Jennifer Walker – Q&A

Jennifer Walker

Jennifer Walker

Today’s Q&A is with Jennifer Walker who’s second book, Finding Aloha has just been published on the 22nd of February by Finch Books. Why not read on and find more about Jennifer and her works.

Contact details for Jennifer are:
https://www.jenwalkerauthor.com/
linktr.ee/JenWalkerAuthor
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Tell me what inspired you to write your (debut) novel?

My debut, Within the Folds of a Swan’s Wings, came out last year and was actually inspired by someone I once went to grade school with. She was awkward and socially isolated and as I got older, I sometimes wondered what happened to her. I have two children who watch YouTube etc.–like the rest of the world–and watching them idolize these seemingly normal people gone viral, made me wonder how they got to that point. I wondered if it was possible for someone on the outside to climb their own social hierarchy by making a name for themselves online.

My second book, Finding Aloha, coming out in a few weeks, was inspired by Maui, which is my favorite place in the world. I not only wanted to illustrate the profound beauty of the island, but I wanted to highlight some of Hawaii’s history, questioning who has the right to call this paradise home.

What came first the characters or the world?

In Swan’s Wings, it was all character. I felt like I knew Jody inside and out before I jumped into the story. But with Finding Aloha, it was definitely the setting. In fact, I would almost say that the setting is one of the characters in that book, it plays such a rich role.

How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?

It’s tough to get a foot in the door in the publishing world these days! I had originally queried several agents with both books, but even after some initial interest, no one had made offers of representation. Then, I entered an online pitch contest where my editor from Finch Books expressed interest and wanted to take a look. She offered an offer of publication shortly after that and was gracious enough to want to publish both books.

How long did it take to write?

I find the first draft of any book to be pretty easy to write. I can usually do it in just two or three months. But, then I go back over it, and the revisions are the tough part. Seeing your work with a critical eye is key, and figuring out what changes to make and how to make the changes is always difficult for me. Beta readers are so important to get a fresh perspective!

Finding Aloha

Finding Aloha

Do you have a writing playlist? If so do you want to share it?

I wish I could write while listening to music, but I find it too distracting! I need a space that’s quiet, or at least just full of white noise. Even the music in coffee shops can be too much for me sometimes!

How many publishers turned you down?

Because I’m not agented, I’m restricted with the number of presses I can submit to (the Big Five publishers typically don’t accept manuscripts from unagented authors). Even so, I submitted Swan’s Wings to about half a dozen before accepting the offer with Finch Books. It was much easier to get the second book published with them as I had a relationship with my editor already.

What kind of reactions have you had to your book?

I’ve found that a lot of people (adults and teens) really relate to the characters in Swan’s Wings. I think it brings a lot of people back to the drama and social angst that goes along with junior high and high school. With Finding Aloha, I’ve gotten so much positive feedback about the setting and romantic relationship between the characters, at least from my ARC readers. It’s such a fun and juicy beach read! I’m hoping I’ll be receiving the same positive response when it hits shelves on February 22nd!

What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?

Ha ha, two of my early readers went out and booked a trip to Maui after finishing Finding Aloha. They said I captured the island’s magic so beautifully that they couldn’t wait to plan a vacation there. That’s a great positive response!

What can you tell us about your next book?

Well, a lot of people have been asking for a sequel to Finding Aloha, so that will hopefully be in the works soon. I’ve also been really enjoying writing contemporary middle-grade stories lately. I’m currently in submissions with one about a twelve-year-old ballerina-turned-karate ninja, who finds herself working as a spy for a secret organization. And I’m working on another that’s a middle-grade survival story about a young girl, her little sister and their dog after a car crash in the Canadian Rockies. I’ve found that middle-grade action-adventure stories provide a nice change from young adult romance!

Do you take notice of online reviews?

To a certain extent, it’s nice to know when readers enjoy my books. But as an author, I also have to be realistic and know that my books won’t be for everyone, and everyone’s perspective (good or bad) is valid. But it is nice to put a little more emphasis on the good reviews!

Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?

As a teacher, middle-grade and young adult books seem to be my sweet spot. But, things might change as I develop as a writer. I adore reading thrillers, so maybe that’s something to challenge myself with in the future!

Within the Folds of a Swan's Wings

Within the Folds of a Swan’s Wings

What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?

I’m a fourth grade teacher, which I love. But I job-share with another teacher, which means I only work half-time. That’s probably why I still love it so much after almost twenty years!

Which author(s) inspire you?

I read a lot and in a wide variety of genres. I adore anything by John Green, Jason Reynolds, Taylor Jenkins Reid, Erin Entrada Kelly, and Kristin Hannah. Beautiful prose, outstanding characters and heart wrenching stakes will get me every time. A touch of romance doesn’t hurt either!

What is your biggest motivator?

Probably my kids and my students. My first novel (which may or may not ever see the light of day) was written originally as a gift for my own children and is loosely based on them. In general, kids are just so awesome and I find it easy to write stories about them and for them. It’s so fun to get them excited about a story, and the kids in my life are definitely where a lot of my story ideas stem from.

What will always distract you?

Social media! As an author, there’s an expectation to be active on different social media channels. But this is a slippery slope, because sometimes it turns into a black hole you can’t escape from!

I also have a bit of an obsession with line editing. I wish I could just ignore the nitty gritty bits of my work when I’m working on revisions, so I can focus on the big picture instead. But I find that I need to go through it with a fine tooth comb, and then revamp scenes if need be. It’s totally backwards and something I need to change!

How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?

My publisher asks for input right after I sign my contract (i.e. what type of cover I’d like; whether I’d like real people featured or more abstract elements) but then I don’t see it until after the book has mostly been edited and is good to go. At this point I can make small changes (font, colors, by-line) but nothing huge.

Were you a big reader as a child?

Yes, huge!

What were your favourite childhood books?

Judy Blume and Beverly Clearly were my favorites as a child and I have to admit to loving V.C. Andrews and Stephen King as a teen. Quite the opposite genres!

Do you have a favourite bookshop? If so, which?

There’s a small bookshop in my town called Audrey’s that has been around forever. I’m so glad they were able to pull-through the worst of the shut-downs during the pandemic. They have been eager to stock both of my books on their shelves, and I like to support them whenever I can.

What books can you not resist buying?

Am I allowed to say ALL? I have a bit of an obsession with buying books. However, several years back I got looking at my bookshelves that were absolutely bursting, and I thought, What a waste that these fabulous books aren’t in the hands of readers? After that I gave away almost all of my books, and the only ones I ever keep are the ones I have for sentimental reasons (i.e. signed copies etc.). Many authors would be appalled to hear that I hardly own any books, but it’s because I’ve pledged to give all of the good ones away so they can be enjoyed over and over again!

Do you have any rituals when writing?

I sit down with a good cup of coffee or tea and start by re-reading/editing whatever section I last wrote.

How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?

The stack beside my bed is almost toppling over, so too many! But I’ve been really enjoying audiobooks lately and this cuts down on my physical copies.

What is your current or latest read?

I’m currently listening to Taylor Jenkins Reid’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo on audiobook and just finished Colleen Hoover’s Verity in paperback.

Any books that you’re looking forward to in the next 12 months?

Nothing that’s coming to mind right now.

Any plans or projects in the near future you can tell us about?

I’m looking forward to announcing some big news with my contemporary middle-grade, but no beans to spill as of yet!


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Gill Thompson – Q&A

Gill Thompson

Gill Thompson

Gill Thompson is an English lecturer who completed an MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University. Her first novel, THE OCEANS BETWEEN US, tells the heart-breaking story of a mother and son separated by war and by continents, fighting their way back to each other. The first three chapters of THE OCEANS BETWEEN US were longlisted for the Mslexia novel award and the first page of her second work in progress has been selected to feature in Mslexia magazine. Gill lives with her family in West Sussex and teaches English to college students and hosts a creative writing blog.

Tell me what inspired you to write your (debut) novel?

My debut novel (The Oceans Between Us) was inspired when I happened to catch the lunchtime news and heard Gordon Brown apologising to the ex child migrants who’d been sent to Australia decades previously. I was horrified to discover the children had been told their parents were dead, when they were often alive and searching for them. This led me to research the topic and eventually weave a story around it. I then wrote a novel based on a Czech girl rescued by Sir Nicholas Winton in World War two (The Child on Platform One). But in my third novel, The Lighthouse Sisters, I explore my own family history in a story set on Channel Island Jersey.

What came first the characters or the world?

Because I write historical fiction, I start with the historical events then gradually start to shape protagonists who encounter those events.

How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?

I was lucky and got an agent and a publisher fairly quickly. Although I was unaware of it at the time, writing about World War two turned out to be a good decision as it was becoming a popular topic and editors were actively looking for WW2 stories.

The Oceans Between Us

The Oceans Between Us

How long did it take to write?

It took me nine years from first draft to publication – although I did an M.A in Creative Writing in between.

Do you have a writing playlist? If so do you want to share it?

No. I’m very boring and have to write in complete silence! I did have a playlist for the launch of my first novel though, as I’d mentioned about 40 songs in the book.

How many publishers turned you down?

Um … maybe 5 or 6.

The Child on Platform One

The Child on Platform One

What kind of reactions have you had to your book?

I’ve had some lovely comments. The best ones are from ex child migrants, for my first novel, and people whose parents were on the kindertransport for the second, saying how moving they found my writing. That means a lot.

What can you tell us about your next book?

The Lighthouse Sisters is set on Jersey during the German occupation of the island and features two sisters – one who joins the Resistance, and the other who’s deported to Germany. As I say, it’s a story close to my heart as my family came from the island originally.

Do you take notice of online reviews?

I do. Most of them are nice and I always welcome constructive criticism.

Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?

I’ve been a teacher for over 40 years so I’m very tempted to write a teaching memoir. I’m under contract for another World War two book though so I need to finish that first.

What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?

See above.

Which author(s) inspire you?

Helen Dunmore. Ian McEwan. Kate Atkinson. Victoria Hislop. Maggie O’ Farrell.

Which genres do you read yourself?

I do read historical fiction as I like to know what other authors are doing. I also read a lot of books by writers I know and want to support. I teach English Literature so I read a lot of A Level set texts too.

What is your biggest motivator?

Myself aged ten, desperate to become a writer. How I wish I could tell my childhood self that it would take 50 years to realise that ambition but I got there in the end.

What will always distract you?

The fridge!

The Lighthouse Sisters out August 2022

The Lighthouse Sisters out August 2022

How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?

My editor always shows them to me and asks for my opinion, and the designer tries to accommodate my views.

Were you a big reader as a child?

Yes. Voracious!

What were your favourite childhood books?

Enid Blyton. Jean Plaidy. Georgette Heyer. C.S Lewis.

Do you have a favourite bookshop? If so, which?

I love the Haslemere bookshop, which is near me. The staff there are really inspiring – and very supportive of local writers.

What books can you not resist buying?

Anything by my favourite authors (see above).

Do you have any rituals when writing?

I’m a terrible procrastinator so I faff around on social media for a bit before finally trying to ‘get in the zone.’

How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?

I’m currently doing some research for book four which is set in Hungary and Scotland so I’m reading about World War two in those countries.

What is your current or latest read?

I’m reading ‘The Tenth Gift’ by Jane Johnson. It’s a dual time novel set in the current day and the seventeenth century. I’m really enjoying it.

Any books that you’re looking forward to in the next 12 months?

I hope Maggie O’Farrell has a new book out soon. I thought Hamnet was stunning.

Any plans or projects in the near future you can tell us about?

I was lucky enough to be offered a second two book deal by my publishers, Headline, so I’m currently researching my fourth book..

Any events in the near future?

Unsurprisingly there were very few events during lockdown but things are just opening up again. I love giving talks about my books and I’m speaking about my second novel at Farnham library on 31st March and running a workshop at the Chichester festival in June.

and finally, what inspired you to write the genre you do?

I didn’t set out to become a historical fiction writer, but having found out and written about the child migrants to Australia after World War two in my first novel, my publishers were keen for me to carry on writing about this time in history. There are still some fascinating stories coming out about the war – and it was a war my own father fought in – so I never get tired of writing stories set in that time.


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Open Water

Caleb Azumah Nelson. Penguin Books. (160p) ISBN 9780241448786

Open Water book cover

Open Water

A lyrical expression of a young man’s first true love complicated by being Black in London is way too simple a way of describing this beautifully written paean to the meaning of love, that glance across the room, that shiver up the spine.

Most of us know that feeling of glancing across a room/bar/club and your eyes meeting with ‘The One’, the feeling of electricity surging up your spine, the heat coming to your face and the complete knowledge that you have to get to know this person.

That’s what this book gets across so strongly and lovingly.

Kept having to pause when reading this either due to the tears that kept rising or to that feeling of electricity coursing through me from Caleb’s words.

From that first meeting in a club, the two develop an intense friendship complicated by others, that eventually flourishes into a relationship.

I couldn’t really pause reading this book as it was so true all the way through, as was the end which I won’t spoil, but it was so right for the lives lived.

It was so disappointing not to see this win the overall Costa award but I’m so looking forward to Caleb’s next offering.


If you want to help and support this blog you could become a Patreon which would help pay for my hosting, domain names, streaming services, and the occasional bag of popcorn to eat while watching films.

If you can’t support with a monthly subscription a tip at my Ko-Fi is always appreciated, as is buying things from my Ko-Fi Shop.

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Walking Away from the Tabletop

It’s been 40ish years.

I’ve been involved with tabletop gaming since the early 80s, leaving the working class area where I was brought up and the only entertainment I had was football and boxing, I started hanging around with a group of middle-class college kids.

and that’s where I discovered Rogue Trader and Dungeons and Dragons and I didn’t look back…

Until

As we all know the last two years have been strange for a lot of different reasons and one of the things that has happened has been that I lost touch with all my gaming friends.

This meant that I filled all that gaming time with other projects, mainly book related projects which seem to expand to fill any available time.

After a lot of thought I’m repurposing my old gaming blog (Potentially Lethal) into a sales site and I’m going to get rid of all the gaming bits that are sitting in my garage and study unloved and unused, mainly Warhammer and Malifaux.

At this point though I will be keeping all my RPG books (and maybe trying to play online) and board games (most have a decent solo mode), but unless anything changes drastically those will probably be going the same way as the rest.

I’ve not taken this lightly but it all feels very superfluous at the moment and it could all be converted into a decent Mac Air at the very least.

Now just to find the time to get on with this!


If you want to help and support this blog you could become a Patreon which would help pay for my hosting, domain names, streaming services, and the occasional bag of popcorn to eat while watching films.

If you can’t support with a monthly subscription a tip at my Ko-Fi is always appreciated, as is buying things from my Ko-Fi Shop.

You can always email me on contact@bigbeardedbookseller.com with any suggestions.