Today I'm delighted to welcome Jo Thomas, author of 'The Oyster Catcher'.
According to a champion shell shucker,
in order to open an oyster, you first have to understand what’s keeping it closed.
When runaway bride Fiona Clutterbuck crashes the honeymoon camper van, she doesn’t know what to do or where to go.
and humiliated Fiona knows one thing for sure, she can’t go home. Being thrown a life line, a job on an oyster farm seems to be the answer to her prayers. But nothing could prepare her for the choppy ride ahead or her new boss the wild and
unpredictable Sean Thornton.
Will Fiona ever be able to come out of her shell?
As the oyster season approaches, will there be love amongst the oyster beds of Galway bay? Or will the circling sharks finally close in?
Here's a little taster for you
The sea air hits me like mouthwash for the head. It’s clean, fresh, and smells of salt. I’m standing on the steps of the Garda station; or Portakabin really.
The wind blows my hair and I hold my face up to it, letting any tears that may have escaped mingle with the damp air. With my eyes shut and my face held up to the wind I realise two things. One, I’m in a place called Dooleybridge and two; I am absolutely
stranded wearing the only dress I have – the one I’d got married in.
I open my eyes, shiver and walk back towards the harbour wall where the camper van had been. There are some scuff marks on the wall and a headlight that had
fallen off, but other than that there’s no real trace that it was ever there at all. I bend down and pick up the light. Oh, that’s the other thing I realised while being cautioned. There’s absolutely no way I can go home, no way at all.
I turn round and walk back towards the road; when I say walk, it’s more a hobble. My shoes are killing me and are splashing water up the back of my feet and calves. But then it isn’t really gold mule weather. It’s cold and
wet and I couldn’t feel any more miserable than I already do. I head back up the hill and cross the road just below the Garda station and step down into a tiled doorway. I take a deep breath that hurts my chest and makes me cough. I have no other choice.
I put my head down. I touch the cold brass panel on the door and with all the determination I can muster, push it open.
The door crashes against the wall as I fall in, making me and everyone else jump. As I land I realise it’s not
so much the throng I was expecting but a handful of people. All eyes are on me. A hot rash travels up my chest and into my cheeks making them burn and inside I cringe. I feel like I’ve walked on to the set of a spaghetti western and the piano player
has stopped playing. ‘Sorry,’ I mouth and shut the door very gently behind me. My stomach’s churning like a washing machine on spin cycle. I look round the open-plan pub. At one end is a small fireplace and despite it supposedly being
summer there’s a fire in the grate giving out a brave, cheery, orange glow against the chilly atmosphere. There’s an unfamiliar smell in the air, earthy yet sweet. In the grate there are lumps of what look like earth burning on the fire. Back home
I’d just flick on the central heating but home is a very long way away right now. There’s wood panelling all across the front of the bar, above it, below it and round the walls. When I say wood panelling, it’s tongue and groove pine that’s
been stained dark. It’s the sort of place you’d expect to be full of cigarette smoke but isn’t. In the corner by the fire there’s a small group of people, all of them as old as Betty from Betty’s Buns. Or as it’s now known
The Coffee House. Betty’s my employer, or should that be ex-employer?
Betty refuses to take retirement and sits on a stall at the end of the counter, looking like Buddha. She’s never been able to give up the reins on the till.
She did once ask me to take over as manager but I turned it down. I’m not one for the limelight. I’m happy back in the kitchen. Kimberly, who works the counter, tried for the job but Sandra from TGI Friday’s got it and Kimberly took up jogging
and eating fruit. The group by the fire is still staring at me, just like Betty keeping her beady eye on her till.
There are two drinkers at the bar, one in an old tweed cap and jacket with holes in the elbows, the other in a thin
zip-up shell suit and a baseball cap. They’ve turned to stare at me too. With burning cheeks and the rash still creeping up my chest, I take a step forward and then another. It feels like a game of grandmother’s footsteps as their eyes follow me
too. The barmaid’s wiping glasses and smiles at me. I feel ridiculously grateful to see a friendly face. It’s not her short dyed white hair that makes her stand out or the large white daisy tucked behind one ear. It’s the fact she’s
probably in her early twenties I’d say, not like any of her customers.
A couple of dogs come barking at me from behind the bar. I step back. One is black with stubby legs, a long body and a white stripe down its front. The other is
fat and looks a bit like a husky crossed with a pot-bellied pig.
I’m not what you’d call brave really. I’ve always thought it was better to try and skirt conflict rather than face it head on. I look for someone or something
to hide behind but the barmaid steps in.
‘Hey, settle down,’ she snaps. She might be small but she’s got a mighty bark. Unsurprisingly the dogs return behind the bar, tails between their legs. I think I’d’ve
done the same if she told me to.
‘Now then, what can I get you?’ she wipes her hands on a tea towel and smiles again.
‘Um …’ I go to speak but nothing comes out. I clear my dry throat and
‘I’m looking for …’ I look down at the piece of paper in my hand, the back of a parking ticket. ‘Sean Thornton?’ I look back at the barmaid.
Jo Thomas started her broadcasting career as a reporter and co-presenter with Rob Brydon on BBC Radio 5, reported for BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and went on to produce at BBC Radio 2 working on The Steve Wright Show. She
now lives in the Vale of Glamorgan with her writer and producer husband, three children, three cats and a black lab Murray. She writes light hearted romances about food, family, friendships and love; and believes every story should have a happy
Many thanks Jo for agreeing to be interviewed.
Can you tell us what prompted you to first start writing? What was the first thing
When I started writing I had 3 children under the age of 3. Writing was my ‘me time’. I could go to that place in my head and make it as lovely and special as I wanted it to be while around me there were toys to be
tidied, piles of washing, and play dates to organise. In fact, more often than not, I’d drop the eldest at school, the next one in nursery, and then the baby would fall asleep in the car and I’d stop wherever I was, park up, pull out my laptop,
and start writing. I got some very funny looks from passers-by though.
The first story I sold was to one of the women’s magazines and it was a short story in something like 30 words I think. It was about a car parking argument. And
yes, I had just had a car parking exchange that morning!
Can you summarise your latest work in just a few words?
It’s about a runaway bride who hides away on an oyster farm where she
finally learns to come out of her shell. It’s a light hearted romance about friendship, fun, food and love.
What was the inspiration for this book?
My husband was offered a job on the
west coast of Ireland, in Galway, to work on an Irish-language soap opera there. We went over to see the place to decide if we would go as a family. From the moment we arrived it poured with rain. I’ve never known rain like it, and that’s after
living in Wales. You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. I decided that it wasn’t going to work, until that night when we went to a restaurant; a wonderful place called O’Grady’s. It’s an end cottage in a row of terraced
cottages, painted light blue. You walk in and the fire is going, the candles are lit, and you look out over sea. And there I ate pacific oysters. I looked out of the cottage window and thought, OK, I get it. If this is what Galway has to offer, I’m in.
And from then on I had some of the most amazing meals I’ve ever had, from wild foraged food, saffron sorbet , and the oysters, just wonderful. I thought, ‘this is sexy’. But it’s such a precarious business. And an idea began
Did you do any research for the book?
Yes. I started by eating a lot of oysters and going to O’Grady’s a lot. Then I discovered an oyster seller in one of the local farmers’
markets where you could buy half a dozen oysters, and he’d shuck them and serve them to you with a glass of white wine. It was a Friday lunchtime treat. I then went on a seafood cookery course at the Galway Seafood Centre. But it still wasn’t enough.
I needed to get my feet wet, literally. By this time I was living back in Wales. So one dark, cold weekend in November I went with my good friend Katie Fforde to meet an oyster farmer friend of mine in Scotland. We dressed in wet weather gear from
head to foot. As soon as we arrived we got stuck straight in and were wading into the water to see the bags of oysters that were being loaded onto the tractor trailer. Within minutes the water had come above the top of our wellies and was trickling down our
socks. Then we retired to the pub for lunch. Absolutely soaked. There was steam rising from us as the barmaid stoked the fire for us to sit beside. Our feet didn’t thaw out at all. That afternoon, it lashed down. I’m realising the connection. Perhaps
good clean rain helps the oysters. We worked in the shed, by the light of bare bulbs and to the sound of Radio 2 on an old radio, and helped grade and wash the oysters, ready to go to market. We caught crabs, listened for clunkers, and learnt to sniff for
dead ‘uns. By the end of the day we were cold, wet, and very tired. We ordered large gins back at the hotel, handed the chef a large box of freshly picked oysters, and headed for our baths.
That evening, we sat by a huge
roaring fire in a deep red restaurant room with my friend the oyster farmer, and drank champagne and ate the oysters we had picked from the sea ourselves. Never has anything tasted quite so good. It was perfection.
Which writers have influenced
your own writing?
I suppose it all started with Little Women and then Gone with the Wind and then I started reading authors like Christina Jones, Katie Fforde, Carole Matthews, Wendy Holden, and I felt
like I’d come home. These were the worlds I wanted to live in. At the end of a busy day running the children around to rugby, guitar lessons, drama lessons, swimming, I go to bed, pick up the book on top of my pile by my bed, and that’s
me time too. Nothing bad happens in those worlds.
What are you working on next? Do you have a WIP?
Yes, I’m working on a book set at a music festival, based around street food and food memories.
What has been the best part of the writing process…and the worst?
My favourite part of the writing process is when the idea begins to form and the characters start chatting away in your end. My other
favourite bit is writing ‘The End’ and knowing the story is safe. The worst bit? Trying to resist starting a new idea when you’re struggling with the current one.
Have you taken any creative
writing courses and would you recommend them?
Yes, the first writing course I went on was with Anita Burgh. She was the first person I’d showed my writing to and the first person to tell me to ‘get on with it’. She believed
in me and I was delighted to be able to tell her I’d finally done it.
I’ve also been on courses with Jane Wenham Jones and Veronica Henry at Chez Castillon in France. The courses are great, as are the hosts and the setting.
Oh and the food and wine is lovely too!
Here’s their website. The new courses are up now.
book(s) are you reading at the moment?
Chrissie Manby’s The Christmas List on my kindle (when I’m waiting to pick up children from rugby, guitar and parties, in my car) and Milly Johnson’s A Winter Flame beside my bed
Do you have any advice for new writers?
The difference between a published author and an unpublished one is that the published one kept going. Don’t give up!
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