We are delighted to be joined today by debut author, Jo Lyons, to talk about her new book, Benidorm, Actually. If you’re looking for a book to tickle your funny bone, this is it. Jo, could you tell us a little more about it? It’s a romantic comedy that recently shortlisted for the Comedy Women in Print Award. It’s about a classical singer who, struggling to manage the grief of losing her mother, hits rock bottom when she is sent to Benidorm to sing covers to a sea of angry bald heads. Wildly out of her comfort zone she struggles to keep up with her support band, The Dollz, and develops a mortifying crush on the boss, who grows less and less impressed with her every effort to fit in. He’s the sort of handsome that is usually reserved for UNESCO world heritage sites of significant outstanding beauty and he’s having a catastrophic effect on her.
Anyway, in the end, she discovers her voice, allows herself to feel joy in what she’s doing, makes unexpected friendships and finds a place to belong. And she has the best bonk of her life. It wouldn’t be a romcom if she didn’t.
What was the inspiration behind your book? What prompted you to tell this story? A few years before Covid hit, I moved my entire family to Spain on a whim. Well not so much a whim really, more a burning desire to jog in slow motion along the beach every morning at sunrise. Hair swishing, fat melting away with each step. I really felt I could be that person. I put my children in a German International Mindfulness School in the hopes they’d become over-achieving, multi-lingual, all-round caring global citizens. We were there for nearly four years, but they were tough nuts to crack.
It turns out I’m not that person either. I never jogged, not once. I simply couldn’t find the time or the will, but what I did do was listen to people on the flights back and forth to Alicante every two weeks. I observed wild behaviour on board that made me wistful for my own early debauched years.
When my mam had a heart attack followed by a stroke and we thought she wasn’t long for this world, I sat down to pen the novel that I’d been threatening to write for twenty years. She’d always encouraged me to become a writer but like lots of people, I’d put it off, too busy making sure that the children and husband could pursue their hobbies and have buckets loads of time off while I ran them round, worked all the hours and kept house. I’d already lost my dad very suddenly to pancreatic cancer and didn’t want to lose both parents without showing them what I could achieve beyond a clean oven and a hoovered carpet. Ridiculous, really, seeing as I was in my forties by then, but it became really important to me. *I made the bit about a clean oven up. No one has a clean oven.
Anyway, while we were still living up the road from Benidorm, I sat down with a blank piece of paper and wrote down the first two words that came to mind – ‘SLUT DROP!’ – and took it from there.
How long did the book take to write? How much re-writing do you normally do? That first draft came very quickly, around a month or so. In fact, I wasn’t even finished before I sent it off to a few hand-picked agents. An agent in New York got back to me within 4 hours and because I thought this was normal – I’d never done a writing course or spoken to anyone about submitting – I ended up signing with them and they helped me finesse the first draft ready for submitting to publishers. I now know what a fluke that is. Submitting to agents is an arduous often thankless, soul-destroying endeavour. But in the end, the Americans mostly thought that it was too farfetched. To be fair only one of them had seen Love Island and Geordie Shore.
Since then, the book has been rewritten many times, thanks to numerous writing courses and shortlisted and even had another fancy agent based in London but all that took another two years because of Covid. Meanwhile my mother’s dementia became increasingly worse and when her daily calls at 10am every morning suddenly stopped and she no longer remembered to ask how the writing was coming on and could no longer laugh about the characters and their antics, I decided a month ago to self-publish so that I could give her a copy to hold while she still remembers who I am. It’s a heart-breaking condition for all involved, but the joy I get from watching her surprise when she takes hold of the book and looks at me in awe is a real blessing. She’s enormously proud of my efforts. I think my dad would have been too. I grew up in such a poor part of England that being something posh, like an author, was for ‘other people’. To be honest, I suppose deep down I still do. I’ve since found out it has a name: imposter syndrome.
What was your journey to publication? Once I decided to self-publish, it all happened incredibly quickly. My niece advised me to get on Tiktok. ‘You find all sorts on there,’ she said. And she was not wrong. In a matter of hours, I’d learned how to cook eggs thirty different ways, I’d realised that a lot of people spent a good portion of their day learning how to do dance routines to Meghan Trainor songs with their work colleagues (especially painters and decorators) and that a lovely young woman in America was sharing her self-publishing experience with anyone who wanted to learn more. Within days I was up and running, trying my hand at every job – editing, book cover design, formatting, buying ISBNs, marketing, social media, website design, you name it, Tiktok had a tutorial on it.
After the agony of waiting around for years while agents and publishers took an age to get back to me, self-publishing at high speed was a blessed relief. And fun. Huge fun. I love it. I’m menopausal and in my fifties now. I don’t need to be kept dangling or in the dark. I’m 100% in control. I can see how many copies I’ve sold each day and where in the world. I can make my own decisions about what to publish next and when. I arrange my own book signings and events. It’s fab.
If you could give your younger writing self any advice, what would it be? Without a doubt, I’d SCREAM at my younger self, ‘DO IT! Don’t sacrifice yourself for anything or anyone else. You are capable of raising a family, working and writing at the same time. But most of all, you’re just as worthy of that precious time, so take it.’
Other than that, I’d say do a writing course, make wonderful writer friends because they will make writing joyful, and you will learn so much from them. I credit my writer friends with any success I have. Without them there would be no novel. I have such bouts of self-doubt, especially self-publishing where you don’t have a team from a traditional publishing house around you to validate what you write, and they are always there to remind me they have my back. It helps that they are enormously talented themselves so I’m in very good hands.
Can you tell us what you are working on now? My next book is out in March 2023. It just has to pass the ‘sister’ test. It’s what you’d get if Mills & Boon made A Place in the Sun and cast Ryan Reynolds as the presenter. It’s been a hoot to write, And it’s so raunchy too. The characters just seemed to go wild from the off. I started writing it a week into the Curtis Brown How to Write a Romance course with Jenny Colgan. I blame her, myself. She used to bellow at us to do the word count every day, which I did, and five weeks later I had my completed draft. I love it. It’s been a pure joy to write. The course was brilliant. Jenny also encouraged us to try different POVs, so this is my first attempt at writing in third person, past tense.
It takes place in Spain. It’s about programme manager, Kitty, who is called in to produce a rival show Your Place or Mine? for a television Network. But the heart throb TV presenter is her ex-fiancé! Sparks fly, egos clash, promiscuous camera crew cause unforeseen problems and there’s unresolved sexual tension aplenty. It’s what I imagine goes on behind the scenes of every property programme on TV.
About the author
When Jo isn’t writing romcoms or thinking about Ryan Reynolds, she’s often wandering around Europe looking for the perfect wine and cheese pairing.
Her wanderlust began at an early age, growing up in Germany before settling in the North of England, but only until she was old enough to wander over to The Hague to become a politician. She thought she’d put her fairly adequate skills of ‘getting on with people’ to global use, but on the way her plans were thwarted when she got as far as Manchester and fell madly in love with a DJ.
She then spent years working in Turkey as a holiday rep, in the Alps working at a ski resort, and in the south of France trying not to put a vineyard out of business before, eventually arriving in Spain as a teacher, to administer some poor linguistic skills on the unsuspecting population of Valencia. She then got terribly distracted with being a mother to a couple of Dark Lords, as well as wife to a husband currently enjoying the world’s longest mid-life crisis. Twenty of her best, frozen-foreheaded years flew by before she suddenly remembered her previous ambition for world peace and politics… oh yes, and to write a book.
Buy Benidorm, Actually here.