Carolyn Jess-Cooke, author of The Guardian Angel’s Journal, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

by |May 9, 2011

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Carolyn Jess-Cooke

author of The Guardian Angel’s Journal

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland during the Troubles in an area that now looks positively terrifying when I look back, but which seemed fine at the time as nobody got killed in our street. Though they did used to have bonfires at the top of the street which melted the windows… Somehow I managed to get into grammar school, then received scholarships to attend Queen’s University and receive a BA, MA, and PhD. I also attended the University of Newcastle in NSW for a semester and studied Hitchcock, World Cinema, and Etruscan Art.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

A writer, a writer, and a writer, for the simple reason that if I don’t write I am hard to live with. I also had strong flirtations with filmmaking. Maybe someday I’ll make another film – right now it would kill me being away from my family that long.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

That my dreams were the most important thing to me. Now it’s my family.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

Rachmaninov’s 2nd Piano Concerto; I came upon at the age of fifteen and it has been a part of me ever since – not only is it an amazingly gorgeous piece, but the story of its conception is inspiring (Rachmaninov sought hypnotherapy after the failure of his 1st Symphony).

The poetry of Catullus played a key role in my early development as a poet, probably because I was in the thick of teenage infatuation and his poetry spoke to that turmoil; much of the Classics informed my writing, in fact – Greek myth, Sophocles, Virgil, Homer. I still incline towards the epic above all other genres.

I would also say Shakespeare played a key role in my writing. I was very anti-Shakespeare at school because I rejected the idea of being forced to read a certain writer (why Shakespeare and not Marlowe, for instance?) but I ended up focusing my PhD on his works. Although Hamlet is so heavily quoted and popularized, it is my favourite – an amazing study of humanity and bereavement.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

I’ve also written a poetry collection, four non-fiction books, and some screenplays and short stories – but I contemplate each genre carefully, with a view to its function in carrying a message or narrative. I tried poetry for this story, but it didn’t work. It had to be a novel.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

It’s called The Guardian Angel’s Journal and is about a woman who dies and is sent back to earth as her own guardian angel.

(BBGuru: Publisher synopsis…

When Margot Delacroix dies at forty years old, she is sent back to earth as a guardian angel – to herself. Renamed Ruth, she is forced by divine mandate to re-experience and record her biggest mistakes and fiercest regrets from the beginning of her life to her untimely death.

Forced from the moment of her birth to witness the cogs of fate and the stuttering engine of free will, Ruth sets out to change the course of her life, and, ultimately, to prevent her premature death. When she realises that the reasons behind her teenage son’s descent into drugs and murder lay within her own actions as Margot, she makes a pact with a demon – she will give up her place in Heaven in exchange for the opportunity to save her son from his fate. But the changes she makes result in consequences no one could expect. . .)

I’m also writing a novel about a woman who enters a world of memories in which she is pitted between proving her husband’s innocence and exposing her own guilt.

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

I hope to inspire, uplift, comfort, and connect. If I make anyone laugh, it’s a bonus.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

I admire lots of writers for various reasons: David Mitchell, Marian Keyes, Sharon Olds, Zadie Smith, Deb Westbury. But at the minute I am loving Mary Oliver; her poetry is manna for the soul.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

I want to be publishing books around the world in thirty years’ time. And I want each book to push my writing further, to achieve a greater sense of intimacy, understanding and connection with the reader.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Learn to do three things as early as you can: write anywhere, shut off your inner critic, and write only what you must.

Carolyn, thank you for playing.

Follow Carolyn on Twitter

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

Follow John: Twitter Website


  • December 19, 2012 at 12:35 am

    Just read Guardian angels journal , and think it would make an amazing film !

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