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Food diarist becomes witty novelist by Jo Waldron

Helpful cat

Congratulations on being longlisted for our unpublished prize! Could you tell us about your novel in one sentence?

Thanks, it’s great to be here! I’d describe Second Chance as a speculative romantic comedy.

Hopeless romantic Bethany Dean has been engaged three times but never made it down the aisle, as each of her fiancés died before the big day. After so much heartbreak Beth thinks she’s done with love, but when she’s run over by a car Beth is forced to think again: she wakes up in Heaven to be told she must choose which fiancé to marry in the afterlife, or be condemned to spend the rest of eternity alone.

(Okay, so technically that’s two sentences – one with a cheaty colon and everything – but as I’m a chronic over writer I’m calling it a win!)

Have you always been interested in (comic) writing, or did you fall into it unexpectedly?

I’ve wanted to write for as long as I can remember. One of the first things I remember writing was in primary school, for an exercise where we had to write a short story using all the words on that week’s spelling list. My story was called ‘The Squashed Man Saga’, and featured a chap who had an unfortunate accident with a collapsible lawn mower (‘collapsible’ and ‘lawn mower’ were two of the words of the week, in case you were wondering!) I think that pretty much set the tone for the rest of my writing journey; even when I’ve tried really hard to write something serious it just doesn’t work, some kind of humour always manages to work its way in. I think perhaps that comedy chose me, rather than the other way round!

Have you ever kept a teenage diary?

Oh yes! The teenage diary was truly terrible, mainly full of angst and heartbreak over the current object of my affection - which changed at a truly alarming rate!

Slightly embarrassing confession time – I actually still keep a diary now, and have done for years. I don’t really know why, I keep saying I’m going to stop, but the habit is alarmingly hard to break. Sadly my current diaries are much less exciting than the teenage ones, and mainly focus on the weather, what I’ve had for tea (this features a lot) and whether I’m winning or losing on the horses. Who knows, maybe I’ll look back in years to come and think they’re more exciting than I do now – ooo, Cajun chicken for tea again! Man alive, I really knew how to live in those days!

But then again, maybe not….

We’d love to hear about where you get ideas for your wondrous wit? Do you have any tips you could impart to aspiring witty writers?

I think everyday life provides more than enough comedy fodder! I like asking myself questions like ‘why’ and ‘what if’ about the things around me – why are those people arguing at the bus stop? Why is the man in front of me in the post office queue wearing odd shoes? What if a poisonous cobra got loose in the veg aisle while I’m doing the weekly shop? I love imagining the most bizarre explanations or scenarios possible for the everyday and mundane. Sometimes these imaginings become the foundations for whole future stories I want to write, sometimes they might help me a develop a character or solve a plot problem in something I’m already writing, and sometimes they might do nothing more than make me chuckle for a minute, but I always think the exercise adds value in some way or another.

Speaking of which, where does your writing magic happen?

Blimey, magic might be pushing it a bit, but for what it’s worth I used to travel a lot for work, and wrote most of the first draft of Second Chance on trains or in (often grotty) hotel rooms. However, I’d already started travelling less pre-pandemic, and post-pandemic I now hardly ever travel at all. This is mainly a cause for celebration (I hate travelling, especially the grotty hotel rooms – I even had one with live pigeons in it once, I kid you not!), but I have really struggled to find chunks of time for writing in the same way now I’m always at home. This situation is not helped by my beloved cat mate Jesse, who’s favourite game is to sit directly between me and my laptop any time I try to either write or work. As Jesse is really rather large, and occasionally a bit bitey, it’s not really a feasible option to move him once he’s settled in!

What is the best piece of content by a witty woman you’ve read/watched/listened to/experienced recently?

I grew up reading the amazing Jilly Cooper, who was a huge influence on me and remains my favourite author of all time. More recently, I adore anything by Marian Keyes, who never fails to make me laugh, and Beth O’Leary is also fast becoming a firm favourite.

Finally, what does being longlisted for the CWIP prize mean to you? Do you have any advice for other witty writers thinking about entering the prize?

I literally have no words for how excited I am to have made the longlist for this wonderful prize! And in fact, for how grateful I am that this prize exists – any unpublished writer, writing in any genre, who is going through the process of trying to find an agent or publisher, will know only too well how brutally tough it is. Literature generally is highly subjective, and I think humour is often more subjective still, making the task even harder. I’m so pleased this prize is here, providing an alternative platform for us unpublished writers who want to make people laugh – we certainly need it! However far I get in the competition, I’m incredibly proud and delighted to have been part of the prize story for this year. To anyone thinking of entering, I’d say absolutely do it! I never expected to get longlisted, yet here I am, now feeling better about my writing than I have done in a long time. As a free to enter competition you literally have nothing to lose – and perhaps everything to gain!

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