An Interview With… Sinead Matthews

Hi everyone, and today on the blog, I’m delighted to welcome Sinead Matthews.

Sinead is a fantastic actress and I was really pleased when she agreed to an interview about her career highlights. She also chats about how the pandemic has affected her job.

Over to you, Sinead…

1) How did you first become to be involved in the industry? Was it something you always wanted to do? Did you have any other career plans?

Becoming an actor for me seemed like such a no go area, as I had a stammer growing up so I was more into dancing which I loved and for a long time I thought that is what I wanted to do with my life.

I wasn’t particularly academic and was a bit of a day dreamer at school. It was my very brilliant ballet teacher who recommended to me at 15 yrs old to go to Stratford-Upon- Avon college to do a drama A Level package and being young and impressionable I did exactly that.

It’s there that I met like minded people who were into the same things as me that I discovered I wanted to audition for drama school. I did and thankfully I got into RADA and on graduating got the most brilliant agent and managed to get work straight away.

2) Your career has varied between television, film and theatre. Which of the three would you say is your favourite and why?

I feel very lucky that I have been able to work in theatre, TV and film. Film will probably be my first love as I was obsessed with films from an early age and would watch them over and over again . But theatre.. is truly where my heart is now. There is nothing like it. From the minute you get cast to the minute you take your final bow in your final show . It’s such a ride , to be a part of the company , the rehearsals ( one of my favourite places to be in the world ) I love putting scenes and characters under a microscope and in rehearsals you really get to do that.

You go on such a journey with it all… and then equally another journey from show number 1 to the end . The live experience is so unique both for the actor and the audience.

I do also love doing independent films. It’s a very similar experience to theatre as it’s very often a passion project for the people who are doing it. I have life long friends from doing films and theatre. You feel part of a community and I guess that’s all we want.

3) When you read a script, what do you pay attention to in particular? Does the character leap off the page for you? What makes you think ‘Yes, I want to play this role!’?

When reading a script I can usually tell quite quickly if I want to be a part of it, it doesn’t have to be the lead at all. I like to be challenged, I like to play flawed people. I often play people who live on the edge of society. I like finding out what makes the character tick.. what their contradictions are… where they can be hypocritical and what their vulnerabilities are. There is nothing better than being in a well written project as a lot of the work is done.

You have a great foundation to bounce off and of course then you can just focus on acting with the other actors and making that connection.

As soon as I read the script for the film Jellyfish I knew straight away I wanted to play that part. It leapt off the page at me. As did the story… I knew they had a way to go with funding and bringing it all together but I said I don’t care how you do it, where you do it, I’m doing it! I wanted to be part of it no matter what – that’s a nice feeling when that happens.

4) How did you find your current agent? Would you say the process is the same for a writer seeking representation? For example, a submission reel is the same as a sample of a manuscript?

Well I got my agent at drama school as they have showcases and shows where agents producers directors and writers all come to see you in your third year . Without an agent or drama school I don’t know how I would have gotten into the industry.

Often actors if they want to change agents will send their show reels to agents to look at so I guess that’s similar to a manuscript.

5) How have you been coping during lockdown? As an actress, how has lockdown affected you?

Lockdown has been kind of mad from the beginning. I was into my second week of rehearsals for a brilliant play at the Donmar Theatre and I had work pretty much planned for the whole year. And we are now over a year later and still in the same situation . I’ve managed to do bits and bobs of work stuff . I did an online play for the Royal Court called My White Best Friend. I’ve done some online play readings and also an episode of Midsomer Murders which was lots of fun! Ive recorded a few radio plays and also a brilliant radio play for Audible playing Marilyn Monroe.

I’ve missed the theatre community and my friends hugely . I hadn’t realised just how much my social life revolves around theatre so without it this past year my social life has disappeared. I have however enjoyed the down time and taking time out from it all and I’ve truly embraced my inner reclusive.

6) One of your stand out roles, for me, was Rachel Burns in Trial and Retribution: Curriculum Vitae. How did you prepare for the part and what did you enjoy about playing her?

I absolutely loved playing Rachel Burns in Trial and Retribution. What a part! So rich and colourful and spontaneous… It was my first lead on TV and it was so brilliantly written and directed. It really gave me so much confidence in myself and I learned so so much, I read a lot of books on personality disorders and serial killers basically and watched movies. I just tried my best to get inside the mind of someone who would do what she did.

I loved how it really kept the audience on their toes the whole time, them never knowing for sure whether she was a victim or the perpetrator. I have a lot of fond memories from that job.

7) During the pandemic, what have you missed most about the day to day routine of your job?

I would I say the thing I’ve missed most about being in lockdown is the routine of going to rehearsals. I love routine. The going to rehearsals every day and seeing the same people and building relationships and bonds with your company. Also the little victories you have when you feel like you’ve made a big discovery about the character or why a character does something. Even down to where you would go for lunch every day.

I would even say I ALMOST miss the tube rides there and back as it’s often time to think about the days work or think about the day ahead. Prepare for scenes. It also means when you get a day off you have earned it ! Whereas it’s felt like one long year off.

8) Are you currently reading any books? Between fiction and non fiction, what is your favourite? Do you have a favourite genre?

I absolutely love reading but I have to say I have found it very difficult to read this past year and can probably count on one hand how many books I’ve read . I love biographies.. of writes , actors , artists. I recently read a fabulous book called Expectation by Anna Hope . I really felt like I could relate to it and the world of the book is still in my head in little movies.

I have 100’s of movies in my head from books I’ve read over the years… going right back to when I was 10. I don’t really have a favourite genre as they offer such different things. I’m definitely someone who if struggling or going through a particularly emotional time I will turn to poetry books to help me deal with my melancholy.

But I do love a good fiction novel one you can really get lost in and never want to end. I adored the Elena Ferrante Neapolitan Novels. They were incredible!

9) During lockdown, what have you been watching on television? Do you have a favourite programme that you watch religiously?

I have watched a lot of television this past year .. it’s been my saving grace I think . I adored Schitts Creek. I binged it and was so so sad when it was over . I do love a murder/ crime documentary! Doesn’t everyone . I’ve also watched some really vacuous shows like the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills .. it’s total escapism . And can provide brilliant drama when it wants to.
I loved Succession . I watched that last year at the beginning of lockdown and am awaiting the next series . After Life has stayed with me too. So funny and so sad . Also the American Office is absolute genius and I’ve been watching it a lot this past year.

10) If you had a choice only listening to Rod Stewart, Freddie Mercury (Queen) or Brian Johnson (AC/DC), who would you choose and why?

For me it has to be Freddie Mercury – What a performer!! From an early age I would watch my aunty Kathleen dancing round the house to Queen and talk about how sexy and charismatic he was.

When I watch videos of him there is no one like him. I instantly think of the Live Aid concert in 1985 where Queen came out and stole the whole show… no one was expecting it at all. Freddie had thousands of people in the palm of his hand. It sends shivers down my spine just thinking of his talent!

Thank you for your time tonight Sinead – it has been an absolute pleasure to interview you. Thank you for the opportunity!

Bio:

10 Questions With… Ashleigh Nugent

Hi everyone, and today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Ashleigh Nugent, whose debut novel LOCKS, is going to be a book that everyone should read!!

I was delighted when he agreed to answer some questions on his writing journey, how he wrote LOCKS and what he has been up to during lockdown.

Over to you, Ashleigh…

1) As a child, did you have a favourite author? Was there a turning point with a book that made you go ‘Wow!’?

Every time I hear an author talk about how they gorged on C. S. Lewis as a child or how they lived in the school library, I am visited by the pangs of imposter syndrome. Because, no, I didn’t have a favourite book as a child. I didn’t read as a child. But the ‘Wow!’ moment, I remember it like yesterday.

It was a book called Where Are You Going by Swami Muktananda. It asked me to question myself, to choose how I live, to acknowledge my purpose in the world. So I did. And that changed everything. 

I’ve asked my mum whether she tried to read with me as a child, though I realise this was not as common back in the 1980s. She assures me that there was little point attempting anything with me that involved sitting still for a minute. I can see her point. It does strike me as strange, however, that I always wrote but didn’t read. 

The school persuaded my parents to take me to the doctor to deal with my unbearable creativity and high energy levels (What kind of child…?). The doctor decided I was a clear case of hyperkinesis, now known as ADHD. My inability to sit still and be told what to think all day led me to believe that I was not one of the clever kids. And, no, I didn’t read books. 

The colonial curriculum — featuring not a single person who looked like me or my dad, my sister or my brother — also turned me off education. Police harassment and a self-fulfilling prophecy soon saw me playing the part of just another scally, a petty criminal hanging round the streets, fighting, selling drugs getting arrested. 

Suddenly I was 21. I had never read a book. And no one knew that I wrote poems. 

2) Did you enjoy English at school? What is your earliest no memory of writing?

That said, English was one of the only things I enjoyed at school, along with running, playing, and being a pain the arse. Still, I do have memories going back to primary school of teachers telling me that I would be a writer when I grew up. Shame I didn’t read.

One of my earliest memories of writing is a piece I did in school about how I loved to lie on the couch with my dad, how he made up daft songs when he was happy, and how he made me pluck the white hairs from his Brillo pad beard and save them because they were priceless. I could see that mum was a bit envious. So, at the next opportunity, I wrote a piece about mum: how she liked a glass of whisky at night, smoked cigarettes, and once had a race with some lads on the M62. 

Mum was more circumspect about sharing her feelings after that. 

3) How did you come up with the idea for your debut novel?

I lived it. Locks is based on a true story.

I didn’t read but I wanted to be a writer. Moreover, I didn’t have a story. What did I know? What story could I tell? My brother was eight years older than me. He had been in the army, he had lived in London, he had a reputation for being cool, tough, clever, handsome, popular, funny. But I was just me. 

I had to make something happen. 

So when I went to Jamaica at sixteen years of age, I was on a mission to make something happen. Yes, I was also in search of roots, identity, and belonging. I was raised in a leafy aspirationalsuburb where no one looked like me. Hence, I had been arrested three times before I’d ever committed any crimes. I knew virtually nothing about Black history and culture despite having a Black identity foisted upon me by others from the day I was born. So, I had a twofold mission: make some mad stuff happen and refine my identity as a Black man. 

I succeeded in the former. 

Within three days of being in Jamaica I had been mugged and stabbed, arrested and banged up. I was held in an underground dungeon with no running water, I watched two friends drown in a river, and I was beaten unconscious while a group of boys chanted, ‘Fuck up da white man.’ Then I was forced to skip bail and flee Jamaica illegally. 

So, yeah, I succeeded in the former. 

4) What normally comes first for you when write? Is it plot or character or the themes you want to explore?

Locks is an exploration of race and racial identity, amongst other things. As I lived the story before writing it down, the plot came first. However, interesting themes emerged as I started to construct the narrative: race as social a construct, hegemonic masculinity as a blueprint for barbarity, the potential for self-development through misadventure and so on. 

I am currently researching for a prequel set in Jamaica in the early sixteenth century. I aim to explore the relationships between three characters from the indigenous Taino population, Spain, and the West Coast of Africa. 

So, I suppose I’m starting with theme this time.

5) When do you write? What time of day is best for you? Do you have any writing rituals?

I write when I can. My ritual is simple: Crack on.

The past twenty years have been so busy: working, studying, and raising children. And the nature of my work means that I’m up and down the country, organising new projects at last minute, and sporting numerous hats in any one day. 

To explain in brief, I run a company called RiseUp CiC. We deliver courses in prisons that combine creative arts with mindset development techniques. It’s a beautiful job that has me leaving work elated on most occasions. But it’s not so conducive to writing rituals. 

6) Have you found that your characters have unexpectedly surprised you? Do you let your characters dictate to you at all?

Once I start flowing, characters become unique entities with their own values, drives, and motives. My consciousness becomes a conduit through which the characters express themselves in this dimension. So, yeah, they surprise me.

Sometimes, while reading back what I’ve written, I’m shocked to find that the characters have created situations or solved issues without any conscious input from me. 

Creativity opens your consciousness to the unconscious, super-conscious, and collective conscious dimensions. So, who knows where some of the ideas are coming from? 

7) During lockdown, how have you found your writing process? Has it changed at all?

Yeah! Locks was due to be released in May 2020 in the Everyman Theatre during the Writing on the Wall festival. That never happened. And it’s a good job. If I had attempted to get it finished by then, whilst organising and delivering projects in prisons all over the UK, it would have been substandard. Lockdown allowed me to slow down on final edits and make sure I was as close to a hundred percent happy with it as possible.

Then came the marketing.

Most of my writing since then has been poetry commissions, essays for other people’s blogs, and promotional pieces for Locksand for RiseUp. It’s the first time in twenty years I have been able to write in the daytime rather than squeezing it in once everything else is done. 

8) What are you currently watching on television? Have your television habits changed throughout lockdown?

We never watched boxsets in our house. Then lockdown happened. Line of Duty and Breaking Bad are amazing. They are masterclasses in storytelling (at least, that’s how I justify a three hour binge). And as for The OA. Wow! The OA!

9) When you leave your desk on a Friday afternoon, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/the weekend, what do you do to relax?

Drink Guinness. Prior to lockdown I could have mentioned some other stuff. But now it’s just Guinness, TV, tunes, and chilling with my wonderful wife. 

10) What is your music taste like? Have you been missing live music in lockdown?

Hip-hop and reggae all day. Apart from those, I just like anything that inspires and energises me.

Before lockdown I hadn’t discovered any new music for a long time, I was just too busy. So it’s been beautiful to listen and discover again. I haven’t listened to any live music, but I have fallen in love with a load of new albums. Currently, the things I’m rocking most on Spotify (which I’ve only joined during lockdown) are Don’t Fight Your Demons by Arrested Development, The Amiri Baraka Sessions by Heroes are Gangleaders, and Songs of Our Native Daughters by Our Native Daughters.

Thank you for your time today Ashleigh, it was a pleasure to have you on the blog – I can’t wait to see LOCKS on the shelves in print!!

Bio: Ashleigh Nugent is a writer, performer, and Creative Director at RiseUp CiC. His publishing credits include poetry, academic work, and magazines articles.

His latest work, LOCKS, is a novel based on the time he spent his 17th birthday in a Jamaican detention centre. LOCKS won the 2013 Commonword Memoir Competition, and it is receiving rave reviews in magazines and blogs. Liverpool Literary Agency is currently working to secure mainstream distribution. 

The one-man-show based on LOCKS has received rave audience reviews following showings in theatres and prisons throughout the UK. 

For the past 22 years Ashleigh has used rap, poetry, and literature to help the most vulnerable to develop positive mindsets. Ashleigh’s company, RiseUp CiC, have developed a programme that empowers prisoners to turn their lives aroundby taking control of their own thoughts, feelings, and actions.

LOCKS is available on Amazon at the following link: https://amzn.to/3ryOTir

@LocksBook

10 Questions With… Guy Morpuss

Hi everyone, this afternoon on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Guy Morpuss. Guy is a barrister based in London and Five Minds is his first novel. I was intrigued by his writing journey and decided to put some questions to him.

Over to you, Guy…

1) As a child, did you have a favourite author? Was there a turning point with a book that made you go ‘Wow!’?

Not really. I’d read pretty much anything I could get my hands on. My father believed that unless someone died in the first two pages a book wasn’t worth the effort. So I was brought up on a diet of fast-paced thrillers and crime stories: Alistair MacLean, Edgar Wallace, John Buchan, Dick Francis, Dornford Yates. None of it particularly highbrow – but they were all writers who understood the importance of grabbing their readers by the throat in the opening chapter.

In my early teens I got into sci-fi and fantasy: Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Philip K Dick. Books with a story, but that also made you think.

Sherlock Holmes’ The Final Problem was probably the first book to make me go “Wow!” I can still recall, 40 years on, being heartbroken at the idea that Holmes was dead. It was so unexpected. I suddenly realised the power of the written word. Only later did I discover that Conan-Doyle had brought him back to life again.

2) Did you enjoy English at school? What is your earliest memory of writing?

I enjoyed reading and words. I didn’t enjoy grammar and rules, because I never saw the point. I tried a GCSE English test recently – and failed. I have no idea what the various parts of speech are called. But if you read enough you absorb the rules without knowing. You can feel what’s right.

When I was 17 I sent off two short stories to Interzone Magazine. They were both pretty unoriginal sci-fi. I got a very kind rejection letter, and I was really excited by that, thinking: “I’ve had a rejection. I’m an author!”

But then I didn’t make any serious attempt to write again until I was 50. Law got in the way.

3) How did you come up with the idea for your debut novel Five Minds? Where did the title come from?

I can’t recall exactly. It had been floating round my head for years. The earliest I can remember is having the idea of a detective who was trying to solve a murder, but because of limited resources he had to share his body with other people, and could only use it for a few hours a day. Then I decided it would be more interesting to show the story from the point of view of each occupant of the body.

When I wrote the first chapter it was set on a spaceship where people went to play virtual reality games. Then I realised it isn’t really a sci-fi book – it’s a murder mystery set in the near future. Having it on a spaceship would stop lots of people reading it. So I changed the setting to a Death Park, on Earth, where people are playing games to win time.

The title came from a lot of debate with my agent, Max Edwards. I can’t say the original title, because it gives too much away. It had the word “Cuckoo” in it. Max hated it – thought it far too pretentious. After much debate we settled on Five Minds, which is short, memorable, and tells you what the book is about.

But there is a cuckoo on the cover, which makes me feel slightly better (I’m hoping Max hasn’t noticed). My favourite line in the book is very near the end: “Cuckoos can fly.”

4) What normally comes first for you when write? Is it plot or character or the themes you want to explore?

Always plot. I want a hook that intrigues readers, and then a story that grabs them and carries them along. It goes back to the thrillers that I grew up reading.

Of course characters are important. They are the voice of the story, and without them readers won’t engage. But characters on their own are dull. People doing things is just real life. I don’t want to read about that. They need to be doing something interesting – that’s plot.

Theme for me is very much subsidiary. I think that the primary task of an author is to entertain – to allow readers to escape into another world. A book where the theme is too overt becomes preachy. No one likes being lectured to.

I hope that readers of Five Minds will be made to think. It raises some interesting dilemmas: would you be willing to die at 42 if you never worked and lived a life of luxury? Would you trade living to 142 for being forced to share your body with four other people? But I want readers to have had fun with the book. If I’ve made them think that’s a bonus.

5) When do you write? What time of day is best for you? Do you have any particular writing rituals before you get cracking or even during the process?

The writing itself is very intense, over a short period of time. I wrote the first draft of Five Minds in a gap between court cases, over about five weeks. I didn’t really think I’d finish it, so I didn’t tell anyone – including my wife, Julie. She still hasn’t entirely forgiven me for that.

The idea for Five Minds had been in my head for years, and I just needed to get it down on paper. Of course it still needed a lot of work. The 55,000 word manuscript I sent out to agents was far too short. But Max saw enough in it to be willing to spend the next six months working on it with me before submission to publishers.

If anything, writing my second book, Black Lake, was even more intense. I spent a few months thinking it through, until I suddenly felt ready to write it down last year. I’d get up at 5:00/5:30, and immediately start writing, often not stopping till 10:30/11:00 at night. The story would carry on bubbling away overnight. It took me less than three weeks to get a first draft down.

It’s not a method I’d particularly recommend, but it’s what works for me.

The only ritual I seem to have is to write the first chapter, and then have a break. For Five Minds there were a couple of weeks between the first chapter and writing the rest. For Black Lake it was a couple of months. I needed to get the first chapter down – but then I didn’t want to carry on until I had a really good idea of where the books were going.

6) Do you currently write full time? If so, what was your ‘life’ before becoming a writer?

Both Five Minds and Black Lake were written whilst I was working full time as a barrister.

Whilst I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my 30 years in the law, I’ve got to a point where I want to do something different.

I have decided therefore, that as of Easter 2021, I’m going to turn full time to writing, and stop practising law. I’m hoping it might lead to a more relaxed way of life. We’ll see.

7) During lockdown, how have you found your writing process? Has it changed at all?

It’s become easier, because I no longer have to commute into London. So Black Lake was written entirely in my study, at home. Whereas Five Minds was partly written there, but also on trains, aeroplanes, in the office, or whilst waiting outside our younger son’s karate practice.

The process of writing has been pretty much the same though. Long days of fairly intense writing, as it feels as though the story is spewing out of me faster than I can type.

8) What are you currently watching on television? Have your television habits changed throughout lockdown?

To the horror of my editor, Miranda Jewess, I’ve been watching Younger. It’s a US program set in a publishing house in New York. They have amazingly glamorous offices and launch parties. Book deals are done whilst editors and agents float in Manhattan rooftop swimming pools.

Miranda is trying to persuade me that’s not how it works in practice. But I think she just doesn’t want to invite me to those sort of parties.

I’ve watched far less TV during lockdown. I’ve been reading a lot more. Partly to fill the gaping holes in my crime reading (I’d never read Agatha Christie or Dorothy L Sayers before this year). Partly because I can’t be bothered any more to binge on a TV series just for the sake of it. I’d rather read a good book.

9) When you leave your desk on a Friday afternoon, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/the weekend, what do you do to relax?

During most of 2020 it was go and open a bottle of wine. But we’ve been trying to be healthier this year, so generally it’s to go and cook something. I find cooking very relaxing. In my day job as a lawyer I don’t produce anything tangible, so producing food feels like a result. Our older son bought me a Palestinian cookbook for Christmas (Zaitoun), which has lots of recipes that are really easy to follow, but have great spice combinations. So I’ve been using that a lot recently.

At the weekend I’ll usually walk, run or cycle. I’m at an age where if I don’t make the effort it’s very easy to become unfit quickly. And I find exercise is a great way of unravelling knotty plot points.

10) What is your music taste like? Have you been missing live music in lockdown?

I tend to listen obsessively to one artist, or album, and then forget about them and move onto something else. I’ve always listened to music when preparing for trials. I once drove Julie mad by listening to Brandon Flowers non-stop for a month whilst preparing cross-examination.

When I was writing Five Minds I listened almost exclusively to Vampire Weekend (with airpods, at Julie’s insistence). I stop listening to the words, and it seems to fit with the rhythm of my writing.

For Black Lake I got into German Schlager music – the sort of stuff they play in the clubs in Majorca. (If you want a song that you can’t get out of your head, I recommend looking up “Wie Heisst die Mutter von Niki Lauda” on YouTube.) Black Lakestarts at an illegal rave in Berlin. Having the music helped with that chapter, and then I just carried on listening to it whilst writing the rest of the book. It’s very discordant, but again seemed to help my thinking.

We’ve been to a lot of concerts over the years – so yes, I’ve missed live music. We were meant to be seeing Vampire Weekend last August. That obviously didn’t happen. A couple of years ago we saw Brian Fallon of Gaslight Anthem at the 100 Club in London. And the year before that, Bruce Springsteen in his one-man show on Broadway. Seeing such great musicians in intimate venues like that seems a world away now. It would be great to get back to it.

Thank you for your time today Guy. It has been a pleasure to interview you – I hope to be reading your novel soon! 🙂

Bio: Guy is a London-based barrister and QC whose cases have featured drug-taking cyclists, dead Formula 1 champions and aspiring cemetery owners. His favourite books involve taking a twist on reality, and playing with the consequences. Which led to his debut novel, Five Minds, about five people sharing one body – possibly with a murderer.

His second novel, Black Lake, will be published in 2022. He is currently working on his third novel, Highlights. Guy lives near Farnham, England, with his wife and two sons. When not writing he can usually be found walking or running in the Surrey Hills. At guymorpuss.com there is a personality test based on Five Minds, and a text adventure set in the world of Five Minds. There are also author reviews of the book.

10 Questions With… Danielle Owen-Jones

Hi everyone, and today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Danielle Owen-Jones.

Danielle works in Public Relations and has recently written a Liverpool based romantic comedy. She is represented by Clare Coombes at Liverpool’s first literary agency. I was delighted to find out more about her writing journey.

Over to you, Danielle…

1) As a child, did you have a favourite author? Was there a turning point with a book that made you go ‘Wow!’?

Growing up, I really enjoyed Jacqueline Wilson’s books, especially the ‘Girls’ series, as well as anything by Roald Dahl.

I was also very proud of my collection of ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ by Lemony Snicket – I had the series neatly lined up on the bookshelves in my bedroom.

Harry Potter was probably the ‘wow’ turning point for me.

I was given the first book as a present and I remember unwrapping it and finishing it on the same day – I was instantly hooked. I have a fond memory of my nana telling me she had to queue up for ages outside WHSmith in Southport to buy Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire for me while I was at school.

2) Did you enjoy English at school? What is your earliest memory of writing?

I loved English, it was always my favourite and strongest subject. My mum has some hilarious copies of early ‘books’ I wrote, and I loved drawing my own newspapers and magazines too. I grew up with my mum working as a journalist, so that was probably where it came from!

3) How did you come up with the idea for your debut novel?

I’d been sitting on the rough idea and the half-written manuscript for a long time, ever since I watched a documentary about ‘dumpster diving’ (salvaging goods from supermarket bins) and it piqued my interest. I’m naturally drawn to transformative life stories – especially when somebody experiences the opposite of what they’re used to – so the riches to rags element of the book stemmed from that. I also really enjoy genres that blur the lines and surprise you. I admire how Marian Keyes does this, her books are typically deemed ‘chick lit’ but she tackles weighty themes. That was what I wanted to achieve with my book. It’s a romcom and it’s light-hearted escapism, but it also looks at important issues, such as homelessness and sustainability.

4) What normally comes first for you when write? Is it plot or character or the themes you want to explore?

Ooh, that’s tricky. Sometimes it feels like each element hits me all at once – that’s the dream! Other times, it’s a bit of a slow burner. I’d say that generally the theme comes first, followed by the character and then the plot. I wrote my first book as a ‘plotter’ and my second book as a ‘pantser’ – now I’d say I flit between the two. I love to be organised and have a plan and a structure, but I find I’m writing at my best when I just let go and write as the words come to me.

5) When do you write? What time of day is best for you? Do you have any writing rituals?

Over the last few years I’ve discovered, to my surprise, that I’m actually a bit of an early bird (it took a while to embrace the early rising habit!) but I’m definitely at my most productive in the morning.

I’ve been self-employed for more than five years now, so the nature of that has taught me discipline and how important it is to have a routine. My typical morning routine is a dog walk first thing, followed by coffee, and then I’ll settle down to write with my dog, Poppy, happily snoring at my feet.

My current writing set-up is the kitchen table, which is great for endless tea and coffee, but it’s also a constant battle to avoid the biscuit jar!

6) Have you found that your characters have unexpectedly surprised you? Do you let your characters dictate to you at all?

I let my characters dictate to me – I think this is where the ‘pantser’ element comes in. When I’m writing, I try and let my characters reveal themselves through the story without planning anything major, except some basic character profiles. I’ve found this is especially true when I’m writing dialogue. Quite often, I’ll write a dialogue scene in a script format, as if the characters are simply talking to each other. Then I’ll go back later, read through it again and add in the body language, descriptive elements etc. I hope it helps the dialogue sound natural and realistic, because I personally really enjoy that in books.

7) During lockdown, how have you found your writing process? Has it changed at all?

Funnily enough, I actually wrote half of my book while recovering from a lockdown Zoom party injury! It was my friend’s virtual birthday party and as a task, we all had to race to grab a vegetable from the kitchen. I did it a little too enthusiastically and fell up the stairs, cracking a rib in the process! I struggled to move much for a month, so while I was confined to bed (and after watching many box sets and reading lots of books), I thought, now’s the time to finally finish that manuscript and take the first step in pursuing my lifelong dream of being a published author. I’m now very grateful for that decision – and for being so competitive in the party task!

8) What are you currently watching on television? Have your television habits changed throughout lockdown?

When lockdown first began and my job quietened down, I felt like all I did was watch television and read. It was an easy distraction to switch off and try to ease the anxiety of living through a global pandemic. Reality TV is a guilty pleasure – I was hooked on Married at First Sight Australia, I’ve watched every series of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and I’m currently working my way through Below Deck. I also love true crime documentaries (I’ll Be Gone in The Dark is the best one I watched over lockdown) and you can’t go wrong with a heart-warming series like This is Us, or comedies such as Gavin and Stacey, Modern Family, Friends and Schitt’s Creek. My husband and I also binged Succession and re-watched Breaking Bad again. Strangely, Tiger King will always remind me of lockdown because we watched it right at the start and it was exactly the bizarre (but weirdly compelling) escapism we needed!

9) When you leave your desk on a Friday afternoon, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/the weekend, what do you do to relax?

I love a nice red wine on a Friday night after finishing work, and some Tony’s Chocolonely as an after dinner treat! In normal times, my husband and I would usually go out to one of the great pubs in the small town where we live, so we’re looking forward to doing that again when lockdown is eased.

We’re very lucky to have some great walks on our doorstep. We live in a town called Kirkby Lonsdale which is officially in Cumbria but is nestled between Lancashire and Yorkshire – this means a good walk is always on the agenda for the weekend. One of my favourite things to do at the weekend is start a new book, and I try to read at least three books a month.

10) What is your music taste like? Have you been missing live music in lockdown?

Yes, I have – although the last concert I went to was Paul McCartney at the Echo Arena in Liverpool and nothing will ever beat that. It was one of the best nights of my life and the perfect gig to finish on before a live music break! I’m a huge music fan and I love all types of music. It’s always jazz when I’m writing: Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. My favourite band of all time is The Beatles, closely followed by Fleetwood Mac, Bob Marley, David Bowie and Billy Joel. I also love The Teskey Brothers, Charles Bradley and Leon Bridges. I’m a big Kings of Leon fan and I’m enjoying their new album, as well as Celeste’s debut album.

Thank you for your time today Danielle. It has been a pleasure to interview you and find out about your writing process. All the best for submission to publishers with your novel!!

Bio: Danielle grew up in Southport, Merseyside, but now calls Cumbria home. She worked as a senior journalist and features writer on a number of publications in the north west, before moving into public relations.

In 2016, Danielle set up as a freelancer and launched Bloomin’ Creative – offering PR and content support to local businesses. Danielle was signed by Clare Coombes of the Liverpool Literary Agency in January 2021 and her debut novel, a Liverpool-based romcom, is currently out on submission to publishers.

Contact links:

Website: http://www.danielleowenjones.com

Twitter: @danniowenjones Instagram: @danniowenjonesauthor

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