To begin with, I’m dyslexic and I feel this has informed my life in many ways. I read my first novel at 13 – The Happy Hooker by Xaviera Hollander – stolen from my mother’s bookshelf & smuggled into my all girls boarding school under a Woman in White cover. It opened my eyes, literally, and I was then hooked on all those worlds to be found hidden in the pages of books.
My mother read to me until I was 10 and I tried to write short stories and terrible poetry from a young age. The best bit was the illustrating. At primary school we had to draw a picture and then write about it underneath.
Because of my learning difficulties I left school with few qualifications & went to London to get a job. Downtime was art. I’m a self-taught mixed media artist. When I make art my head fills with stories. I dream the stories too & keep a log of all the ideas.
At about 45 it suddenly hit me – I kept telling myself ‘one day I’ll write a book’ – if I didn’t start right then it might never happen. Now I’ve written my book; a psychological thriller which won Kindle Scout, who published the eBook for me – I’m writing my 2nd book, also a psychological thriller, and I am building notes for my 3rd book. Plus, all the others jostling for space in my head.
Jo Ullah likes to write books about ordinary people dealing with extraordinary circumstances. A thread of the supernatural is stitched within her tales because all of us, whether we want to admit to it or not, have been touched by something not quite natural in our daily lives.
Interview Transcript Jo Ullah
Richard Lowe 00:00
This is author talk with Richard Lowe. And I’m Richard Lowe. Welcome to the show. I’m with Joe cooler, who’s from England. And she’s going to tell us about her book and herself. Joe, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Jo Ullah 00:19
Hi, I’m Joanna. I live in Bristol in England. I’m married, I have four children, two at home and to pretty much moved out, although one keeps coming back. I have always written but rather badly because I’m dyslexic. But I took up writing, wrote my first novel, which was started nine years ago. I entered it into Kindle Scout, which one? So it’s published by Kindle press for the ebook, and self published for the paperback myself.
Richard Lowe 00:54
Alright, how did you get into Kindle scout?
Jo Ullah 00:57
I was really lucky, I went to an ally meeting, I go to them quite regularly. And I always get some useful information when I go. And one of the members there was talking about how she entered her book into Kindle scout. And unfortunately, it’s not running anymore. But at the time when it stopped just after I won it, actually. So it must be must be something to do with me. I don’t know. Anyway, she told us about it. And I was just about to self publish my book. And I thought, actually, I’ll give this a go. I’ve got nothing to lose. And also it looks like a good platform for self advertising. So I did. And much to my amazement, just before Christmas, they notified me that I had one, I got paid in advance, it slowed up the publication process because it took about three months for them to do some further edits and stuff like that.
Richard Lowe 01:49
That’s very interesting. And you said you have dyslexia? Can you talk a little bit about that? What does that mean to a writer? And what is it?
Jo Ullah 01:56
Dyslexia is a learning difficulty, which can present in lots of different ways. Everybody has it slightly differently. But basically, because of the difference, the distance the neurons in the brain, it makes it difficult for a dyslexic to learn because the information doesn’t go from A to B goes in a more roundabout way. Which means they have to develop different learning difficulties, personal to themselves. For some people, it can be more auditory, they don’t hear things properly, they can take more time to hear. For others, it’s writing and reading. For me it was reading and writing. I didn’t actually read a book for myself until I was 13. And the first book I chose to read was a book I pinched from my mother’s bookshelf, which was called the happy hooker by accellera Hollander and I had never read anything like that before it opened my eyes quite literally. But it also gave me the thirst for reading because I could see there were these worlds there waiting to be discovered. And then I just read and read and haven’t stopped ever since.
Richard Lowe 03:08
Yeah, I remember when I was growing up, as probably about the same age, I found a copy of Stranger in a Strange Land, which is by Robert Heinlein. And it’s the same kind of eye opening thing for for what a 13 year old it was like, Whoa, this is all new to me.
Jo Ullah 03:25
Yes. Okay. I used to read a lot of science fiction. So the first books that my first attempts to writing or science fiction, and Stephen King, big influence on on me, because of the way he takes every person on his books, and he makes them an individual character have a small part they play. And I really liked that. And also he he kind of has an understanding for each character, whether they’re good or bad. There’s no good or bad that everybody is the way they are through set of circumstances. And I think that’s quite important. I like to bring that into my writing as well to have an understanding for the antagonist, the protagonist as well.
Richard Lowe 04:11
Yeah, I did note on that I like character driven stories much better than plot driven stories, for example. Yeah. Yeah, that makes me think the story more rich and more and more understandable. I think that’s one of the reasons why Game of Thrones is popular. Is because, yes, it focuses on the characters. How did you develop your characters and your story?
Jo Ullah 04:31
I spent quite a long time getting to know them. I find pictures online. So I have a mental image of what somebody looks like. But then I’ll hunt around on Google images and I’ll find somebody who fits that and I’ll print it off. And I like to go back quite far. So my character Jude in the locksmith. I know about her parents and her grandparents I know about Audrey’s parents, obviously, not much of that information. is using the book, but it all helps me understand why she will behave a certain way when she does.
Richard Lowe 05:06
I see. So tell us a little bit about your book, if you would.
Jo Ullah 05:11
Yeah, well, there we go. That’s the cover. It’s a psychological thriller or family new art. It’s about Jude who lives with her husband spider. In Bristol, they’re both artists. Dude was married before her two eldest children from her first marriage. Her first partner was violent. So she works with on a voluntary basis with with women on a telephone line to help people and her husband spider inexplicably turns on her one day. And she needs to know what happened because she, because of the work she does, she knows that this is either the end of her marriage, or she’s got to get to the bottom of it. So she takes her three children off to stay with her mother in law at her mother in law’s farm in deepest, darkest Dorset. Which spider doesn’t know where she’s gone. She’d never met her mother before, who’s called Audra. And Audra is really pleased to see them. But she also have secrets of her own, and she’ll stop at nothing to keep those secrets. So it’s it’s a story about the two women and the understanding that develops between them. But also, it’s about secrets, and poison that secrets can breed.
Richard Lowe 06:38
Now, well, we were talking before you said that you handwrite your book before you write. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Jo Ullah 06:47
Yeah. So this is a book I keep, which has all my ideas in it. So I have constant story ideas. And my handwriting is written in capital letters. That’s because I have really terrible handwriting. And my spelling is phonetic. So I have to kind of read things out to myself to know what I meant sometimes. And then I transfer my typing it up. I also have a really good thing online, which is called on my computer had it written down somewhere, I can’t know what it’s called. Now. It’s a thing that reads to me. So when I’ve typed everything up, I get it to read back to me. And then I can hear what I’ve left out. Because sometimes you read what you’ve written and you automatically put the words in and missing because you kind of knew what you meant. But if you get someone else to read it to you, then you realize what, how horrible some sentences are, for instance.
Richard Lowe 07:45
Well, that sounds like a great proofreading tips or writers then yeah, definitely.
Jo Ullah 07:49
Because you can sit there and just let it roll over you and you know how it’s going to work for someone else. Especially if you want to go into audio, I suppose later, which I haven’t done yet. But I would like to at some
Richard Lowe 08:00
point. I’ve done that with 27 books. Amazon’s made it really easy.
Jo Ullah 08:05
Richard Lowe 08:07
All right. So why did you choose that particular genre?
Jo Ullah 08:12
Well, growing up as a as at the deepest, darkest Dorset myself. There wasn’t much to do. And my mother had a passion for all things to do with the supernatural, and horror, and I was allowed to watch things I probably shouldn’t be watching from a very early age. She read to me till I was 10. And most of the reading choices were horror based. And she was fascinated by ghosts and spirits. She taught us to do the Ouija board at quite an early age. So all of those things were a natural part of life. And people having unusual abilities were a natural part of life. So my grandmother read the columns and my grandfather used to pendulum and he reputedly can hear people’s thoughts, those sorts of things a bit like Elizabeth lending, her writing involves people who have abilities, supernatural abilities, but it’s treated as a very normal thing. So I like to put that into my writing as well.
Richard Lowe 09:15
Okay, now this is your first book, are you going to stick with the same genre or even the same series? Are you going to move on to something else?
Jo Ullah 09:21
Well, my second book, which is about two thirds of the way through, because the last 20 cents we know takes the longest to achieve. It’s also a psychological thriller, which is set in Bristol, which has as its story base, a woman who has contact with a word now she dreams things are going to happen. Predictive, dreaming, young woman, but she’s being stalked by somebody rather unpleasant. So the first book I’ve written was in the third person thing dudes point of view. This book is written in the first person I And then the antagonists and then the third person, so you get his thoughts and get her thoughts. I’m not quite sure how it’s going to end yet. Normally, I know the beginning and the ending of my stories, and the middle is kind of worked out as it goes along. But with this one, I’m not 100% sure how it’s going to end yet. So that I’m quite enjoying that bit of it, enjoying writing his side because he discovers an iPod. And they’re both quite into music in their own ways. And that and they’re both very much into scent and smell. So that’s all part of it was well,
Richard Lowe 10:38
interesting. I’ve I’ve written several, quite a few stories, and I find quite often the character will take over and suddenly it looks going in a different direction. And I thought, have you had that happen?
Jo Ullah 10:48
Yes. Yeah, definitely. Certainly with with the locksmith that started off was a very different story than it finished up. It started as a dream, I dreamt a name and I dreamt situation of two women and danger. But I’d started off with dude being a person who very much lived off the state, and had very little confidence in her own abilities. And I wanted her to learn that her her abilities could carry her through. And I also killed off one of her children. But at now in the next book, I’ve changed that made it made her a stronger person than she was before. And yeah, in some way, I’d like to go and rewrite it from that other point of view. But I do like the way it’s it’s completed. And this book, now the antagonist is growing and growing. And I keep listening to his playlists, I can kind of think about what he he thinks and what he feels
Richard Lowe 11:44
interesting. Now, how do you promote your book?
Jo Ullah 11:48
Well, I’m a bit bit mean, I don’t know very much about that part. I’m very new to all of this. I’m learning loads from ally, I’ve been reading a book by Joanna pen as well. Because I’m an artist, I take the view that my website promotes my art as well as my writing. So I’m hoping that my artwork will also bring as traffic just as much as my writing will. And when things happen, I just take every opportunity as it comes.
Richard Lowe 12:19
Okay. Okay, so you don’t do you don’t go to book signings and lectures and things like that?
Jo Ullah 12:27
I do. I did. The Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival, which is by Debbie Young did that last winter, we have that earlier this year. And then last weekend, I went to an event that was also there as a show and she had a marquee. And we promoted our books and talked about the festival for next year. I also have gone to my husband’s workplace and talked about the process of writing and how to self publish, or to follow an agent if that’s your choice. So I do as many things as I can as they come up. And I guess with time, more and more of those things will happen. Like your invitation to come and talk. Yes,
Richard Lowe 13:11
yes. How do you remain productive?
Jo Ullah 13:17
Well, that’s quite difficult, because I’ve got two children at home still. So I’ve still got to look after everybody and do everything. My house is very untidy. I’m not a very houseproud person, but I would like to be. So every now and then I have moments of cleaning. But I do do most of my writing in the morning. And I tried to do some artwork in the afternoon, I find that the artwork brings about many, many thoughts. Because when you’re working on a piece, your mind is at a slightly different level, which allows thoughts to run through without them affecting you quite the same way. So I get a lot of thoughts then when I’m working on my own work, which I can then translate into writing.
Richard Lowe 13:59
Do you have writer’s block at all?
Jo Ullah 14:01
No, no, but what I do do, I try and have a regular practice of just freestyle riding. I’ve got this brilliant book here that I use. Which is basically it’s like a children’s flipbook. And it gives you different scenarios like on New Year’s Eve, the oldest man in the world discovers a hidden family secret. And then you just go ahead and you write, and you write without worrying about how it’s written. The grammar or anything, just do it. And then I find that there’s sometimes there’s some really good gems in there. And also it’s like greasing a wheel. So once the wheels grease when I sit down to write my novels, it just flows because I’ve already had that practice.
Richard Lowe 14:54
Well, okay, what do you like about being an author?
Jo Ullah 14:58
My my own timeline. Boss, it’s it’s stuff for me. There was a time when I pursued trying to get an agent, I had some quite nice responses from people and one person asked to read the whole novel and got really excited, then what happens is you send it off to somebody you’re not meant to send it took more than four people at a time. And they can sit on it for three months, then they come back to you and say, Oh, can I have the rest of it. And then they sit on that again for three months. And they say, Actually, I didn’t quite gel with the narrative. But thank you very much, or other people just don’t respond at all. And a lot of time can go by with nothing productive happening at all, I realized that I was chasing something that view that someone else wanted, not what I wanted. And a good friend of mine had her book published. But she had to rewrite it about three or four times. And when she’d finished, it was nothing like a book that she’d started with, which was more of a literary fiction, romance. And then she finished up with something that was a bit more lighthearted. And it didn’t have the depth to it that she had intended. And I thought, well, I don’t really want to be doing that I want this is for me. And I hope that other people enjoy it, too. So when I made that decision to Self Publish, and I was very lucky to bump into somebody who was promoting their book fair. And I asked her, she talked to me, I was very lucky. Because she came round, she spent a couple of hours she was a member of ally, and suggested that I join them. And from there on in, I was completely empowered. So yes.
Richard Lowe 16:40
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Jo Ullah 16:45
Do it for yourself, I think. I read this thing the other day about finding your cartel and it was written on the right practice, have you come across them. And it was about finding your cartel which is finding your group of people, and how artists and writers have always done that for years. So you hear about the Bloomsbury set and all these various people. And I realized that was something that I had been doing for a while because I’ve found ally and various other people, I think if you give back as much as you can to others, like beta reading people’s books, I really love beta reading, helping your friends to feedback on their books, read other self publishing writers, then it all comes back to you and they help you as well. So it becomes self generating circle.
Richard Lowe 17:42
Well, very interesting. Well, that’s, we’re getting close to the end of our interview. Thank you for coming on. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Your it’s delightful. I love your book cover by the way.
Jo Ullah 17:52
Thank you. That’s fine. Jane Dixon Smith. I found her on ally.
Richard Lowe 17:58
Yes. That’s, I think that kind of proves you want to go for a professional book cover as opposed to trying to make it yourself?
Jo Ullah 18:06
Yeah. And also, um, editing is very important. I have to get an outside editor because I can’t trust my spelling or my grammar. And you just need that, don’t you? My book was edited, four times, professionally added four times, and each time they found more mistakes.
Richard Lowe 18:23
And if it was edited again, they probably find a few more.
Jo Ullah 18:30
That yes, then you think well, what was right what wasn’t because it was edited for the American market sells quite well in America, funnily enough. Then for the for my own self published paperbacks, I had to kind of take some of the Americanisms out of it, or make compromises on words. So we have breezeblock, and you have cinderblock. So I had to just say cement block in the end and stuff like that. Some of the English things I kept.
Richard Lowe 19:00
Well, thank you for coming on author talks for Richard Lowe. Appreciate it.
Jo Ullah 19:04
Thank you very much.
Richard Lowe 19:05
It’s been fascinating talking to you. And all right. So everybody out there. This is author talks for Richard Lowe. I’ve been talking to Joe, cooler. Yeah. And if you liked this podcast, please hit the button down below and subscribe. And you’ll get notifications of new interviews. We’re trying to come out with at least two a week. It looks like we’re gonna do more than two a week. And I’m enjoying the heck out of them. So please subscribe, and we’ll see you in the next interview. Thank you
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