13 Questions shine Operation Awesome's Spotlight
2022 Debut Author
Dear Isobel by Jinny Alexander
1- There appears to be a well-used outdoor bathtub over a fire (Poor Man's Hot Tub) on your cover. Can you give us a heads up as to what that image might mean?
Dear Isobel is mainly set on or around a farm, and a lot of the story happens outside in fields and the forest. Many small farms use old bath tubs as drinking troughs, but this didn’t feature in the original draft of the story. Then I saw that photo on a friend’s timeline and knew it was the perfect image to encapsulate my entire book, so I wrote in a new chapter in which cheating farmer Charles creates a hot tub from an old drinking bath, and begged my photographer friend to allow me to buy the photo to use for the cover (Melany Hunt, https://letoi.co.nz ).
2- Would you please, in 160 characters or less, give a #WriteTip ?
Writing groups or writing courses are invaluable for getting feedback and inspiration and thickening skin. Join a good one! Also, write what you want to write.
3- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader?
I wanted to create a character who, despite being ‘the other woman’, readers could empathise with and come to understand how affairs can happen to anyone. So many people are affected by infidelity, and most of them are ordinary people, probably someone any reader knows. I hope the book helps people who relate to any of the four main characters and their actions (actually, reviews show that this is already happening).
4- On average, how many book reviews do you write in a year?
I’ve been included in a couple of really supportive debut groups since I signed my book deal, and have been trying hard to read and review as many of their books as I can. I’ve realised just how crucial reviews are, especially to debut authors, so now I try to review everything I read. I’ve probably reviewed about 50 books in the last year, maybe more.
5- Would you share a picture with us of your book with any of your animals?
Pale ginger = Dashi
Tabby = Clementine
White and black = Miso
6- How do you support your fellow debut authors and have any of them supported you?
As mentioned in question 4, I’m part of a couple of debut groups. The one I am most active in is mostly UK and Ireland-based authors, and we have a very active Twitter chat group for the highs, the lows, the tears, and the celebrations. Just knowing that whatever we are experiencing, someone else in the group is probably going through too, is so supportive as it reminds us we aren’t alone. I try hard to promote their books as often and honestly as I can, and have made some great friends in the group. For me, being with a small publisher, I often feel like the small-fry, but I have learned to much from them all and am incredibly grateful to be included.
7- Time to double-down on social media! What's your Twitter handle, and do you have two or three writer friends on there to shout-out to for #WriterWednesday ?
Also, can you please recommend a favorite #bookstagram account profile?
My Twitter handle is CeramicFairy: @CeramicFairy
I’d love to share so many of the @2022Debut authors, but to narrow to 2-3… hmm… these have been particularly supportive to me and I love their books too: @elissa_soave
and, look, it’s still five and not 2-3, oops.
On Instagram, I have found @22debuts great at promoting this year’s newest books. Also @shellymackbooks is lovely to chat to and does fun interviews with authors every Wednesday.
8- What is your favorite creative non-writing activity to do?
I’ve a massive garden, so that takes a lot of my time. I also spend hours walking my dogs in the forests, or out across the bog (I live in the middle of Ireland). That isn’t strictly non-writing though, as I get my best ideas when I’m walking my dogs.
9- In what ways are the main characters in your book diverse? diversebooks.org #WeNeedDiverseBooks
This is a bit tricky for me in regard to Dear Isobel, as the novel is set in a tiny, rural Irish village, and only features four main characters. The majority of rural Ireland is still very white, very English-speaking, largely Christian, and not openly queer, and the characters in my book do reflect that, as the inspiration came entirely from people around me and the village I live in.
I am making sure to add a lot more diversity into my other books, as part of my mission to bring better inclusiveness to rural Ireland. The main sidekick character in my cosy mystery series is Chinese/British – I work as an ESL teacher and most of my students are Chinese, so I’ve great access to help with getting this right. I’ve also been reading lots of books by Nigerian authors this year, including the wonderful Coconut by Florence Ọlájídé, in effort to better understand my own family history. Florence has also helped with my accuracy in the inclusion of Irish/British Nigerian characters in my cosy mysteries.
I’ve just started a new novel and the MC is shaping up to be 70-year-old gay man who owns a bookshop. (Bit of a surprise, as he started out as a very minor character. I’ve been researching the Windrush era too, for one of the other characters, who I think is a nurse who immigrated to Britain around the 1960s.
In terms of what I’ve been reading, other than Coconut, I also highly recommend The Butterfly Assassin by Finn Longman as fantastic YA book by a queer author featuring an asexual main character, and Cielo by Jane Markland with its gay main characters, both these authors are from within the debut 2022 group. The Moth Girl by Heather Kamins is another great YA book – it features a teen coming to terms with discovering she has a chronic illness.
10- What's the biggest writing goal you hope to accomplish in your lifetime? #WriteGoal #BucketList #WriterBucketList
This is a bit sad – I want to secure a deal that gets me hardback copies, with spredges, and lots of lovely proofs, and to be put on display in a physical bookshop. That’s enough! I’m with a small US-based publisher and we only get paperbacks, but I have high hopes for the book I’ve just finished writing to get picked up by a bigger publisher. Spredges. Did I say spredges? (Oh, hang on… Was I supposed to say ‘Booker prize’?)
11- What was the query process like for you?
I secured my deal for Dear Isobel and my first two cosy mysteries through #pitmad, so didn’t really need to send out a bunch of queries. I was extremely lucky in that I was offered a good deal by a publisher who was an excellent fit for Dear Isobel, and I went from writing ‘The End’ to getting the contract in fourteen days.
12- 🏳️🌈 June Bonus Question: Rainbow Book Month™ is a nationwide celebration of the authors of and novels including the LGBTQIA+ community. What author might you suggest reading to celebrate this month?
See question 9, above – I have recently read The Butterfly Assassin by Finn Longman and Finn is such a talented young writer I know they will be massive. The Butterfly Assassin is aimed at YA, but I think it has great crossover appeal. Finn writes beautifully and I know they have a LOT more stories to tell. There are also a lot of LGBTQIA+ writers in my MA group, who are immensely talented, but haven’t completed their novels yet. I know when they do, their books will be incredible and I’m honoured to witness to their creation.
13- Would you please ask our audience an intriguing question to answer in the comments?
Oh help… the most intriguing thing about me right now is how I will get my idiotic dogs to pose with my book. (Although you may have noticed that I did bring Wilf along on my author photo shoot. I’m sure he thinks it was all about him.)
So here’s the question… which pet should I get next for easier book promotion and effortless photo opportunities?
14- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?
Writer Bio:Jinny was first published in Horse and Pony magazine at the age of ten. She’s striving to achieve equal accolade now she’s (allegedly) a grown up. Jinny has had some publishing success with short story and flash competitions and secured a publishing deal in December 2020 for her first three novels. The first of these, Dear Isobel, was released in March 2022. Jinny is currently studying an MA in Creative Writing, has recently finished her fourth book, and is just beginning a new one.
Jinny also teaches English as a foreign language to people all over the world. Her home for now is in rural Ireland, which she shares with her husband and far too many animals. Her two children have grown and flown, but return across the Irish Sea when they can. She quite likes to shut the door on them all and write.
Excerpt from Dear Isobel:Here’s the leadup to the bath scene:
“Mm-hmm?” I didn’t look up. Too hot, too lazy, I lay my head down on the grass, and, with fingers still hanging over the bank into the stream, I dozed for a while, trying to ignore the sounds of whatever it was he was doing around me. First, the soft footfall of receding boots. Next, a thump of something heavy onto the soft grass, not close enough to make me startle or worry. A swoosh of water—the water trough then; he must be cleaning it out. I opened an eye, and, sure enough, in the gateway of the next field, the old bath lay on its side, its contents already seeping into the dry ground. Strange, I thought, to do it now; that field was long empty of livestock, and as the gate stood open to allow access to the stream, the trough was redundant anyway. I closed my eyes again, and when I woke up, the bath lay empty, forlorn on the patch of bare mud in the shade of the budding trees, like a shipwreck marooned on a dry beach. Charles was gone, and my vest top was dry.
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Dear Isobel by Jinny Alexander