Jessica O'Toole



Prenitia: Of Preludes & Epitaphs

  • The Fate of Vultures

  • The Price of Sanctuary

  • The Bond of Fractures (forthcoming)

The Lost Chronicles of Prenitia

  • Captive (forthcoming)

In Perpetuity

Chaya (short)


Have you ever written a story from a dream?

The Prenitia series came from a very stark dream in the days I used to listen to music to go to sleep. Conspiracy of One by  The Offspring as playing, on a song called Vultures. Not surprising where I got the first book’s name from (originally just called Vultures)! I remember it vividly. I was in the guise of Leyna, on a cave shelf with Murray. Down at the fire were Adri and Cora (with different names). The only parts of the first draft of that story was the four main characters, the location of Rayan, and the fact they were all going to leave. The rest is consigned to the dustbin of my writing history.

Have you ever done a literary pilgrimage or travelled far specifically for a book/author event?

I went to Devon (I lived in Hampshire at the time) with a friend many  years back to listen to and meet Ian Mortimer (historian and writer). I have brain envy for him, and his work changed my world and made me question academic integrity far more severely than I ever had. The best  thing was that we agreed on something quite important about two specific historical people and that properly jazzed me for ages.

Have you ever cried at a book?

I  don’t really cry at anything. I have a heart of stone. Except those programmes I watch rarely where real people in shit situations are given things to change their lives, and they're not even massive things in context. They kind of bubble my insides into delirious happiness. But I do get emotionally attached to things in a very passionate way (like Michael Faraday and castles), and like to share that passion with anyone in earshot.

Do you prefer fiction, non-fiction or both?

One of my favourite things about non-fiction is that often, truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction is superb for forcing you to think about things you might not have before without having to necessarily make a moral judgement (like you might about real life events...), and I think it's necessary occasionally to stretch the truth if you are writing for a  theme. I fell in love with Edward the Black Prince because of the film A Knight’s Tale (and James Purefoy’s dashingness). It was never meant to be a strict reflection of the 14th century but it captured the pageantry and  excitement of it much better than some stark, grim non-fiction paint by numbers. Because of that film I’ve seen more of Britain than anyone I know and I fell entirely in love with it, and have (almost) never been disappointed. So, both.

What is the most unethical practice in the publishing/distribution industry?

The random cutting off for self-publishers on Amazon for their  self-determined ‘dodgy’ reviews. I’m sure that Penguin Books and all its readers who are staff and family don’t get harnessed as heavily as indies.

What was the first thing you learnt as an indie author that has never failed you?

I read a great quote that something like only 3% of Indies (or of any entrepreneurial venture) actually manage to get to the point  of completing a novel (or venture). 3% is an incredibly low number. If you've got a complete book, well, you've done something relatively very few have.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

The  writers on this website are those I’ve read and loved, and of course  communicated with. There is nothing more of a drive than an indie author whose work is amazing (and establishment authors whose work isn't) and  makes me want to write more and write more good...I mean better.

When did you know you were going to be a writer?

About  seven years-old. I co-authored a series of books in first school with my friends called Four Girls and the Prince (clearly my medieval addiction came about early on), and we put them on the class bookshelf. I wonder occasionally what happened with them…

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

The mass overhaul of my first book, and not just once. Cover, contents, everything. But the learning process is difficult, because everyone's got an idea of how it works for them, and there are a lot of people out  there. The learning curve was high, but then, I quite enjoy mountains.

What’s your favourite under-appreciated or unknown novel?

Facial Justice by L.P. Hartley. I think he might have been a genius prophet. It elevated itself in my heart above even my favourite dystopias, 1984, Brave New World and We.

Do you always give books not your own a chance right up until the end, or are you quick to DNF?

I very, very rarely DNF. The reason is that I want to find something I can actively comment on for the author. If you're a serious writer you  want to hear the critiques. The first (and only!) 1-star review I received made me look seriously into my book structure. I don't like books with a subversive agenda - I notice and I won't be dictated to. I say subversive, because Orwell's works are entirely addictive, I love them, and he wrote quite clearly he had an agenda. But readers aren’t overtly stupid, and they can make up their own mind about their values  and beliefs without post-modern rubbish.

What does literary success look like to you?

People I don’t know or have ever been in contact with buying my books. Which has happened. Not to millionaire standards, but for an indie author, someone chancing your work with their cash is heavenly.

Do you ever think it’s ethical to reply to your book reviews?

Personally no. I don't monitor people's opinions and definitely don't want to make them feel like I do.

What was your hardest scene to write from any of your books?

There is scene in The Price of Sanctuary with Carrta and the Empress of Ffremettr, which I almost didn’t include, that had me on the fence. The reason I did is because I made a pact with myself not to censor my writing. The scene is a delicate and  intense subject, and it was incredibly important to treat it  respectfully. It was also one of the best decisions I made for the  series overall.

In The Fate of Vultures,  the Murray scene (readers of that book will know to what I refer) was difficult. It surprised me when I knew it needed to happen, as the original outcome was different, but it was essential.

Do you have a favourite literary magazine or website?

The Happy Reader from Penguin introduced me to one of my favourite books in the world, Facial Justice by L. P. Hartley. Penguin is fantastic because it publishes a huge range of genres and writers, so I’m happy to toss them a few quid every  quarter.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

I like to try and write six things at once, at least. Finishing one of them is the difficult part.

If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?

I  would have focused less on scriptwriting, which is what I used to want  to do and spent an inordinate amount of time (and  sometimse money) developing. If I'd honed my novel writing skills earlier I might have gotten out as many books as I do scripts lying about!

Which other medium would you love to venture into (film, musicals, plays etc.)

I  have an almost complete musical right now, based on a 13th century poem, and using ancient style lyres. I used to want to work in film, until I made a short film and met the kinds of people who did. Then I didn't.

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