working in the London hospital to which Vivian brings Irene for emergency treatment; together they try to establish calm amid the chaos. Irene is thrilled with her ‘guardian angels’, they less so with her ongoing interest in their lives.

Gil has a girlfriend, living in the same building as him, and a troublesome family back home. Thirty-something Vivian has a high- flying boyfriend, an irascible father and a demanding job. But they keep finding reasons to spend time together in the run up to Christmas. And still there is Irene, intent on filling the holes in her life…

Marooned in Tooting by a sudden snowstorm, Vivian and Gil are forced to spend the holiday confronting secrets and responsibilities they’ve been complacent about for too long.

Left and Leaving is your fifth novel published by Honno, the Welsh Women’s Press, where did that have its origins?
I have a daughter and grandchildren living in London and I spend a fair amount of time there. (What a place to people watch!) No one cares who you are or what you do – both a blessing and a curse. I thought it would be interesting to bring together one character who craves its anonymity with one who has become isolated. These two people would, in normal circumstances, never meet. The interesting part for me was working out how to get them together. Playing God is one of a writer’s greatest pleasures.

I love the cover image of two garden chairs covered with snow, standing in the snow. It suits the book so well. Is it the cover you had in mind and did you have much say in it?
Honno has always listened to my suggestions for cover images. We’ve had some ‘lively’ discussions, but we’ve always come up with something that’s acceptable to both of us.

Having worked in graphics, the ‘look’ of a book – mine or anyone else’s – is particularly important to me. I know what I like! (Not wobbly hand-lettering and pastel colours, for a start.) Over the course of 5 novels I’ve come to accept that an image which pleases me may not be right for the book. The publisher knows what helps to sell a book which is, after all, pretty important! Ideally a cover ought to hint at what happens in the story or at least the kind of story it is.

I’m delighted with the cover of Left and Leaving. I think it succeeds in being both a striking image and it conveys the mood of the story. Two abandoned chairs, close together but isolated. A hard winter. Read more

Author Interview Part 1: Jo Verity

One of the books I’ve most enjoyed reading this year has been Left and Leaving by Jo Verity. It’s a great contemporary novel set in London, in a winter which mutes that hectic city, and is as much a story about the random connections we form as well as the more problematic relationship between a daughter and her widowed father. It’s a terrific wintry read. 

Happily, Jo lives in Cardiff and we’ve since been able to meet up and talk writing and her latest book. I’m going to post the interview in two parts, today and tomorrow, when I’ll also be giving away a signed copy of Left and Leaving, so be sure not to miss tomorrow’s instalment.    

Jo, your writing break came about thanks to watching daytime TV while ill. Can you tell me more about that?
It was October 2002. I’d been writing for about 2 years. I happened to be off work with food poisoning – whiling away the time watching the Richard & Judy Show. It was the last chance to enter their short story competition (this was long before the Richard & Judy Bookclub started) and I happened to have a story ready to go. I posted it off and forgot all about it. A couple of months later I got a call to say that my story was in the final 15 (from 17,000 entries) and could I go up to London the following week when the winner would be announced live on air. It was very exciting. Martina Cole, Suzi Feay and Tony Parsons were the judges. I was flabbergasted when they picked my story – Rapid Eye Movement – as the winner especially as I’d sent the same story out to a couple of competitions and it had done nothing.

The prize was to have the story published in The Independent on Sunday.

I suppose I assumed I would be inundated with offers from agents but the weeks went by and it all started to fade away. Then I got a letter from Janet Thomas at Honno Welsh Women’s Press congratulating me and asking if I’d written anything longer as ‘books of short stories by unknown writers simply don’t sell’. I’d just completed my first novel – Everything in the Garden. I sent it to them and, two years later, they published it.

That was my break – the bit of luck that every writer needs. Thanks, Honno. Read more

eBook Review: A Quiet Winter by Isabel Ashdown

With all the other demands on your time during this Festive Season, your reading time might be taking a hit. I know mine certainly is with friends unreasonably expecting me not to snuggle up on my sofa with a stack of books and chocolate but to be sociable and go out with them instead.

One excellent way of ensuring that you still squeeze in some quality reading time though is with a good short story and happily, there’s an excellent one just out by Isabel Ashdown which is an intensely satisfying read.

Ironically, it’s called A Quiet Winter, something I suspect I’m not alone in craving: who doesn’t fantasise about booking a remote cottage for the holidays, rather than entertaining the whole family on Christmas Day? Well, Sarah Ribbons has no family but she doesn’t want her friends to feel as if they have to include her in their plans, either.

Two years after her father’s death, Sarah Ribbons prepares to spend the festive season on her own in his crumbling old cottage. It’s not the idea of being alone that bothers her – she’s determined not to be a burden on well-meaning friends who try to coax her into joining them for Christmas – in fact, Sarah thinks she has life as she likes it: firmly under control.

But when an unexpected email raises the ghosts of a distant past, she finds herself questioning this way of life – and discovers friendship in the least likely of places.

If you’re new to Isabel’s writing, this is a wonderful introduction to her beautiful prose and a perfect place to start. Her writing’s measured, calming, almost meditative, and as I read, I could feel myself breathing out and relaxing, safe in the hands of an assured storyteller. Isabel writes so exquisitely about the mess that is modern life, the relationships we have, as well as those we do our best to avoid. Her characters always feel like real people you drop in to see for a while and she paints the landscapes in which they move incredibly beautifully.

A Quiet Winter is a timely seasonal short story about working out what’s important in life: about making connections with other people when all you may feel like doing is running away, and how sometimes those very same connections come along at the time we need them, if from the most unexpected quarters. A Quiet Winter works well as a stand-alone story but Sarah Ribbons is also the main character in Isabel’s second novel, Hurry Up and Wait, so if you enjoy this, and I think you will, you’ll be able to spend more time with Sarah during some very different chapters of her life before discovering Isabel’s other books and characters. I hope you enjoy A Quiet Winter. I know I did.

A Quiet Winter is a short story written by Isabel Ashdown and published by Myriad Editions. It is available as an ebook here or from Amazon UK or Amazon US. To find out more about Isabel and her books, visit her Author Website or Facebook Page or Follow Isabel on Twitter


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