It’s a lovely, autumn day up here in Yorkshire and I think we might be able to fit in one last evening of drinks outside if we put on a cosy jumper. I’m delighted to be joined for Friday Night Drinks tonight by author… Jane Thomas.
Thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?
I think we’ll start with a cocktail – perhaps a grasshopper – and then move onto wine. White, every time… I could happily spend a while discussing exactly which one we should choose but let’s stick with a Pinot Grigio for now!
If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?
With the magic of imagination, I’ll whisk us away to a bar tucked away on a hillside on Lombok in Indonesia. There are a series of terraces, each draped with hammocks and piles of beanbags, and it’s the perfect place to watch the sun go down over the sea.
If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?
That’s a very tough call…! I think I’ll have to drag Mary Astell out of her grave: I wrote my Master’s thesis on eighteenth century women poets, and she’s one of them. Regarded as the ‘first English feminist’, I’d love to get her thoughts on what we’ve done to the world today. In fact, let’s put her contemporary, Alexander Pope, alongside her. Incredible satirist but, from what I’ve read, someone who needs taking down a peg or two. I reckon it would be fun to set Astell on him…
So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?
Right now, I’m working on a pretty interesting project linked to an environmental disaster in Canada. I was approached by a lady who is personally involved in what happened and am creating a children’s book to accompany the museum she’s planning to open. In an ideal world, the book will reach far beyond the confines of the museum – it’s a story everyone needs to hear.
And I’m working on the third book of my children’s series with my illustrator right now; fingers crossed we can get him out pre-Christmas, but if not he’ll appear at the start of the new year. I was a little distracted for a while, writing some pieces in a sort of Dahl-esque ‘Revolting Rhymes’ style, but I’m determined to keep focussed!
What has been your proudest moment since you started writing/blogging and what has been your biggest challenge?
I guess one of my proudest moments was receiving my first ‘fan mail’ for my children’s book series. An 8-year-old boy drew me an underwater picture to accompany the first book, and that is a great feeling – to know you’ve reached somebody in any way at all. The biggest challenges are all self-created: I don’t want anything to do with Amazon, and that is a fair percentage of the book market. It’s hard work without falling back on that, but it’s a decision I’ve made and will stick with.
What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, its just us talking after all!
I think the best thing any author can get is some recognition, and that comes when a person recommends you to someone else. I love the idea of people talking and the one stopping to say, ‘oh my! Have you read such and such by Jane Thomas?’ and the other eagerly leaping into a bookshop to pick up a copy. If that happened one day, it would be a huge sense of achievement.
What are have planned that you are really excited about?
So many things are planned for 2022… I want at least three books to come out, all of which are in completely different genres and will exist for different purposes, but they’re books that have been sitting inside me for years. I suppose that’s the one good thing to come out of the last 18 months, in my world at least: I started writing books that I wanted to write. It’s a good feeling.
I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?
I’ve spent the best part of 20 years rattling around the world – every time I’m asked for a favourite place, I come up with a different answer. Since in my imagination we’re drinking at a bar on Lombok, I’ll keep us there for now. Specifically, down a goat track that I wandered along and found the perfect view: a peninsula snaking away from me, the sea the deepest blue to the one side and green to the other. I don’t think many people have ever stood there, and it’s a little parcel of magic. As for my bucket list… That has really piled up this past 18 months we haven’t been able to go anywhere! I think at the top, today at least, are the Andaman Islands. Anywhere that elephants go swimming in the sea is a place I want to go.
Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.
This is the hardest question by far. I guess for someone so seemingly practical and rational, I do have an unexpected tendency to defer to superstition sometimes. A single magpie can break a day… And I always travel with a four-leaf clover I found forever ago in my father’s garden. I couldn’t find it in my bag before heading for a flight from San Francisco and genuinely considered not getting on that plane. Some things aren’t worth risking, right?! (Spoiler: I found the clover and took the flight.)
Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?
I’m sure you’ve read The Great Gatsby so I won’t recommend that – although it’s my standard go to ‘my word, you must read this…’. Another I’ve been thinking about recently is The Elephant Whisperer, by Lawrence Anthony. It’s a heartbreaking, extraordinary tale. If any part of you likes elephants, it’s a must-read.
When South African conservationist Lawrence Anthony was asked to accept a herd of ‘rogue’ elephants on his Thula Thula game reserve in Zululand, his common sense told him to refuse. But he was the herd’s last chance of survival – dangerous and unpredictable, they would be killed if Anthony wouldn’t take them in.
As Anthony risked his life to create a bond with the troubled elephants and persuade them to stay on his reserve, he came to realize what a special family they were, from the wise matriarch Nana, who guided the herd, to her warrior sister Frankie, always ready to see off any threat, and their children who fought so hard to survive.
Yes, I love The Great Gatsby. So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?
As I get older, I’ve come to accept the inevitability of the hangover. The best cure, though, is always to sink into the sea and float it away…
After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?
Anything that involves a beach, a palm tree, and easy access to a cocktail makes for a perfect weekend in my eyes!
Sounds perfect! Thank you so much for joining me, I have really enjoyed our chat.
Jane is the author of the Jolly Ollie Octopus books, which you can buy here.
Born in the midst of a global pandemic, Ollie is a gentle reminder that kindness and friendship can be found in the darkest times.
Jane Thomas has spent the last 20 years living and working in tucked-away corners of the world, content in a dugout canoe on the Amazon, put-putting along on an essentially brake-free scooter in Laos, or sleeping under the stars in the Kalahari. It turns out a Master’s in Eighteenth Century Women’s Poetry from the University of Oxford doesn’t just lead to the darkened hallows of a library’s archive…
She’s spent nearly two decades creating materials for teachers to use in the classroom, including projects with the Malaysian Ministry of Education, Nickelodeon, and the British Council. She may have helped Ollie a little with some of the Fun Stuff word games…
Jane lives (some of the year) in her book-lined cottage in rural France at an address that translates to ‘Hidden Place, End of the World’. Her current obsession – for at any time, one should always have a few decent obsessions – is a bright red camper van named Florence, freedom in a locked-down world.