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The Influence of Travel on Writing

I write romantic fiction about food, family, friends and love and believe every story should have a happy ending. Each of my stories are set in a fabulous setting, with food and love at the heart of it; because I believe once you find the food of an area, it takes you by the hand and introduces you to the culture, the people, the history and the stories behind the walls of that world.

When I first started writing, people said 'write about what you know.' I didn't know about anything. I loved food, but I wasn't a cook or a chef. But I did love how food could bring people together, no matter which country you were in. 

My first book The Oyster Catcher is set up on the West Coast of Ireland. I moved there with my husband and out three children and was still unsuccessfully trying to write 'about what I knew!' In other words, I had no idea what to write about. Then, on one of our first night's there, we went to a seafood restaurant. It was a small, converted fisherman's cottage, at the end of a pier. We stepped down into through the front door. There were candles on the tables and in the windows. The fire was lit. We sat in the windows and finally, it stopped raining. The moon came out and threw a silver shadow across the water that was Galway Bay. I sat there and ate a dozen oysters and I thought, 'Okay, I get this! This is sexy! This is what I want to write about.' From there I began to research oyster farming and shell sucking competitions. I wrote about a heroine who found herself on the West  Coast of Ireland and finally finds love amongst the oyster beds there.

That one meal, the atmosphere, the flavours and feel of the place gave me the inspiration to write a book that went on to be an Amazon bestseller, won the Romantic Novelist Asssociation's Joan Hessayon Award for the best debut novel and best e-book at the Festival of Romance.

After that, I realised food and settings inspired the stories I wanted to tell. At the time my brother had a small holding in Southern Italy, and I wanted to write about the olive groves there. While I was visiting, we went out to dinner at my favourite restaurant. It's a family run olive farm, where all the food is cooked on the forno, the open fire and you eat off wooden tables in amongst the olive trees. At the end of our meal, the owner came to join us with a bottle of homemade limoncello, put around the glasses and filled them. He didn't speak much English, and I didn't speak much Italian, but he asked me what kind of books I wrote. I explained, the best I could, that I wrote about food, family and love. 'Here,' he told me, 'I grow the food,' he put out an arm to the olive trees; 'to cook in the kitchen, to put on the table, il tavolo,' and he banged his hand on the sturdy wooden table, 'for the ones I love,' and he put his hand on his heart. 'Its what life is all about' he told me. And I agreed wholeheartedly. We had a common language. And that's what I write; books about il tavolo, whichever country they may be set in. Because that's what I know about, the kitchen table. It's where all of family life is played out, the news, the arguments, the laughter and the love.

Since then I have written about tables set in all sorts of wonderful settings. I have written about winemaking in South West France and cherry orchards in Southern Spain. I have also been a writer in residence on a river cruise through Amsterdam and Belgium writing about the chocolate makers there. And more recently I've visited and written about Swedish Lapland and the reindeer herders and their way of life. Like I say, for me, once you find the food of the places you visit, you find the stories hidden in there.

Jo Thomas worked for many years as a reporter and producer, first for BBC Radio 5, before moving on to Radio 4's Woman's Hour and Radio 2's The Steve Wright Show. In 2013 Jo won the RNA Katie Fforde Bursary. Her debut novel, The Oyster Catcher, was a runaway bestseller in ebook and was awarded the 2014 RNA Joan Hessayon Award and the 2014 Festival of Romance Best Ebook Award. Jo lives in the Vale of Glamorgan with her husband and three children. Visit Jo's website here