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(US)
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)
Hello again! Well as usual it’s been aaaggges since I last blogged and that means tons of news. I’ll start off with what I think is the best news -
The Arts Council gave me full funding for my ‘Writing Motherhood’ project. What’s my ‘Writing Motherhood’ project? Hey, great question, and thanks for asking. It’s a project I’ve set up in relation to my new poetry collection BOOM! (out next Spring with Seren), which is about motherhood. In a nutshell, there is no other experience in my life that has impacted my creativity (or continues to impact) as much as motherhood. I mean, IN EVERY SINGLE WAY, from the logistics of finding time to write while caring for 4 children under the age of 8 to the ways in which I find myself in the same boat as so many women who find their sacred role as mother socially disparaged. Becoming a mother has made me look at everything around me differently. It forced me to confront the parameters of my existence. It completely altered my political viewpoints. All my feminist principles got a huge overhaul. A poem I wrote in support of Michelle McGrane’s ‘Against Rape’ protest speaks to this, but there was even more than that. All my theories about work/life balance and childhood psychology got shot out the window by the reality of having a child, to such extent that I found myself ditching a thriving career as a film theorist in favour of a more creative role. The physical impact of motherhood has been immense, too – I gave an interview for the Daily Mail last year and was scheduled (and refused) to have a pelvic fusion which would have involved constant wheelchair use for two years – and I am saddened to read more and more accounts of other women struggling with postnatal depression of varying degrees.
Becoming a mother changed me in every single way. My first child – born in October 2006 – just about knocked me sideways. Again, there were many reasons for this, but here’s the biggest one: I could not believe how public and political the (hugely personal) experience of motherhood was.
I could not believe that a trip to the supermarket would result in unsolicited advice from complete strangers about how to raise my child. Here’s a brief example: as an academic with hundreds of students and other staff under my responsibility, I could wander into Tesco with nary a word from anyone about my teaching methods, about my time management, about my levels of organisation. When people asked what I did for a living and I said ‘academic’, the response was intoned with interest and occasionally respect. It’s a whole other kettle of fish when you say you’re a mother.
And the thing is, this experience didn’t blow over with my first child. Three kids later and I am still changing, still learning, still dealing with how public and how political motherhood is. I eventually resigned from my academic post. I had asked about altering my working hours to accommodate my family and was told that the ‘family friendly policies’ so cosily featured in the University’s Human Resources website ‘didn’t happen’. In addition, I was overwhelmed – and remain so - by the number of newspaper headlines about how working mothers were to blame for everything. Like, EVERYTHING. Obesity, autism, the likelihood of their children developing depression and experiencing future marital breakdown… Far from telling me anything useful (or true) about motherhood, it told me massive amounts about the type of society I inhabit.
Coupled with this was the love I had for my children. It completely and utterly blew me away, how much I could love another human being. It far surpassed all the negativity I had felt swamping around me. I urgently needed to find an art to express all of this, a language, a literary form. I thought first about writing a non-fiction book about motherhood, then a novel. Neither of them felt right (although motherhood is a prominent theme in ALL my novels) so I started writing poetry. Some of my motherhood poems made their way into my debut collection. Earlier this year an early manuscript of Boom! won a Northern Promise Award. Then Seren gave me a contract for my new poetry collection. Poetry Review published the title poem, Boom!. The new issue of Magma features my poem ‘Motherhood Diptych’ and ‘The Only Dad at Play Group’ is in New Walk Magazine. New Statesman is publishing one of my poems about giving birth later this year. I found more and more female writers articulating the impact of motherhood on their writing. I felt a kinship with these writers, far greater than any other work I’d read.
I suddenly wanted more than just to articulate this experience: I wanted to empower other mothers, to reclaim the power that has been bled from motherhood in whatever small way I could. And so I devised a project called ‘Writing Motherhood’, and was amazed that the Arts Council awarded it full funding. A key element of the project is a touring event involving a number of other amazing writers - Hollie McNish, Liz Fraser, Sinead Morrissey,Lily Dunn, Rowan Coleman, Kathryn Simmonds, Rebecca Goss, Kate Long and Debi Gliori – which will tour 12 literary festivals in 2014. I’ll also be running a blog for the event to establish a dialogue amongst writers and readers about their experiences of motherhood, and later will publish an anthology of creative work. BOOM! will be launched at the Hexham Book Festival in Spring 2014, and you’ll be most welcome to come along.
I’M GOING ON TOUR NEXT YEAR!!!!!!!!
I’ll keep you posted about the dates and venues. IF YOU HAVE ANY EXPERIENCES OF MOTHERHOOD YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE please do so in the comments box here, or contact me on Facebook, Twitter, or via email. I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!
PS. I have other news, too, particularly about the new book I’m working on (feel free to follow my Pinterest board for it!), and some lovely reviews, but will post about these in the next blog (hopefully I’ll have a cover for BOOM! to show off, too!)
First of, thank you to all of you who have taken pictures of BOY on US shelves. Here’s one by Sheila Beardsmore at the Barnes & Noble in downtown Seattle:
I wish I was in Seattle!
Anyway, keep the pics coming, they make me so happy.
So this blog post is loooong overdue. Well, maybe not so much: I did promise you video diaries during the recording of the audiobook for THE BOY WHO COULD SEE DEMONS but I was so focused on, you know, Anya’s narration (and the many accents I hadn’t realised I’d need to perform – as you’ll see…) that I just didn’t have time to edit.
But here we are! Wait, let me go back a bit in case you missed a blog post or two. So. A while back I heard that Random House Audio had bought audio rights for the novel, at which I squeed I lot. THEN, after some contact with the producer, I was asked if I would like to narrate Anya’s part. I squeed some more. And said yes. I was secretly hoping I’d get to fly to Los Angeles for the recording sessions (and secretly hoping that I wouldn’t have to, given how impractical my being on the other side of the world would be to my children) but as it turned out, Skype is awesome. Bruce Mann, a lovely man from the UK and based in LA, was able to direct me during the sessions.
The recording took 3 evenings at the beginning of July at a recording studio right here in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, and was super fun. They had an old upright piano for me to perform the piece I composed, ‘A Long Song for Anya’ (the score is printed at the beginning of the book).
So without further ado, here’s the little movie I put together:
I was stoked to hear Alex’s part – narrated by Bruce. Have a listen to the first part of the audiobook and tell me what you think. Does this sound like Alex to you?
At the weekend I was excited to see cool reviews for the book in both THE NEW YORK TIMES and THE BOSTON GLOBE – both on the SAME DAY. I couldn’t believe it. It was like US review weekend for the book.
Last but not least, don’t forget my competition for a UK-based reader to win a copy of the (scrumptious, delectably hardback) US version of BOY. All you have to do is LIKE and SHARE my Facebook Author page. I’ll select a winner at random on 1st October 2013.
On Tuesday night I had the honour of receiving a Northern Writers Award at the Great Hall, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, for my second poetry collection, BOOM!, which is still in progress (though the title poem is here) and is due to be published by Welsh publisher Seren next June.
The Northern Writers Awards were established in 2003 by uber-fab literature development agency New Writing North as a way of supporting writers in the north east.
(Isn’t the venue for the awards stunning?? The food was scrummy, too.)
In 2008 New Writing North were kind enough to award me a Northern Promise Award for the development of my debut poetry collection INROADS, and the following year they took me and ten other prize winners to London on a special trip to meet with agents and publishers.
I will be grateful to New Writing North for that trip forever and ever, because as a result of it I ended up with an amazing agent and, later, a two-book deal in 22 languages.
This is Claire Malcolm, the director of New Writing North and one of few people I disclosed my original idea for The Guardian Angel’s Journal to, at a time when I wasn’t sure whether I had the time or the talent to turn the idea into a book. Claire’s response - ’that sounds fabulous!’ – pushed my doubts aside just enough for me to give it a go. Very glad I did, too.
And this is me, feeling very happy that I entered my poems. I really wasn’t going to at all. I had almost consigned the lot to the bin, and with them, my whole poetry endeavour. But at the last minute I changed my mind.
And here we are.
The other poetry winners were Ian Duhig, Geraldine Monk, Suzannah Evans, Zaffar Kunila, and Toby Martinez de las Rivas won a writing residency in Australia. Sarah Hall judged the fiction entries, awarding prizes to Carys Davies, Jordana Hill, Jude Brown, Beverly Ward, Sophie Colombeau and Benjamin Myers. The Bookseller published a full report which you can read here.
The highlight of the evening was discovering that two of my former creative writing students received bursaries to help them develop their work.
This is the talented Amy Ekins, whose recent chapbook Nonplaced was published by Erbacce press…
…and the fabulous Emily Owens, who is working on her first novel.
I am over the moon for Amy and Emily! Both of them were kind enough to let me share some of their work in progress on this blog, which I’ve posted below. Enjoy!
I’m cataloguing the empty space.
These are the things that my house does not have.
Soft sheets of yellow tucked into the corners of a crib
Gurgles over a monitor kept at the edge of my desk
Plush toys lined as borders along the skirting in the hall
Fine layers of talcum in the bathroom, caught on the sill
Jars of pureed vegetables in the fridge, stacked three-high
A three-wheeled stroller blocking my path to the bath
Whispers of promises to a sleep-filled head
Books on vocabulary for voices still unclear
Plastic covers on electricals, or cupboards with clasps
A reason for snuggles down into afternoon naps
On the backs of cereal boxes
there are secret codes.
Piece them together, six of one
and half a dozen of the other,
and you’ll find treasure.
I eat three bowls a day now,
trying to find the final clue
in honeyed corn, or sugared rice,
of where my baby is.
Maybe it will be at the bottom
of a box of wheat-y squares,
a test of my commitment
to obtaining motherhood
in the face of gluten-intolerance.
An Excerpt from The Unfamiliar Land – Emily Owens
Each year my father and I set out for a long hike in the mountains of North Georgia. Sometimes the path descended from a small parking area, down and down through the trees, until it reached the bottom of a rocky waterfall stretching hundreds of feet above. Other times we parked a short distance away or on the side of a road, and joined a trail that wound back and forth, zigzagging up one of the southern Appalachian Mountains.
I had always enjoyed the hard certainty of the packed dirt beneath my feet, trying to remember the species of plant and animal life we passed, but my father said he could breathe easier in these nearly untouched places. Once, just before falling asleep beneath the stars, he wondered aloud if I sensed ‘that something more’ which he felt. I stopped naming constellations in my head and asked what he meant.
‘There’s just something about these kinds of places,’ he mumbled. ‘Maybe something carried on the wind.’
My hangover clung to my brain like damp leaves to the bottoms of boots. I crept into the kitchen and took some aspirin, refilled the coffee maker and switched it on. Once I had a mugful, I held it between my hands and enjoyed the tingling warmth spreading across my palms. Its aroma always reminded me of watching my father get ready for work in the morning. When I was still small, he would walk me to the bus stop, a thermal mug in hand. In later years, he would wave to me from the table, the black brew dwindling in his cup.
I leaned against the counter and looked over the things stuck to my refrigerator: photos of friends, a few reminders, the phone list for the school where I worked, and fliers from past events and parties. At the center of the right-hand door was a photo from my master’s graduation ceremony. My father smiled at my side, me in my cap and gown, him in his dapper dress uniform. I mentally compared myself to the composed, coiffed woman in the photo, imagining the dark circles now hanging beneath my eyes. I set my coffee on the counter and stretched my arms. It was one of the first days of ninety-degree heat that year, come early under the clear skies of June. I had barely pushed my teaching clothes towards the back of my closet before it seemed time to crank up the air conditioning.
Across the room, the phone rang.
‘Mornin’, Heather.’ It was Cole, my dad’s patrol partner.
‘Hey, Cole,’ I said as I reached for my coffee. ‘What’s up? I’ll be there in a few hours.’
‘Yeah, of course.’
I tapped my finger against the phone. ‘Cole? What’d you have to tell me?’
Across the wires, I could hear him take a deep breath. ‘It’s about your dad, honey.’
The groggy film on my brain shrank away. ‘What happened? Did he get hurt on patrol?’
‘No, no, nothing like that.’
‘So he’s not hurt?’ The last words came out a little shriller than I’d expected.
‘I don’t know… Heather, he hasn’t been to work for three days. We decided to list him as missing this morning.’
The cold, conditioned air felt heavy on my shoulders, pressing me down, down to the floor. I put a hand on the counter to steady myself and sank to the cool linoleum below. On the wall, the clock added seconds, one by one, and each twick, twick, twick of the minute hand counted more time since my father had disappeared.
‘I haven’t talked to him in over a week.’
‘I didn’t even want to tell you at first,’ Cole mumbled. ‘Not until—until it had been a while, until he really was missing. I just couldn’t wait until you got here and saw he was gone.’ He was quiet for a moment. ‘Heather?’
I crossed my legs and leaned forward, looking down at the lint stuck to my big toe. ‘Where was he last seen? Have you asked around town? Have you put up fliers yet?’
‘Slow down, we—’
‘Was he working on something?’
Cole paused again. ‘We’re doing everything we can. I don’t want you to worry about this, we’ll find him.’ I imagined Cole on his phone, facing the empty desk where my dad should have been sitting. ‘Come down to the precinct. We can have our coffee as usual, and I’ll tell you some of what I know.’
Photo credits: Jared Jess-Cooke and Simon Veit-Wilson
Be gentle, my dears. This is my FIRST EVER attempt at making a book trailer and my first filmmaking effort in 13 years (I didn’t even realise I had iMovie on my laptop until someone pointed it out. Doh!) but I daresay it will not be my last. I always felt THE BOY WHO COULD SEE DEMONS needed a book trailer but felt too inadequate and generally unskilled to do it myself, but with the US version being released in August I took the headstaggers (as we say in Northern Ireland) & threw one together over the weekend.
PLEASE give feedback below and let me know what you think, your views are very very very wanted!!
By the way, the music is by the awesome Nick Harvey. Do look him up.