Jane Jesmond on her Debut Thriller
After reaching the final page of On the Edge, a debut thriller by a Northern writer, we speak to the author to find out more
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I'm a debut author writing under the name Jane Jesmond. Jesmond isn't my real name though. It is the place I was born and, although I have lived in France for the last 30 years, I consider myself to be a Northern lass through and through.
What can readers expect from On the Edge?
Thrills and excitement, I hope, in a story that starts with Jenifry Shaw hanging, unconscious and dreaming, from a lighthouse in the middle of a wild storm and hurtles after her as she tries to find out how she ended up there. There's danger and suspicion, a chase over rainswept moors and, of course, plenty of climbing! But, although Jen is a daredevil, risk-taking character, she also has a thoughtful side and there are moments when it is her love of high places and the wild beauty of the countryside that come to the fore.
Where did your inspiration come from for On the Edge?
The initial inspiration came from a lighthouse very close to where I live. I was driving home past it one blustery, rainy night and stopped to watch its immense beam shoot out over the sea and sky. The beginning of On the Edge came to me at that moment and, although the rest of it has been through several incarnations, that opening scene has never changed.
The other major one was climbing. It's no secret that Jenifry Shaw, the protagonist of On the Edge, is an expert and passionate climber. As I was starting to plan the book, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson free-climbed the Dawn Wall, an immense 3,000-foot face of granite in Yosemite National Park. For those who know as little about climbing as I did before I started writing On the Edge, free-climbing means that although the climber is roped in case they fall, they climb without using the ropes or any other aids. They use nothing except their hands and feet and some chalk dust. The two of them lived on the cliff for weeks, spending each night in bivouacs suspended in space. For someone as terrified of heights as I am, it was a breathtaking feat and from it came the urge to explore the psyche and motivation of risk-takers such as Caldwell and Jorgeson.
What message do you hope readers will take away from the book?
First, and most importantly, I hope readers will enjoy the story. I hope they'll find it as exciting to read as I did to write. The heart of the story though lies in its characters; in particular Jen and her eccentric family. It's a story about dealing with loss, about how people react when the most important thing in their lives is torn away – their home, their livelihood, their passion or their lover.
The other thing I hope readers take away is nothing to do with the story itself. I'm a debut author but I'm far older than your average first-time writer – probably old enough to be a grandmother to many of them. I always wanted to write but never found the time until recently. I'd love other people my age to take the fact that it's never too late from my experience.
Your favourite thing about Northumberland?
So hard to choose but it's probably the coastline. I love the vast flat beaches, especially at that moment of low tide when the sands are wet enough to reflect the skies. We have big skies where I live in Brittany but they are nothing compared to the ones in Northumberland. The part I know best is the area around Bamburgh, with its 'singing sands' – although the noise sounded more like an inexpert whistle to me – and its profusion of wildlife, particularly the puffins over on the Farne Islands. There's just so many of them and they're such comical birds with their stubby feet and wings. You wonder how they manage to fly. I also remember having a bit of a scare with the nesting terns. I think this was on Farne but it could have been nearby. I was a child at the time. My memory is of turning a corner and suddenly finding ourselves among a group of baby terns. My brother, not much more than a toddler himself, was enchanted and tried to pick one up whereupon the parent terns dive bombed us, which, as I'd recently seen Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, was an utterly terrifying experience. I can't talk about my favourite things in Northumberland without mentioning the bookshop in the old railway station at Alnwick. I love bookshops anyway but Barter Books is a very special place. I can spend hours there staring at its writers’ mural as well as browsing its amazing selection of books.
Would you set a thriller in Northumberland, and why?
Definitely! I'd love to set a thriller on and around Hadrian's Wall. Frontiers are magical places in themselves and in the quiet and lonely parts of the ancient wall you can feel the history in the stones. A history of bitter warfare, of people far away from their homes and of the ambition of those Roman engineers who built it. Sense of place is very important to me when writing and a story imbued with the atmosphere of the highest part of the wall at Winshields, where the countryside is spectacularly bleak, wild and beautiful would be exciting. And, of course, the crags and cliffs of the Whin Sill along which a large part of the wall runs provide many opportunities for climbing if the thriller was to feature Jenifry Shaw.
What can we expect from the rest of the series (without giving any spoilers away)?
Very tricky to answer this without giving anything away. Obviously there'll be a lot more about Jen and about some of the key characters in On the Edge. The story will leave Cornwall and go further afield, much further afield. There'll be climbing. There'll definitely be danger. There'll definitely be atmosphere. The rest you'll have to wait and see…
On the Edge is out now, published by Oldcastle Books/No Exit Press. Enter our competition here to be in with a chance of winning a signed bookplate copy.