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Jennie Godfrey: ‘Whenever I am writing something challenging, I make sure I know as much as I can from as many different sources as I can’

BY Katie Smart
21st Jul 2022

Jennie Godfrey has studied on several of our online courses, including our popular How to Write Your Novel series and our three-month Writing Your Novel course. Now Hutchinson Heinemann have acquired Jennie's debut novel The List of Suspicious Things in an exciting overnight deal.

In this interview, Jennie discusses her time studying with us and how she tackled the sensitive subject matter of the Yorkshire Ripper Case, which partially inspired her debut.

You took our three-month online Writing Your Novel course in 2020. How did your time studying with us impact your approach to writing?

The List of Suspicious Things is my first novel and I very much learned as I went – CBC was absolutely invaluable in that process as it gave me some structure and feedback so that I knew I was on the right track. Although I knew how to write before I came to CBC, the courses taught me how to put that writing into a novel.

The other thing I loved about my CBC courses was the focus on the industry – I learned a lot navigating publishing via your courses, and it’s thanks to you my INCREDIBLE agent (Nelle Andrew) found me, and vice versa!

What advice from tutor Cathi Unsworth has stuck with you?

Cathi had such an impact on me, it’s hard to pick just one thing, but I think what she really helped me to do was put myself into my writing (rather than trying to be what I thought ‘a writer’ was).

Many of our students find their writing community on our courses – are you still in touch with any of your course mates?

I am in touch with quite a few of my fellow CBC students. The first course I did was the six-week Write to the End of Your Novel programme where I met Hannah Luckett and Laina West. After the course we finished our first drafts together – and would send each other sections every Friday for feedback - it was a brilliant way of holding each other to account. Hannah and I also started a writing blog together; penpalswriting.wordpress.com.

The group from my three-month course have a Teams site where we keep each other updated and I am in regular contact with a couple of writers from there, and I will ALWAYS keep in touch with Cathi, her belief in my novel changed my life.

Your debut novel The List of Suspicious Things follows 12-year-old Miv in 1970s Yorkshire as she launches her own investigation into the serial killer known as the Yorkshire Ripper.It will be published by Hutchinson Heinemann in 2024. Can you tell us more about the novel and the inspiration behind it?

I was born and raised in Yorkshire, and one of my clearest childhood memories is of the day Peter Sutcliffe was caught – as it transpired my Dad had worked alongside him for years. I will always remember his shock and him repeating over and over ‘but he was so quiet.’ More recently, the BAFTA award winning ‘The Yorkshire Ripper Files,’ got me thinking about that time again – as did the murder of Sarah Everard (especially women sharing their stories of fear, which sadly haven’t changed that much) and I decided to write about what it was like to live through that particular time in that particular place (1970’s West Yorkshire).

Do you have any advice for writers tackling a difficult subject matter?

This is a GREAT question, as there are a lot of really difficult subjects in The List of Suspicious Things, all of which have caused me many sleepless nights, because I have wanted to do them justice. The first thing I would say is research, research, research. I am a PhD student, so research is definitely my bag (!) but whenever I am writing about something challenging, I make sure I know as much as I can from as many different sources as I can before I even try to put words on a page. I also make sure I get as much feedback as possible from people who know more than me.

Can you talk us through your writing routine?

Because I am a full-time student, I have the luxury of being able to write every day. I love order and structure and my writing routine reflects that. I write every day (occasionally taking weekends off) and I usually sit down to write at about 10am – as I make sure any errands or admin are out of the way before I do so. I will write for two hours straight then stop for lunch and write for two-three hours after that. There’s always a point I get to where I know to stop, that my brain has had enough – and while I don’t have a wordcount target – it usually works out to be 750-1000 words per day.

Do you have any words of wisdom for the aspiring authors reading this?

Yes. It would be to create your own little writing bubble, where you very much manage/limit how much you take on in terms of views on publishing as an industry/what sells/how difficult it is to get an agent etc. These are all things that any writer who wants to be traditionally published will have to face, but if you take on too much of that while you are writing, it can really demotivate you. Save that for later, focus on the writing first.

Finally, what’s next for your writing journey?

As well as getting The List of Suspicious Things ready for publication (eeek!) I am writing another novel as part of my Creative Writing PhD. I also have aspirations to write a true-crime/memoir hybrid (after loving The Fact of a Body by Alex Marzano-Lesnevich).

If you're interested in studying on the same course as Jennie, our three-month online Writing Your Novel course closes for applications on Sun 24 Jul.