Almost a year ago I was interviewing author Joanna Cannon about her soon-to-be published book The Trouble with Goats and Sheep.
She told me about winning the York Festival of Writing’s Friday Night Live competition with a 500 word excerpt from the book and the flurry of offers from literary agents that followed.
Joanna later told her publishing success story to an audience at Derby Book Festival and one of those listening was volunteer Jo Bunt.
Jo is herself a writer and has a love for books going back to her childhood, which is why she had volunteered to help at the festival in the first place.
“Listening to Joanna telling us all about the writing festival and what happened inspired me so much. I just thought ‘wow I would love to be able to take part in that competition myself’,” said Jo.
And that’s exactly what she did… and remarkably she too won and now has four agents chasing after her book Til Death Do Us Part – a dark story about three women who shared an abusive partner and together locked him in a cellar to die.
“I persuaded my husband that a perfect wedding anniversary present would be a trip to York. I entered three competitions and later received an email to say I was on a shortlist of seven for the Friday Night Live and was invited to read my 500 word piece out to the audience.
“It was really nerve wracking as I am not used to big crowds or speaking. I was first up and high on adrenalin and just went for it. The audience loved it. It really was amazing, people were thumping on the tables as they clapped,” she recalled.
Excited Derby Book Festival organisers Jenny Denton and Sian Hoyle are keeping their fingers crossed that Jo will be first of their volunteers to return to the event as a guest author.
Jo, who lives in the city with her husband and eight-year-old twin sons, was born in Cyprus to British parents and after moving to England with her family went to school in Nottingham. She worked in London as a recruitment consultant before moving back to the East Midlands to be near her mother.
It was then that she took the decision to change her life by becoming a writer while bringing up the boys.
“I wanted to be around for the kids and having ignored my writing for several years I decided to give it a go,” she explained.
Her first self-published book Daughters of the Wind was set in Cyprus and tells the story of Leni, who was taken from the island as a baby when the Turkish invaded in 1974, who has returned to the island to trace her roots. Her second Eye of the Beholder explored the story of two sisters living in different countries but linked by the effects of the Second World War.
Jo has recently completed a six month online writing course with Curtis Brown Creative and she credits the teaching she has had with helping her win the Friday Night Live competition.
“They not only helped me edit it but the course also gave me structure to the way I work.
“In the past I tended to not write for weeks and then become obsessive about it – even to the level where I needed to set an alarm in case I forgot to go and collect the boys from school.
“Thanks to the tuition I now sit down every morning to do work – no waiting for the mood to take me and that has been essential since I won the competition because I then had to get the book finished. Faced with a deadline you have to be focused.”