Featured Friday! Jessica O’Toole
Animator, fighter pilot, knight, Thundercat – Jessica has wanted to be many things since childhood, but none of them as avidly as being a writer, her dream since age seven. Except perhaps Thundercat – that never gets old.
Brought up in Hampshire but living in Sussex, she’s a big fan of castles, cathedrals and circles of stone, of which Britain is, thankfully, saturated.
When she’s not writing you might find her playing her ancient (style) lyre, hacking the stunning South Downs with a big grin, or ogling glorious Michael Faraday inventions at the Royal Institution.
She published her debut fantasy novel, The Fate of Vultures, in 2014 and the sequel The Price of Sanctuary on New Year’s Day, 2016.
Currently she’s winding up her latest sci-fi, working on an historical novel and scribing the series finale in Of Preludes & Epitaphs.
What’s your favourite part of the lifestyle of an Author?
You get to be part of one of the oldest traditions in human history.
What made you start writing?
The very first thing I remember writing was a collection of stories with a group of friends in school, probably around five or six-years-old. We called them Four Girls and the Prince and the characters went on adventures on ships and across mountains. It was independent from whatever we were learning in school, so why we wrote them, I’m not sure. But they’re the first time I remember making up stories, rather than reading them. The first time I knew I wanted to write was in Year 5 (about age seven or eight if I recall). My teacher in that year used to write the school musicals (two of them I was in!) and I wrote something to show to her, some play about the Crown Jewels, the story of which I’ve no idea now. I imagine it was rubbish, but she was incredibly encouraging and I never stopped.
Is there an Author that you consider your inspiration?
Definitely my Year 5 teacher. It’s interesting to think whether I would have got into writing if I hadn’t been at that school.
What’s your number one tip for an aspiring Author?
There is nothing I would ever be able to say better than a fellow Anglo, Mr. Shakespeare. “This above all, to thine own self be true.”
What type of book do you like to read and does this differ from the genre that you prefer to write?
I write books in genres that I rarely read, interestingly. I think reading the genre I’m writing has a negative effect on exploring those worlds, as there’s always the case of “Am I doing this right?”. My absolute favourite genres are dystopic fiction and historical non-fiction. So currently, I’m writing an historical fiction to balance it out.
Which one of your characters would you most like to spend time with?
I’ve spent about twenty-years with the main four characters in my first book, The Fate of Vultures, so it might be rude not to say them. I would also say Conor from In Perpetuity – he seriously needs a hug.
Which book do you consider a must-read?
Fiction – Facial Justice by L.P. Hartley. It is an underrated gem of a dystopia, and frighteningly prophetic as all the best ones are.
Non-fiction – The Greatest Traitor by Ian Mortimer. This changed the whole 14th century historical landscape for me, and Mortimer is a thorough, but very readable, historian.
What’s been the hardest edit that you’ve had to make? Why did you want to keep the material in?
The death of a major character was never going to happen in an original draft. I wanted to keep the original ending in through pure sentimentality, which is always a reason you should go against that if the story benefits. It was for the best, it totally exploded my vision of that world, but was a shame as I would have liked to explore that character more. I might still…
If you could live in a book, which one would it be?
I’m not sure any of the books I read I’d want to live in…
Is there any conflict between what you want to write and what you think your readers will like?
I think when you’re creating anything it’s hard not imagine the receipt, but I do tend to go down the paths I want to explore, and not try and read the market. I think you can only really produce something of worth when you’re given the freedom to explore, which a lot of Big 5 writers don’t get to do anymore. They’re very restricted in some cases in what the publisher thinks will sell, and sometimes don’t get to write the books they want. I want my books to sell, of course(!), but I won’t read the market and write a story around what is selling. I have to feel passion for it, or I can’t feel pride or value in their creation. I think this is why I like history non-fiction. Ideally (as there are plenty of idealogues in historical writing), an historian has to follow academic integrity to produce work, and a publisher can’t really have a say in what historical documents say, or what the writer discovers.
What effect can a review have on you, if you read them at all? Both the good and the bad.
I know from my own reading experience that some people are going to have the total opposite experience.
Can you sum up your life story in ten words or less?
I never faffed about.
What’s exciting you about your next project?
Um, I have three on the go at the moment. The Bond of Fractures excites me as it’s the finale of my first Prenitia series – this will be a moment of that pride. An historical fiction based in the 14th century, my favourite period of history, is going to give me a kind of closure as I’ve been waiting to write this story for a very long time. And I have a semi-contemporary comedy complete and undergoing a second edit, which is entirely different from anything I’ve written so far, which in itself is invigorating.
And finally, you have one quote to be remembered by, what is it?
Thanks to Jessica for taking the time to talk to us. And good luck with the three in-the-works!
If you want to know more about Jessica and her writing then check out the links below.
Jessica has also recently launched her own imprint, Loyal Lyre, so head on over to their site!