I’m the latest author to be asked all about myself and my writing in the Romance Festival’s Author Q&As series:
Tell us about yourself
My name is Sophie Jackson and, when I’m not writing, I’m a high school English teacher.
Tell us about your latest book
My debut novel is called A Pound of Flesh and it’s out in June 2015. It’s the first in a series of three full novels and two e-book shorts and will be released in 13 countries.
A Pound of Flesh follows the story of a New York prison inmate, Wesley Carter, and his English tutor, Kat Lane. When Kat meets him it’s hate at first sight. But as they grow to know each other as teacher and student, Kat finds that there’s more to Carter than she initially thought.
When did you start writing?
I’ve always loved writing. I wrote short stories when I was about 9 or 10, which I think my mum still has! But, as an adult, I started writing fanfiction in 2009, after I’d read the Twilight series. It was a way of scratching a creative itch, a hobby. I loved writing fanfiction, I love the community and the friendships I’ve made, but it was a real baptism of fire with immediate feedback from reviewers — who are always brutally honest, so it made me grow a thick skin — as well as helping me improve my writing and getting out of some really bad habits.
Tell us about your experience of getting a literary agent
When I was approached by a publisher to put out A Pound of Flesh in February 2013, I spoke to a fellow writer about her experiences and her immediate advice was to get an agent. I wrote a cover email detailing the fact that I’d been approached to publish and sent it out to about 30 women’s fiction literary agents. I received about 14 replies, which I’m told is pretty good, but they were mostly asking for a manuscript, which obviously didn’t exist; at that point A Pound of Flesh was still a 500K-word fanfiction online.
Lorella Belli, from the Lorella Belli Agency in London, contacted me and I knew instantly that she was my kind of person. She was chatty and enthusiastic and wasn’t fazed by the fact that I didn’t have a clean copy to send her. I emailed her a PDF of the online version of A Pound of Flesh and she read it in four days. Two days after that she was my agent and she’s been a godsend ever since.
When did you get your first book deal?
My first book deal was completed in February 2014 with Simon and Schuster US who signed me on a five book deal after winning an auction that included four publishers in the States. It was followed swiftly by a deal with Headline Eternal in London for the same.
What tips would you give to other aspiring romance authors looking to be published?
Read. Read lots, and not just romance novels. Read all genres by different authors, set in different eras. Read fanfiction! As a literature student and, subsequently, a literature teacher, I’ve read hundreds of books and I know it’s helped inform my writing by giving me a sharper insight into what I like, what works for my writing style, and it gives me a better understanding of what will appeal to certain audiences.
Where do you write?
Anywhere. Mostly I write at home on my laptop, but if I have a spare five minutes at work (which isn’t often) I’ll get some down on the nearest computer or even on my iPad if there isn’t one nearby! Annoyingly, I’m not a writer who can force themselves to sit down and write. I have to be hit by inspiration, so I make sure I always have my iPad or iPhone with me in case a piece of dialogue or a specific scene suddenly pops into my brain. On the brighter side, once I’m hit by an idea, I can churn out 1,000 words at a time… sometimes more.
Where do you look for writing inspiration?
I read. I read as much as I can. I still read fanfiction, as there are some truly exceptional authors on there whose storytelling and writing are incredible.
Which other authors do you admire?
I adore John Green and legitimately want to be Jojo Moyes when I grow up. There are also a handful of authors who started life as fanfiction writers, like me, who have gone on to have some amazing success, including Christina Lauren, JM Darhower, Mary Whitney, Tara Sue Me and Alice Clayton. I like slash romance novels, too, and I think the Cut and Run series by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux is exceptional. I love J.R. Ward for taking the vampire genre and turning it on its head and the Shatter Me series by Tahereh Mafi is wonderful.
What do you like about social media?
I’ve always been a huge user of social media from when I started writing fanfiction. It’s an excellent way of keeping in touch with your readers as well as being a great way to tell them about new stories, updates and teasers. It’s an invaluable tool for a new author.
Where were you born?
What is your earliest memory?
Sitting in the car with my grandfather on the prom at Blackpool, listening to the rain bounce off the roof while we ate our ice cream 99’s.
Where do you live now?
I’m from a small town called Chorley in the North West of England, where I’ve lived for 18 years.
When were you happiest?
Past tense? Probably when I graduated from university and went on to qualify as a teacher. It was something I’d always wanted to do and the sense of achievement I felt when I finished and got my first job was amazing. Plus seeing the pride on my mum’s face made it all worthwhile. Failing that, the first time I ever travelled to the States and went to New York. I was so overwhelmed I burst into tears. That was awesome.
What advice would you give your 18 year-old self?
In the grand scheme of things, this won’t matter. Be yourself and have confidence in everything you do. You will make it.
What was your most embarrassing date?
Luckily, I don’t think I’ve ever had an embarrassing date.
Are you planning to see 50 Shades of Grey at the cinema?
I can’t deny that I’m intrigued by how it’s going to be adapted onto the screen, but, no, I don’t think so.
What is your favourite romantic moment?
Being taken to Paris for my 21st birthday. It was amazing and the first time I had the guts to go up to the top of the Eiffel Tower. We flew back on Bonfire Night and saw all the fireworks above Manchester. It was beautiful.
What is your favourite smell?
It’s a tie between warm bread and Bonfire Night. There’s a theme here! How about warm bread ON Bonfire Night?
What book would you choose to take on a desert island?
I really couldn’t choose. Could I take a book series? Maybe the Black Dagger Brotherhood series by J.R. Ward, or the Cut and Run series. Maybe the Twilight series or the Beautiful Bastard series by Christina Lauren. I like series.
What music would you choose to take on a desert island?
My taste in music is so eclectic, it’s ridiculous. If you pressed shuffle on my phone you’d hear anything from ABBA to Led Zeppelin! (There may also be some Taylor Swift thrown in there, but don’t tell anyone.) Maybe a Motown album; that was the music I grew up listening to: Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding. I’d like to say something really cool, but I can’t think of anyone! Maybe I’d just take my iPod and press shuffle.
Name three people you’d like to be stuck with on a desert island
My mum and my two sisters. I could be really shallow and say Robert Pattinson, Chris Pratt and Sebastian Stan — not that I’ve thought about it, of course — but I thought I’d go the family route. Saying that, we’d probably end up killing each other after two days!
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Would it be too much to say wine? Possibly. I love many things, not least of all writing. I love many aspects of my job as a teacher and I love my family. I love music and food and I love to travel.
What is your favourite romantic song?
Anything by Ed Sheeran or Sam Smith. Those boys kill me with their words.
What is your favourite romantic film?
The Notebook. Seriously, Ryan and Rachel belong together!
Do you believe in love at first sight?
Yes, absolutely. At least, I hope so.