Friday, August 16, 2019

Q&A with Jo Baker

Jo Baker is the author of the new novel The Body Lies. Her other books include A Country Road, A Tree and Longbourn. She lives in Lancaster, England.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Body Lies?

A: I kept encountering dead female bodies, both in drama and fiction.

Alongside that, I became alert to the way that violence against women was being used as a cheap plot device – a means of getting a story rolling – while vital issues and real human experiences were being ignored. I kept seeing violence against women being eroticized, both in fiction and on screen.

And that, frankly, gives me hives; it makes me want to spit. Who exactly is that for? I wanted to write something counter to all of that.

Q: Many of the characters in the novel are writers, and you include samples of their writing throughout the book. What was it like to switch from one writing style to another?

A: Great fun. In fact I got rather carried away. I have a YA Werewolf novel almost ready to go, along with a collection of short stories that didn’t make it to the final draft of the novel. Unfortunately, they’re not really mine though – they were written by the characters.

Q: In her review of the book in The Guardian, Sarah Moss writes, "There is violence, but there is also a very modern interrogation of violent fiction." What do you think of that assessment?

A: I’m a massive fan of Moss – she’s an extraordinary writer; her work is so subtle, rich, needle-sharp, emotionally astute. To encounter that brilliance trained on one of my own novels was an extraordinary thing.

People usually tell me – after Longbourn and then A Country Road, A Tree, and now The Body Lies  “you write such different books”; but Moss saw the threads I’ve been following between them. I felt like she’d read the book I hoped I’d written, which is not necessarily the same thing as the book I’d actually written. She got what I was trying to do – in the most generous possible way.

Q: Why is your protagonist unnamed?

A: Ah yes. Well of course she does have a name, she just doesn’t get around to mentioning it. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m about a third of the way in to a new novel. This time it’s historical. I’m very excited; it’s really got me by the collar. And the more I write, the stranger it gets.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I write in the corner of a particular coffee shop. I find the hum – and the escape from home – conducive to getting work done. They’re so warm and tolerant of me there, and the coffee is really really good. And so I included a little thumbnail sketch of the place in The Body Lies. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Jo Baker.

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