Writer Wednesday: Toni Jenkins

Toni Jenkins was born in New Zealand in 1970. After graduating with a BA Honours degree in Education, she bought a one-way ticket to the UK and so began her love affair with the northern hemisphere. She has been writing all her life, beginning with poetry, short stories and quotes and later moving into novels. Toni wrote her first novel in her early thirties, with her second being penned in an Italian village during her ‘mature gap year’. The Sender is her third and the first to be published. She is currently working on two further novels – The Gift is at editing stage and Benevolence is under development.

1. Why did you want to become a writer? 
It’s been part of my life since I was in single figures. I’ve always written – poetry, short stories and quotes. I love playing around with language. In my dreams I’m a novelist producing a book every other year. When I turned 30 I decided it was time to see if I could actually write a novel. That first book took me 3 years to write and will never see the light of day but it was a great training ground. The second and third books were written over a matter of months. I am as much in love with the writing process as with the finished product. There’s nothing better than immersing yourself in a world of your own making for hours at a time and making sure the good guy wins!

2. What's the toughest part of the writing process for you? 
Finding the time to write when working full-time and marketing my published novel. There are only so many hours in the day and being creative requires the right frame of mind, good energy levels and total focus. I sometimes find it hard to squeeze it all in but I usually devote my Sundays to writing where I can. A lot of my annual leave is devoted to writing the next book.

3. What's the most enjoyable part of writing? 
Total immersion in an imaginary world. It sounds like I write fantasy – I don’t. I mean that writing fiction allows you to create new characters and situations with outcomes that you can control (if the characters don’t do it for you!). There is something really magical about the whole writing process. Sometimes a character will appear out of nowhere and become critical to the story. Their presence isn’t planned but they jump out onto the page and inhabit it. It’s as if your subconscious mind has forced them into the story because your conscious mind hasn’t got there yet. I find that fascinating. Steven, a crucial character in The Sender, just appeared on my laptop screen and he is such an important element in the story. I adore him and the book wouldn’t be the same without him.

4. Out of all the amazing books out there, which book do you wish you had written and why?
Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. That book came to me at just the right time in my life and it had an empowering effect on the decisions I made shortly after reading it. Plus, look at how that book propelled her to the huge success she now has as a writer! I love the impetus behind it – taking control of your life and turning negatives into positives. Her writing always inspires me and also makes me laugh out loud. 

5. If you could only save one of your characters from fictional calamity, which would you pick and why?  
Patti Jarvis from my novel, The Sender. I have a real soft spot for her. Life has dealt her a hard blow but she is such a determined person and forging ahead despite her heartache. She lost her brother in tragic circumstances and her parents coped by turning to their own vices, neglecting her in the process. Things are definitely looking up when we leave her in The Sender but I’m contemplating a sequel so I can find out what happens to her! 

6. If you could spend the day with your favourite literary character (not from your books), who would you spend it with and what would you do? 
Elly from When God Was a Rabbit, by Sarah Winman. This book remains as one of the most beautifully written novels I’ve ever read. Elly is one of those people who has bad things happen to her despite the fact she’s a good person. Of course, this is what happens in the real world but I’d like to become Elly’s friend and let her know that she’s loved, as is her quirkiness. Her unusual view of the world is endearing.

7. What can we expect next from you?
I’m currently wearing two hats for my upcoming novels - an editing hat for The Gift and a research hat for Benevolence. The Gift was written in 2009 and needs a fairly extensive re-write. It’s a story about the revelation of a long-held secret that creates a major fallout for two families on opposite sides of the world. It’s about how the only person we ever truly know is ourselves. Benevolence is about the gift of life and has a unique concept that I need to craft very carefully to convince the reader to believe in it. There’s a lot of research to do before writing this one!

8. Is there any particular writing advice you wish you'd been given at the start of your writing career? If so, what is it? If not, what advice would you give to someone starting out?
I think the most important thing is to believe in yourself as a writer. It’s very easy to look around and feel like plankton in the writing pool. But every writer starts at the bottom rung of the ladder and has a unique voice with a right to be heard. Confidence can be hard to capture, let alone sustain, but making friends with other writers is essential for support, feedback and encouragement. And always, always call yourself a writer as soon as you’ve written. In moments of doubt, telling yourself you’re a writer is hugely inspiring.

9. Tell us what a typical writing day involves for you.
I treat it like a day in the office. My alarm goes early, I get a good breakfast under my belt, and the entire day is spent drinking copious amounts of green tea. I’m at my desk for around 8 hours with my resources spread out around me. Unfortunately, I need silence to write (I wish I was one of those writers who could do it in a busy cafĂ© but I’m not) so if I need to use earplugs, I do. I have an hour for lunch, sitting outside if possible (I don’t want to get rickets!). Then it’s back to it. There’s nothing better than feeling mentally exhausted after a day writing your novel. I usually write between 5000-8000 words over 8 hours which, of course, needs editing later. 

10. Finally, what are you reading at the moment? 
I’ve just started A Fine House in Trinity by Lesley Kelly. It’s very early on in the book but she has a unique voice and the black humour is hilarious. I have no idea what’s going to happen but I’m excited to find out. I’ve also just finished the most beautiful memoir from Rosalind Gibb called Show Me Colour which is a touching account of the loss of a loved one. Somehow she has managed to write in a way that is both heart wrenching and uplifting. I’m continually grateful for the enormous amount of incredible books we as readers have at our fingertips.


The Sender follows the journey of a mysterious and inspiring unsigned card, linking the lives of four women from different backgrounds and cities who are all facing unique adversities. The card instructs each woman to hold it in their possession for six months before choosing another woman in need of its empowering quality to send it to, and invites them all to meet in Edinburgh two years from the date of its inception. The card seems to hold an extraordinary quality that helps the women face their challenges head-on, though none of them can imagine who the anonymous sender is or why they were the chosen ones.

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