Interview with Jo Chumas

Tell me about your three year-old self
From a very early age, say around three, I was very aware of my place in the family.
I was/am the third child of four. I had two older sisters. At the age of three my brother hadn't been born, so at that age I was aware of being at the bottom of the pile.
I remember there being a lot of noise in the family home and I was an observer of the dynamic. I think the dynamic made me recoil into myself and made me a deep thinker. I was aware that I was an uneven number - number 5 in the family - and the symmetry wasn't right. The seeds were also being sown at that young age for my feminism. It was the late 60s and I remember from the age of three being aware of the roles being played out, the father who worked and who arrived home after we children had gone to bed, and the mother who had the household to run. My father was always travelling with his job and I remember this deep fascination with him being away. I didn't miss him as a young child because I didn't know him, but I was fascinated by the concept of being in other places, away from home.
Do you think these memories influenced your decision to become a writer?
Definitely, absolutely. From a very early age I lived 'inside my brain'. My private thoughts became my sanctuary - they still are. I became intensely private, secretive about my feelings and being the odd number in the family, I had to find a strategy for survival. The dynamic became me against the world, and whether this was the case or not, it was how I felt it. This survival involved living 'inside my brain' and inside my diary. I remember feeling - and I still feel this way - a deep connection with my notebook and my pen. It sounds strange, but I got a lot of comfort from the soothing act of taking out a pencil or a pen and striking the page of my notebook with marks that became words and expression, knowing too that nobody would read these words. It was my special place. Everybody needs a special place just for them, not shared with others.
What’s your personality type, in your opinion?
I'm an expressive introvert, which means that I appear open and extrovert because I can talk to people - in fact I love talking to people - but I need many hours of the day alone in order to function. I can appear extroverted because I do actively seek out people to talk to, and love talking to strangers - have no fear of starting up a conversation - but I am introverted in that I would never be the life and soul of a party, don't like attention and love the quiet of aloneness.
What profound moment in your life has affected you the most deeply, in a positive or negative way and how did this make you the person you are today?
On the positive, selling my first piece of journalism, as a freelance. I had been working in a shitty job and I sent off an article I had written to the editor of a UK magazine. I was very young at the time and lacking in confidence. This editor bought the piece and told me she absolutely loved it! I got a cheque and my world changed. I realised at that point that somebody was willing to pay me for my thoughts and opinions. This life-changing moment led to a career in journalism. With that first article sold I started a portfolio of published work, then I got a full-time job on a newspaper. I had been temping after university and was experiencing the usual sexism in the workplace, completely ignored as a thing of no importance -a girl, on low-pay, with no voice, invisible. Then I became a journalist and suddenly I had a voice, people were reading my stories, I was interviewing incredible people who had their own stories to tell, I was working in a dynamic, energy-filled environment, I had complete control over my work, and my boss - an Englishman - was absolutely brilliant. He totally believed in me and trusted me. There was no sexism in the workplace. It was a great time of my life.

This experience was repeated when I won the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in 2013 in the Thriller/Suspense category. The people at Amazon were/are so warm and supportive, so genuinely caring. My novel, The Hidden, was celebrated. My thoughts, my ideas, my voice was sought after.

On a negative, the death of my sister Suzanne. She was the number one child, the eldest. She was my ally in the family. She took care of me when I was at boarding school. I would spend my holidays with her. I looked up to her, respected her, loved her and then one day she was gone. I was with her when she died. She was only 32. I still carry this incredibly heavy burden of grief with me about her death every single day. It never goes away, and it doesn't actually lessen.
What makes you happy?
My sons make me happy. I love their intelligence, their warmth and their perspective. They're a lot more chilled out than I am, and I need that.

Reading makes me happy. I read from the moment I wake up, to last thing at night and I read everything I can get my hands on; the more outside my comfort zone the better. I cannot imagine a life where I couldn't read. Impossible to imagine the pain of that. And in reading comes the writing. Writing, the act of it, the creation of a story is as comforting to me today as it was all those years ago, as a kid. Writing doesn't make me happy, it makes me euphoric.

Nature makes me happy and being out in it - I mean real nature, not urban, manufactured nature, but being in the wilds.
What makes you sad?
Cruelty, psychological and physical abuse, rigid thinking, religion, denial, the fact that so many lucky people don't realise that not very much at all separates them from their life of privilege with a life of utter devastation. People who take everything for granted make me sad and angry. People who have a sense of self-entitlement make me sad. Disaster, homelessness, poverty can happen to anyone and so many people are dismissive of others who experience these things.
If you could choose to sit next to anyone on a plane, who would it be? (doesn’t have to be a celebrity - can be anyone of your choice).
Someone who'd never been on a plane before. I wouldn't like to sit next to a celebrity.
If you could be an ambassador of any charity which one would it be, and what would be your message?
I'd support homeless young people absolutely; teenagers who have been forced to leave their family home because of cruel, dysfunctional parents and families. There doesn't need to be a message. The act of supporting young people, who are homeless, through no fault of their own, is enough. But if I were a mentor, I'd try to inspire young people to think big and aspire in a huge way, not let past experiences stand in the way of future success. That society's stereotypes are there to be smashed down and some things are just not your fault - a lot is not your fault actually.
How do you cope with the pressures of modern life? What’s your strategy when the pace of living gets too much?
When things get too much - and they do, often - I retreat into philosophy, history books, art and travel. I also get perspective by pulling back from the stranglehold of modern life. One thing which really calms me down is reading non-fiction books on politics, science, history etc etc.
How do you ‘brand’ yourself as a writer?
I feel strongly about brands, or genres. I love writing thrillers/suspense novels and I cannot imagine straying from that genre. I'm a private person and that translates into my love of mystery. And the mystery has to bleed over into all areas of your public life. I don't like to talk about myself on social media. I don't think it's polite actually. I feel you have to create some distance between yourself and your readers, not out of disrespect for your readers, because in the whole writing game, readers are the people I have the most respect for, but because you cannot allow your personality to overshadow your stories. Writing is about the stories, and not about the author. It's a fine line because these days authors seem to be public property and with social media everyone wants to be everyone else's best friend, but in my world my stories are the most important thing. I invent them, write them etc but I am not them. They exist in their own world and go out there to connect with my readers.

Having said that though, I love hearing from my readers and have developed some amazing friendships with people who have read my stories. That's the ultimate compliment.
Published 2014-12-20.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

The Parchment Notebook
Price: Free! Words: 49,720. Language: British English. Published: July 27, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Historical » General, Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Spies & espionage
Cairo, Egypt, 1919 Hezba, the rebellious seventeen-year-old daughter of the Sultan of Egypt, lives a life of luxury in a mansion overlooking the river Nile. Locked away in the harem, she has everything she wants, except the one thing that will keep her from madness; her freedom.