Multiple award winning Christina Jones is one of my favourite authors. The first book of hers I picked up was Hubble Bubble. I was waiting for my mum in my local library and started reading. Since then I have devoured everything she has written. Her books are funny, wonderful and full of characters I love and want to know. She has a real talent for creating stories with genuine warmth and depth to them and I look forward to reading everything she writes. When I had the chance to interview her, there was much jumping, much grinning, and much furious thinking about questions to ask.
Enjoy this because it is a good’un!
Your popularity has increased with every book you have published. What do you think is the key to your success?
Thank you – and if that’s true I think it’s all to do with staying “normal”. Or what passes for normal in my books! I mean, I think – hope! – that readers can identify with the characters and look on them as friends, so that when they pop up on another book there’s this feeling of cosy recognition. I do *cosy* a lot! I write happy, feel-good, down-to-earth ordinary stories about ordinary people really – with some extraordinary characters and situations thrown in to keep it lively. Oh, and I always stay in touch with my readers too – they’re my friends now – social media and online networking has helped writers a lot – so I listen to their suggestions and act on them!
I find your characters very relatable, even with the difference in geography and life experiences. How do you go about creating them?
Okay – now this is where it all sounds a bit doo-lally – but I’ve never really thought about my characters at all. I’ve never “created” them, never had to think about them. They’re just there. In my head. Like living, breathing people (which they are to me) just waiting to get out and live their story… I know their names and what they look like and what they do long before they appear in the books… And then, when I’m writing, they just take on a life of their own – I sort of see it all unfolding in my head like watching a film then I write it down… See, I told you it was a bit bonkers…
In every single one of your books the villages are characters in themselves. Where do you draw inspiration for these from?
Oh, easy. I live in a rural area. I grew up in a rural area. All the real villages I know and love have slightly different “characters”. Some are posh – or think they are – some are definitely not, some are big, almost small towns, others are so tiny they don’t even have a shop – but what they all are is slightly out of kilter with real life. They’ve never really quite caught up. I just take bits of them and turn them into “my” villages. Although I will admit here that Hazy Hassocks was lifted entirely from a village where my Great Aunts lived when I was a child and I used to stay with them and think it was magical! Hazy Hassocks was the first of my “created” magical villages for that reason.
Do you think that the structure of your novels could work in a major city such as London?
No! As I said, my villages (real and created) are slightly behind the times, as are the people who live in them… I’m old-fashioned and so are my books. London, much as I love visiting – and I have lived there while I was at college – is simply too big, too modern, too cosmopolitan – even the little villagey parts of a big city are miles ahead of my hamlets and tiny communities. And I need everyone to know everyone else really for the stories to work, and that could never happen in a city setting.
Each village also has a wonderful local legend or superstition. How do you go about developing these? Do you ever find yourself having to tone down your imagination?
The local superstitions connected to each village are a really important part of the theme of the book. Once I know what the book is going to be about (and I have the title – can’t even start without having a title), like astral magic, or fireworks, or herbal cooking, or the fusion wedding, or music festival – I just chuck it all in! Anything I can think of that ties in with the theme goes in. I do research some of this – there’s always going to be someone who knows if you’ve got it wrong and will tell you, usually on Amazon! – but as the majority of it is fictional, I can let my imagination run riot. And then I let my editor decide if it’s too OTT and we have a “discussion” about what stays and what goes…
Your latest book, An Enormously English Monsoon Wedding addresses fusion weddings. What was your inspiration for this?
Oh, my daughter’s wedding! Her husband is Indian, and they wanted a wedding that reflected both sides of their backgrounds and culture. It was amazing! So beautiful! And so much fun to plan! I learned so much – and I knew I’d use it – and so did they!!! I must say here that their wedding went wonderfully smoothly and neither set of parents interfered at all – unlike all the parental meddling in An Enormously English Monsoon Wedding!!!
Your books also address themes of loss and grief. Do you find it at all difficult to balance these, occasionally, darker scenes in your books?
Tricky one… While all my books are light-hearted, cosy, feel-good and funny, I’m aware that they also have to have some sort of grounding in reality. So, everyone has sadness and loss and pain in their lives (I know I have), this makes you what you are now, so some of my characters have suffered too in the past – but never, ever on the page. I think my readers would be horrified if I did anything like that. I will never kill off a character – ever! I will never give a character a terminal illness! Anything really bleak has already happened – there’s far too much sadness and cruelty and horror in the real world – none of that has any place in my books. When I was writing Never Can Say Goodbye – my rom-com ghost story – although it had to deal with death, and betrayal, I always wanted it to be positive and uplifting and warm. And I think it was… And the dead people were already dead before the book started – hence the ghost story part… which I hope, became a happy-ever-after…
Each book you write briefly revisits past characters. Have you ever been tempted to go back and make them the focus of another novel?
Always! I hate leaving my characters behind, which is why they keep popping in and out of all the other books. I’d love to write about Hazy Hassocks ten years on now – and see how Amber and Lewis are doing in Fiddlesticks – and well, all of them really. But what I write is actually determined by my publishers – so when they said they thought that series had run its course, I had to create some new villages, new characters, new stories… But never say never! Lol!
Which character do you miss the most?
Mitzi Blessing. I loved Mitzi. I swear I will bring Mitzi back!!! Oh, and Slo Motion and Essie… and YaYa Bordello so deserves another outing – yep, they WILL be back!!!!
So many of your novels focus on a theme, such as fireworks or vintage clothing. Is there anything you haven’t yet written about that you would like to?
Circuses. My dad was a circus clown – and I’d love to do a circus-based rom-com book – but they’re a no-no in the publishing world. Even though they don’t have animals in them any more (and as a mad animal lover I’m absolutely fine with that) and are more travelling theatre they’re still simple not acceptable apparently. However, I’ve thought of a crafty way of getting one in as a sort of background in the next-next book – but don’t tell anyone…
What was the novel you most enjoyed writing?
Hubble Bubble because I didn’t have a publisher at the time, so I wrote it for me and then found a publisher afterwards. And Never Can Say Goodbye because I’d wanted to write a rom-com ghost story for years and it wrote itself really… Oh, and Heaven Sent because I love fireworks and the background and YaYa Bordello… oh, yes, and… no, I’ll stop now!!!
As a writer there must be numerous highs and lows in your career. Which for you really stand out?
Highs… There’ve been loads – I’ve been so lucky! Having my first novel Going the Distance accepted, and winning the WH Smith New Talent Award with it and being whizzed all over the place to posh dinners and award ceremonies and being interviewed nearly every day for ages and being on telly and radio etc a lot… completely mind-blowing! Winning awards for Love Potions, Heaven Sent and An Enormously English Monsoon Wedding. Being runner-up to Jeffery Deaver in the Thumping Good Read Award with Nothing to Lose – and mingling with so many famous people in some exclusive club and wondering if this was actually happening to me… Oh, I’ve had a great time!
Lows – just one really. Being dropped by my second publisher with no warning. They had a change of publishing policy and there was a massive author-cull and I was just one of the victims. It knocked my confidence for six. I didn’t write anything for two years after that.
All your novels have a wonderful element of humour running through them and when read they are natural and easy. Is it as easy to write them?
Yes – and that’s not showing-off, honestly – because if it wasn’t easy I wouldn’t do it. I’m a lazy writer! I really admire historical novelists and crime writers who have to research and work things out and never make mistakes. I’m nowhere near clever enough to do that. But I find humour comes easily – so that’s what I write.
Most of your novels have a thread of magic running through them. What prompted this decision?
Well, Hubble Bubble was the start of the practical magic series. I’d written seven straight villagey rom-com books in a loosely-linked series before that – then I was having lunch with my agent who wanted to know what I was going to write next so I’d prepared about 6 outlines along the same lines – all of which she was less than impressed with! So, smarting, on the train home I thought ok, let’s go completely mad, invent a whole new cluster of villages, and totally OTT characters and throw in a bit of something completely mad – like magic… It seemed ridiculous, even to me, but I could see Hazy Hassocks in my head, and before I got home, Mitzi and her family were all waiting to get out – and that was it! That’s exactly how it started. I wrote 8 magical novels in that series – and one day I WILL write some more….