With more than 32 published books and counting under her belt, one College of the North Atlantic (CNA) instructor shows no signs of slowing down on storytelling.
JoAnne Soper-Cook, Instructor of Academic Communications at Seal Cove campus, has a passion for writing.
“There’s a great personal satisfaction in it. I enjoy it so much, because I’m able to inhabit all these other lives and other situations,” she said.
JoAnne says her books have been distributed all over the world. How her name appears on the cover depends on the genre. For her mysteries, book enthusiasts will see the author as J.S. Cook. If it’s literary fiction, one can expect to see her full name.
“I’ve been very, very lucky because my current publisher keeps putting my books out there. They’re available all around the world, in places you wouldn’t think – Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Romania. I can’t get over that. I keep saying, ‘Sure, I’m from Hant’s Harbour!’ yet my books are showing up in bookstores in Namibia.”
She became interested in reading and writing from a very young age. Her first published short story was The Magic Elf when she was just eight years old.
“I come from a family of storytellers and avid readers, especially on my mother’s side,” Soper-Cook reflected. “My maternal grandmother was a Scottish war bride who instilled the love of reading into her children, and it carried on from there. My father’s and mother’s ancestors were Irish ‘to the bone’ as my dad says, and so the storytelling was strong on that side as well. I can’t remember a time when we weren’t hearing stories or making up stories.”
About her work
Her first novel, Waking the Messiah, was published in 1999.
“It’s an unusual story and a rather controversial one, about a long-term patient of a psychiatric institution who may be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. The German language rights were originally sold to DTV in Hamburg, but to my knowledge, no German edition was ever published.”
From there she wrote Waterborne, a story about a woman who returns home to care for her estranged mother, and The Opium Lady, a collection of short stories written around old photographs.
Leaving literary fiction behind, Soper-Cook – or in this case her pen name J.S. Cook – then wrote a series of mystery fiction novels including: A Cold-Blooded Scoundrel and The Paragon of Animals, both police procedural novels set in 1888s London, England. Next came the Inspector Raft trilogy.
“Like Scoundrel and Paragon, these are also set in Victorian-era London and incorporate a lot of contemporary historical detail. They differ from your usual historical mystery, insofar as the main character, Inspector Philemon Raft, is homosexual – in an era when it was patently illegal,” she said.
She says her books are designed to be inclusive.
“Many of my characters are LGBTQ+ and it’s deliberate. Historically there’s been a real erasure of that experience in literature. I’m a straight ally and I wanted to represent the stories of people from various places along the Kinsey scale.”
The Hant’s Harbour native says the Victorian-ear novels are fun to write because they show the very early stages of forensic science. With the help of her husband, Paul, she conducts experiments to help her accurately describe the scenarios in her novels.
“One of the Inspector Raft books features the discovery of a body under the floor of a house, so we did a makeshift ‘body farm’ where we buried cuts of meat and supermarket animal parts in ‘coffins’ around our property – including one in the back garden, which was very intriguing for our dogs.”
The author has also used a mannequin and fake blood to observe blood spatter patterns, read forensic psychology textbooks, interviewed real life detectives and used an electronic microscope.
She is currently working on the Kildevil Cove murder mystery series, which she has been writing for the past few years.
“The series is set in a fictional rural Newfoundland fishing village, Kildevil Cove, where the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary has set up a small substation, manned by a reluctant ex-pat Detective Inspector, Deiniol ‘Danny’ Quirke,” she said. “The Kildevil Cove books would make a grand TV series. They take place partly in Ireland so maybe RTE (Ireland’s National Public Service Media) would go in on it too.”
Out of the blue
She has been with CNA since 2019 and says sometimes her inspiration comes from unexpected places.
“Sometimes it will be something I see that will start a creative cascade of ‘what if?’ in my mind. Other times it will be a book I’ve read or a conversation I’ve overheard, or a dream, or the way a particular place looks. It’s often visual. I’m a very visual person.”
Currently living in St. John’s, NL she says writing isn’t for everyone.
“Don’t assume you are going to be (a) rich or (b) famous! Do it for its own sake; not because you want to be a millionaire. Most of my royalty cheques are about $20. I write because I can’t not write. It’s who I am. And don’t get discouraged if you don’t get published right away. I’ve edited for Simon and Schuster and Hallmark, and I can tell you the publishing industry isn’t about talent – it’s about making money,” she said. “Keep writing. Keep putting your stuff out there. Don’t be afraid to take constructive criticism. A literary agent once told me that ‘perseverance rewards talent’ and I’ve never forgotten it.”
When she is not teaching or writing, JoAnne enjoys spending time with her husband, her two puppies.
“I’m an avid walker and they make sure I get to do lots of walking. I’m also a cyclist and own a trail bike and I swim and hike. I’m a cinephile with a love of classic film noir from the 40s and 50s, but I also watch a lot of foreign language crime dramas. I love the Nordic ones from Iceland, Finland, Norway, but also the stuff the UK and Irish networks are doing. Shetland and Line of Duty from the BBC, that sort of thing, and RTE’s Red Rock. I am constantly reading.”
For more information visit cna.nl.ca