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Author Interview: Jodi May


Today I'm joined by the fabulous Jodi May, soon-to-be-published author of the Hillside Academy YA series and all-round wonderful human being. She's done a fabulous and brutally honest interview, which I know you're going to love, so let's get to it :)


TW: Rape, mental health

 

Hey Jodi! Thank you so much for joining me on the blog :) Please could you take a moment to introduce yourself and your books to my reader.


My name’s Jodi May and I’m an anxious, lactose intolerant, psychology student and new adult author from England. I grew up in the quaint countryside of the South East, playing in the fields and building dens in the woods with my friends. In my twenties, I moved away from my home town to the North West where the winters are harsh and the landscape was akin to what I’d only seen in The Lord of the Rings. I spent the better half of my twenties living in a gothic city nestled between the ocean, moors and mountains.


I have so far published two short stories; one entitled ‘I Was Not Raped’ which was a personal account of the sexual assault I experienced as a teenager. The retelling and healing of that moment in my history has led me to a wonderful community, and the experience itself led to becoming an advocate for mental health.


This September I will be releasing the first volume of Hillside Academy, a 24-book saga I’ve been working on since I was eleven – which has ultimately been through several rewrites and reworks since. The series follows the lives of eight teenagers at a prestigious mixed boarding school in the heart of Devon over their final two years of school. Encapsulating themes of youth in the 2010s, this contemporary new adult fiction series is a dance through the fun and woes of adolescence, and delves deep into the issues of mental health, sexual trauma and substance abuse. Set to the backdrop of the elite world of money, rich kids and fast cars, Hillside Academy is the place where no secret stays buried for long.

 

I love that writing is a way for you to process personal events and heal. Is that one of the reasons why you started writing?


I started writing because I couldn’t contain all the stories in my head any longer. Plus, I’d get frustrated when there weren’t enough books about horses and dolphins for me to read in the library so I just decided to start writing my own. I was about seven. I’d make my parents sit on my bed every night before I went to sleep to hear my latest chapter. Kinda similar to me reading to my incredibly supportive partner now when he’s just trying to play Xbox.

 

It's wonderful that you've got such supportive people around you. I know you've written a lot of books (and, presumably, then read them to your partner), but which is your favourite, and why?


So far I’ve written 19 of the 24 books in the main series of Hillside Academy and I have a couple of favourites that I’ve adored writing – and a couple that almost killed me.


The second in the series, October (1) was a lot of fun and my partner’s all-time favourite though he can never explain why! Book 16, October (2) was also quite enjoyable because I really got to stretch my legs with that one; delving into substance abuse and mental health and those darker shades that I enjoy writing about. I think those are the books I love to write the most even though they suck the life right out of me. Book 10, May (1) and Book 9, April (1) were also fun if only because I got to dabble in some comedy writing and some killer storylines.


On the flip side, my least favourite has to be Book 19, January (2). I feel like I got trauma from writing that book and maybe it was the subject matter – a rape trial, revisiting past trauma and abuse, discussing a chronic illness that I actually suffer from – but it felt like a real pain in the arse. It’s the only one of the 19 I haven’t read back through. I just can’t stand it. Really know how to promote my series, don’t I?

 

You know, I think that description might actually get a few people interested in the book, so I shouldn't worry too much about that. You obviously put a lot of your own experiences into your writing, but more specifically, where do you get your story ideas from?


It all started when I visited Ilfracombe in Devon as a kid on a family holiday. That bloody hill that overlooks the whole town. I saw a school and there it now lives – only in my mind, of course. I still get a little shocked when I look at photos or visit and it’s not there!

I wanna say my ideas come to me in dreams but that would be a fat lie. I grew up watching TV shows like Greek and UK Skins, and Gossip Girl and the British television show Waterloo Road. Looking back on some of the storylines of my book I can see their roots are in these influences.


Beyond that, ideas come to me oddly. Like slaps to my face or when I’m listening to music, usually. Sometimes things will come to me when I’m chain-smoking and day dreaming. Or they come from anecdotes friends tell me. They’re the best ones.


High school was a nightmare for me so I often get asked why I’ve spent my life since writing about school when really I should wanna forget. The answer to that is it’s because I had such a bad time that I’ve made it my mission to almost rewrite it. Moreover, give other people better memories of school. I wish so hard I could have been a HSA student and from my beta readers telling me they have dreams they’re students, I know I’m doing my job right.

 

Being able to choose a different ending for your experiences is a wonderful thing about being an author, and one I think isn't appreciated enough. That being said, what’s your favourite thing about writing?


Escape. It’s been a catharsis for me for as long as I can remember. My main characters in Hillside Academy are like my closest friends. I dunno what I’d do without Anna’s fierce attitude or Sam’s running commentary when I’m out shopping. Erika keeps me strong and Dominic has me listening to music 24/7. Tom makes me stop and see the beauty around me. Emily makes sure I read every day and Will is the reason I love Star Trek: The Next Generation. If only he could help me with my psychology statistics! Then there’s Elivia to tell me whether my shoes match my outfit – and to keep me walking tall when I want to crumble.


Writing gives me somewhere to breathe. It gives me a safe space to exist. I love to just disappear and watch all these stories just dance across the screen. When I don’t write, I feel like a ghost.

 

I absolutely adore how your characters live alongside you :) So, we've talked about the good - what’s your least favourite thing about writing?


Actually putting the words down. Boy, do I wish I could just exhale my stories onto my keyboard and they write themselves exactly how I envision them in my head.


But nope. Gotta tap tap tap away.


At my most productive, when I seemingly had oodles of time, I could write 25k words a day. I’m not sure how. I must have not got up to pee or eat all day. I hid a lot in my work, I think. Now, I struggle to get just a line written. But I think that’s normal for all authors to go in and out of writing.


And while it might be my least favourite thing to do, especially with my sticky S key, when I’m doing well, putting words down onto paper is also the greatest high ever. And I speak from experience…

 

Yeah, it's totally normal to have ebb and flow in your writing output, and as you hit a phenominal 25k words on a good day, you clearly know how to get those words down when they're flowing! I know you're planning to self publish your books later this year, what's led you to that decision?


I had always planned to be traditionally published but planning that and achieving that are two very different things.


I’ve been querying agents since I was sixteen and I think after eleven years of rejections, I decided I’d had enough. I missed the ten year mark of Hillside Academy (set in 2011, I wanted it to be published by September 2021) and that was a bit of a wakeup call to me that I didn’t want to sit around waiting for someone to pick it. I would just go ahead and publish it.


2022 was a lost year for me as I moved house but at New Year I made the decision to just go ahead and be an Indie author. I’m surrounded by such influential and encouraging indie authors that I feel supported and confident with their advice. They’ve really inspired me to take control of my books and my fate, and to stop waiting around for someone else.


There is one agent I still want to try again with since he wrote me a handwritten letter with such encouraging words that I kinda wanna try it one last time. I probably will – what have I got to lose? Hillside Academy is being released this September with or without the support of a traditional publishing house.

 

Yes, choose yourself! Then absolutely rock self publishing and show all those agents what they were missing :) You mentioned how important the support of the indie author community has been but how can readers and friends support indie authors?


It goes without saying that indie authors rely on reviews so there’s that, but I think there’s more to supporting us.


Signing up to newsletters and sharing on social media is a great help. For friends, it’s physical support. It can be lonely being an author and having a support system, especially in real life, that acknowledges what you do and doesn’t just see it as a ‘hobby’ can really make a huge difference. I’ve had friends in the past that didn’t seem to ever take an interest in my work and since it’s effectively my engine, the thing that keeps me breathing, that makes me get up every day, it becomes a problem. We writers really all just need someone to listen to us rant about how our characters don’t do as they’re told, and put up with us telling them about trailers for our books we’ve conjured up in our heads. My best friend and partner are my rocks when it comes to listening to me talk about my books, and my mum has been listening to me read since I was a kid!

 

Having the right people around makes all the difference, for sure. What are you working on at the moment?


I’m doing a poor job of juggling a lot of things at the moment. Half way through a Bachelor’s degree in psychology as part of my training to be a psychotherapist, I’m often knees-deep in an assignment or behind on my reading so I don’t find much time to write.


Currently, I’m working on Book 20 of Hillside Academy, however, and dragging my heels a little as like Book 19, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride. I’m deep into the series, further than I’ve ever drafted or written before, so it’s unknown territory. It’s pretty scary!


When I’m not trying to write Book 20, I like to do writing exercises where I throw my characters into scenes from books or TV or films and run with it. The last one I wrote was 300+ pages of a fan fiction crossover with my HSA characters and Stephen King’s IT, all set in the city I used to live. That was a lot of fun!

 

It's great to write something like that just for fun occasionally, it's so freeing to not have to think about timelines and plothole etc. In addition to writing excercises, what are your favourite writing resources?


Honestly, I’m a standard Word Document kinda girl. I don’t really get on with writing programs and what not, and I suffer terribly with tendonitis in both wrists so writing by hand is agony.


So I just stick to what works. It took me years to sit at an actual desk and even now, I’m sitting cross-legged on my sofa writing this because I just can’t seem to relax at a desk. I’ve written almost all my book cross-legged on a sofa or bed – one whole book written in my partner’s university dorm on his tiny uncomfortable single bed! That’s where I write best.


As for other writing resources, I love me a good ole Excel spreadsheet. It’s where I keep the entire database for my world, all in neat rows and columns, colour coordinated so I can find everything easily. I love them. I love them so much I have a mug with the words ‘I love spreadsheets’ written on it.

 

Nothing wrong with keeping it simple! Though I've seen some of your spreadsheets, and they're far from simple (and fab, I wish I was half as organised as you are!) What's your top piece of advice for an aspiring author?


Just write. Whatever you do, just write.


Forget the books about how to write or watching YouTube videos or paying for courses. If you’re a writer, you can write. The best piece of writing advice I ever read was ‘Write now, edit later’. My English teacher said a similar thing to me too. That I’m to just write it all down and edit later.


She also said I waffled on too long too which is probably why my largest book to date is (unedited) 360k. Hah.


But please, if you get a good idea, just write it down and worry about making it pretty later.


Oh oh and – keep your writing time sacred. It’s harder to stay true to this one but making it a habit and prioritizing it in your day or week means you always have time to write. Even if it is just a load of bollocks. It’s something.

 

That's great advice! Okay, so we've talked about how you use your personal experiences to inspire your writing, but what real-life references have made it into your books?


Oh god, too many. But through editing I cut down a lot of those, especially pop culture references because I think too many alienate your audience, and also it can be copyright breach.


Beyond pop culture, I reference world events occasionally or make tongue-in-cheek jokes about unbelievable events that have since happened, like Donald Trump being president or the pandemic. Since I’m writing about the past, I get to do things like that.


But that in itself can lead to a whole host of research. It may have only been twelve years ago and I was a teenager so I should remember all of this but I still have to buy editions of Vogue from 2011 to help me remember the fashion. I even have a bookmarked page of films and music released in that time period just to keep me on topic. So yeah, a lot of real-life references in HSA.

 

Research is super important, especially when you write within living memory. Which of your books would you recommend people start with?


I should probably say Book 1 Hillside Academy when it’s released in September but I’m gonna say I Was Not Raped. I think if readers want an inside into where it all began, no better book can introduce you to my world.


While it’s not fiction and it’s got nothing to do with my characters of Hillside Academy, it does tell you about me and my journey, and why mental health and subjects such as sexual assault, abuse, childhood trauma and even my pro-therapy view is so vital to me. It’s where it all started, the day I was raped. And why I’m not afraid to tell the world. Why I’m going to keep writing Hillside Academy and I think if readers can appreciate I Was Not Raped, they’ll understand and appreciate Hillside Academy.

 

It's really rare to see an author being so honest about experiences like that which have then gone on to influence their work, and I'm sure there'll be people who are interested in reading your personal story, as well as your fiction. What are your plans for after Hillside Academy?


Drop down exhausted?


Go on a long holiday!


I mean, I have 24 books for the main series planned and mostly written, but there are twelve novellas alongside the series, and two sequels.


Truthfully, I don’t think I’ll ever be done with this series. I can’t. It’s as much a part of me as my heart. So I’ll probably keep writing them long after people lose interest.


As for other projects, I have a few books in mind that will be very different to my current contemporary new adult fiction series. For example, I have a couple of sci-fi/thriller/horror WIPs in my ideas box, and even a fantasy book I plan on co-writing with my partner!


So there will be other life after/during the Hillside Academy journey, it’ll just look very different to everything I’ve done before.


I might even write that screenplay I’ve been meaning to write all these years…

 

That all sounds very exciting, and I wish you all the best with whatever direction your writing brings you :) Now, a very important question: Where can people find you online?


Instagram, of course, which is where I haunt the most! I post lots of updates about the series, my writing journey and my quiet little life eating too much cheese, going on long walks, doing yoga and cuddling my cat - @jodimay15


You can also find me:

Twitter: @jodimay15

Pinterest: @jodimay15

Website: jodimay.co.uk (which is under refurbishment for the big launch so it’s not running at the moment but watch my socials for when it becomes live again. On my website, I’ll be sharing snippets from Book 1, flashbacks from the characters unique to the website and they’ll be a chance to sign up to my newsletter. Plus you can find the entire HSA Wiki too which will tell you about the characters (all of them) and the world!

 

Fantastic! Before we wrap this up, are there any last thoughts you'd like to share with my readers?

I want to say a huge thank you to you, Saffron, for giving me the opportunity to waffle on. And a big thank you to the Writing Community of Instagram that’s given me the confidence and support now for almost five years! I can’t imagine my writing journey or life without the network of amazing and talented authors I’ve met through it. It’s been such a pleasure and inspiration.


I also wanted to sneakily promote my fundraiser for Mind UK, a mental health charity. I’ve been squatting all of February and asking for donations in return so if that’s something you’d like to donate to, feel free to DM me on Instagram for further details!


Finally – Hillside Academy will be released this September and to follow me on socials for updates!


 
 

Thank you so much, Jodi, for joining me today and sharing about your writing! I can't wait to read Hillside Academy when it's released, and I wish you all the very best of luck with your publishing journey <3


Next month, I'll be joined by the lovely Jennifer Brasington-Crowley, which I'm really looking forward to, so I hope you'll come back for that.


But the next post will be from me and a reading round-up for this quarter, so if you want to see what I've been reading lately, come back then to find out :)


Catch you soon!

Love, Saff xx


P.S. Jennifer Brasington-Crowley once wrote a short crossover story where her rockstar character Raven landed in my quaint English village. Hilarity and chaos ensued, naturally, and if you want to see what happened, you can get your copy for free right here.


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