Joanna Penn – Creating Books I Want to Read Myself

November 11, 2013

UK-based writer Joanna Penn and I connected through email to talk about her creative writing. Penn describes herself as a writer-entrepreneur. Her body of work includes fiction and nonfiction. “I write thrillers under J.F. Penn and non-fiction under Joanna Penn.”

Joanna PennPenn’s three-book thriller series centers on psychologist and ARKANE agent Morgan Sierra. “Set against a backdrop of early Christian history, archeology and psychology,” says Penn, “the fast-paced ARKANE thrillers weave together historical artifacts, secret societies, global locations, violence, a kick-ass protagonist and a hint of the supernatural.”

I am always eager to know what drives an author to create story.

“I’m a huge reader,” says Penn, “always have been. My Mum says that when I was little, instead of carrying a favorite toy or teddy around, I would try to carry as many books with me as possible. So my original desire to write comes from wanting to create a book I want to read myself.”

With a career background in corporate IT and a degree in Theology, Penn brings a unique perspective to her writing. “During my daily commute, I would escape into action/adventure novels, thrillers and anything that would take me out of my dull existence, before the day job I hated crept in again.

“When I decided to change my life and become an author-entrepreneur, I naturally started writing action-adventure thrillers. As I have found my voice, other stories have begun to swirl in my imagination and I have a list of nine projects on my wall, waiting their turn. My next novel is a mystery/crime novel with a supernatural edge, called Desecration.”

I asked Penn if she had initially set out to write a thriller series, or just a first novel.

Picture of Penn's book covers

Penn’s Thrillers

“I definitely wanted to write a series,” she says, “so I created ARKANE, a secret agency that investigates supernatural mysteries, as a way to hang my own research interests on through multiple books. Dr. Morgan Sierra is my alter ego, although she is a lot more kick-ass than I am! She enables me to discuss my ideas about the nature of faith and miracle, as well as using my own travels in the stories.”

Keeping a series fresh through multiple titles takes work and skill. “Each book,” says Penn, “stands alone, but ARKANE and (protagonist) Morgan tie the books together. Whether it’s hunting the Pentecost stones through the history of the early church, stopping the pale horse of the apocalypse or searching for the Ark of the Covenant, each mystery makes the books fresh.”

Once an author gives birth to a character, she then needs that character to thrive through an entire series.

“As Morgan is my alter ego, she remains vital because I allow her to have the adventures I would love to embark on myself. She is always challenged, forever on the brink of saving the world from some disaster.

“What has become more interesting to me as a writer is how other, very different, characters have come to life. In Desecration, we meet O, an exotic dancer with a full body tattoo of an octopus that writhes as she dances. She plays a tiny role in that book, but now I’m fascinated with why she has this ink on her skin, and I want to write her origin story. It’s the little things that make a character come alive, and I am always watching for these quirks as I go about my days.”

Penn sums it all up – “I don’t just talk about writing, publishing and book marketing – it is the reality of my life!”


Further info on Joanna Penn:

J.F.Penn writes the bestselling ARKANE thriller series, with One Day In Budapesther most recent work. Her new crime series opens with Desecration in December 2013. You can sign up for pre-release specials and receive a free short story and audio at JF Penn, her fiction site.

Joanna Penn also writes non-fiction. Her other site, The Creative Penn, has been voted one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers three years running.

Connect with Joanna on Twitter @thecreativepenn.