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 (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)

Latest News and Updates

Film rights…. and a poetry offer!

The film rights for THE BOY WHO COULD SEE DEMONS have been optioned by Sebastian Dungan, a Sundance-winning, Oscar-nominated and all-round lovely producer based in LA. Back in February Sebastian emailed me to say he loved the book, and via Skype told me he’d actually come across it in a public library (usually film rights are optioned on the heel of a formal submission via my agent). I’ve had interest in the film rights for this book for some time but Sebastian’s vision is very in keeping with mine, and I am excited to see the final product. I know a lot of you have commented online and emailed me about how you’d love to see the film of this book, so I know you’ll be excited to see it too.

And while we’re on the subject of films, I recently had a lovely opportunity to work with a children’s community group at the Southbank Centre in London as part of the am-aazzzz-ing Poetry International Festival. Seriously, London knows how to throw a festival… The Southbank was ALIVE and heaving with crowds, with a purpose-built, neon-coloured Temple of Love built outside the Festival Hall and a constant stream of events in the Clore Ballroom of the Southbank. I was meant to perform on the Sunday but couldn’t make it, so I was very glad when filmmaker Alastair Cook asked me to work with the kids on the Saturday (when I was available) to assist with the creation of the poem.

The kids were all 8 years old, second-generation refugees, and had little experience of writing poetry. But within little over 4 hours they’d managed to produce a wonderful poem about family (I was very careful not to force their words but merely wrote down what they said and organised their lines), act, co-direct, and narrate a whole filmpoem. Here’s the finished product. It’s really wonderful, so do take a look. It might well inspire you to make your own (all you need is an iPhone, iMovie, and a little imagination…)

I’m also appearing an a number of festivals this Autumn. First up is the Wigtown Book Festival on Sat 27th Sept, where I’ll be talking about motherhood with Debi Gliori and Kathryn Maris. Then, on Sat 4th Oct, I’ll be at the Sheffield Off the Shelf Festival with Rowan Coleman and Liz Fraser. Wed 8th Oct I’ll be at the Cheltenham Literature Festival performing my winning poem from the National Poetry Competition with Linda France and Julia Copus. Sat 11th Oct I’ll be at the Durham Book Festival with Kate Long and Liz Fraser, again, and Sat 18th Oct there’ll be more motherhood discussion at the Birmingham Literature Festival with Kate Long and Rowan Coleman. Phew! Hope to see you there.

My poetry collection BOOM! received a lovely review recently in New Welsh Review, which I was glad to see, and my publisher Seren is running a special promotion on the ebook for £1.99 instead of £9.99 for ONE WEEK ONLY!! So if you haven’t read it, now might be your chance…



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Film poems, Festivals, and What-to-do-while-waiting-for-feedback

Hello there! Gosh, it is really JULY? Really?? I don’t know about you, but this year has just flown. Anyhoo, that means I have lots of news for you. Hooray! (or ‘Hurrah!’, depending on which part of the world you’re from. Perhaps I should just say ‘Wheeeee!’)

Hmmm, where to start. I’ll show you my film poem, shall I? What’s my film poem? Good question – well, remember how one of my poems was one of the ten winning poems in the National Poetry Competition (out of *cough* 12,035 entries)? No? Well, let me jog your memory. So. As part of the prize the lovely folks at the Poetry Society commissioned a group of filmmakers to make ‘film poems’ out of the winning pieces, and this here’s mine, filmed by Melissa Diem.

I love it. I had to record myself reading the poem before the film was made, and on hindsight I wish I’d read slower as the film is so gorgeous it demands a softer tone. But it’s still lovely.

The Writing Motherhood project is going at full pace and we’ve just completed the fourth event, with the blog – hosted by Mslexia – receiving a gamut of excellent submissions of creative responses (if you’d like to contribute, send poem, short stories or creative non-fiction to carolynjesscooke@gmail.com – anything in relation to motherhood is entirely welcome). I launched my second poetry collection BOOM! at the Hexham Book Festival in May, where Debi Gliori and I performed our pieces and Debi gave an absolutely stunning presentation of illustrations as a narrative of her experiences of motherhood and creativity.

You have to trust me on this one.

I can’t remember if I mentioned it before but Debi happens to be my oldest daughter’s favourite author HERO. She also became mine, after I’d read ‘No Matter What’ to my daughter a dozen times and still managed to blub at the end. We also got a line from that book made into a wall sticker, which now features in my daughter’s bedroom. Debi’s stories are so much fun to read (and, evidently, touching) and so well illustrated (by Debi herself – the woman’s a genius) that once I got word that the Arts Council (love them) were funding the project I had to email Debi and beg her to be a part.

I’m very glad I did.


Debi also joined Sinead Morrissey and I for the third event, which was held at Belfast Book Festival. Apart from a verrrry late start (some complication over venue put us back 45 minutes) the event went swimmingly, with, erm, Paul Muldoon amongst those lovely audience members who patiently waited whilst the festival team got us set up.


On a side note, my trip back to Belfast was probably the best visit I’ve had home since moving to England one cold and dreary day 9 years ago. We spent a week in Cushendun and thoroughly enjoyed exploring the countryside and catching up with a magnificently re-vamped Belfast.

I came across a fabulous cafe in the Titanic Quarter, too. It’s called the Honesty Box Cafe and is, honestly, a true-blue honesty box set-up, whereby you’ve got yourself a whole selection of yummy cakes, soups and teas to choose from and all you have to pay is…whatever you want. More than that, though, is the atmosphere – it’s a HUGE cafe, set up by the Church of England and run by volunteers from all the churches across Northern Ireland. Given the political/religious conflict there, the religious unity here is important – and effective. The volunteers that I spoke with seemed so earnest in their desire to create a little haven of harmony in the city, a place for people to come to and feel that they belong.

I spoke with these guys, too, who saw me snapping away and wanted to chat. They said they go to the cafe every single day because it has come to feel like home.


And it had a Prayer Garden.


I am a person who believes in prayer, but I have to say that even if you don’t, I’d be surprised if you weren’t moved by the feeling of love and unity that this venue created.

Most recently, I took the Writing Motherhood event to the Ledbury Poetry Festival where I read from BOOM! with Hollie McNish and Rebecca Goss. Poet Ruth Stacey very kindly chaired the panel. It was a truly excellent event – Hollie is a magnificent performer and had us all in stitches with her poetic account of advice given to pregnant women, and Rebecca’s reading from her prize-winning collection HER BIRTH was incredibly moving. Ruth read us part of a poem by Anne Wickham, which I have to recount here for the way it evokes so many of our own experiences:

“Why was I born beneath two curses,

To bear children and to write verses?

Either one fecundity

Were heavy enough destiny.

But all my life is penalty

From the two sides of me.”

Anna Wickham, “New Eve,” in R.D. Smith, ed., The Writings of Anna Wickham (1984)


I didn’t manage to get decent pics from the event but here are the few I have:


My third novel, THE MIND THIEF*, has been snapped up by a publisher. Apols to those of you who don’t speak Chinese, however, because the publisher is based in Taiwan… Fingers crossed, however, that we find a publisher keen to publish the book for you English-speaking folk.

Which brings me to my fourth novel, currently titled THE DISAPPEARED. It’s in the hands of my lovely agent at present. Here is a list of things that I’m pretty sure you will find yourself doing while waiting on feedback from your agent:

1. Click ‘refresh’ on your inbox 1,398,009 per minute.

2. Read the manuscript in an attempt to telepathetically channel what she thinks of it, at which point every error that you missed whilst painstakingly editing for months on end will leap out at you. And laugh.

3. Overeat.

4. Forget everything else you were meant to be doing, which will force you to write memo lists which you’ll forget about.

5. Retweet and share posts about the writer’s agony.

6. Make endless cups of coffee, tea, or (in my case) hot chocolate.

7. In a bid to distract yourself/prevent repetitive strain injury from refreshing emails, commence a new project. In my case, the last week has involved an intensive bout of gardening, mental redecoration of the entire house, googling holidays, making 5-year-plans, and attempting a fad diet.

8. Read a novel by a writer you admire. Worry unceasingly that the book your agent is reading fails to compare.

9. Write a blog post.

10. Forget more stuff, like picking up a child from nursery.

11. Ring your mobile using your landline, to check it actually receives calls.

12. Devise a minor issue that requires an email to be sent to your agent, which she will no doubt recognise immediately as a nudge.

13. Have a little cry.

14. Discover the band A GREAT BIG WORLD. Sing along to ‘Cheer up!’ Cheer up.

15. Begin a new book.


*not the original title. But this one isn’t bad, is it?

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Today is the publication day for my second poetry collection BOOM! Needless to say, I am over the moon, not least because this collection has been four years in the making but because of the subject matter – motherhood. My 8th book, it’s probably the most personal book I’ve published to date.


I had the opportunity to give the first reading from the collection at the Wordsworth Trust on Sunday 13th April. It was also the first Writing Motherhood event, accompanied by Sinead Morrissey and Rebecca Goss who read wonderfully and participated in a discussion afterwards about how motherhood has impacted their creativity. A really wonderful event.


Thank you to all of you who have contributed to the Writing Motherhood blog. To all of you, I raise a glass in celebration of this wee book and hope to see you at the launch! (details here). I hope you enjoy the selections of poems included below.




 There was this baby who thought she was a hand grenade.

She appeared one day in the centre of our marriage

– or at least in the spot where all the elements of our union

appeared to orbit –

and kept threatening to explode, emitting endless alarm-sounds

that were difficult to decode.

On the ridge of threat, we had two options.

One was attempt to make it to the bottom

of the crevice slowly, purposively, holding hands. The other

was see how long we could stand there philosophizing

that when she finally went off we’d be able to take it.

But then the baby who believed she was a hand grenade

was joined in number: several more such devices entered our lives.

We held on, expecting each day to be our last. We did not let go.

As one might expect, she blew us to smithereens.

We survived, but in a different state: you became

organized, I discovered patience, shrapnel soldered the parts of us

that hadn’t quite fit together before. Sometimes when I speak

it’s your words that come out of my mouth.


first published in Poetry Review, 102:2, Summer 2012.


Home Birth


They said she was stuck,

as though she was a nine-pound human fork

pronged in the dishwasher,

an umbrella that wouldn’t fold to size.

Stuck because my body had never given birth

so I pushed until I thought I’d turn inside out

and yet she sat in my cervix for hours,

heartbeat like a drum

as the contractions collapsed on me

like skyscrapers,

as they talked about the knife.


Second time round, the sour sensation

of complete idiocy

for willing this pain again, going through it,

risking so much for someone

who remained at the fringes of knowing,

ghosted by awful wisdom

that birth isn’t the end of it, nor the worst –

episiotomy; infections; afterpains; breastfeeding.

But my body remembered,

it took the first shunt of his head, yawned, then

toboganned him out in a gush of brine,

red as a crab. I remember his arms

like a sock full of eggs, muscular, fists bunched,

as though he’d been prepared to fight.


first published in New Statesman, March 2014


The Waking


Those first few days every part of her wakened,

the seedling eyes stirred by sunlight, tight fists

clamped to her chest like a medieval knight

and slowly loosening, as if the metal hands

were reminded of their likeness to petals

by the flowing hours. Her colors, too,

rose up like disturbed oils in a lake, pooling

through the birth-tinge into human shades,

her ink eyes lightening to an ancestral blue.

The scurf and residue of me on her scalp floated

easily as a pollen from the sweet grass of her hair.

She reminded me of a fern, each morning more

unfurled, the frond-limbs edging away from her

heart, the wide leaves of her face spread to catch

my gaze. Once, I saw the white down of her skin

cloud in my hands, the cream ridges of her nails

drift like crescent moons, the thick blue rope

she had used to descend me tossed like a stone,

as though she was finally free.


first published in The Stinging Fly, 22, Winter 2012/3




Our children are so soft, we imprint them

like a heavy sole stepping into mud

not breaking the ground but reordering

its elements, the way it will hitherto

hold water, light, the curious nose of wind

and voice of earth. Even when later rain

smoothes out that patina something of the mark

holds. Even when the sun whips the wetness

to its pools of night and the stiffened ground

wears its shelled-out grooves, when these deepen

in each punching hail and hollowing storm

the pattern may be nothing like the original

print but art in its own way, no trace of boot

apparent in the striving clay.


first published in Poetry Review 103:2, Summer 2013



Honour Thy Parents



Honour thy father and thy mother

for they have spent the waning flame

of their youth failing


to get you to sleep; long hours by your bed,

singing, pleading. It was not

what they imagined parenthood would be like.


Honour them

for they have had to figure you out

like a trillion-piece jigsaw


that changed each time

they spied the beginnings of a picture.

Honour them for sparing you,


for fumbling and fretting, dressing and undressing

the foreign shrieking creature you once were

lest you grew too cold, too hot,


these imperfect beings

who confronted their complete dearth of knowledge

at first sight of you,


new and unbearably slight,

they resolved henceforth to do everything

right – honour them


for enduring vagaries and catalogues of advice,

most of it wrong,

for swallowing judgments dealt by strangers


during your many epic meltdowns.

No doubt there were times

you pushed them to some barren edge of love,


embarrassments, harassments of other

children in the park, or when you called them names

in public – fool! Dirty poo-face!


O honour them!

who carried their dreams through your childhood

like beads in a ripped sack,


they were doing their best; understand they were

their own parents’ children – honour them

for they must live with their mistakes,

honour them, which is to say

be all that they were not and do all

they could not, and so honour


your life. And if you find

you can neither forgive nor see in them

the good, the God, or the once unblemished child


think on this –

parenthood is the universal curse

of becoming or overcoming


our parents

for better or for worse –

and honour them.

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National Poetry Competition

Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend a very posh award ceremony in a very posh club in Mayfair, London (did I mention that it was posh?) because my poem ‘Hare’ was commended in the National Poetry Competition, or in other words got placed in the top ten out of 12,085 entries. I was bowled over by this news – received back in January – not least because of the number of entries received (it’s an international competition, despite the name) but because the poem I chose to enter was a kind of afterthought. I never imagined it would get placed… I was hugely pleased for Linda France, who took first prize – Linda lives in the north east also and she and I have done some readings together in the past. I’m delighted that the Poetry Society have arranged a celebratory reading for us both at the Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts on 5th June.

Congratulations to all the winners. The poems can be read here.


Just ten days to go until the publication of my second poetry collection BOOM! (which is about motherhood; ‘Hare’ is published in it). My Writing Motherhood project is underway, with the first event happening on 13th April at the Wordsworth Trust and the launch of BOOM! at the Hexham Book Festival. On Saturday 14th June I will be performing at the Belfast Book Festival with Debi Gliori and Sinead Morrissey and on Sat 5th July I will perform with Hollie McNish and Rebecca Goss at the Ledbury Poetry Festival. I would LOVE to see you there!



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Writing Motherhood Events!

Hi there. Isn’t it a lovely day? I don’t know about you but a bunch of 99p daffs on my dining room table cheers me up immensely. As does seeing the tender purple heads of crocuses nipping up in the park. I LOVE spring!

OK, so the Writing Motherhood conversation is happening over at the Mslexia blog and I’m just delighted with all the responses I’m getting for this, so please do join in. I’m putting together an anthology of writing about motherhood and really want as many pieces as possible, so do send them to me at carolynjesscooke [at] gmail dot com.

The first few Writing Motherhood events are programmed. The April event is at the Dorothy Wordsworth Festival of Women’s Poetry on 13th April at 4.30pm. Sinead Morrissey, Rebecca Goss and I will be in deep and earnest conversation about the impact of motherhood on our work, and we would be delighted to see you there.

The May event involves me, Kathryn Simmonds and Debi Gliori at the Hexham Book Festival and will also see the launch of my poetry collection BOOM!, so it’ll be a super event. Please come!


See you then x

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