Q&A with YA author Jo Cotterill

A Library of Lemons

Jo Cotterill, author of over 20 children's fiction books, published her latest novel on 5th May with Piccadilly Press. In this story we meet 10 year old Calypso, who lives with her emotionally incompetent father who can't, or won't talk about the death of her mother. Instead he leaves Calypso to fend for herself (and him) and buries himself in his writing - a book about the history of the lemon. Calypso loves reading and writing and loses herself in the world between the pages of her favourite books. But a new friendship with a girl called Mae ends up forcing her to accept some truths about her family home and her father. It is a bittersweet heart wrenching read; poignant and moving, full of excellent characters and great writing. 

I am thrilled to welcome Jo Cotterill to my blog today to take part in a Q & A session. My enormous thanks the publishers for giving me this opportunity, and to Jo for taking the time to answer my questions! 

Can you start by telling me a little bit about where the inspiration for this novel came from? 
Actually, this book started with the title, well before I had any characters. I like wordplay, and this phrase just sort of fell into my head. And the strange thing was, as soon as the title appeared, I knew immediately what the library of lemons was and who was involved. The central character, 10-year-old Calypso, bears a very strong resemblance to my own 10-year-old self, who really preferred books to people and imaginary worlds to the real one…perhaps I still do!

Can you describe Calypso in three words?
Imaginative, independent, lonely

Calypso's dad is writing a book about the history of the lemon. Was there a particular reason you decided to use the lemon as his chosen focus? 
Only because it was in the title!

If you were to write "A History of....." what would it be?
Oh wow, that’s a hard one. I am pretty fascinated by the imagination though. So it might be something to do with the way imagination has been used or understood over the years.

The novel is full of charming references to "Anne of Green Gables" and several other children's books and poems. Which books made an impression on you as a child and why?
Our house was full of books – both for children and for adults – because my parents love books. We also went to the library frequently. As a child, Anne Shirley was a huge heroine of mine. I had a tendency to dramatise myself, like Anne, and a highly advanced vocabulary, so I liked to identify with her! I also loved the Famous Five (though I confess I had more in common with Anne than George), and fell head over heels for Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising sequence, which I also reference in A Library of Lemons.

What are your three all time favourite books?
The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper, Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and Lucas by Kevin Brooks. Though I haven’t read the last one for years because it makes me sob bucketloads.

Is there a book you've read which you wish you'd written?
Honestly, no. There are books I’m in awe of and authors I envy because of their success, but I don’t think I’ve ever come across a book I wish I’d written. There are too many books I still want to write rather than steal someone else’s!

Are there any authors that inspire and influence you and your writing?
I’m so lucky to have a wide circle of fantastic author friends, many of whom inspire me daily with their work ethic, their generosity of spirit and their incredible wordcraft. It’s thanks to some of them that I’ve kept going through the rough patches, and upped my productivity to keep up with them!

Where is your preferred place for writing? 
I have a study at home, with a desk and a PC. I’m surrounded by my books, my musical instruments and my craft materials. It’s very ‘me’.

When writing, do you prefer typing on the computer or writing by hand?
Computer. Unless I’m starting out on a brand new story. I find my imagination works better with paper and pen, to get down the basic ingredients of the book. But once I start writing the manuscript, it’s computer all the way.

What has been the most important moment in your writing life?
Hearing I’d been offered a six-book deal by Random House for my series Sweet Hearts in 2009. That was a massive moment for me. I began to believe that I could actually make it long-term as a writer. And it was the moment I knew I could give up teaching in order to write full time.

I loved the way your novel explored the use of writing (and reading) as a way of "healing" and enabling people to process their feelings and emotions. Can you tell me a little bit more about this?
I think I’ve always done this, and I think a lot of others do too, through diaries, poetry, songwriting… I don’t think it’s a conscious thing for me. And actually, using words to express emotions seems to have got harder over time, as you develop a wider emotional range and there aren’t enough words to fit the way you feel. But I do believe that communication is the essence of healing, whether that’s written or spoken or sung – even if it’s never shown to anyone. The fact that you have made something to show how you feel can help you to face those feelings with more power and confidence.

Looking at your impressive back catalogue, you write for quite a range of ages and cover a variety of themes. Where do you get your ideas from? 
Oh, ideas are easy! It’s turning them into books that’s the hard part! I get ideas from all over the place, but I almost always start with a character or a concept. And I particularly like the question, ‘what if?’ That’s led to a lot of my stories!

I'd like to read "Looking at the Stars" next. Do you have any "favourites" from your back catalogue?
Oh gosh, yes. Sadly some of them are out of print. I wrote a novel back in 2008 (under the name Joanna Kenrick) called Screwed, about a teenage girl slowly self-destructing. That was about grief too, though the girl dealt with her emotions in a far less socially acceptable way than Calypso! I’m hoping to re-publish the book at some point. Model Behaviour, one of my Sweet Hearts books, I adored writing because the characters practically leapt off the page into my head. And of course more recently, I couldn’t be prouder of my book Electrigirl, which is part-book, part-comic strip by the wonderful Cathy Brett. Electrigirl is my attempt at re-balancing the gender inequality in superhero stories – and was just immense fun to write.

Are you currently working on any new novels?
That’s a great question to ask me today because within a week, I should know if I have the green light on two brand-new novels…! So the answer is, I very much hope so!

And so do I! I can't wait to read more of your books! 
Thanks ever so much for your time and for appearing on my blog - it's been really interesting! 

A Library of Lemons by Jo Cotterill is out now, published by Piccadilly Press. 

For more recommendations and reviews please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacUK) 


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