Books, babies and blogging with Slummy Mummy, Jo Middleton, and Young Adult author, Karen Gregory

8 May

Jo Middleton is much like her writing: instantly likeable, witty and fun. A former marketing employee, Jo quit and followed her dream of becoming a freelance journalist. With little to no experience, she noted down editors’ names from magazines and asked them what they would like her to write.

Her first writing break came writing for South West Holiday Parks and shortly after she started a blog to increase her portfolio. As a single mother of two, she embraced the adage write what you know and wrote on the subject of parenting. And so Slummy Mummy was born.

Talking about her writing journey, Jo acknowledges apologetically that for many it is not easy, but ten years on from her choosing to start a blog it is understandable why she has been successful.

Jo’s writing is honest, on receiving her first free product of hand cream to review she wrote, “keeps my hands soft and moisturised, but smells like cabbages and old peoples homes.”

Jo Middleton © Fernando Bagué

It is this honesty, humour and light approach that drew attention from publishers and the request to write a fiction book on parenting young toddlers, Prosecco and Playgroups – the misadventures of a single mum. This was a new challenge for Jo who confessed to writing 10,000 words of a murder mystery for National Novel Writing Month before realising she had no idea who had done it.

When asked how she found writing a book, she shared, “It’s a bit like childbirth. I forget. Looking back it didn’t seem so bad.” Adding, if you didn’t forget you wouldn’t have more children or write more books.

Sharing the stage with Jo was someone who knows the pain of writing and the joys of success, Karen Gregory, author of three published young adult novels. Born in Purton, and former attendee of Swindon’s Mum’s The Word writing group, Karen has a strong connection to the town.

Unlike Jo, she balances working three days for the National Trust with writing and family commitments. Because, as Karen candidly explains, novel writing alone does not pay the bills – the average income of a novelist is £11,000 – with less than fifty authors in the UK earning enough to make a living out of novel writing.

Karen Gregory photo © Fernando Bagué

Money, however, has never swayed Karen from her passion, writing has been a love for her since childhood, but an art she rediscovered when having her first child, and sharing her writing with the supportive Mum’s The Word group.

Her first novel, a dystopian fantasy written in 2009, received a sea of rejections when sent to publishers. However, in 2016 after much work and writing, Karen was awarded a two-book deal with Bloomsbury for her young adult debut novel, Countless.

The process was not easy with edit notes driving Karen to tears but she fought on and reaped the rewards for her commitment. At low moments of redrafts and edits, Karen said, “I would ask myself why I write and remind myself because I love it.”

Karen writes to learn, process thoughts and find out what she thinks. When responding to an audience question on sending work and the editing process, she said, “Editing always feels like it could be better. Perfect is enemy of the good. If you are blocked from sending your work it is usually because of fear.”

Jo Middleton and Karen Gregory appeared at Swindon Spring Festival, 8 May 2019 at Swindon Arts Centre.

Words by Emma Smith, photo © Fernando Bagué.

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