Hello and welcome to the website of Carolyn Jess-Cooke, award-winning author of The Guardian Angel’s Journal (Little, Brown/Piatkus, 2011), The Boy Who Could See Demons (Piatkus, 2012), and the poetry collections Inroads (Seren, 2010) and BOOM! (Seren, 2014).
Carolyn’s books have been published in 22 languages. She has previously received an Eric Gregory Award, a Tyrone Guthrie Award, a Major Arts Council of England Award, and she has twice received a Northern Promise Award.
She lives in north-east England with her husband and four children.
- “This book is quite simply brilliant to read, full of emotion and some heart wrenching plot twists … one of the best books with a child protagonist I’ve ever read.” – The Guardian
“Impressive . . . Jess-Cooke is every bit as skillful in her vivid portrayals of unworldly beings . . . as in illustrating the dreadful toll taken by mental illness.”—Booklist
- Jess-Cooke is one to watch.” – Publisher’s Weekly (starred review) (US)
- “An incredible debut novel… This is The Lovely Bones meets It’s a Wonderful Life. Fabulous.” – The Sun
- “This is the first novel by an intelligent and skillful writer from whom we cannot help feel that there are more good things to come.” Lovereading
- “The new Audrey Niffenegger.” – Company Magazine
- “The book is written with a poet’s eye for language, and also emotional intensity. For the Niffenegger fans, or those who like their fiction slightly strange.” - The Sunday M (Sydney, Australia)
Latest News and Updates
27 Feb 2015
Yes folks, I have a new writing partner. Well, he doesn’t actually do much of the writing but he certainly insists upon curling up beside me as I type and occasionally chews the laptop. I’m sure he has a novel in him yet.
This is Ralph. He’s 8 weeks old and adorable.
Sadly Ralph won’t be coming to any of my events in March, but he’ll be very pleased if you can make it. They’re at the StAnza Poetry Festival on Friday 6th March, the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea on 14th March, and the York Literature Festival on 28th March.
13 Feb 2015
Hello again. Just a little note to say I’m very pleased to be guest editing the next issue of the fabulous Butcher’s Dog poetry magazine which is just about to close for submissions. I’m excited to read all the poems so be sure to email your submission by Sunday! Guidelines for submissions and details on how to send are found here.
12 Feb 2015
The lovely folk at Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre chose BOOM! as their poem of the week:
I subscribe to OBPC and enjoy finding their weekly selections in my inbox, so it was a very pleasant surprise indeed when I opened up this week’s email and found my own poem there. A nice precursor to the final set of Writing Motherhood events which are taking place in March (at StAnza, York Lit Festival and the Dylan Thomas Centre) and May (at the Swindon Festival of Literature). I’ll post more details about the dates and times of those events soon – or just click on the links.
It’s been an interesting project, this one, not least because motherhood is a very contentious issue – but the real surprise for me is how the contentions have tended to rise amongst women, and the reasons behind these contentions. At one event the question was raised why the project wasn’t ‘Writing Parenthood’, and why did it exclude men? We talked about how the project had been framed specifically as Writing Motherhood precisely because it’s not just parenting that is being addressed – motherhood is an issue relevant to women, and I particularly wanted to create more discussion about some of the ways in which mothers are represented, voiced and often silenced both politically and socially.
It has seemed to me that motherhood is often used as a discursive ‘frame’ by which sexism is rendered permissible (eg. the phrase ‘just a mum’ is seen as socially OK).
I also wanted to draw attention to the specific issues confronting female writers with children, who more often than not face barriers to writing – and whilst those barriers have typically been presented in terms of ‘the pram in the hallway’ (or in other words, childbearing resulting in compromised opportunities to write), I’m not satisfied that this represents the whole picture. For example, the Writing Motherhood events at the Wordsworth Trust raised the issues of women’s subjects that historically have been dismissed as ‘poetic subjects’ (Pulitzer prizewinner Sharon Olds’ of course was famously rejected by one magazine who told her ‘the true subjects of poetry are … male subjects, not your children’).
Writing Motherhood events at Durham Book Festival and Birmingham Literature Festival addressed gendered book covers – one of the writers talked about a book that dealt with serious women’s issues such as abortion, divorce and ‘empty nest’ syndrome, to which her publishers assigned a pink cover featuring floral wellies and teacups. Other writers have spoken out about book covers for books aimed at females old and young, and the discussion of this issue in the context of motherhood seemed very appropriate. Audiences at the events responded with their own stories and touched upon the emotional aspects of this experience as well, and how excited they were that, on the whole, there is a lot more literature and dialogue about motherhood and its impact upon women than has been available in the not-so-distant past.
I gave a reading recently and read some of the poems from my collection BOOM! - a member of the audience asked me during the Q&A if I was aware how polarizing literature on motherhood was to women without children. I flapped a bit in my answer. I think I flapped because the last thing I’d intended to do was polarise anybody – in fact, the whole point was entirely the opposite. But the question has stayed with me and bothered me.
My answer at the time was in relation to how poetry seeks to capture human experience, and whether it’s the experience of losing a partner or fighting a war or having a baby, the reader is not necessarily going to have personal experience of the subject matter. And I think that’s why I read – to learn about and feel what it is like to experience something that has never crossed my own path. I’m not sure the suggestion that such literature is polarising is valid – why then the question about literature about motherhood as polarising? I wondered if it was to do with the emotional contexts of infertility, but then does the literature of motherhood not deal with those contexts, and with miscarriage and loss? Is that polarising?
It may be slightly off-topic, but the Writing Motherhood project has also created conversation about breastfeeding in public (not least because Hollie McNish is part of the project, and her poem ‘Embarrassed’ is just incredible) – and what I’ve noticed is that the people I’ve come up against in this discussion, the people who told me breastfeeding in public is wrong, disgusting, shameful and so on, were women. I mean, WHAT??
What is it about motherhood – or our society – that indicates we should not speak about this? Why is it polarising to talk – or write – about motherhood?
I’d love your thoughts on this. Meantime, I’ve created a Twitter account called @writingmothers - do join in the conversation….
10 Jan 2015
Hello there! Good to see you again. Did you have a nice Christmas? A good New Year’s? Excellent. Yes, mine was actually pretty awesome. I’ve got big plans for 2015.
First up are the final three Writing Motherhood events at StAnza (with Hollie McNish and Kathryn Maris), the York Literature Festival (with CL Taylor and Nuala Casey), and the Dylan Thomas Centre (with Lily Dunn and Nuala Casey). I’m hugely excited for all of these: the previous events have been fantastic, so please do buy a ticket and come along if you’re near any of the venues. For me, the chance to work with such amazing writers and hear so many stories from audiences has been richly rewarding, as has been the opportunity to receive submissions for the Mslexia blog (I’m still accepting submissions – send to firstname.lastname@example.org). Some of the highlights of the Writing Motherhood tour have been getting lost in Scotland with Kathryn Maris, launching Boom! at the Hexham Book Festival and getting heckled with Rebecca Goss and Hollie McNish at the Ledbury Poetry Festival. Oh, and weeping at Debi Gliori‘s incredible performance at the Belfast Book Festival – after which she made my son’s YEAR by signing his favourite book.
The Writing Motherhood anthology is with a publisher at the minute, and I’ll let you know publication details when I have them. Exciting!
Right now I’m working on a number of projects. I’m redrafting my fourth novel, THE DISAPPEARING OF CLEMENTINE GREY and working on a fifth, currently titled THE MISSING ONE. Both are psychological mysteries/thrillers and I’m in love with both stories. I never feel as though I make anything up when I write – it feels as though I’m simply tapping into something that already exists, listening to a story that has already happened and is being whispered to me. I’m also – very slowly, I must admit – making steps towards my third poetry collection, SAGITTARIUS A*, which takes astrophysics and mental illness as its themes (no biggie!) I’ll also be writing a new poetry collection for an international magazine (details to follow) and am devising a research project on creative writing and mental wellbeing. And of course, the semester begins next week, so I’ll be commuting to the University of Glasgow to teach my students. It’s a wonderful programme – do have a look if you’re considering a postgraduate degree in Creative Writing. And look how pretty the campus is:
‘Til next time!
3 Nov 2014
I wanted to share the filmpoem made by Melissa Diem of my poem ‘Hare’, which was placed in the National Poetry Competition top ten winning poems (out of 12,000 entries!) back in March. I was going through a really tough time at the beginning of the year so it was especially nice to get a phone call from Judith Palmer at the Poetry Society to tell me this amazing news.
As part of the award, the Poetry Society commissioned a number of filmmakers to make ‘filmpoems’ of the winning pieces. I really like mine and (now that I’ve joined Vimeo!) am pleased to share it here. The print version of the poem is in BOOM!, which Seren is offering with 20% discount at the minute. Let me know what you think…