What does it take to become an author? How do you go from working in an uninspiring job and not writing to building a thriving career as an author? That might sound impossible and out of reach—but it’s not.
In this episode of Character Test, I talk with one of the most successful self-published authors writing today about how she fulfilled her dream to actually become an author.
Joanna Penn Became an Author
Joanna Penn, also known as J.F. Penn, is a New York Times bestselling author of supernatural thriller novels. She’s also a leading voice in the indie publishing movement.
She didn’t start out as a writer, though. In fact, she spent years working in the corporate world and wishing she could find a career in which she could thrive.
Eventually, the pain of staying in her corporate job became greater than the risk it would be to step away. So she determined a goal, made a plan, quit her job, and transitioned into writing full-time.
I made this mindset shift around my day job, which was: This is now a day job. I will do what I have to do to keep my job, but no more.
So I would leave on time, which as most of us know, in corporate you don’t leave on time; you work more than the hours you’re meant to work.
And I didn’t want promotion. I didn’t want any extra work. I just wanted to do my job and go home.
So I would get up early at like 5 a.m. and write, and come home and do marketing. I started my podcast in 2009. I started my YouTube channel. I started my blog. You know, I was building and writing while I had the day job. So it took me to 2011.
So it was about five years of doing all that before I could go full-time.
5 Steps to Become an Author From Joanna Penn
What does it actually take to become an author? Joanna built her career by following these five steps.
1. Set an intention.
What do you want for your life? Before you can build a dream career you’ll love, you need to know what you really want.
Joanna’s dream life centers on three core values: reading, writing, and traveling. She was in her thirties when she determined her values—and knowing those values helped her see where her life wasn’t yet in line with them.
What was in line with them was becoming an author. So she set her intention, which gave her the focus she needed to make the leap.
2. Declare your affirmation.
If you’re truly going to take bold steps towards becoming an author, you need to believe in yourself. Of course, that’s easier said than done.
That’s why Joanna recommends creating an affirmation to say out loud to yourself every single day.
In 2006, I started saying, “I am creative. I am an author.” . . . Try saying that out loud. “I am creative. I am an author.” I used to say that before I was either of those things.
When you have an affirmation like that, you start to move into taking action. You can change things, and what is in your mind can become real. It’s the law of attraction.
You are creative. You are an author. And the more you believe that, the more you’ll follow through on the actions that prove it.
3. Write a book.
How do you become an author? You write.
This step is in some ways the hardest step of all. But if you value writing in your life and you believe in yourself and your creativity, then you have what it takes to finish.
4. Get your book published.
If you want to become an author, you must publish your writing.
Reach out to agents and publishers to publish your book traditionally. Or, prepare it yourself and self-publish it (that’s what Joanna did).
And don’t stop there. Keep publishing your writing: as books and novels, as short stories, as articles on a blog. The more you publish, the more you’ll be able to connect with readers.
5. Keep challenging yourself.
What’s next? Don’t stop. Keep looking for the next challenge, the next adventure that will keep you growing.
For Joanna, the first challenge was nonfiction. She actually started writing nonfiction to teach others about things she didn’t know, things that were challenging for her.
We had a house. We had an investment property. We had all the stuff that goes in there.
But I was crying every day at work. I was just miserable.
My husband said, “Look you have to figure out what you want to do with your life, and then we’ll make it happen.” . . . So I started to try and figure out what I wanted to do.
And in that process I decided to write a book about career change.
. . . I think everyone has a natural way of expression. My natural way of expression is writing, and I felt that if I could try to write a book about it, I would learn what I needed to learn.
That nonfiction book was her start, but it was far from the end. A few years later, she encountered her next big challenge.
In 2009, I had someone on my podcast, and I said, “Oh, I could never write a novel.”
He said, “Sounds like you’ve got a block about that.”
. . . That very much challenged my self-definition. How could I be a fiction writer?
So I did NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, and I wrote 20,000 words in that month. . . . It was the first I’d ever written
fiction since school. And so that turned into 5,000 words that became the first Arkane novel, Stone of Fire. It took about fourteen months after that for me to write it, edit it. . . . That first novel came out and it completely shook up my definition of myself, and since then I’ve written seventeen novels now.
Today, Joanna is a bestselling author of fiction and nonfiction. She’s also an expert in her field. And all these successes came because she was willing to take risks and accept challenges.
Those five pointers are just the start. Joanna shared so many valuable tips in our interview about what it really takes to become a bestselling author. If you’ve ever wondered if you have what it takes to become an author, I think you’ll love our conversation. She talks about things like:
- Why she doesn’t wait to learn something new before she starts writing about it.
- Why she’s fascinated by every place she travels to, and how she cultivates boundless curiosity.
- How she knew she had to become an author.
- Why she declared she was an author—before she ever wrote a book.
- How she transitioned from the corporate world to working full-time as an author.
- How she weaves together page-turning plots and deeper messages in her bestselling novels.
You can find Joanna here:
- J.F. Penn (for thriller readers)
- The Creative Penn (for writers)
- J.F Penn’s Books (Amazon)
- Joanna Penn’s Books (Amazon)
- Books and Travel Podcast
- Social: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook
Joanna has built her life around three core values: reading, writing, and traveling. What three values would you like to see in your dream life?
Read the Transcript
Joe Bunting: Well, welcome to the character test show Joanna. Thanks for joining us today.
Joanna Penn: Oh, thanks for having me on the show.
Joe Bunting: So I’d like to start with a section from your latest novel in your Arcane series valley of dry bones. And you said your Arcane series is kind of like DaVinci Code meets Tomb Raider, which is really fun. And in this novel. There are two Heroes who are tracking down a relic said to bring the dead back to life.
Can you read that section from your novel?
Joanna Penn: Yeah sure. And so this is from Valley of Dry Bones:
They entered the door into the cathedral walking into Chile Darkness as they stepped over the threshold. It was freezing and as Morgan looked up to the arch ceiling high above she could see why the cathedral was massive and enormous space.
It was the very definition of the gothic style built in the 13th century and extended in the 15th on the foundations of the Visigoths basilica. Stone pillars towered above meeting in soaring arches stained glass windows let in a little light but as the rain poured down outside it sent the cathedral further into Shadow Morgan shivered in some places of Faith.
She felt warmth and welcome. But here she felt only numbing cold.
Joe Bunting: Thank you. I’ll travel is an important part of this book and all your books. This novel takes place in New Orleans San Francisco and Toledo Spain and I heard that you visited all of those places when you are working on this book.
How does it feel to write like this about your travel experiences?
Joanna Penn: Oh, well, it’s funny because I do travel to most of the places in my books. Picked a passage from Toledo. So this is about the cathedral in Toledo and it really was freezing. I mean it was so cold and I went because I was in New Orleans and I saw a Bible in the st.
Louis for French that the Saint Louis Cathedral they have this st. Louis Bible at the back of the church. And you know, I was doing all this research around New Orleans and I saw this Bible it was basically a copy of the Toledo Bible and that made me want to visit Toledo. I was like. The story here.
I don’t understand what is going on. So that led me into this story. So for my arm Kain series it really is I find the story as I travel and this one turned into something around the Spanish Empire and sort of all the places that Spain had started off with and then moved into obviously San Francisco where the book is also set has the missions and the friar who started those missions was.
Born in Mallorca, and I actually visited where he studied and where he was born. So I love to travel and it’s so funny because you know when I looked at my life back in my early 30s I said to myself what do I want to do with my life and it was reading writing and traveling and so that’s kind of why I designed my books this way.
But yes, in fact as we speak, I’m off to Lisbon Portugal next week because my next came Thriller will be around the Portuguese Jews. And where they ended up so yeah, I always travel from my research.
Joe Bunting: So how did your visits Inspire this book? And what order did you visit each of those places? You said you went to San Francisco and New Orleans in Toledo and Mallorca.
I’m assuming you didn’t like fly from each spot. You know, how did that kind of come about?
Joanna Penn: Well, there’s a reason I only write one Arcane book every year pretty much a year to 18 months and it is because. Other books in the meantime, but obviously I actually say I don’t travel everywhere at once sometimes the ideas are from other trips.
So for example destroyer of worlds, which is set in India, I first traveled to India sort of 15 years ago and then I travel back 10 years later and both of those trips found their way into the book. So often many of the stories might be travels that I’ve done over a more end of days for example set a lot in Israel and I traveled a lot in Israel back in the 90s, so.
Many of them are based on other places and things that almost appear as a story later on and then yeah occasionally, I will visit a place later on as well. So with this one it’s hard to be hard to say. I mean valley of dry bones. I’ve always loved the story in the biblical Book of Ezekiel of the valley of dry bones, which is come breath and breathe into these bones and they rise up this Army of the dead so it’s like zombie story.
The Bible and I was always fascinated by that. So I think when I went to San Francisco and number of years ago and found the mission, so I went to Mission Dolores in the Mission District and I was like, this is very interesting place and Relics of always. Signe anyway, then when I was in New Orleans, that’s probably a year later.
That’s when I saw the Bible and then we were doing a trip to Madrid anyway, and Toledo is only like an hour outside Madrid. So that’s why I went to Toledo for this book, but it kind of Acts twofold whenever I travel to a place I will go and. See historical places and Cathedrals and synagogues and I’ll look at the history the real generally the religious history of a place and I will look at what are the stories beneath this place.
And of course the Portuguese Empire was incredibly powerful and Latin America, you know, a lot of Latin America speaks Portuguese because of how far they got and they went to go a they went to assemble. So this is why this next. Is sort of turning into an international thriller. So it’s a bit of both I either know I want to research a place so I go there or I’m in a place and I research it
Joe Bunting: that’s so interesting that you’re drawn to the religious stories of a place, you know, I’ve traveled pretty extensively but I’m usually more focused on people that you meet at what food there is but you’re really focused on the religious narratives in those communities.
Yeah, that’s fascinating.
Joanna Penn: Yeah, I think well, I have a master’s degree in theology from Oxford and. I’ve always been interested in the psychology of religion. So I’m not of any religion myself, but I have an incredible curiosity. I would say I’m spiritual and I believe there is more than what we can see.
I guess if you believe in Wi-Fi really more than we can see but you know that I write about the Arcane books. They have a supernatural Edge is what I say, they’re not paranormal. There’s no werewolves or whatever, but certainly valley of dry bones. Is there something that can raise the dead? Well, you know, if you look at Haitian Voodoo, so when I went to New Orleans, I researched a lot about Voodoo.
And of course that comes from West Africa, so even though I didn’t visit West Africa, I wrote about the history of Spain in West Africa and some of the things they might have found within that tradition. So I find all different faiths very interesting. And of course the history of the world is the history of religion.
It’s entwined in every place. And I’m very grateful to live in Europe because we have so much of that history here. Whereas, you know in the in the USA, you know, you have obviously you some ain’t more ancient religions, but every place you go in Europe, there are just so many. I mean here I live in in bath in the southwest of England.
It was a Roman Spa over 2,000 years ago and we have the medieval Abbey built on top of an ancient Roman bath full of curses to the. So and it’s kind of an incredible place to live.
Joe Bunting: Wow. So at this point in your career, do you write to travel or do you travel to write like are you more excited about the travel and going to these places and now you have an excuse to write about it, or is it like now you have an excuse to travel about it?
Because you’re writing a story about that.
Joanna Penn: It’s definitely both. So for example earlier in the year. My husband was like, you know, he said I’d like to go to Amsterdam and I’ve. To answer them a long long time ago in the Netherlands and I was like, well, that would be great. Let’s go dancer down and then I started researching.
Well, what is interesting about Amsterdam? And what is special about it? Obviously great Canal Network and you know, interesting political things, but also I discovered there the Portuguese synagogue now, we didn’t go to Amsterdam looking for the Portuguese synagogue. We also went you know to look at the Rembrandt’s night watch and I looked at it and I just get this feeling so I looked at the night watch which.
One of the most famous paintings and just went does nothing for me. Where is then we went to this Portuguese synagogue and it was incredible. They don’t have electricity. So when they light it with candles they have over a Thousand Candles and it was just beautiful and then you read about the history of the place and I was like, how come the Portuguese Jews were here?
And also they have one of the oldest libraries in the world and I’m a sucker for libraries and old manuscripts and you know the sort of. Akane, as I say, you know, they secret things that have been kept for generations and I looked in the window of this library and they don’t let you in and then you have to get special permission and stuff and I was like, oh, I really want to go in there and for me the next best thing to going in there is going to be writing about it because of course I can find pictures and I can make up manuscripts which is what I love to do and that has now led to the trip to Lisbon because obviously I can just read about the fact that the Portuguese expelled.
Jews but when I go to a place it brings it alive for me. So the passage I read about the Toledo Cathedral. I love places of faith. I love Cathedrals I go in them a lot. So to compare Toledo with Mallorca Palma in Mallorca to very very big Cathedrals with very high ceilings built of that sort of Gothic era and Palmer was just amazing.
I just felt happy. I felt buoyant. I mean, obviously it’s a warmer climate. But Toledo it was really quite nasty out felt coals in every sense of the word and to lead a was where they had massive pogroms against the Jews the Jewish population. There was pretty much wiped out and expelled they have a little synagogue area a little Jewish District, but it was so fascinating to compare the two.
So yeah, I just I get so involved in the place when I travel there that it’s worth it to me. So this is a job, but you can. Tell this is a passion.
Joe Bunting: I love it. So as you mentioned earlier before you started writing full-time, you are working a corporate job. How did you make the career change from a corporate job to a career in writing?
Joanna Penn: Well, I think the biggest shift is making the decision because you know, I was a quite highly paid consultant. I was implementing accounts payable systems into a mining company at the time and amazing. Yeah exactly. I mean it was a very well paid job, but it was not creative as you can imagine and I was you know, I had the money but it was those golden handcuffs.
I was like, how do I give this up? We had a house. We had an investment property. We had all the stuff that goes in there. But I was crying every day at work. I was just miserable and my husband said look you have to figure out what you want to do with your life and then we’ll make it happen. So I started listening to a lot of back then podcast or downloadable audio as I guess they were and audio books sent off for tape.
So think it was all CDs and started to try and figure out what I wanted to do. And in that process decided to write a book about career change. This was around
Joe Bunting: 2006. So you are writing a book about. Career change as you are making a career change.
Joanna Penn: Well, it was more that I wanted to figure out how to change my own life.
And I think everyone has a natural way of expression and my natural way of expression is writing and I felt that if I. Try to write a book about it. I would learn what I needed to learn and I continue to do this all my non-fiction books are written because I needed to learn something. So I tend to you know teach what you need to learn is a good thing.
Joe Bunting: So, yeah, that’s what I do too. So, I mean it makes total sense to me.
Joanna Penn: Yeah, exactly. So by the time I’d written this book and I then discovered the publishing industry and how much time it would take and I decided to self-publish before the Kindle before any of the stuff. We have nowadays in summer 2007.
But what also happened was I made this mindset shift around my day job, which was this is now a day job. I will do what I have to do to keep my job, but no more so I would leave on time which I thought most of us know and incorporates you don’t leave on time you work more than the hours you’re meant to work and I didn’t want promotion.
I didn’t want any extra work. I just wanted to do my job and go home. So I would get up early at like 5 a.m. And rice and come home and do marketing. I. Podcast in 2009. I started YouTube channel. I started my blog, you know, it’s was building and writing while I have the day job. So it took me to 2011.
So it was about five years of doing all that before I could go full time and. I was only able to do that because we downsize so we sold everything because I was at the time pretty much the crime wage earners. So we sold everything downsized got rid of debt so that I could shift and then it took a couple of years before my income.
Came back up again. And in 2015, my husband left his job to join the company. So I want to encourage people, you know, if you want to do this full-time you can but it’s certainly for me. It was like 5 years of building up income from the business multiple streams of income. You don’t just do this with one book then also another couple of years before the income comes back up again.
Yeah. So now I guess as we talked in 2019 I’ve been doing this. 13 years in total so that makes me about the level I was when I left Consulting in terms of experience now,
Joe Bunting: I mean, it sounds very courageous to make that kind of jump from a corporate level job and into creative work where you had to take a pay cut to do that but also kind of a courageous thing slowly over time like did it feel courageous it points in that process
Joanna Penn: I think is it was.
Slow for me, you know over the five years. I didn’t make the decision to leave my job. When I decided to change my life, it will happen slowly. I’m not someone who likes risk so you and also when I left my job, we had six months of money to pay the bills and everything. My husband had a job. So it really was a case of I said look if this doesn’t work, I will go back and I’ve never had to go back which is fantastic, but I don’t think of myself as courageous in any way.
Generally, it’s if the pain is great enough. You will do anything to fix that pain and I just was so miserable. I just could not do that job any longer. It’s I was creatively dying everyday. I had no ideas. I didn’t. I think of myself as creative which is crazy. Now. My business is the creative fun.
But you know, I didn’t equate the word pen my actual surname with writing, you know, I was born for this and yet I didn’t know it so I had been put in this corporate box for years and years and it took a lot of self-analysis and self-help work to change my mindset and then obviously it’s not just mindset you have to take action.
And I started writing the books and more books and all of that. So I would encourage people to think that you don’t well do not just quit your job tomorrow and expects to create a full-time living with your writing. I think take it slowly and you absolutely can do this.
Joe Bunting: Yeah, and I heard you discovered that you were in fact creative in part through taking action.
You entered nanowrimo you didn’t win but you wrote a lot of words. Could you tell us that story about kind of discovering that you are creative through writing a novel?
Joanna Penn: Yeah. Sure. So well, I think the discovering I was creative it first started a few years before that when I had an affirmation which was I am creative.
I am an author and I started saying that. Yeah, 2006 I am creative. I am an author and I couldn’t say outs out out loud at first and if you’re listening, you know, someone’s listening and try saying this out loud. I am creative. I am an author and I used to say that before I was either of these things but then when you have an affirmation like that you start to move into taking action on that you can change things and what is in your mind can become real so it’s a bit, you know the secret law of attraction.
It’s the action side that is important. So if you want to be an author you have to write so I started doing that. So I wrote a couple of non-fiction books and then in 2009, I had someone on my podcast and we were talking and I said, oh I could never write a novel. And he said sounds like you’ve got a block about that and I was like no, I’m not someone who has writer’s block.
I don’t you no. No, that’s crazy. And then I came off the phone and went okay, that is interesting. That’s very much challenged myself definition. So, how could I be a fiction writer? And so I did nanowrimo National novel writing month people can find that at nanowrimo dot org and I wrote 20,000 words in that month and the aim is to write.
Thousand but it didn’t matter the first 20,000 words. I’d ever written for fiction since school. And so that turned into sort of 5,000 words that became the first Arcane Oval Stone of Fire and it took about 14 months after that for me to write it edit it. I did year of the novel at a library in Queensland Australia.
I was living in Australia the time and yeah that first novel came out and it completely Shook Up. Definition of myself and since they’re not vibrating like 17 novels now, but what’s so funny and if people are novelist so they understand this as soon as I finished a novel, I wonder if I can ever do it again and then so I had to take a rest.
So the last book I cut out map of plagues came out a couple of months ago as we talk and I’m only just now coming up to the point of okay. Yeah. I’m about ready to do this again. So throughout ready. The ideas are coming back.
Joe Bunting: I totally relate to that. I finished a novel and I’ve written creatively for so long and had a similar mental block around writing fiction.
It was such a big deal to me if that makes sense. I really wanted to be I’ve always wanted to be a novelist and it had built up into this huge thing and I just decided I was going to finish like it was time and you need to stop planning to do this and just. It so I wrote this novel about a pretty basic idea.
Well, that’s so basic but it wasn’t this Grand series that I was planning and it went pretty well and I really love the story and I’m going to release it next year. But yeah, I have the same kind of Mia actually a novelist like I wrote a novel but what does that make me? Can I do this again? Can it be better even than the last time there’s so much self-doubt just even after accomplishing that it’s.
Joanna Penn: Oh, yeah, and I definitely have Dan Brown to thank for my fiction career because before you know, I went to Oxford my mum taught literature. I really the my block was to be a novelist you have to write prize-winning literary fiction and that was what stopped me for so long. It was well, I can’t write a prize-winning literary novel and then The DaVinci Code came out and I was like this.
I love this. This is great. This is exactly. The type of thing I want to write and before that my favorite book had been the name of the Rose by Umberto Eco and again very literary writer. So that kind of religious Thriller and then of course, you know The DaVinci Code got banned by the Vatican and it turned into what it did and it kind of showed me that you can write a religious Thriller without it being a Christian.
Novel I mean it definitely fits within the genres or between genres, but this will be my message to people write what you love to read don’t think that you have to write a certain thing because that’s the thing that people say you should write I mean really focus on what you love and what you love to read and that’s going to be the best type of book you’re going to write.
Joe Bunting: So I’ve heard you say that you once wanted to be kind of a Tony. Ben’s figure like a motivational writer kind of role you got started not with novels, but with nonfiction as we talked about and doing public speaking is that still true of you that you kind of want to be that inspiring motivational author and speaker or has that changed over the years as you’ve built your career as a writer?
Joanna Penn: Well, I mean, I kind of hope I have that little place for some people certainly I get up feedback that I do help. With my nonfiction. So this is why I love to write nonfiction and fiction, you know fiction is very much entertainment Focus you can escape for a bit and that had that definitely has its therapeutic side, but the nonfiction I mean the successful author mindset which is one of my non-fiction books.
I wrote that because I continue as many people I suffer comparison itís and self-doubt and you know wanting to give up and thinking I’ll never have another idea and all of these things. That every single writer goes through so I definitely will continue to write nonfiction and I do also speak but as an introvert, I have discovered over the years that being with a lot of people regularly is too tiring and prevents me from writing.
So what I’ve now decided and it’s working super well, so this year as we speak 2019 I said would be a year of no speaking and then 2020. I’m going to do speaking. And then 20 21, I will do no speaking. So I’m just going to do year on year off and in that way that’s going to enable me to achieve my creative goals, but also to help people because sometimes seeing people in person and hearing a talk, you can really help people in that way.
And also I get to see all my author friends at various events. So yeah, I’m definitely trying to continue to do both and this is another sort of know yourself aspect. I thought that perhaps I would. Just double down on fiction and only write fiction, but that’s just not me. You know, I love writing my novels.
But I also love helping people. I love podcasting. I’ve been doing it over a decade now. So I’ll continue to do both and happily happily do both things.
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Joanna Penn: So your main
Joe Bunting: character Morgan Sierra in the Arcane series is kind of a badass in the novel that we read earlier. She’s kind of hurt. She’s recovering from Burns that she had in a previous Mission and even then she managed to take out several of the bad guys. What is your connection with this character?
Do you kind of Channel yourself?
Joanna Penn: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I mean Morgan is X Israeli military and she does Krav Maga. Although I have to say I went to a craft magar class. Hoping that I could you know, maybe if I became a Krav Maga expert is like a martial art that they use in the military and I went to one class and basically just came home crying and like know that way too much so I don’t do that but in her sort of work, so Morgan is when the series opens.
She’s working at Oxford University. Obviously where I was and I specialized in psychology of religion and that’s what she specializes in and essentially works with the Arcane agency investigating Supernatural Mysteries around the world. And one thing she doesn’t really know I think is what she believes and so that definitely is me as well.
You know, I’ve been in places where I very much felt the presence of something else and then some days I you know, I love a I I love medical research. All these other things that are not spiritual at all. So sitting on the edge of what is spiritual Supernatural scientific just stuff. We don’t know yet.
She brings that aspect to the book. So I almost get to investigate my own thoughts. And feelings through her so in that quote, for example, you know in some places of Faith she felt warmth and welcome. That is me a lot of the time Morgan is me, but of course you also kills people and I don’t do that.
So yeah, anyway, you know, yeah, so that’s where this would Lara Croft style character comes in, but certainly, you know, she has a house in Jericho and Oxford which you know, I have great emotional connection to that area her cats Shmi. As my cats and we had to leave him behind in Australia. So I wanted to write him into a book.
So, you know, there are lots of things. We’re all also her Mentor at Oxford. I did have a mentor who was a monk at Oxford at Blackfriars College, which again is in the book. So it’s interesting because so much of the novels have been part of my life, but obviously, you know, a lot of them haven’t it’s just interesting where truth turns into fiction.
But yeah. I mean Morgan is definitely at least 50% me.
Joe Bunting: I love it. So I’d like you to read one more section of your novel valley of dry bones. This is where one of the villains of the novel is checking on the status of his daughter who is very ill. Can you read that section,
Joanna Penn: but Louis would not let Elena go so easily.
He works with every specialist he could find in the world until they all said there was nothing left to do that. He should prepare for the end. So Lewis brought her to the lab his determination renewed he would find the hand of Ezekiel and it would bring life to the bones that crippled his beloved Elena looked up at him Deep Purple Shadows under her eyes.
She spoke in a halting whisper. It hurts Papa. I’m so tired can’t I just rest Lewis knew what she meant. They had talked about her end of life choices. And when she said enough was enough he would respect her decision to sleep without pain. He would help her transition and make sure she didn’t feel a thing except peace and love at the end, but he couldn’t let her go just yet.
Joe Bunting: So you’ve said that you believe in the right to die and euthanasia were you thinking of that when you are working on this story?
Joanna Penn: I mean I think about that a lot and it’s come up in a number of my books. I have tackled that topic in my certainly in my London sidekick books. I talked about this as well and book called delirium about suicide for example, which is a completely different thing in this occasion Elena.
As a condition I have the name here so I can read it out its fibrous dysplasia ossificans progressiva, which is basically damage soft tissue so muscles and other things turning to Bone and it’s a real condition and they actually have a skeleton in Philadelphia in the anatomical Museum there which I’ve seen and it’s quite horrific.
I mean, it’s basically your body is turning to Bone and it is a genetic disease and this tidy. If valley of dry bones, I got the idea of looking for obviously when we write these books we have the top level which is an action adventure Thriller where we search for some relics and then we have another level which has a lot of symbolism and this, you know Dry Bones coming back to life is essentially what Louis is looking for for his daughter and he’ll do anything.
So yeah, I do think that the decision for someone in this. Of Life situation is very very difficult. And I certainly here in the UK. I campaign for a organization called dignity and dying which is campaigning, you know, so that if you as an adult are in this situation, you could go to sleep at your home without pain and at the moment that’s not allowed here.
I know in some states in America. This is legal a number of states, I believe but not here so. Yeah, we think things are changing. But again this this particular situation difficult because this is a child and obviously children are different cases. They can’t necessarily make a decision. So I tried to make Louis have.
A really good reason for what he was doing and in the book, obviously, he does all kinds of terrible things in order to try and get this cure for her including experimenting on other people in order to see if they could do that, but he’s driven by a love for his child. But yeah, I think the discussion of end of life and the choice to die is.
A huge topic and obviously crosses over religious lines as well. And obviously I haven’t one opinion for me. But you know, this is something we all have to face at some point and I write a lot about death and darkness and maybe that’s to what obviously it is to tackle thinking about these things in my own life and for my own family and certainly the letters I write to my mp about this type of thing are because my nanny.
Died of lung cancer and she towards the end. She did not want to live anymore, but she had to carry on and just die in a way that we wouldn’t let an animal die. So yeah, I think this is an acutely emotional and very complicated topic but important that in our fiction we can tackle things like this.
Joe Bunting: So as you said this is a fun novel it has entertainment value of that
Joanna Penn: fun. What’s that
Joe Bunting: Jerri? I love that I love talking about this stuff. And it does raise these deeper questions about life and death and how sometimes by avoiding death that can actually make life worse. Can you talk more about Louis and his huge desire to keep his daughter alive and how that kind of leads him astray and how sometimes in our attachment to life we can actually make life worse and are avoidance.
Death they guess.
Joanna Penn: Yeah. So I mean the idea of the book is that essentially his distant ancestor had been to West Africa when the Spanish had gone down obviously in the slave trade and had stolen. Powder from a village in West Africa and of course that comes back up in the zombie tradition of Haiti and West African religions, but then essentially that had been stolen by the Inquisition and they’d hidden it within finger Relic finger bone relics.
And this had kind of gone down the ages his ancestors versus the Catholic church, but then his family are hunting for the relics that can essentially bring the dead to life and. Opening scene of the book is Villages is massacred in West Africa and a slave raid but the shaman brings them back to life with this powder.
So he takes that and so if you know through all the the years his family hadn’t been able to do it and then Lewis finally gets a chance. He’s in New Orleans and he finds some of it and the hunters for the relics that will complete the powder basically and Morgan and the team have to race him to get there in time.
So, I mean I think for him there’s nothing he won’t do and he almost, you know won’t give up until. Why can’t no spoilers but this you know, what will we do to keep someone we love alive? That’s a question. Perhaps we all have to face at some point as we talked this week. It was very interesting.
I mean, I this week I was telling you I’ve had a bit of an injury and for a couple of days I was in excruciating pain that medication wasn’t making much of a dent in. And when you are in a lot of pain and you can’t do anything except kind of lie there and wish time would pass so that you might be out of pain again.
I think if that is your life day in day out that’s when you start to question whether or not it’s worth it and certainly the reason I campaign about this is because I want the choice because I have the choice as a living person to do so much. Why can’t I have the choice to die without pain? When I choose to so yeah, I think that we when is it not worth carrying on?
Well, you have to decide that for yourself and it’s certainly a situational thing. But certainly, you know, if you’re in terminal a terminal illness with terminal pain like Elena in this situation, then you know, I know what I would want.
Joe Bunting: Yeah, so who is your favorite character from a book or film of all time?
Joanna Penn: You know she bowed tough one and I knew you were going to ask this but I really like kind of Lone Ranger characters not Lone Ranger western style, but individuals who are pretty Kick-Ass. So I do like Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, but she doesn’t have much depth. To be honest, but I do like that kind of lets go accomplish things and do stuff and have adventures and in that way.
I also do love James Bond films. I’m very action movie. I just love action movies. I think I might be deep and meaningful. But actually I love actor. He’s one of my favorite films of all time is Connor. With Liquors cage and of course in that film he plays, you know a character who wants to get home to his family and will do anything to get home to his family and that is a theme that comes up in a lot of my books.
I will do anything to help my family and that’s something I definitely feel myself. But for this occasion, I really do like Jack Reacher solely Charles Jack Reacher character, and I’ve got a quote that I have in my journal I think is brilliant from never go back. So I just read that. Nine of us grow up to love the campfire and one grows up to hate it 99 of us grow up to Fear The Howling Wolf and one grows up to Envy it and I’m that guy.
Or that girl. Okay and
Joe Bunting: tells that’s awesome.
Joanna Penn: Yes a great quote and actually, you know, Jack Reacher says this in never go back and I like, you know, I’ve met Lee Child a number of times and I like to think that’s part of him. You know, he is quite a lone guy, you know, you’ll often see him. He’s very tall, you know, and he is tall like creature but you know, he doesn’t beat people up as far as I know but you know, he’s very singular guy and I.
When we put these little things I feel like I have a lot in common with that feeling that I want to be out there doing other things where you from say, what normal people want, but I want more than just a normal life. So I recently started this year. I started a new podcast called books and travel and I share this I doing solo episodes which it kind of they’re almost the back story to my novels, but it’s also about.
A lot of things. I haven’t shared so far in my journey, and this is under the white I travelpod cast I use that quote to you then go into the reasons why I travel and you know the reinvention side so that if people are interested that’s books and travel. But yeah, see see you like that create as well.
Joe Bunting: It’s awesome.
Joanna Penn: It isn’t a creature. Of course. The books are guaranteed experience, you know, Jack Reacher arrives. There’s some injustice. He solves the Injustice kill some people and then he rides out of town with a toothbrush and I’m pretty much I like that idea. That’s kind of minimal. It’ll say sense of justice and taking action to correct the wrong in the world, which many of us would love to do but we have to do it in our fiction.
Joe Bunting: Yeah, well valley of dry bones by author JF Penn is available in ebook audiobook and print versions on Amazon and other online stores. Thank you so much for being with us Joanna.
Joanna Penn: Oh, thanks for having me. This has been great.