Hello, this is me! I am Jo Cotterill, author of Jelly, as well as lots of other books – about forty as of the end of 2018. I’ve been massively lucky to be able to have all kinds of crazy and exciting jobs and experiences over the years, so here’s a kind of run-down of me and my life and my journey into books…
Born in Oxford in the year of a very very very hot summer. Mind you, since the one we had in 2018 was insane, I think 1976 is no longer the record-holder. I was a baby who didn’t sleep, was interested in everything, and a very fussy eater. I loved books (we were a very booky household) and learned to read and write stupidly early – like at about 3.
Wrote the epic story ‘Chismas’ for my grandparents, as a Christmas present. You can see I’d already grasped the concept of ‘beginning, middle and end’ though my idea of a ‘problem’ (all stories need to have a problem) was fairly tiny!
I wrote lots of stories while I was at primary school, but mostly I enjoyed playing made-up games. My friends and I spent hours of break-time galloping around on imaginary horses and having adventures. We also tried to scrub a hidden area of the playground with toothbrushes so we could turn it into a den. No, we didn’t use our own toothbrushes…
I was obsessed with unicorns as a child. I read a story by the amazing author Joan Aiken about two children (Mark and Harriet) who discovered a unicorn in their garden one day. They named it Candleberry, and every time they brushed its tail, gold coins fell out! That seemed pretty ideal to me – an actual real unicorn, AND it gave you money! (I would have spent all my money on Panini stickers, sweets and things from the Argos catalogue.) The illustration on the right is one I did for my story ‘The Unicorns Die Out’ in which a unicorn called Magic discovered he wasn’t the only unicorn left in the world after all. The title, as you’ll have guessed, didn’t actually fit the story very well.
I started secondary school – aww, lookit me in my posh uniform! I felt very nervous about starting a new school but also kind of excited. Having a proper timetable with lessons in different places and with different teachers was mind-blowing to start with.
I did loads. Brownies, ballet, tap, modern dance, violin, piano, flute, drama club, badminton (badminton is my favourite sport because you play it indoors and the court is very small! I’m not a very sporty person), music school, orchestra trips. I did something after school on almost every day. I was very, very lucky to be able to do this.
I left school after my A-Levels (English Lit, Music and Maths, if you want to know! Yes, MATHS! I loved it!) and went straight to Middlesex University to ‘study’ Performing Arts. What I ACTUALLY did for three years was be in shows and plays and write music and do dances and…well, let’s just say it was BRILLIANT.
After I left university, I got jobs in lots of different theatre companies in lots of different plays. Sometimes I was the musical director on the show too. Sometimes I worked behind the scenes. I loved being in productions. In this photo, I’m the one second from left playing the piccolo! This production was called The Terrible Grump, and I was playing a character called Tralala. As you’ll probably have guessed, it was a show for young children.
After a few years of auditioning and performing over and over again, and never having much money, I decided to do something a bit different, so I became a Teaching Assistant at a huge secondary school in North London, where I was living at the time. I also worked weekends as a singing teacher at a stage school. And sometimes I ran drama/music/art workshops for adults with learning difficulties at a day centre too. I always like variety! After a couple of years, I applied for a Proper Teaching Job at a small private girls’ school in Oxford and got it! I moved back to my home county and got to grips with GCSE English…and sometimes GCSE Drama, and Y7/8 History. Variety again, you see!
I started writing during acting breaks because I wanted something else creative to do. I did a correspondence course with the Academy of Children’s Writers (don’t think they even exist any more!) which was really helpful. I started sending out stories to publishers and collected around 50 rejections before my very first book Moondance was accepted for publication! Isn’t it beautiful?! I will always be grateful to Andersen Press for giving me that very first name-on-book feeling. After Moondance, I had lots more rejections, and several near-misses (when the editor really likes your work but it isn’t QUITE good enough to persuade them to publish it!) until I started writing for teenagers instead. My ‘big break’ if you like came in 2009 when I signed a contract with Random House (now Penguin Random House) for a six-book series called Sweet Hearts. I was SO excited! I gave up my teaching job to write full-time, and here I am still writing as my main job.
I live just outside Oxford with my two fantastic daughters, and I write while they’re at school or staying with their dad. I love having the house to myself, and as well as writing, I love crafting (making cards, painting pebbles and creating flowers out of plastic bottles are my current obsessions!) and playing in a band. My ideas for stories come from all kinds of places – the more of life and the world you see, the more ideas you’re likely to have! I still have lots of stories I want to write over the years to come… 🙂
To read my blog and find out more about me and my interests, visit jocotterill.com