Jo Simmons is an author of funny fiction and her latest book, The Reluctant Vampire Queen, sees her writing funny books for teenagers.
Jo began her working life as a sub editor on magazines in London and later became a freelance journalist. She started writing for children when her two boys were young and hungry for daft and silly stories to make bedtime more fun. I Swapped My Brother on the Internet was shortlisted for the Lollies Book Awards 2020 and was translated into several languages.
She lives in Brighton with her family and a small, scruffy dog who leaves hair absolutely everywhere.
The Reluctant Vampire Queen (Hot Key Books)
Mo Merrydrew has big plans for her life - exams, university, maybe a career in politics. Becoming the vampire queen isn't quite what she had in mind... But when you're facing a determined and frankly quite scary vampire, how do you say 'no'?
Author Jo Simmons tells us about modern vampires, writing tips and her new book, The Reluctant Vampire Queen.
Q&A with Jo Simmons
1. Can you tell us a little about yourself, and the kinds of books you like to write?
I have been writing children's books since about 2011. Before that I was a journalist, working for newspapers and magazines. I love writing funny fiction, usually set in the everyday, here-and-now world. I began with stories for quite young children, then later wrote for children who are at junior school, and now I've aged up again to write for young teens.
2. Why did you decide to write for teenagers?
It was a new challenge for me. I'd never written for this age group before. I also think young teenagers are not brilliantly served currently. There's a lot of illustrated fiction aimed at children in primary school out there and a lot of YA but not a whole lot in the middle, but I do believe there are a huge number of readers in that age bracket.
3. And about vampires? Were you a big vampire reader as a teenager?
Not as a teenager, but as an adult I've always enjoyed vampire films and TV shows. I'm not a dark gothy person, but when I came to write this story I realised how big a part of my life vampires have been (not personally, though, I've yet to meet one).
4. What happens in The Reluctant Vampire Queen?
A fifteen-year-old school girl called Mo is stopped on her way home by an ancient vampire called Bogdan who tells her she is the Chosen One, destined to rule all the vampires of Great Britain as their queen. She's totally not expecting that and it doesn't fit with any of her plans for her life - and she has a lot of plans. She's driven, ambitious and determined to have a glittering career. So, what's she going to do?
5. When Mo Merrydrew is offered the role of vampire queen - what qualifications does she have for the job?
None on paper. All her great exam grades and school prizes count for nothing in the vampire realm. But, she is the Chosen One. There's something in her, some force or strength that even she hasn't spotted yet, and it's marked her out for the role. In every story, the main character is asking who am I? That's definitely true of Mo's story.
6. How do you think you'd have coped with being a vampire queen as a teenager?
Terribly! I love going to bed early - being up all night wouldn't work for me. I'm quite squeamish, so all that blood would be a problem. I was quite shy, too, so addressing my vampire subjects would have made me very nervous. I would have enjoyed dressing up in cool robes, yes, and frankly anyone telling me I was the Chosen One, even if I was just chosen to go and work in the Co-Op would have been nice at that age!
7. What does a modern day vampire look and behave like?
Good question! Modern-day vampires still do all the night stalking and drinking of human blood that vampires have always done, and when their fangs are down and they're in feeding mode you do not want to mess with them, but they also enjoy dancing and smashing plates to celebrate good news. And Bogdan is always keen to explain that he was human once, too. Dress-wise, there's quite a bit of velvet and, on some vampires, a fair bit of bling jewellery too.
8. Is there a stand-out moment in the book that you can share with us?
There are heaps of exciting scenes - well I would say that - but I don't want to give too much away. One key moment is when Luca shows up at Mo's house. He's Bogdan's familiar - young and ridiculously good looking. It's a powerful moment for Mo (and me, I'm kind of in love with him).
9. The story is also about friendship, and getting it wrong. What does Mo need to learn about being a good friend?
She needs to learn that honesty matters and being straight with her best friend Lou is essential. First though she has to realise that friendship and connection is important to her. She's convinced herself that studying and sticking to her plan for her future life are the number one priority. She's going to discover how much she loves her friend, and how respecting and nourishing that relationship is more important than anything else.
10. What's next for the Vampire Queen and her British subjects?
Loads! First, Mo has to meet all her British subjects. Then she has to rule them while also having a regular life. But it won't be straightforward, I can promise you that.
11. What career would you have enjoyed if you weren't an author?
I'm in the middle of training to be a therapist, so that's a career I might combine with writing in the future and would have enjoyed if I had got to it sooner, too.
12. What do you enjoy doing to relax when you're away from your desk?
I like to exercise - I do military fitness classes in the park, a lot of chucking slam balls around - and walk my dog, hang out with my friends and family over long dinners or watch films. I can make a mean coffee sponge, too.
13. What would be your top three tips to teenagers who want to write?
Read loads and widely.
Write as often as you can, and don't worry about the quality.
Write about something you genuinely care about, something that delights you.