Jo Kessel is a journalist in the UK, working for the BBC and reporting and presenting for ITV on holiday, consumer and current affairs programs. She writes for several national newspapers including the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, the Guardian and the Express and was the anonymous author of the Independent’s hit column: Diary of a Primary School Mum.
When Jo was ten years old she wrote a short story about losing a loved one. Her mother and big sister were so moved by the tale that it made them cry. Having reduced them to tears she vowed that the next time she wrote a story it would make them smile instead. Happily she succeeded and with this success grew an addiction for wanting to reach out and touch people with words.
P.S Jo’s pretty certain one of her daughters has inherited this gene.
Other books by Jo Kessel include Lover in Law.
Her latest book is the new adult novel, Weak at the Knees.
Visit her website at www.jokessel.com.
The inspiration behind my book was a man who I loved deeply…………..but he was already taken. Just as importantly as the man, though, it was the setting that inspired me. Mountains are so powerful and evoke such strong emotions. I spent a couple of years working in the French Alps and that gave me the idea to set Weak at the Knees there.
Is this your first published book and if so, can you tell us your experiences in finding a publisher for it?
This is my second published novel. My first novel was taken up by a top literary agent in the UK and was pitched to all the major publishing houses but one by one they turned me down. To say that that was a demoralizing experience is an understatement. But I knew the book (Lover in Law) was good or it wouldn’t have been taken on by the agent in the first place, so rather than letting it languish on my bookshelf I decided to self-publish instead. The hard work had already been done. And having self-published the first novel, it seemed an obvious route to do the same second time round. I like having the control self-publishing brings – I find it empowering.
Where do you live and if I were coming to town, where would we go to talk books?
I live in the suburbs of London in a place called Highgate. It has a marvelously parochial feel for a big city and is on the doorstep of lots of huge parklands (which feature in Weak at the Knees) as well as a famous cemetery in which lots of famous people are buried, including Karl Marx. I could take you there to talk books (several well-known writers have tombstones there too) but instead I’d probably pick Le Pain Quotidien – a nearby café with great coffee, a bohemian vibe and a touch of glamour too.
When you’re not writing, what do you do to relax and have fun?
I practice a lot of yoga (my party piece is a head balance which my children think makes me look like an acrobat in Cirque de Soleil) as well as going to the cinema. I love the movies and losing myself in a visual story as opposed to the written one.
Do you make a living off your books or do you have another job?
I still don’t earn enough to quit the day job full-time, and I’m not even sure that I would want to quit it even if I did. I work as a freelance print journalist for national newspapers in the UK writing travel articles and first person features about health, hobbies, parenting and education. And I really enjoy it.
In your opinion, what makes a good book great?
A good book is great if it touches you so deeply that it stays with you for a long while after you read it. The books I have enjoyed the most I still think about years on. It might be something a character said or did or a mood that I remember – but I still remember it.
Psychologists tell us the thing we think we’d most like to grow up to be when we’re ten years old is our avocation. What did you want to be?
Well, what do psychologists know then?! Despite always enjoying writing as a child, I wanted to be a Doctor. My father’s a doctor and so was my grandfather and I was desperate to follow in their footsteps. Sadly (or perhaps I should say fortuitously) I was terrible at the sciences at school and so I had to give up on that dream. I’m pleased I did, because I’m a creative at heart and think the career path I’ve chosen is much more suited to my personality.
Can you give us a short excerpt from your book?
Late afternoon Olivier and I are playing with interlocked fingers, sitting side by side on the balcony step, basking in the sun.
“I’ve been thinking about your birthday. Is there anything in particular that you’d like to do?” he asks.
“I don’t think so. Birthdays are no big deal and twenty-seven is hardly one of the big ones.”
It’s getting dangerously close to thirty and my life is still not exactly sorted. He rubs it in.
“There’s only three more years to go until you join my decade! Look, forget about it being your birthday. Let’s just say we’ve got an evening to spend together to do something a bit different. What would you like to do then?”
I’m not brave enough to ask what’s going to happen to us, to ask whether he’s going to have left his wife by then, or whether he’s expecting me to stay as his bit on the side. But perhaps I won’t need to. Because if I can summon enough courage to tell him exactly what I’d really like to do for my birthday, his answer will probably tell me all I need to know. There is something I’ve been desperate to do since we got together, but it’s not been possible seeing as our affair has to be kept secret. It doesn’t seem much to ask and for most couples it’s the simplest thing to do. I can’t bear to look at his face, to see his expression or to read his reaction, so I fixate on our fingers instead, making pretty puppet patterns.
“Actually, there is something I’d like to do,” I say. “I’d like to go out and eat at a restaurant, just you and me.”
He’s silent for the longest moment. His fingers stop moving and so, it feels, does my heart.
“Do you know how difficult that is for me Danni?”
His face is tight and serious when I look up and drown in his clear blue stare. I can barely breathe. It feels like the question mark hanging over our relationship and future has just jumped off the page, quadrupled in size and wrapped itself tight around my windpipe.
What’s next for you?
Next for me is moving the plot along and seeing everything from Olivier’s point of view.