Interview by Ceri Wheeldon
Fab after Fifty is all about inspiring women to make the second half of life the best half! We feature women who inspire – and regularly interview authors whose books appeal to women over 50. Today JM Forrest chats about her life as an author
When did you start to write?
According to my mother I liked to make up little stories before I could write, and she tells me I couldn’t wait to start school so I could learn how to write them down.
What have been the challenges for you?
Just getting started each day when I’m working on a novel, because I’m an excellent procrastinator and will find all sorts of chores that absolutely must be done before I can put my fingers on the keyboard. My dog benefits when I get stuck for inspiration, though, because she gets extra walks to help me clear the blocks. My neighbours used to think I talked to myself until I explained I was working out realistic conversations for my characters!
What did you do prior to this?
Before retiring I worked in office administration. My last significant job was helping create and then run a business centre on a university campus.
When was your first book published?
2013, and it was the first edition of my latest book which relaunched on 1st June…
What is the title of your latest book?
‘Orders From Above’
What was the inspiration behind your latest book?
The honest answer is it seemed to come from nowhere. The bare bones of the story came to me many years ago and I scribbled some notes and filed them away. I worked on it during my MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, then I won a writing competition in the Mail on Saturday for which the prize was a week’s Arvon writing retreat. My room was a converted pig sty on a remote farm, so I spent a very happy week working full days and late nights on it.
What can you share with us about the plot – without spoiling the ending!
I think the back cover blurb describes it perfectly: This is a novel full of charm and good humour and teeming with memorable and eccentric characters. It is about love (and hate) and marriage, about renovating an old building, about strange magical forces at work in a beautifully evoked English country setting. In J M Forrest’s world, the person sitting next to you in the pub or café or on the bench on the village green may just turn out to be an angel fulfilling his destiny – and messing about with yours. A novel that concerns itself with small things and great ones and the relationship between the two, with generosity and meanness, and above all with how kindness and caring can bind a community together.
Who are the key characters – and how do you hope readers over 50 will relate to them?
Two of the key characters are the angels Lucifer and Gabriel and they, of course, are ageless. Their appointed human helpers, Nigel and Amelia, are young and struggling to make ends meet, something many 50+ will have experienced themselves or perhaps their children are experiencing now, and the cast of eccentric village characters, including the vicar, mean old Violet Cattermole, the owners of the village store & Post Office, are nearly all over 50.
What do you like the most about the character/s you have created?
They all, including the squabbling angels, have strong personalities which were a joy to draw out and develop. Some of them have strange foibles that I had great fun with, for instance young Freddie with his eidetic memory, Debbie the waitress who speaks without punctuation, romantic archaeologist Stephen George who needs help choosing his socks for a first date. I don’t just like them all, I love them all!
Are there any key issues you wanted to draw attention to?
The story is a humorous fantasy yet has some thought-provoking themes, including ‘sometimes you have to do something bad to achieve something good’.
What do you want readers to take away having the read the book?
I hope they have as much fun reading it as I had writing it, that they laugh out loud at some of the antics, and that they are eager for the sequel.
What’s next for you – will there be a sequel with the same characters?
I’m writing the sequel now, tentatively called ‘Trouble From Below’. The same characters are returning along with a few new ones, and I’m having a wonderful time being back in that little Wiltshire village (which is rather similar to where I live!) and the magical angelic realms.
What 3 tips would you offer women looking to write their first book?
Without getting that first book written the rest of the process simply cannot follow, so my three tips are: 1) Write it. 2) Write it. 3) Write it.