Today I’m introducing my author friend, Jo Fenton, and her new book The Refuge which is released on Tuesday, May 28th. The Refuge is the sequel to The Brotherhood, a gritty psychological thriller set in a religious cult. What a page turner! I’m really looking forward to the sequel to see what happens to Jo’s characters next. Here’s all the details on The Refuge and a chat about writing with Jo…
Following the death of The Brotherhood’s charismatic but sinister leader, Dominic, Melissa and her husband Mark resolve to turn the Abbey into a refuge for victims of domestic abuse. But when Melissa’s long-lost sister, Jess, turns up at the Abbey, new complications arise.
The Abbey residents welcome the new arrival but find it hard to cope with the after-effects of her past. As Jess struggles to come to terms with what she’s been through, her sudden freedom brings unforeseen difficulties. The appearance of a stalker – who bears a striking resemblance to the man who kept her prisoner for nine years – leads to serious problems for Jess.
Meanwhile, Mark also finds that his past is coming back to haunt him. When a mother and daughter venture from the Abbey into the local town for a shopping trip, there are dreadful consequences.
A build-up of tension, a poorly baby and a well-planned trap lead Mel, Jess and their family into a terrifying situation.
Can Jess overcome the traumas of her past to rescue her sister?
The Refuge and The Brotherhood are available from Amazon. Together they make up The Abbey Series (NB. The Kindle version of The Refuge is available for pre-order, and will be released on 28th May):
The Brotherhood (The Abbey Series Book 1): https://t.co/YXdn8AM506
Why did you first decide to write a novel set in a religious cult?
When I first decided to write a book, my first idea was to write a fantasy set on some imaginary world. Given I’d never written any story longer than 2000 words, common sense kicked in as I told myself that might be a bit ambitious for a first novel!
I scaled down dramatically, and decided to do my world-building in a ‘closed room’ environment, such as Agatha Christie used in some of her books.
As soon as I thought of that type of setting, the idea of a religious sect popped into my head, with all its inherent possibilities.
What research did you do?
I did some research for The Brotherhood early on, such as checking out the Waco siege, and David Koresh, but many other bits were done as I went along or between drafts. Research included watching various programmes by Derren Brown, googling numerous bits of information that I needed to know (my search history is very scary!), and consulting with a Pharmacist on the best ways to kill someone to make it look like suicide!
For The Refuge, I had different sorts of research to conduct. I spent half a day walking and driving around Macclesfield to help with the setting. I consulted with some of my midwife friends to ascertain key information related to Mel and her baby. I also checked out google (again) for information about drug overdoses, self-harm, and domestic abuse refuge requirements.
There are some dark passages in The Refuge – were certain scenes difficult to write?
I think ‘harrowing’ is a more accurate description, as in some ways, the more traumatic the scene, the more easily the words flowed out. But yes, certain scenes, particularly the flashbacks and the scene in the shed, left me feeling drained and emotionally exhausted. I have to put myself in the place of the narrator when writing those scenes, so when they’re done, it takes a while to break away from it. The best therapy for those is to turn to a good movie or Regency romance novel to take my mind away from what I’ve just written.
As a writer, how do you go about describing experiences that might be very far removed from your everyday life?
I’ve always been very empathic. I can’t watch a sad film without drenching a couple of boxes of tissues. Over the years, I seem to have absorbed those experiences – from reading, watching TV, and from listening to people tell their own stories – and I use that empathy, combined with a healthy dose of imagination, to get things down on paper. I’ve got a dreadful memory, so I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) use other people’s experiences directly, but I believe that everything I hear, see and read merges together to inform my own writing. I think all writers do that to some degree.
How do you think readers have been affected by the darker elements of your work?
A friend who managed to get an early copy of The Refuge messaged me when she’d finished, to say she was sitting in shock eating chocolate. Another friend, after reading The Brotherhood, said it was brilliantly written but she’d found it ‘disturbing in parts’.
My books were written with an aim of inspiring empathy with the characters. I personally don’t like reading books where I can’t empathise with any of the protagonists, so it wouldn’t be fair to expect my readers to continue without that empathy. The downside of that is the battery of feeling that goes with it. I think it’s okay to cry when reading, or to be shocked, or to eat chocolate. I’d rather people did that than felt nothing and were disengaged from the book.
Have you been surprised by any reaction?
I was surprised and delighted when someone I knew came up to me after finishing The Brotherhood, and said it was the first book they’d read since school, but now she wanted to read lots more books. To have turned even one person onto reading is a huge achievement.
The funniest reaction I got was from a friend’s mum, who rang me up and said, ‘how did you manage to come up with all that? You’ve always seemed so sweet.”
The Refuge is a sequel. Should readers start with The Brotherhood first?
The Refuge contains a few spoilers for The Brotherhood. I tried to limit it, but some were inevitable. Each can be read as a standalone, but a fuller experience would be obtained by starting with The Brotherhood, and moving on to The Refuge.
About the author:
Jo Fenton grew up in Hertfordshire. She devoured books from an early age and, at eleven, discovered Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyer. She now has an eclectic and much loved book collection cluttering her home office.
Jo combines an exciting career in Clinical Research with an equally exciting but very different career as a writer of psychological thrillers.
When not working, she runs (very slowly), and chats to lots of people. She lives in Manchester with her family and is an active and enthusiastic member of two writing groups and three reading groups.