Jackie Kabler: I always loved writing at school – I used to get totally carried away with English essays and would sometimes hand in ten pages when asked for just two because I simply couldn’t stop writing. But I didn’t think about it seriously until I was in my thirties. I was working as a TV news reporter, always travelling, permanently exhausted and not enjoying any of it anymore, and I suddenly remembered how very happy writing had made me as a child. So one day, I sat down and started writing a novel. It became my escape, my way of switching off and relaxing. I also realised I had gathered a huge wealth of stories and experiences during my years as a news reporter, which it seemed a shame to waste. The many quirky characters and bizarre happenings of those years are now in the pages of my book (with some details changed to protect identities, and avoid litigation!). I eventually quit the news business after twenty years and now work as a presenter on TV shopping channel QVC, which is just the best job in the world. I do that four days a week, which leaves me three to write and do other things, so it’s a great balance.
F: Tell us about your upcoming novel, The Dead Dog Day.
JK: It’s about a television news reporter called Cora Baxter, who works for a London-based morning news show. When her much-hated boss is murdered, Cora is assigned to cover the story for the show, and ends up getting dragged into the investigation in unexpected ways. The trail of suspects also leads disturbingly close to home. Cora’s arch rival, news anchor Alice Lomas, is behaving very oddly; one of her camera crew seems to be hiding a dark secret; and Justin, her ex-boyfriend, has mysteriously vanished. There is also a sub-plot about Cora’s decision to live her life child free, a decision which has cost her relationships and which even some of her closest friends can’t quite understand. So it’s a novel with a murder mystery at its heart, but it’s about relationships too – and there is a touch of humour as well.
F: In what ways has your experience with journalism influenced your writing style and perspective?
JK: Hugely. I’ve covered a huge range of stories during my career, from the most horrific tragedies to the very silliest human interest story. As a reporter, you can be assigned to a murder case in the morning, and then that evening you’re standing on a red carpet reporting on a film premiere. My writing style reflects that – light and shade, swinging from very sombre moments to episodes of utter hilarity. It’s what life is all about really, isn’t it? Even in the darkest of times (and I’ve experienced many, losing several close friends, and my younger sister) there is always a way to find some joy, sometimes in the tiniest of things. As a journalist you also forge very close friendships with your colleagues – I travelled the world with cameramen and crew members who became some of my best friends. Sharing intense experiences is incredibly bonding, and the characters in my novels have that close, almost family-like relationship too. If I hadn’t been a journalist, I couldn’t have written the books I’m writing now, and maybe wouldn’t have started writing at all.
F: You and your husband made a conscious decision to remain child free. How has this choice impacted your life? Why do you think there’s such a stigma around people and particularly women who choose not to have children?
JK: I knew from a very young age that I didn’t want children. I’m a terrible cook, never having any interest in it, and I remember my mother trying to teach me when I was about 12, and asking me how I was going to feed my children if I didn’t learn how to cook. My answer, even then, was “But I won’t be having any children!” It has never been anything but a positive decision for myself and my husband. We have such freedom to live our lives the way we want to, to travel, to experience things I don’t believe we’d have the time (or spare cash!) to if we had been parents. The stigma is something that definitely still exists, although I think it is less of an issue now than it was some years ago, as being child-free becomes a more common life choice. But there are many people, including some of my own friends, who find it very difficult to understand. I’ve been accused of being selfish, been told I’m missing out on “the greatest love of all”, been told I’ll regret it when I’m older. All I can say is that in my late forties, I have no regrets and can’t see that changing. I actually really like children (debunking another popular myth about women who don’t have children being child-haters) and have lots of children in my life (twenty-four nephews, nieces and god-children at last count). But I like elephants too. It doesn’t mean I want one in my spare room for the next eighteen years. Not everyone is cut out to be a mother, and that’s OK. It’s not compulsory, and you can live a wonderful, happy, fulfilled life without being a parent, honestly!
F: Your protagonist, Cora Baxter, is also child free by choice. Do the occasional tensions that she faces in her friendships and relationships as a result of this decision reflect your own personal experiences?
JK: Definitely. Cora is younger than me – she is in her early thirties – and that really was the time in my life when I was being questioned the most about my decision, and being given lots of well-meaning advice about it not being too late to change my mind. People were actually saying that until I was well into my forties, amazingly. Now that I’m 49, they’ve finally accepted that I’m probably past that stage!
F: You signed a three-book deal with Accent Press last year – congratulations! Is it difficult to structure your narratives and character growth over a multi-book arc? How do you tackle this challenge?
JK: Thank you! Like most authors I went through a period of getting lots of rejections and thinking I must be the worst writer in the world, so to come through that and get such a great publishing deal was amazing. I’ve written the first novel and am now into the second and it’s not proving too difficult so far. The second begins just a year after the end of the first, so although the characters have moved on a little, and there have been some changes, it’s not a huge jump. I’m planning to set the start of book three just a month or so after book two ends so again it shouldn’t be too difficult to continue the narrative. It would have been much more difficult if more time had elapsed between books, so I’ve probably taken the easy way out!
F: Will we see Cora fighting crime in the future?
JK: Absolutely! In the first book, The Dead Dog Day, she is sort of accidentally drawn in to the murder investigation. In the second, The Deadline, she plays a much more active role, and that will continue in book three. I’m so delighted to have been given this chance to write three books about the same characters, and I actually have enough material in my head for several more, if the need arises. Sitting at my desk making up stories about Cora and her friends and colleagues is one of the greatest joys in my life – long may it continue!
Jackie Kabler worked as a TV newsreader and reporter for 20 years before joining the QVC team in January 2013. For nearly a decade she was a roving reporter on GMTV, travelling the world covering stories like the Kosovo crisis, the Ethiopian famine, the Asian tsunami, the Soham murders and the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. After leaving the breakfast show she appeared on both ITV and BBC news, presented a property programme and worked as a media trainer with the Armed Forces. She lives in Gloucestershire with her GP husband, and in her spare time writes crime novels and enjoys power walking.