Second Time around CWIP success – with Jo Lyons
Jo’s recipe for wit is never giving up, croissants and bonking awareness….
When did you first hear about the CWIP Prize? Last year, I entered this novel but didn’t get anywhere. While competitions are great for keeping you motivated, the rejection can be very disheartening, but you sent out a really lovely follow up email encouraging us not to give up but to keep working on our manuscripts and try again the following year. So, I did!
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?
I started writing 20 years ago in the hopes I’d get picked up by Mills & Boon or Universal, so they could turn it into a worldwide hit film, but after many rejections and me not having the first clue about the book or film industry, I gave up. Then being made redundant a few years ago, triggered a massive rethink about what I wanted from life. I decided that in order to fulfil my three life goals (to lose weight, write a novel and be the owner of over-achieving children) we’d have to move to Spain. Unfortunately, the children went a bit feral, and the lure of the cheesy nacho proved too strong but at least I managed to write a novel. This is a picture of the promenade by my apartment that I imagined me running along every morning.
Talk to me about teenage angst: Was it manifested in poetry or diary form? There was no time for angst. I was too busy trying to make myself look old enough (tarty) to get into nightclubs. Crimping my hair and blending eyeshadows was almost a full-time job back then. Can you describe what your novel, FOOLS RUSH IN, is about in two sentences? When Connie’s father announces he’s getting remarried, as a natural introvert without strong opinions on eyebrows or leg tattoos, she is aghast to find herself in Benidorm trying to bond with a sassy, extroverted, Pussycat Doll of a stepsister-to-be, who seems hellbent on making sure the two of them don’t get along.
And because I am a sucker for a book with a happy ending and plenty of bonking, I’ve managed to squeeze quite a bit of filth in. Did you set out to write a funny book? No, never, I’ve not got the skills so I concentrated more on the romance and the sibling rivalry, until that is, I read everything by Nina Stibbe and I had my mind blown (for the second time, because Marian Keyes had got there first a few years beforehand) which made me want to severely up my game, so I reworked the manuscript to try to capture that uplifting, joyful feeling you get when you read anything of theirs. And because I didn’t have a clue how to improve my writing, last year I enrolled on a Curtis Brown Creative writing course, and it was the single most transformative thing I’ve ever done. What encouraged you to set your novel in Benidorm?
I used to live up the road from Benidorm during our family gap year which lasted 3 years (until Brexit put a stop to it - boo) and I’d write while on the hilarious monthly commute from Alicante to Newcastle with a plane full of Hens and Stags boozing heavily around me. There’d be confessions and loud fallings out one minute, tears and hugging the next and finally a song. Who doesn’t like to hear Robbie Williams’ Angels screamed down the plane at 7am? In fact, I got the title for my first novel from the back of someone’s leg tattoo!
This is a picture of my gorgeous niece (on the right with her friend) who inspires me to write about millennials. For this night out they began getting ready at noon, by 10.30pm I sent my son up to check if they’d fallen asleep, but they were still doing eyebrows. They eventually jumped in a taxi after eleven hours in hair and make-up!! How impressive is that?
What’s your favourite type of humour?
Anything to do with people and bonkers situations. I adore Modern Family, Schitts Creek and The Simpsons, as the characters are all sublimely written and totally unforgettable. I’ll watch literally any romcom going on TV but if it’s a book, I think Lucy Vine is hilarious, and Nora Ephron and Helen Fielding are geniuses at bringing characters to life. Anything with strong, independent women in it giving men the run around, I tend to like.
What’s your most cringe moment in the last five years if you’d care to share for our delight?
Oh God there are so many. My life is simply a string of embarrassing moments but maybe that one time in the Apple store when asked ‘Do you have a tablet?’ and I replied ‘I might have some Strepsils in my bag somewhere’ was a low point because my boys don’t need any more reasons to be deeply mortified by my existence. They’ve both since blocked me on Instagram, and I’m not allowed out of the house if there’s more than a 0.001% chance of me running into them with their friends.
Is there a funny line, scene or book that you wish you’d written?
An Almost Perfect Christmas by Nina Stibbe has me in HOOTS no matter how many times I read it. All of her books are full of great lines, but Mike Yu making Miranda’s pelvis twang with his three different ways of kissing had me in bits!! BITS!
Where does your writing magic happen, and can you tell us about your writing routine?
I’m currently back in Spain for 3 months working outside on a balcony, with easy access to a bakery selling amazing almond croissants. I take regular breaks from bashing out a first draft to eat them while I worry about plot holes and weak storylines.
Then I do all the hard stuff (the endless making of coffee, the many, many rewrites and edits, the battle with self-doubt) back home in Newcastle. I have a tiny corner of the bedroom set up with only a wall to look at so that keeps me focussed. It’s ‘greige’ so not even an interesting colour which helps.
Helen Lederer here. We agree with Jo - every home should have at least two Writing Caves - my money is on the alfresco one….
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