The art of being foolish by Jo Jakeman. Festival of Writing to a Literary Agent.

Jo Jakeman

The decision to attend the Festival of Writing last year was a rash one. I’d just finished a Curtis Brown Creative course and was keen to keep improving. I’d been looking at York FoW for a few years but couldn’t justify the expense. At the end of July, an email hit my inbox offering a 20% discount.

‘Honey? You know you were wondering what to get me for our wedding anniversary..?’

I only booked for the Saturday thinking I’d drive up and back in a day. The CBC course I’d been part of had opened me up to critique, which was painful but necessary, and I decided the next step was to ‘put myself out there’ and enter my first competition. After much deliberation, or at least ‘close-my-eyes-and-press-send’, I entered all three competitions.

Ten days before York I was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery for ovarian torsion. The trip to York was off. I was directed to not even lift a kettle for eight weeks so bed rest was prescribed alongside some heavy-duty painkillers.

And then came the emails. First was, ‘congratulations you’ve been shortlisted for Best Opening Chapter’. Oh. My. Word. The surgeon said, ‘I can’t tell you not to go but, in my opinion, it would be foolish.’ I was disappointed but thought it better to follow the wishes of the experts.

And then a couple of days later, ‘congratulations you’ve been shortlisted for Friday Night Live.’ Are you kidding me? There was no way I was going to miss these opportunities. The whole family were dragged in to help. James, my husband, took the Friday off work so he could carry my bags (reference earlier comment about not even lifting a kettle) and I got permission from my boys’ school to keep them off because, well, I had no-one else who could look after them, and the whole Bunt family boarded a train for York.

I was in agony as I walked onto that stage in my heels, fighting the urge to vomit, and prepared to read my 500 words for Friday Night Live. I have never been so terrified, but getting applause (and might I add, the odd bit of table banging) in response to my writing was overwhelming. I was the joint winner with the lovely Gerry Fenge. Much fizzy stuff was quaffed and I didn’t feel any pain from my operation at all. Funny that…

Four agents asked for the full manuscript but it was the fabulous Imogen Pelham at Marjacq, with whom I’d managed to get a 1-2-1, who really understood what I was trying to say with my book and matched my excitement for it. Fast forward almost a year and the book has a new name, Sticks and Stones. I have a new name, Jo Jakeman – apparently, Bunt just doesn’t say ‘psychological thriller’ enough –  and I have… drum roll please… an actual book deal!

Harvill Secker will be publishing Sticks and Stones on 12th July 2018. Oh, my giddy aunt. I’m working on the edits at the moment with my amazing editor, Jade Chandler.

There were so many reasons to not attend York Festival of Writing last year, but I’m so thankful that I was foolish enough to follow my heart and that my wonderful family was foolish enough to help me.

If I can give anyone reading this one bit of advice it’s – be foolish! Take a risk, and follow your heart. Yes, it’s bloody scary but the rewards make it all worthwhile.


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