Today with Jo Hammond



Over the last few weeks I’ve been introducing the authors who will be at the Tenby Book Fair,, the first event of the Tenby Arts Festival 

 I’m almost finished interviewing them all now.

In the next fortnight I’ll be showcasing the three publishers who will be with us:, and

And I’ll be sharing a post from the brilliant Who always video and share our Tenby Book Fair.

So far here are the wonderful authors. Please feel free to check them and their great books out: Rebecca Bryn:, Thorne Moore:  Matt Johnson: , Christoph Fischer: , Sally Spedding:, Wendy Steele: ,Kathy MIles: , Graham Watkins: , Carol Lovekin:, Colin R Parsons: , Lisa Shambrook:  ,Alex Martin: ,  Judith Arnopp: , Sharon Tregenza:    Juliet Greenwood: , Nigel Williams: , Julie McGowan: , John Nicholl:  ,Tony Riches:  ,Wendy White:  ,Angela Fish:  David Thorpe: , Eloise William: and Phil Carradice:  And thanks to Thorne Moore for interviewing me: 

There may also be a short chat with John and Fiona of who, as usual, will be filming the event.

Today I am so pleased to be talking with  Jo Hammond

jo hammond


 Welcome, Jo, good to see you here today.

Good to be here, Judith

So, let’s start by you telling us what have you written? 

Battle in Iraq published by ibtauris, Adelina Patti Queen of Song and Wilderness & Paradise. The last two are both available as e-books on Amazon or through Hammond Associates. I have also written short stories for the Sexy Shorts series published by Accent Press.

Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?

My field is biography/history and I guess I am just very interested in lives already lived, especially women who have achieved extraordinary things often against the odds. Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from? I have loved reading since I was very young. I learned to read at the age of 3. Living in West Africa there were not many distractions, my younger brother was my only companion much of the time. I escaped into a world of stories and characters. I used to be told I was a bookworm and when I was very young I thought that there really was such a biological creature – an insect that lived in books.

How long have you been writing?

Since the age of about 7. My very first success was in the tiny school I attended in a town called Zaria. Gerald Durrell was in the country on one of his expeditions and came to talk to us about his adventures and the animals he had seen. We were then set a competition to write an essay based on his talk. I won the first prize which was a terrapin.

What kind(s) of writing do you do?

As well as the biographies I have mentioned and which I tend to write as though they were novels, I have written poetry and short stories.

What cultural value do you see in writing/reading/storytelling/etc.?

I believe that from the earliest times when storytelling was entirely oral it was a way of making sense of the world around us and a way of remembering important events.

What were your goals and intentions in these books, and how well do you feel you achieved them?

My first book Battle in Iraq is the story of my grandfather’s experiences working ships on the Tigris River during WW1. Although it is based on his diaries and letters, I wrote the back ground history to the war and as my son once put it, end with “a fine rant” in the final chapter against the war of 2003. For me it was important to try to explain the war to people and also to highlight the suffering in this theatre of war which is often forgotten concentrating as we do on the western front. My other two books are both about high achieving women, Adelina Patti had an amazing life as an opera singer starting at the age of 9 and had immense character. She also lived at a time of great excitement and upheaval with civil wars and revolutions going on across the world. She is often forgotten as compared with Jenny Lind and Nellie Melba, I felt that balance should be redressed. “Wilderness & Paradise” is a collection of mini biographies of women who went out alone to explore the deserts of Arabia, again brave and pioneering women who had exceptional courage and extraordinary lives.

Can you share some stories about people you met while researching these books?

Most of my research was done in libraries and museums so the people I met were librarians, archivists and curators. For “Battle in Iraq” I went to Turkey to visit the town where my grandfather was a prisoner of war. It was a town of narrow streets with ottoman buildings that featured overhanging upper storeys. Its main claim to fame was the huge rock that dos almost sheer to 800 metres. In his diaries grandfather wrote of clubbing the rock and sitting there to read so of course we had to climb it too. I went to Turkey with some trepidation because my mind was filled with the evil things done to our troops in Iraq but I found the people friendly and helpful though there was not one person in the town prepared to admit that there had ever been prisoners of war there. Later when I was doing research at St Anthony’s college Oxford I met a very pleasant Iraqi who introduced me to his own publishers who subsequently accepted my book. For Adelina Patti I went to Windsor Castle to look at the diaries of Queen Victoria for whom Adelina often sang. I felt very privileged to be holding her actual diaries in my hand and reading her incredibly neat, clear handwriting. I also met Lord Mark Poltimore who is an art expert at Sotheby’s and on the Antiques Road Show. He is the owner of the painting by Winterhalter on the front of my book because he is the grandson of Adelina’s third husband. I also met his mother thereby giving me a living contact with Adelina and her husband Baron Cederström. They very kindly lent me her letters to study. What are some of the references that you used while researching? Many biographies and histories, the Bible, diaries and autobiographies.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

I loved doing the research and finding odd facts and references and I loved the feeling that I was bringing these people to life. How did you get to be where you are in your life today? I grew up in West Africa so travel and far away places always appeal to me, hence my choice of subjects. I went to boarding school and then did a degree in French and Italian. I worked for a while teaching English as a Foreign Language and later as a secretary and translator before training as a teacher of Modern Languages. During this time I was also doing some free-lance writing for local newspapers. Coming to Pembrokeshire I wanted to escape from teaching so I started a business selling hampers of local specialities whilst still doing supply teaching. But I still wanted to write so I studied for an MA in Creative Writing at Trinity College and have been writing and giving talks ever since.

Who are some of your favourite authors that you feel were influential in your work? What impact have they had on your writing?

Racine, Jane Austen, Pierre Loti, Gertrude Bell, Isabelle Eberhardt, Balzac, Evelyn Waugh, Agatha Christie. All of these use simple language – I dislike books that use abstruse words where a simple one will do, I find that pretentious. But some of them also manage to write so lyrically creating beautiful images or sounds. In the case of Austen and Christie I think it is the vividness with which they portray their characters that most appeals.

Are you a full-time or part-time writer? How does that affect your writing?

I have always been a part time writer as I have had to earn money, I also had four sons of whom three are triplets so they have been my priority. Now they are grown up and have sons of their own so I am often on Granny duty. Having said that I find that ideas and thinking things through can happen while engaged in mundane tasks. Once the inspiration is in place the actual writing does not take so long.

Any tips on how to get through the dreaded writer’s block?

I often get struck by writers’ block. Sometimes it is difficult to see how best to word something of fit it into the narrative. My solution is to walk away from it. Go and do something else, taking the dog for a walk is good because you can one thinking while walking and the change of air breathes fresh life into you.

How do you feel about ebooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?

E-books have been a great benefit in many ways. Anyone can be published on Amazon and books are available to the public so easily through the internet. But there has as a result been a sad decline in the number of bookshops and the clatter of masses of unknown books on the internet drowns out more worthwhile books. I think the printed copy will always exist if only because once you have bought it it needs no electricity to enable you to read it.

Do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two? Summarise your writing process.

My books tend to be driven by logic and for the most part are written in the old fashioned beginning, middle and end way. As I write biographies as though they were novels intuition plays a part in thinking up the conversations that people might have had in a given situation. My books are strictly factual but obviously there is no record of what people said to each other unless a conversation is reported in an autobiography, so I have to make those up as with descriptions of clothes and places, though they are based on general reading around the subject.

Do you proofread/edit all your own books or do you get someone to do that for you?

I do my own proof reading, editing and publishing. After my first book I gave up on traditional publishers – too slow and too uninterested to market effectively.

Tell us about the cover/s and how it/they came about.

All my book cover are designed by me. Battle in Iraq shows a photo of my grandfather against a map of Iraq. On the back is a picture of the ship he was on when captured. It gives some clue as to wheat the book is about. Adelina Patti shows a portrait of the singer by Winterhalter. Wilderness & Paradis has a picture of an oriental rug of the type used to frame a doorway. It hangs in my dining room while on the back is a photo I took of a window at the Grand Mosque in Dubai. I wanted to give the atmosphere of the book from the very start.

What are some ways in which you promote your work? Do you find that these add to or detract from your writing time?

I am on Twitter and I also have a blog but find I have little time for them. I try to “tweet” about once a week and find it does often result in a small flurry of sales.

How do you market your books? My last two books are on sale through ebooks on Amazon and I sell copies myself at book fairs and when I give talks or lectures. My first book Battle in Iraq is available from the publishers ibtauris.

What do you like to read in your free time?

I like to try new books, I enjoyed “The Girl on the Train” and also “Night Train to Lisbon”. I do mostly read fiction though my own books are non-fiction. “The Time Travellers Wife” struck me as similar to my own life being married to a man who is away working a great deal – not that he comes home naked, just the way he may be away for weeks and then suddenly parachutes back into my life and turns my routine upside down.

What is your favourite film and why?

Casablanca is the best film ever made. It is one of the most quoted because of its succinct and punchy lines. All its characters are so very vividly created and evoke immediate sympathy.

What is your role in the writing community?

I have given talks based on my writing. I help to run a creative writing group in Pembroke Dock

What projects are you working on at the present?

I am beginning research on women aviators as part of a plan to write a collection of mini biographies again. after that I feel I would really like to try my hand at fiction.

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