This week, Lucy welcomes Jo Stone, who has a story and a poem in Special 224, on sale Wednesday April 13.
Welcome, Jo! Please tell us about your writing life so far.
The first story I had published was in “The People’s Friend” in 2007, as an entry to a competition in conjunction with Smooth Radio.
The opening line was given and I found the words, “Kate settled comfortably in her favourite armchair and took a sip of tea,” travelling round my head until a story developed.
I’ve had twenty stories published since, five of them in the ‘Friend’. “The Bus Driver” is number six.
Can you tell us about how this story came to life?
“The Bus Driver” was written during a writing course on Zoom.
The tutor told us to invent a character. I was in the room where I write and looked hopefully round for inspiration.
There wasn’t much, but luckily I noticed my husband’s framed picture of a trolley bus and wondered when women first began to drive service buses.
‘Lorraine’ sprang to life, with her cloud of unruly hair and her desperation to drive a double decker bus.
Incidentally, when I was researching the subject I came across a newsreel from 1974 which was very enlightening about attitudes to women drivers!
“The Bus Driver” is set in the 1970s. Do you prefer writing stories set historically?
Looking back at my modest “People’s Friend” output, I was surprised to find that four out of the six are historical.
I really enjoyed doing the research but have no leanings towards a particular period.
Any situation that can cause a dilemma is a good starting point, whenever it occurs.
Can you tell us a little bit about your poem, “Zooming In”?
During the Zoom writers’ course mentioned above, I enjoyed looking round the other participants’ rooms.
I wished I could invite one man to move aside a bit so I could get a better look at an intriguing figurine on the bookshelf behind him.
I felt cheated when another camera was angled towards the ceiling…
Who are your own favourite poets and authors?
I regularly dip into the New Oxford Book of English Verse – William Blake and WB Yeats are among my favourites.
Two books I’ve read recently are “Jane Fairfax,” and “My Name Is Why”.
“Jane Fairfax” was written by Joan Aiken in the style of Jane Austen and puts flesh and bones on to a minor character in “Emma”.
Lemn Sissay, the poet, has written the painful story of his life, up to teenage years, including copies of all the reports that were written about him while he was in care.
My favourite authors tend to be whoever I’m reading at the time.
Your story is by Tessa-Jo Stone, and your poem by Jo Stone. Do you prefer to keep fiction and poetry separate?
The name issue isn’t as well thought out as it should have been!
This is the explanation – when I married, I became Joan Stone, which I bore bravely, but didn’t want to be published under that name.
A friend suggested ‘Tessa-Jo’ which sounded rather jolly.
After we moved to a new part of the country, I introduced myself as ‘Jo’ to new acquaintances.
When I told these new friends (or acquaintances, or anybody who would listen, basically) that I had a story in print, they asked why it wasn’t published under my own name.
In future, I think it’ll be easier to just drop the Tessa bit!
Do you have any tips for aspiring “People’s Friend” authors?
I would say, join a writers group if you can. I belong to a writers group that a few of us set up after meeting on a writing course.
Do go on a writing course, even if you’ve been on one before. Half a day, or just a couple of hours can give your writing a boost.
Other writers can give you ideas, inspiration and help you to improve. But in the end, it’s down to you – and me – to sit down at the table and begin.