Interview with Jo Thomas: “Each book starts in the same way as I cook dinner.”

Jo Thomas worked for many years as a reporter and producer, first for BBC Radio 5, before moving on to Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and Radio 2’s The Steve Wright Show.

Jo’s debut novel, The Oyster Catcher, was a runaway bestseller and won both the RNA Joan Hessayon Award and the Festival of Romance Best eBook Award. Her recent book Escape to the French Farmhouse was a #1 bestselling eBook and in every one of her novels Jo loves to explore new countries and discover the food produced there, both of which she thoroughly enjoys researching. 

Jo lives in Pembrokeshire with her husband and three children, where cooking and gathering around the kitchen table are a hugely important and fun part of their family life.

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1) Hi Jo, great to have you on Famous Writing Routines. We’re really excited to talk to you about your writing routine and process. For those who may not know, can you please tell us a little bit about yourself? 

My name is Jo Thomas and I write feel-good fiction, with food at the heart of them, set in fabulous locations. My first book, The Oyster Catcher was set amongst the oyster beds of Galway Bay in Ireland. It was published by a small independent publisher and rose up through the Amazon Kindle charts to sit at number 2 for several weeks in 2013, when it won the Romantic Novelists Association’s Joan Hessayon Award for best debut novel and best ebook at the Festival of Romance. Since then, I have gone on to write and publish 15 books. Book 16 is out in October, set in Iceland and I am now writing book 17 for next summer. I write two books a year, a summer and winter one all with a destination, a food at the heart of it and a happy ending. 

Two books a year, wow! How long does it generally take for you to complete one book from start to finish? 

I start one book in October time and submit it about February or March and then April to October for the next. It has to be fairly well timed so that when I hand in a draft on one book, I’m getting edits or proofs back on another. 

Can you take us through the creative process behind your books? Is it different for each one or do they follow a similar pattern? 

Each book starts in the same way as I cook dinner. I open up the pantry and wonder what to cook next. I know I have a food I want to use, and a location for its setting. After that, it’s about finding ingredients that will work, sometimes surprising myself. I like to work out why my character is in that situation and take it from there. Sometimes I plot, sometimes I just dive in. 

What does a typical writing day look like for you?

I’m up at 7am, and after feeding my dogs and cats, take a pot of tea back to bed. Either I get words down there and then or I do my social media. Then I write at the kitchen table. I have an office but I prefer the kitchen, with life going on around me and the dogs and cats with me. Afternoons are usually spent doing other work related to writing. And evenings for reading. 

Do you have a target word count that you like to hit each day? 

It depends where I’m up to in the process. It can be a couple of thousand if I’m getting ideas on to the page. Or less if I’m shaping and polishing.

How did the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns affect your routine?

I carried on working as I would through the pandemic, just with more people in the house. 

What does your writing workspace look like?

I have an office that I really like. But generally I end up writing at the kitchen table, where it’s light and warm by the aga in the winter. I like to be surrounded by everyday life, the family coming and going, dogs and cats at my feet.

Jo’s writing workspace (courtesy of the author).

Before you go…

Each week, we spend hours upon hours researching and writing about famous authors and their daily writing routines. It’s a lot of work, but we do it out of our love for books and learning about these authors’ creative process, and we certainly don’t expect anything in return. However, if you’re enjoying these profiles each week, and would like to send something our way, feel free to buy us a coffee!

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