Friday, 17 August 2012

Interview with Joanne Phillips

Morning all - Happy Friday - naturally, it's pouring with rain today, just in time for the weekend, but at least I managed to put on sun tan lotion yesterday and write for a bit in the garden - 45 mins, after 6 failed attempts which lasted on average 25 seconds - at sitting in sun, you realise, not writing!

After reviewing Jo's book on the blog last week, I am delighted to have her join us today to answer my searching questions. Enjoy!

         You’ve had phenomenal success with Can’t Live Without in the past month. How much do you think is attributable to your blog and mapping out since January your progress writing it?

I think the steady sales I’ve had since publishing the book in May have been down to my blog journey, and the promotional work I do constantly. But the success Can’t Live Without has enjoyed this past month has been entirely down to the free Kindle promotion – it’s all about visibility at the end of the day. No one is going to buy my book if they don’t know it’s there, or can’t see it when they’re browsing. The Kindle promo put the title in the top 100 paid charts where lovely readers could see it – and buy it! The effect has worn off now, of course, but thankfully the steady sales continue.

          I hate to ask such a trite question, but as it’s really a concept I had never seen in a novel (and when I think about it now, I wonder why not) why did you decide to write about a house fire?

It’s not a trite question at all. It wasn’t so much a decision as the idea just found me – I was walking around Willen Lake in Milton Keynes one day and I heard a fire engine in the distance. I started to imagine arriving home and finding it was my house on fire (I do tend to terrify myself with my thoughts!), and the idea of Can’t Live Without was born. Stella just jumped into my head pretty much fully formed, with all her problems and messed up family.

        I loved the sub-plots, particularly the teenage daughter’s drama. Did you always know what happened to her was going to happen? If not, at what stage did you decide this?

I’m glad you liked Lipsy’s story. No, I didn’t know what was going to happen to her – I think I just got so involved with the characters that they almost decided themselves what was going to happen next! Well, that sounds a bit mad – what I mean is, it seemed like the worst possible thing that could happen to Lipsy – and Stella – at that point in time, and I do like challenging my characters by making them face the worst!

                 I loved Paul. Did you base him and indeed any of your other characters on any living person,            whether celebrity, friend or acquaintance, either personality-wise or physically?

Paul is ace, isn’t he? I can’t say any of my characters are based on any real people – I’m sure that people I’ve met creep into them all the time, but it’s not conscious. Some of Lipsy’s characteristics are based on me as a teenager, I’m afraid! When I started writing Paul I guess he was my idea of the ideal man (I hadn’t met my husband yet back then, but he does have all of those lovely qualities). I wanted to write about a man who was sexy and safe, to prove (to myself?) that reliability and loyalty were most definitely not boring!

                   What made you introduce an office bitch? Did you have fun writing her?

I did have so much fun! I always knew that Loretta would have a key role in keeping Stella and Paul apart later in the book (no spoilers here!), and I also felt that Stella needed someone to spark off so the reader could see her character more clearly.

        I have read many reviews which have said, they laughed out loud. Although there are parts in the book which are very funny indeed, for me, the overall impression was one of drama, love and family dynamics. What do you, the writer, consider as the key themes of the book and which was most important to you?

For me, the key themes are materialism, communication, and refusing to face the truth. I’m fascinated by how we lie to ourselves and the lengths to which people go to avoid the truth of any given situation, and there are many places in Can’t Live Without where this is explored, not least of all in Paul’s feelings for Stella – and vice versa! A critic of the book said recently that she thought the misunderstandings between them seemed contrived, but it’s my experience that people are terrible at telling each other their true feelings if they are afraid of opening up and risking being hurt, and that all sorts of problems arise from this.

        Who did you enjoy writing the most and why? If Stella, please also tell me about another character, too!!

I did enjoy writing Stella, but I think the two characters I enjoyed writing the most were Stella’s mum, Maggie, and John Dean. Maggie because I felt such huge empathy for her as a character, and John Dean because he is such a slime-ball! He was always John Dean in my mind, and is the only character constantly referred to by both first-and-surname in the book, and I think this is because he is set apart, perhaps, as the only character who doesn’t undergo much of a transformation!

        What’s the link between the cover you chose and the book?

Oh, covers! They are so hard, aren’t they? I spent a lot of time in Waterstones, just looking at covers and noting what attracted me as a reader. I wanted a woman on the cover, but not a face, and I wanted a very simple colour palette to catch the eye. When I came across this image it just seemed right, and the paving actually reminded me of pavements in Milton Keynes where the book is set. I also wanted it to be recognisable in the genre of chick lit, but to be moving away from the overtly pink and cartoony style of cover. Can’t Live Without was book of the week on Stafford FM a few weeks ago, and the presenter referred to it as ‘the book with the legs on the cover’. He liked them a lot!

        You’ve said in the past week that you have ditched your current WIP, a third of the way through, because your heart isn’t in. So, what now? Will you try another genre? Have a break? What’s next for you?

I’m going to start work on the sequel to Can’t Live Without as soon as I come back from my holiday. The characters are alive and kicking in my mind, and they need closure! As far as genre goes, yes, I would like to try writing a different genre in the future, but I don’t think I can cope with the structural demands of genres like crime and mystery. But that’s not to say I won’t ever write a romance with mystery elements, or a novel that has a crime in it! One author I really admire is Linda Gillard, and she really has no genre – or rather, she can write across genres. This does make it harder to market your books, though, so I do think it’s helpful as a writer to keep, if not genre, at least the type of readers you are hoping to satisfy in your mind as you write.

      You also said that you wanted your writing to touch people. When I think of that I think of authors like Jodi Picoult, where the dilemmas make you really wonder what you would do, if you were in their shoes.  Is this what you meant? Can you give us your analogy?

I’m not a big fan of Jodi Picoult’s books, although I think she’s an amazing author. I find the ‘what would you do’ premise too much like hard work, as a reader anyway. I prefer to find issues in fiction really tucked away, almost invisible, so the story can be enjoyed on any level you like. CLW is in many ways just a good, fun read, but there is deeper stuff which can be explored and thought about if it resonates with the reader.

I think that’s what I mean when I say I want to touch people. I want to write about people who seem real, facing everyday problems, and bring them to life in a way that might make the reader think about their own everyday problems in a different way. As an analogy I’d cite Anne Tyler’s A Patchwork Planet – my favourite book of all time. It’s just about a man who lives alone, works as a handyman and has a tricky relationship with his family. And it’s a funny, engaging read. But really, for me at least, it’s about coming to terms with becoming an adult, learning to separate your real self from what your family thinks about you, and trying to recognise love when you stumble upon it. But these issues aren’t forced upon you, they’re just there to discover. If you want to.

Fun stuff

        Everyone knows I adore Rupert Penry Jones, but who’s your favourite actor from an acting point of view and also from a ‘he’s just drop dead gorgeous’ point of view?

 Anthony Hopkins for acting. No one for drop-dead gorgeous, I’m afraid! My husband is the only one who does it for me J If it has to be a famous person, I’ll choose Morrissey.

        What are you reading?

Linda Gillard: The Glass Guardian

        What genres do you read?

I will read anything, but I prefer loosely women’s fiction (whatever that is!). I don’t read horror, sci-fi or gritty crime. I’m ridiculously sensitive.

        Have you done anything really daring (sky-diving, bungee-jumping etc) – No, getting published doesn’t count, although I realise that’s terrifying!

No. Very safe and boring J

        Do you watch scary movies? If so, do you have a favourite?

No way! It’s not that I mind being scared so much as those films always seem to have horror elements that I just can’t cope with. I got scared watching Toy Story 3. Enough said.

        If you won the lottery, what would you do?

It’s funny, because my husband and I talk about this a lot (!), and I always say that I would just keep doing what I do now – writing, indexing, enjoying my time with my family. We live in a lovely rural location near my daughter’s school, so no need to move house. What would change for me would be that hubby could give up work, and I’d never have to worry about money again! Bliss. But apart from that, nothing. My life’s pretty perfect as it is. I might pay for a personal trainer, and a personal shopper because I hate shopping.

        Favourite music


        Favourite author

Anne Tyler

        Which talent don’t you have that you would like to have? (invisibility and things like that are not permitted!)

I’d like to be able to cook! I’m like Wendy Craig in Butterflies – everything I touch goes wrong.

      Your greatest achievement to date ( can’t be writing/getting married or having a child – although I realise those will probably be in your top 3)  It can be district Majorette champion or whatever!

That is such a hard question. There’s loads of stuff I’m proud of, but to pick one ... Last year I did an eight mile walk for Thyroid UK, which was a huge achievement for me as since being diagnosed with a thyroid condition three years earlier there were times when I could barely walk up the stairs! I raised £300 and it gave me a real boost, both in health and confidence. 

Thanks Jo, for being on the blog today.
You can pick up Can't Live Without at the following links:
You can also find Jo on her blog -
For now, have a great weekend and remember to check in on Sunday for the latest instalment of...well, I'll keep you guessing! Sooz


  1. Fab interview Sooz, really interesting!

    1. hi Kate, so glad you enjoyed. I like to make them always different. Same questions each time would be really boring - for everyone!

  2. you really don't watch the horror movies?

    Interview Questions

    1. ha ha, I'm with Jo, I can't watch scary movies either, otherwise I have to watch an episode of The Gummi Bears before I go to bed or something with Santa in it!!

  3. Thank you, both. The cooking part made me laugh - sounds like a character waiting to happen ;)

    1. You're welcome. Glad you enjoyed. Although I have to say, I rather thought Bridget Jones had already covered the cooking part! Blue soup anyone?!