Plus, it’s my birth month. Here I come 52! I traditionally take this month off from MTA. May you have a wonderful February and March, and I will see you on the other side. I will continue to be active on facebook, twitter, instagram, my personal blog, and in facebook groups. If we aren’t connected on those platforms, I’m happy to connect there, too.
Today we travel to the Cotswolds by way of the Pacific Northwest of the United States to chat with Jo Coker and Sue Dockstader about how a rural upbringing, the second world war, a florist, Hong Kong, a community mediator, the South China Sea, airmail pages, wellie-clad walks, Cotswolds Radio, and knitted mice come together as part of Jo and Sue’s past and current lives.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
This author interview will be a little different, as my 87-year-old Mum and I are a publishing team! We are thrilled to share our unusual route to fame and fortune- and yes, we are still working on the fortune part! My mother, author Jo Coker, lives in the beautiful Cotswolds in the west of England, while I am living in the fabulous Pacific Northwest of the US. I’ll let her tell her story here, but as her editor/publisher/struggling social media maven, I may chip in with a few comments here and there…
Jo: I’m a grandmother of 3 globe-trotting grandkids and coming late to the world of publishing. My grandchildren live in America, England and Germany, and their adventurous lives are quite a contrast to my quiet, rural upbringing in the English countryside during the second world war. After getting married, I moved to a small market and worked for many years as a florist and teacher of flower arranging and am still an avid gardener.
A few years ago, my daughter surprised me by publishing the wildlife tales I wrote for her children. She transformed my scrappy typed pages into the delightful book titled The Adventures of Henry the Field Mouse. I wrote the stories to stay connected with my grandchildren and inspire them with a love of the English countryside when they moved overseas. It was a shock to be presented with a fully illustrated book 20 years later, but I am thoroughly enjoying becoming a published author in my 80s!
Sue – I am a “recovering” British and Hong Kong lawyer who left the UK on an adventure in 1986 and haven’t lived there since! I currently work with nonprofits to resolve their communications struggles, volunteer as a community mediator, and write magazine articles. Over the years, I’ve worked on a variety of book projects with several different authors and am thrilled to have finally realized my bucket list wish of publishing Mum’s stories.
In which genre do you write?
Jo: I write children’s stories about the English countryside. My original motivation was to be sure my grandchildren would know something about where their grandma lived while enjoying the view of the South China Sea from their 14th floor apartment in Hong Kong.
I did not plan my writing to be intentionally educational but wanted all the wildlife animals to be as authentic as possible. So, they are not wearing clothes and sitting around drinking tea- but diving in the river for water iris and digging for insects in the compost pile!
The main character is an amiable field mouse called Henry who encounters other mice and numerous wildlife characters as they explore their garden surroundings. I thought it would be fun for them to venture beyond the safety of the garden, so devised a way for them to “hitch a ride” in various vehicles by squeezing in past the brake pedals and hiding under the seats!
How many published books do you have?
Jo: Three! The first two books are based on the original stories I sent my grandchildren. I still can’t believe my daughter kept those flimsy airmail pages for 20 years! Once we saw how the fabulous illustrator, Barbara Richards, had brought my countryside tales to life, I was persuaded to dream up a few more adventures for Henry and his pals.
So, at 85, I started writing again! I feel like I finally got into my stride in the third book, introducing a new animal for Henry to befriend in each chapter.
Sue: Although we’ve all become more aware of the importance of ‘diversity, equity and inclusion’ it seems my Mum was a “woke Grandma” when she was creating Henry! He meets all kinds of different animals who don’t look like him or live in the same kind of home, but after a few cautious enquiries he always manages to make friends. These innocent tales of hedgehogs and horses, water voles and moles, and town and country mice are a delightful way for little ones to learn about acceptance.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what ignited your author’s flame?
Jo: When my grandchildren moved to Hong Kong, I really wanted them to know something about where I lived. I also remembered how exciting it was to get letters as a child. So, I would send letters off to them at regular intervals, including a chapter about Henry climbing the churchyard wall, or falling into a muddy river, or discovering the delights of waking up on a snowy morning. All very alien concepts to my well-travelled grandkids. And it worked! They loved their summer visits to England, which always included lots of wellie-clad walks along the hedgerows gathering twigs, feathers, and snail shells to create a beloved “nature table.”
What is your favorite season and why?
Sue: My turn! Although I think Mum and I agree on this one- Spring! We both love flowers and enjoy that energizing sense of renewal as you watch brave snowdrops emerging through the frosty ground! Knowing that the days are slowly getting longer, and the gloom of winter will soon be over- yes, long dark wintery days are something the UK and the PNW have in common.
What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself through writing?
Jo: That reading in church for years (and reading to my grandchildren, of course) was excellent training for reading on the radio! My local radio station, Cotswolds Radio, asked me to read a couple of stories for them to share during one of their “junior DJ” programs. Apparently, I did a good job and I returned to the studio numerous times to record all three books which they broadcast on their afternoon Storytime show. It was a little intimidating to speak into the microphone, among all the technology, reading to no one, but I was thrilled that even at my ripe old age I was ready and able to learn something new.
Sue: Mum’s constant optimism and encouragement have also been great motivators for me to try lots of new things. I have never been very tech savvy, so building a website for Henry, battling Mailchimp and overcoming the challenge of adding Mum’s recorded stories to the website have all been surprising achievements, prompted by her writing.
What is the most enjoyable aspect you’ve found through writing?
Jo: Apart from the connection with my grandchildren, it has been lovely to receive scribbled notes and relayed messages from some of Henry’s young fans. Before Book 2 came out, I heard from a friend that her grandchild insisted I should be told that it’s “urgent” that I “hurry up and get the next book published.” Of course, I make sure these young supporters always get their copies “hot off the press.”
Another unforeseen benefit of writing these books has been the deepening connection with my daughter, Sue. Our book production and marketing discussions during the past two years of lockdown have been an absolute joy and lifesaver for me. Sue and I have not been able to see each other for over two years, so having this project to work on has been a wonderful way to stay connected. We have enjoyed endless hilarious phone calls where we have discussed marketing strategies and she has tried to explain the machinations of Facebook and Instagram- truly wonderful highlights in a time when we could have been stuck with conversations about the weather and COVID.
Share an interesting or funny story from your childhood.
Jo: I was the eldest of three sisters growing up in a small village. My parents were kind hardworking folk who started their working life at an early age and did not really see the value of a good education- especially for a girl. When I was offered a place at the local grammar school, a big step up from the less academic secondary modern school, they declined the offer. They had no concept of how much I would have enjoyed and benefited from a more academic education, but worried about the extra expense and how they would struggle to offer that opportunity to all three daughters.
Fortunately, I was able to go to college as an adult where I studied adult education and floristry, which helped me develop a second career as a florist later in life.
I only wish my parents could see me now, in my 80’s, a published author and “star” of the local radio station – a little smarter than they realized perhaps?
What are you currently working on?
Jo: I’m always having ideas for new stories involving different animals, we’ll see if another book emerges. I wonder if Henry could stowaway on a ferry and find his way to my grandchild in Germany?
When I’m not learning about book promotion, I keep busy in my garden and knitting for local charities. I’ve been knitting teddy bears and blankets for years, and recently adapted a pattern so I could create some adorable mice. At a local craft fair, I had one of the knitted Henry lookalikes peeping out of a pocket and found that children loved the idea of having their own special friend to look after. I think I may have sold more knitted mice than books that day!
Tell us about your most recent book.
In the final book of the series The Adventures of Henry the Field Mouse, Henry and his tiny friends embark on more adventures beyond their garden home meeting a squirrel, a fox, a mole, a donkey, a rabbit, and a harvest mouse along the way. Sometimes they are scurrying beneath the hedgerows and other times they embark on daring rides in the car of the family from the big house. They even manage to hide in a bus so they can join the village ladies on an outing to a local stately home. Once again, the illustrations are beautiful and will transport the imaginations of little adventurers beyond the garden into the woods, fields, churchyard, and beyond. It was great fun to dig into my own memories of seaside trips, small town railway stations and fairs on the village green to provide Henry with even more opportunities to explore the English countryside and make a few new wildlife friends.
It was wonderful to have you both on MTA! The Henry the Field Mouse books sound like wonderful books that I would have loved to read to my kids when they were younger! I am touched and inspired by how these books came to be. Thank you for sharing with the MTA audience. Wishing you both all the best! – Camilla
Where to purchase the book?
The book is available from a number of retailers local to Mum’s home in the Cotswolds: The Black Cat Café, the Post Office and the Cotswolds Pharmacy all in Northleach; Beatons Tearooms and Bookshop in Morton in Marsh and Borzoi Bookshop in Stow on the Wold.
We also have an Etsy store, and are always happy to pop a book in the post straight from the boxes in Mum’s garage!
Last year I watched a few writer friends successfully complete NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month, and a splinter of envy edged its way inside me. How had they mustered the energy, the discipline to write 50,000 words in one month? I was in the defence force – discipline had been my life, from ironing five sets of white uniforms on a Sunday evening, to achieving a mirror polish on my shoes. Yet I could not find it in me to manage 50,000 words in a month.
You may be laughing. You may know authors who get up every day and write religiously for three hours. These unicorn writers rise early, shower, clean their teeth and arrive at their desk like newborns, bright-eyed and brimming with ideas. But for me, the idea of NaNoWriMo was akin to a fairytale. Yes, I wrote and released Patrick the War Man in 2020. And yes, I released The Hag in 2021. But to write a book in a month? That kind of wizardry belongs in one of my books.
And so I wondered, when is the ideal time for me to write? Is it early in the morning, when the Eastern Koel is whooping in the tree outside my bedroom window? Despite his naughty cuckoo tendencies, he’s the ideal alarm clock with his repetitive call. Perhaps it’s later in the afternoon, as the smudge of storm clouds appear in the western sky. That pause, between the wind dropping and the first few drops of rain, that could signify my time to sit down and tap away. Or maybe I should wait until the evening, long after the Australian air force jets have finished their noisy manoeuvres over our house?
Should it be in spring time, as I stay indoors to reduce the dreaded bane of hayfever? No one can ignore the call of fresh growth, and new ideas bursting forth like blossoms. Or should I write in the midst of summer, as I avoid the hot sun and subsequent lupus flare? No, no, it will be better in the stillness of winter, when we are encouraged to go within, to relish the shorter days, eat warming foods, and contemplate our brief lives.
And then I realised all of these times are the perfect moment to write, because in each moment there is a snapshot, a unique sight that warrants describing. I am further blessed to have friends in the Northern hemisphere, and each day on social media, I see the exact opposite of what is going outside my own window. It’s a steamy, overcast day here, but other friends are experiencing snowfall, short days, and lingering chill.
Inspiration is everywhere. If I need to write a gloomy scene while it’s blisteringly hot, I know I’ll find the perfect picture and description online. I can’t currently visit London or San Francisco without a lot of hassle, but there will be someone online showing us exactly what it’s like in these cities right now. I love this immediacy, this intimate glimpse into a far-removed, exotic landscape, especially when so many of us have been housebound. And in a world that has been picked up and shaken like a snow globe, it’s reassuring to see that the seasons continue, that life still goes on.
Perhaps I can’t muster 50,000 words in a month, but I know the rhythm of the seasons will inspire me to explore, imagine, and eventually complete my next story.
Follow this link to read Kim’s Meeting the Author’s interview …
Gripping adventure traveling between worlds, covering and uncovering secrets, with strong characters. I loved, loved, loved this story. I kept imagining it as a movie, with the scenes of the book playing out as movie scenes. It’s a fantastically written story that pulled me in and captivated my attention.
To support this website and the author’s interviewed, visit Support MTA for suggestions. Thank you! – Camilla
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Today we travel to Virginia to chat with Danielle Dayney about how writing for a music magazine, two doodles, Grease, two daughters, Queen, a monarch butterfly, and The Snorks come together as part of Danielle’s past and current life.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Sure! I live in Virginia, just south of Washington D.C. in a small town with my husband of almost 17 years, my two daughters, and my two doodles. My house is a circus when everyone is awake, so I do most of my writing in the early morning hours while the house is still quiet.
I have been a writer of some sort, on and off for most of my life. I wrote my first short story in second grade; in college I wrote for a music magazine, interviewing rock bands and reviewing CDs (remember those things?); and before I quit my job as a real estate assistant in 2016, I wrote property descriptions. Since quitting that job, I have focused on my own writing again.
How many published books do you have?
I have one published book, a coming-of-age memoir titled When Love Sticks Around.
What are you currently reading?
I am currently reading Reminders of Him, by Colleen Hoover. I recently discovered her when I read her psychological thriller, Verity, and I love her writing style. This book is not a thriller but is equally good.
What movie can you watch over and over without ever getting tired of?
Grease! I have probably watched that movie a thousand times, but it never gets old. I watched it with my mom when I was a kid, and now I watch it with my daughters. There’s the music, the dancing, and most of all, the relationship between Danny and Sandy. I mean, who wouldn’t want to have any one of those epic dance scenes happen in their lives?
You are about to speak publicly to a group and read from your latest book. What song do you listen to before speaking?
I get really, really, nervous before any kind of public speaking, so I rarely do it. But two songs come to mind that would probably help me calm down: “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen and “Lose Yourself” by Eminem. I guess I have eclectic music taste.
What cartoons did you watch as a child?
I am an eighties kid, so I watched Scoobie Doo, Flintstones, Jetsons, The Smurfs, The Snorks, and so many more. I was a cartoon junkie. But my favorite cartoon as a child was Jem and the Holograms. By far. I never missed an episode except for the day my mom and stepdad got married at the courthouse. As you can see from the photo below, I wasn’t too happy about that.
What’s your favorite insect, and why?
My favorite insect is the monarch butterfly. When I was in second grade, my teacher brought in these caterpillars with green, white, and black stripes for us to care for. We fed them, gave them water, and watched them wrap themselves up into a chrysalis before completing their metamorphosis and becoming gorgeous orange and black butterflies. Ever since, they have been my favorite insect and favorite butterfly.
Do you believe things happen for a reason? Do you have an example from your own life to share why you believe this?
I absolutely believe things happen for a reason.
One time, when my husband and I first moved to Virginia, we put an offer in on a house in a small town other than the one we live in now. It was cute, right on a small lake. But the appraisal came back at a whopping $75,000 under the contract price. We ended up walking away from it and renting a townhouse in our current town on a street called Papillion (the French word for butterfly, which felt like kismet). That was in 2012. We loved it so much we never left the area.
Looking back, if we had purchased that other house, we wouldn’t have been as happy there and my husband’s drive to work would have been atrocious.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a novel set in Detroit, Michigan, a city that holds a very dear place in my heart. I lived there from 2005 until 2009 with my husband. We were in our mid-twenties, and made life-long friends there. I still think of it as a second home. I’m also working on another memoir. All the while, I’m actively marketing my recently released memoir, When Love Sticks Around.
Tell us about your most recent book.
When Love Sticks Around is a coming-of-age memoir about growing up poor in the Midwest. It’s also about living in a blended family and what those relationships, or lack of relationships, look like. Mostly, it’s about love.
It was great having you on MTA, and learning more about you and your writings, Danielle. Here’s wishing you much success with your memoir and future books! – Camilla
Hand-me-down pants that don’t quite fit, twilight bike rides down sleepy neighborhood streets, sweaty family camping trips. The things that almost break you, and the things you barely notice.
It’s hard to see the shape of your life until you’re looking back on it.
In this collection of short essays, Danielle Dayney recounts her experiences as an awkward child in the piecemeal family that raised her. From her biological father’s absence to her mother’s battle with cancer to the birth of her daughter, Dayney’s stories venture beyond anecdote to nest safely among the tangled experiences that shape the people we become. With a keen eye for the pebbles of humor and glimmers of beauty along the rough roads of her life, Dayney has crafted a book that feels as familiar as a home-cooked meal and as exciting as the first night in a new city.
When Love Sticks Around is a memoir of love, loss, humor, identity, and above all, family—the one you’re born into and the one you gather along the way.
Those are the things worth sticking around for.
Where to purchase the book.
The book can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Bookshop, and other retailers.