Jo Jakeman took one of our online creative writing courses in 2016. Now she has a three-book deal with Harvill Secker (part of Penguin Random House), and her first novel – Sticks and Stones – comes out in July of this year. We talked to her about her novel, her time on the Curtis Brown Creative online course, and how she found her path to success …
Tell us about your novel and what inspired it …
Sticks and Stones is a psychological thriller about Imogen Rochester who, after years of physical and emotional abuse from her husband, snaps and locks him in the cellar. It’s about revenge, forgiveness and female solidarity.
It is partly inspired by the classics I loved as a child. I grew up on a diet of Darcy, Heathcliff, and Rochester but I began to question how the likes of Elizabeth, Cathy and Jane could fall for such narcissists. I’d just re-read Jane Eyre and thought it would be fun to turn it on its head. Instead of Rochester locking his first wife in the attic, how about Imogen locking her husband in the cellar? There are other similarities with Jane Eyre too – the characters have the surname Rochester and there’s a fire in both books.
How much of your novel had you written when you joined our online course? And how much did it change as a result of the course?
When I joined the CBC course I already had the ‘voice’ of Imogen. I’d written the first three chapters and had the vaguest of ideas of how the book would pan out. The first chapter was pretty much the same as it is now, but the other two were necessary casualties of the editing process. I had initially thought to begin with Phillip Rochester’s funeral and then pick over the aftermath of his death. What I ended up with was his funeral and then we go to twenty-two days before and see how Phillip ended up dead.
During the course we had a week where we developed a synopsis. It made me realise I didn’t really have a plan, and I was meandering instead of writing with purpose. That was my ‘lightbulb’ week. After that, the writing became a lot easier.
How did you find the group workshops on the course as you were developing your novel? Do you still keep in touch with many of your group?
I’m not going to lie, it was tough at times! You feel incredibly vulnerable putting your unpolished work in front of other writers, but I learned as much from critiquing their work as I did from receiving their critiques on mine. Writing can be a solitary experience but it’s almost impossible to grow in isolation. My course mates gave me the push I needed and I’m still in touch with most of them. There’s a group of us who continue to critique each other’s work and offer support where necessary. I hope they will come to my launch because I owe them a drink!
How did you find your agent after the course? And how much work did you do with them, before it went out to editors?
The course ended in mid August but I still hadn’t finished writing the book. I entered the three competitions at York Festival of Writing, which was early September, and applied for one-to-ones with some of the agents who would be there. Sticks and Stones was shortlisted for Best Opening Chapter and Friday Night Live (which I won) and that got the attention of some agents who requested the full manuscript. I rushed to finish it and sent it out to them in late October.
I always knew which agent I wanted (Imogen Pelham at Marjacq) and I was delighted when she offered me representation a week later. She suggested another draft before Sticks and Stones went out for submission in March, and soon after that we got the offer from Jade Chandler at Harvill Secker.
Was there anything you wish you’d known at the start of this process?
I am surprised by how little I knew about the publishing industry. My first goal was to write a book and get an agent and, beyond that, I was a bit hazy. There is a lot more required of an author than just producing a novel. The hard work really begins when you get the book deal.
Sticks and Stones has had a lot of input from editors in both the UK and USA and I’ve had to tweak certain parts of the story with the market in mind. When I wrote it I didn’t think about who would be reading the finished product, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. You should always write the first draft from the heart not the head, but somewhere down the line you start to consider what others require of your book and I hadn’t anticipated that.
What’s next for you – are you working on a second novel?
I’m thrilled that Harvill Secker have also bought the rights to my next two books. I am currently working on a novel about a woman trying to put her life back together after serving a prison sentence for providing a false alibi for a murderer. With a new identity, she thinks she can put the past behind her, but someone knows who she is and wants to make her pay. It’s due out in July 2019.
It’s only been two years since I began the Curtis Brown Creative six-month online course. It’s hard to believe that so much has happened since then and I can now call myself a full-time writer.
Dream. Come. True.
Jo Jakeman studied on one of our long online novel-writing courses. To find out more about the next 3-month online novel-writing course, with Suzannah Dunn, click here
To find out more about the courses we run from our London offices, and our next 3-month novel-writing course, with Charlotte Mendelson (and with a scholarship place for a writer with low income), click here
Or, if you want to write for children or young adults, take a look at our 3-month online course with Catherine Johnson
You can also join one of our series of 3 shorter online novel-writing online for only £200: Starting to Write Your Novel, Write to the End of Your Novel and Edit & Pitch Your Novel (which starts next week!)