Jess Sturman-Coombs is a British writer who has published three novels: the law-infused crime thriller Poker Face and its sequel The Puppet Master (find reviews for both books in my blog archives), also the new ebook-only romance novel Unconventional.
I am excited to bring you an exclusive interview with Mrs. Sturman-Coombs, here on KSR!
1. Your background is in law, and that factors a lot into your novels. Why did you choose law?
When I was eighteen I started a job as a receptionist in a law firm. I then moved into a role as a legal secretary and later I went to university and completed a law degree. I then took some solicitor exams but I didn’t complete the course and changed my mind on a career in law. I always regretted not having used my qualifications and so, when I was thinking up a new thriller series, I was over the moon to come up with the idea of incorporating some of my legal experiences into it.
2. In Poker Face and The Puppet Master you introduce the Mafia. Why did you choose organized crime?
As part of my degree I opted to study Transnational Crime, which was a fascinating subject that mainly concentrated on organised crime and the cartels that exist that fuel the underworld. I’ve watched the Godfather films and many other mafia themed films and I always found them gripping, so when it came to my own thriller...in they went!
3. Ruby Palmer is a very young girl with whom readers, I think, of all ages can relate to. Also, she is not a "typical" leading lady. Is she based on you or someone you know?
Ruby is a combination really of nobody in particular and a figment of my imagination, aspects of myself (or what I would like myself to be more like) and feisty, strong female characters that I have enjoyed discovering in books and films in the past.
4. You talk about a lot of serious issues in Ruby's story, including parental abandonment, physical abuse, sexual harassment and drug addiction. Why make your books about such things? Were any of them a part of your life growing up? [If this question is too personal please feel free to say that you don't want to answer it!]
I write whatever comes to me which some people love and some...not so much :-) I write about things that have either featured in my lifetime, and have impacted on me in some significant way, or things I am scared enough of or interested enough in to enable me to talk about them realistically. Some of the things that Ruby experiences are things I have either experienced myself, or have experienced second hand through others, and the rest is just complete exaggeration and fantasy. My parents separated when I was two and my mum moved abroad when I was ten so I can relate to Ruby’s isolation, confusion and insecurities in that respect. Role models are so important and the breakdown of a family can be incredibly distressing, that’s why I wanted Ruby to find herself love and protection in the end - even if it is an unusual kind of love and protection!
5. Dependency also plays a role--dependency on sex, alcohol, drugs, etc.. That theme is uncommon in novels yet quite common in "real life". Why do you think it is written about so little?
I think it is written about so little because (1) perhaps people don’t always want to read about these things and (2) they are uncomfortable issues that could potentially completely ruin a novel, either by being too depressing or graphic or by not being written about authentically enough. It can become a balance struggle. I was unsure what would be considered ‘too much’ or ‘too far’ but I also wanted the plot to be as realistic as possible and not shirk around the issues in hand. I believe if you are going to cover them you should do so to the best of your ability and not get too caught up in glossing over things. Most people know of these issues, have had experience with these issues and I can say, at least over here, they make prime television every week night and Sunday in the form of the much loved ‘Eastenders’! Issues that I’ve worried about highlighting and talking about in my work have all appeared before the 9pm watershed in the form of programmes such as Hollyoakes and Coronation Street. I’ve been told to stop worrying :-D
6. Danny Glover, Alessi and Johnny Giavanni are all very connected. Why make them so close [writing enigmatic so that I don't give the readers any spoilers!] as opposed to being what they are originally introduced to be?
I thought it would be fun to have these characters appear to have some pretty mega divides and a hierarchy of influence and power between them. That also made them appear to be completely unconnected in any personal way, which in turn made the twists and turns all the more shocking.
7. You recently released a story (Unconventional) which is currently only available as an ebook. What is it about the romantic side of life (which you talk about with Ruby and Danny in your previous novels) that makes you enjoy penning it?
Love is a serious part of life and is something that probably every member of society is in pursuit of or is trying to keep hold of. It makes the world go round and it also makes it stop and turn upside down, which makes it a great subject to work with. Of course, this is me writing a romance, so this story also deals with some important issues that are of great importance to me. Unconventional is a story about moving on from teenage relationship abuse and manipulation. The story also features some wonderful gentleman who help the jaded Summer to come to terms with what has happened in her past and help her to find a way to move on to a safer kind of love. Wow I’m a bit serious aren’t I!
8. You said on your Facebook [link below] that you are working on a fantasy series you started writing four years ago. Can you give us some insights on what that will be about?
The story was originally entitled Voidling and it is about creatures that live in the spaces between your walls and under your floors. It is also a story about parents suddenly going missing from houses that are locked from the inside and the mysterious Keelhaul Children’s Home where these abandoned children ultimately end up. It’s a massive story that needs some real work because I confused myself for a while. It’s been years since I’ve worked on it and I’ve recently picked it back up again. I hope it will play ball and behave itself because it’s a story I’d love to share with fantasy lovers and find out if I’ve done the genre justice.
9. Why change from the grit of real life to fantasy? And will you continue to write fantasy in the future?
I found fantasy an exciting genre to work with because you can pretty much do anything with it and nobody says ‘You can’t do that!’ I really do hope to continue writing fantasy and I have already written a historical style novel set in a fantasy land, which I need to get back to. I will definitely keep working with the genre if people enjoy reading it.
10. What authors did you enjoy when you were younger? What authors do you read today?
I read pretty much everything. I don’t always have a chance to read and that’s mainly because when I get into a book, if I can’t pick it up and read it as often as I’d like, I get really frustrated and start to resent the things I have to do. For that reason I tend to read when the pressure is off a little. I read a lot in one go and then the reading goes quiet again for a little while. I suppose you could call me a binge reader! I loved Road Dahl as a child and Enid Blyton. I enjoyed getting my hands on factual works as soon as I possibly could and that was my preferred genre as a teen. I didn’t really get into fantasy until I was an adult! I absolutely love the work of David Nicholls because he has a fantastic sense of humour that comes through in his writing and he uses a lot of dialogue too, which makes me feel slightly less guilty about doing it!
11. You do work with the On A Roll Project, getting kids to get more involved in reading. Can you tell the reader about this project and why you decided to help out?
The On-a-Roll Project was an initiative I set up to take reading, writing, creative activities and drama into schools. Imagination often tends to come from experience and sadly many children don’t have the opportunity to gain those valuable experiences. Where I live, we are about 2.5 hours away from the sea so when I recently asked a class of children who had ever been to the seaside only three put their hands up, many had never even left the country or their county for that matter. As part of that session I took the children’s imaginations to the seaside, we then played beach volleyball in the school hall to the soundtrack of the seaside and created an expanse of water out of blue wool. We sunbathed, played a river game to direct water towards the sea and at the end children created their own ‘wish you were here’ postcards to send home. They wrote about their experiences and then illustrated it to with pictures of ice creams, birds, boats and water. Now the whole class has been to the seaside! We have also been to the moon and the Amazon Rainforest too! Ha ha!
12. Where do you see yourself and your career in ten years?
I really hope to continue writing and seeing the Poker Face series go from strength to strength. I would like to have released some other stories in paperback and successfully managed to move between genres and not find myself typecast in any way. I also hope the On-a-Roll project will go from strength to strength and that many children will have the chance to enjoy creating and transporting their imaginations all over the world. I also want the project to see teen volunteers enrolled on performing arts courses to be involved with building sessions, running activities and helping out, to provide positive young role models for children and also to gain valuable experience for their CVs.
13. As you have very real characters, what do you hope for them in the future?
I would love to see my characters become really popular and my books travel the world on my behalf (I’m scared of flying!) Ultimately I would love to see them on the big screen! What writer wouldn’t eh? :-D
14. Is there any genre you haven't written yet and would like to some day?
Although much of my work has humour in it, and I can’t help but be sarcastic, I absolutely love to make people laugh and make people happy. I love comedy and I would really like to write comedy. I would love one day to write a comedy script for television but this is something I would need much training on. I haven’t a clue about script writing, although I have heard that with all the dialogue I tend to use I might be well suited to it. Who knows!
15. Thank you so much for doing the interview! Can you leave the reader with three things that may surprise them about you?
I once got pulled over by the police wearing only a night dress/slip and a full length coat! Don’t ask! I am a tad agoraphobic and I really struggle to leave the house sometimes, but I do it because I have to and...erm...number three...suddenly I feel really boring...I can’t drink alcohol because I seem to be completely intolerant to it! Now I really do sound boring! It’s not good for you anyway :-D
Thanks ever so much for having me, for your most wonderful reviews and for taking a chance on the Poker Face series! It’s an absolute pleasure to be on your wonderful blog and you write beautifully. Thanks so very much and take care :-)
Find Mrs. Sturman-Coombs at the following places online:
Purchase her novels on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=jess+sturman-coombs