J.S. Monroe – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome J.S. Monroe to the blog. His latest novel, Find Me, was published by Head of Zeus on. 9 February 2017.

J.S. Monroe kindly answered some of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about Find Me.

Find Me opens with a scene that’s haunted me for much of my adult life. Jar, a young Irish writer, is on his way to work, going down the escalator into Paddington station, when he sees Rosa, his girlfriend from university, passing on the up escalator. But Rosa died five years ago and Find Me is not a ghost story… It turns out Jar has been suffering from post-bereavement hallucinations, but he is convinced that this sighting is for real. The book is ultimately a love story as Jar sets about trying to prove that Rosa is still alive. 

2.  What inspired the story?

Unfortunately, I’ve lost a few people in my life, including a former girlfriend from my own university days. I once thought I saw her on a crowded station platform. I knew it wasn’t her, but it got me thinking: what if… I’ve also been interested for a long time in the role of psychologists in America’s war on terror, and in particular a disturbing psychological state called “learned helplessness”, when someone no longer tries to escape pain, even if they can. 

3. J.S. Monroe is a pseudonym. Does having a pen name allow you more freedom to write? Did you find yourself writing differently under another name? 

I wanted people to judge this book for what it is: a standalone story. I didn’t want people to approach it as a Jon Stock book. I’ve written five novels under my own name, including the Daniel Marchant trilogy, and they are all spy thrillers. J.S.Monroe is the name I’m using for psychological thrillers. I also like the name’s gender neutrality, which is quite the thing at the moment. J.K.Rowling started it all, and many others have followed, including S.J.Watson, C.J.Sampson, and J.P.Delaney – ‘J’ seems particularly popular, doesn’t it?! One of my main characters, Rosa, is female and it would be a compliment if people think that J.S.Monroe is a woman.

4. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel?

I have a rough idea of where I want to go with a story, but I don’t plan it out chapter by chapter before I begin writing. It’s a bit like telling a joke: you know the punch line, where you’ve got to get to eventually, but you might tell it differently each time. Oddly, I get a very strong feeling when I’ve veered away from the story I want to tell – when I’ve wandered off the path through the forest. On those rare days the writing process is going well, it’s as if the story already exists and I just need to follow it. 

As for how long, I reckon a 95,000 word novel takes me one year from 1st draft to final proof, if I’m not doing anything else (I used to work as an editor in Fleet Street). Having said that, I’ve just written a 45,000 spy novella (under the name Jon Stock) that took me three months. I’m now writing fulltime, so I have no excuses. All I will say is that the house is a lot cleaner when I’m embarking on a book – I set myself 1,000 words a day, but I’ll find anything to do other than writing.

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?  

I love running – we live in a beautiful part of rural Wiltshire. I’m currently reading What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami. I also enjoy playing tennis, walking the clifftops in Cornwall and traveling to India, where we used to live.

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be? 

I’m afraid I’m going to cheat and say the Complete works of Shakespeare. But if it’s a single book, then probably The Bible, as it’s full of so many amazing stories and I have read so few of them. The book I’ve re-read the most is The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, by John Le Carré, which fits together like a Swiss watch. Each time I read it, I marvel at the intricacies of the plotting.

7. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer? 

Do you ever read your reviews?

Yes, and I know I shouldn’t. Actually, good reviews – and by that I mean well considered, thoughtful and intelligent ones (no pressure, then), not necessarily positive ones – can be very useful for writers, providing interesting feedback about what works and what doesn’t for the reader. But one should never try to second-guess the market – that’s the beauty of fiction. There is no magic formula. We know what the ingredients should be, but the alchemy that combines them into a bestseller remains an elusive mystery.

Thanks for answering my questions and appearing on the blog.

It’s been a genuine pleasure. Great questions – thank you!

About the book:

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“Five years ago, Rosa walked to the end of the pier in the dead of night. She looked into the swirling water, and jumped. She was a brilliant young Cambridge student who had just lost her father. Her death was tragic, but not unexpected.

Was that what really happened?

The coroner says it was. But Rosa’s boyfriend Jar can’t let go. He sees Rosa everywhere – a face on the train; a figure on the cliff. He is obsessed with proving that she is still alive. And then he gets an email.

Find me, Jar. Find me, before they do…

Is Rosa really dead? And, if she is, who is playing games with the ones she left behind?”

(Image and synopsis from Amazon)

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