Today we travel to Guernsey to chat with Jenny O’Brien about how being a nurse, being bullied, fifteen-minute coffee breaks, history repeating itself, murdering garden weeds, being a Pantzer, living in a small cottage, all-year-round sea swimming, and Radio Four come together as part of Jenny’s past and current life.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born in Dublin, moved to Wales and now live in Guernsey, where the Potato Peel Pie book/movie is set. I work as a nurse and in my spare time I write. Recently I have been lucky to have been picked up by HQ Digital, Harper Collins, for my detective series. Apart from that time is limited.
How have I not heard of this movie? I just watched the trailer and now I must see it! Thank you!
In which genre do you write?
I write crime thrillers currently but I also write for children and the occasional romance.
How many published books do you have?
A few! Two published with HQ Digital, Silent Cry and Darkest Night, with a third one in the series, Fallen Angel, coming out in November. I also have a couple of children’s books, a few standalones, like the thriller, The Stepsister and a Downton Abbey styled romance series.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what ignited your author’s flame?
I never imagined that I would end up writing a book. Like most people, while the idea of writing has always appealed, it was something that I never thought I’d get around to doing. Then about fifteen-years ago a character started forming in my mind. A little boy who was being bullied. As someone with a history of bullying it is always something that’s on my radar: my memories are drizzled with unpleasant events from my school days. But lack of confidence was a huge barrier and it took over a year to find the courage to put pen to paper. Who was I to think that I could write a book anyway? However, when I eventually picked up a pen I found I couldn’t stop.
My first book, Boy Brainy, took six weeks to write and six years to publish. At the time I was working as a nurse at the hospital, I still am. The kids at that point were three and under, including twins. The reality was I didn’t have time to think let alone write; most of the story evolved on a notebook I kept in the pocket of my scrubs, which I scribbled in during my fifteen-minute coffee breaks.
Fast forward six years. I was still writing, finding it a hobby that fitted in easily with running around after the children and the day job. I had rejection after rejection from publishers but carried on writing, more for myself than anything. I probably still wouldn’t be published if a bullying incident hadn’t happened to one of my children in the playground. The realisation that history was repeating itself was a stark one and that evening I went onto Amazon’s self-publishing arm and launched Boy Brainy onto the unsuspecting public. There was no fancy book launch. I didn’t even tell my husband what I’d done. Instead I went into the garden and murdered some weeds. Boy Brainy, written to raise the self-esteem of bullied children, has been consistently number one in its genre and is permanently free on Amazon, as an eBook.
What is an interesting writing quirk you have, that we wouldn’t know by reading your biography?
I’m a Pantzer, which means that I don’t plot my books. I have an idea and some characters in my head and a blank page. I don’t even take notes apart from using the Header and Footer bars for key characteristics such as age and eye colour.
What does your ideal writing space look like?
Ha. I don’t have one. I live in a small cottage with my husband, three teens and two cats. I write on my lap in whichever chair one of the cats isn’t sitting on.
What are you currently reading?
How to Disappear by Gillian McCallister.
Where did the idea for your most recent book come from?
Darkest Night is based on a favourite story theme of mine. Someone waking up next to a dead body. It’s not an original plot by any means. Jane Fonda was excellent in the movie ‘The Morning After,’ based on a similar premise. But I wanted to do it differently. After a conversation with my daughter, I decided to switch it a little and have a woman going to bed with a man only to wake up beside the dead body of a woman. I used Llandudno for the setting, a town I used to visit as a young child and subsequently lived there in my twenties before moving to Guernsey. The West Shore, where the murder is set, is where Alice Liddell used to have a family home – the inspiration for the character Alice in Wonderland.
I’ve never heard of or seen ‘The Morning After’ either! Thanks for that one, too.
What do you do when not writing or marketing your books?
I’m a nurse at the local hospital. If I’m not at work, writing or nursing, I’m either reading or swimming: I’m an all-year-round sea swimmer. There’s also a fair bit of running around after the teens!
You are about to speak publicly to a group and read from your latest book. What song do you listen to before speaking? Or, what do you do to prepare yourself?
I am one of these strange individuals who rarely listens to music or watches television. I like silence, or Radio Four. I do get very nervous public speaking but a couple of deep breaths has to suffice.
List 3 interesting facts about yourself.
I had hope to be an actress but RADA did not agree during my London audition.
I’m short, five foot or thereabouts.
The last time I turned on the television was 2018 but, funnily enough I still get to dust it.
If you could ask your pet three questions, what would they be?
What are your owners like?
Why won’t you eat non-fish cat food?
What do you dream about?
Which of your personality traits has been most useful and why?
Perseverance. It’s taken me twelve years to become a traditionally published writer – most would have had more sense and given up years ago.
What are you currently working on?
I am working on book four in my crime series, featuring second-generation Italian detective, Gabriella Darin. It’s set in Llandudno and a ten-year old has gone missing.
Thanks for inviting me to take part.
It was wonderful having you on MTA, Jenny. I very much enjoyed learning more about you and your writings. Wishing you all the best! – Camilla
Where to find the book:
Darkest Night came out on the 17th July and is available in all the usual places.
A DEAD WOMAN. AN IMPOSSIBLE CRIME.
Christine De Bertrand wakes up to her worst nightmare: rather than the man she went to bed with, lying beside her is her housemate, Nikki – dead. With no memory of the night before, Christine can’t explain what happened, and the police are baffled.
For DC Gaby Darin, newly arrived from Swansea after her last case ended in tragedy, it’s a mystery she’s determined to solve. When another woman goes missing, Gaby faces a race against time to uncover the link between the two victims and find the man who vanished from Christine’s bedroom. But as Gaby gets close, the killer gets closer – and soon one of Gaby’s own team is in unimaginable danger…
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