First time author Jo Fenton spoke to JLife’s Evangeline Spachis ahead of the launch of her first novel, The Brotherhood.
Six years (on and off) in the making, Jo Fenton’s debut novel, The Brotherhood is the result of a long-time ambition finally realised. A psychological thriller, the story is the product of a lifetime reading everything from Enid Blyton to Agatha Christie, and yet it is certainly a prescient story. The Brotherhood, tells the tale of a grieving Melissa, who falls back on her faith and into the welcoming arms of a religious sect. Captivated by their leader, Dominic, she leaves her old life behind and moves to the countryside to join them. But soon Mel begins to wonder if The Brotherhood is truly a safe haven after all. Published by Crooked Cat Books, it is a fast-moving tale about a woman’s fortitude against inexplicable odds.
So what inspired Jo, who also works in clinical research, to finally put pen to paper? “My husband always said that he was sure I had a book in me and it’s always been something I’ve wanted to do. But I suddenly felt that I finally had the time to write. I sat down one morning and thought about what I should write. My first idea was some big fantasy world but I thought I’d better rein it in a bit! I decided on having a set environment which then gave me the idea of a religious sect and the whole thing grew from there.”
Personal experience also influenced Jo in choosing to focus on the shifting and alarming dynamics that occur when an abuse of power takes place: “Deep down it came from a fear of being in a situation where the people in control are bullies and are not what they seem to be on the surface. I’ve been bullied at school and at work years ago and you carry that with you for a long time. It does come out when you write.” There are some distressing scenes in the book, it is a crime thriller after all, and Jo’s profession, which often requires travelling up and down the country, was a great way to write those darker moments without distraction, with Jo explaining that “being in hotel rooms is actually quite useful and a great opportunity, particularly when writing those really hard scenes. But basically it’s just been a matter of grabbing time when I can to write.”
Jo lives in Manchester with her husband and two children. Born in Hemel Hempstead and attending Jewish youth clubs from the age of 14, she relocated to Manchester to study Biochemistry and worked in the health service for many years, working as a nuclear medicine technician. “It taught me to talk to people,” Jo revealed, “I think it gave me quite a lot of insight from a writing perspective to understand what people are going through and how people can experience anxiety and have a difficulty communicating. Both Melissa and Tina [characters in The Brotherhood] have that to some extent.”
Though the official launch of The Brotherhood is yet to take place – at the Sir Robert Peel pub in Bury on 25th July – Jo is already well on her way with writing a draft of the follow-up sequel due for release in 2019. It seems that the universe created in the first novel is ripe for more tales and Jo appears to be comfortably at home in this grisly genre: “I’ve always been drawn to crime…that sounds awful doesn’t it?” Jo laughs, “Agatha Christie and Dick Francis followed on very quickly from reading Enid Blyton’s The Secret Seven and The Famous Five at a young age. To write something interesting you have to have conflict and what better conflict is there than crime?”
The book launch of Jo’s debut novel is at Sir Robert Peel pub on Sunny Bank Road on 25th July from 7.30pm. Jo will be signing copies and reading extracts from The Brotherhood. To purchase a copy, visit Amazon.co.uk/Brotherhood-Jo-Fenton-ebook/dp/B07CNZNHF1.