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It was a case of learning to write admid chaos or getting rid of the kids for Joe Cawley.

Today I’m delighted to welcome Joe Cawley to my blog. Joe is an award-winning author and travel writer. He lives in the hills of Tenerife with his family and an assortment of other wildlife. The goats are no relation.

Billy goats gruff

(Picture of goats is Jane’s own. Almost certainly no relation.)

His first book, More Ketchup than Salsa, was voted ‘Best Travel Narrative’ by the hard to please bunch at the British Guild of Travel Writers.

Joe’s work has been published in many national and international publications including The Sunday Times, New York Post, Conde Nast Traveller and Taipei Times.

And this is what he looks like: 

 Joe Cawley

Jane: Joe, please can you start by telling us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.

Joe: One cold November day while selling kippers on Bolton fish market it dawned on me that life had not gone entirely to plan. I was 24 and, not unreasonably, wanted more. So I did what all disillusioned 20-odd-year-olds do and bought a bar in Tenerife. I kept notes of the daily disasters we faced through our own ineptitude and eventually fashioned them into some kind of reasonable order then dropped it in a bottom drawer.

After selling the bar in 1998, I was avidly reading Bill Bryson books and decided that I would be a travel writer. I attended a travel seminar in London along with 50 others. After the lectures, I stalked one of the speakers to a local pub and plied him with extra-strong lager until he agreed to let me send me a piece about Tenerife. He was the deputy travel editor of the Sunday Times, and my travel writing career began at the highest level.

Because of this, I later became the editor of Tenerife’s first glossy magazine and was asked to review a book about Mallorca. I declined, but asked the UK publisher if they’d like to take a look at the book in my bottom drawer. They did, and bought it on the strength of the four chapters I’d written by that point.

I still live in Tenerife, penning books and travel features full-time. I’m currently working on a further instalment of the Ketchup series, plus my first fictional novel.

Jane: How would you describe your style of writing?

Joe: Humour always plays a big part in pretty much all that I write, as does travel. So I guess my label would read ‘travel humour’. Having said that, I have written serious, dour stuff too, though not nearly as much.

Jane: You obviously enjoyed some early success in traditional publishing. What were the key factors that influenced your decision to become an indie author?

Joe: Principally the freedom and the financial aspect. Freedom to publish what I want when I want, and then get to keep the lion’s share rather than the rodent’s share.

Jane: You have had experience of both traditional and indie publishing. How do the two compare?

Joe: Having a traditional publishing contract feels more like having a proper job, with commitments and responsibilities to a boss. Indie publishing feels more like being your own boss, but with the commitment and responsibility focused on readers instead.

Jane: As a self-published author, how do you divide your time between writing and marketing?

Joe: I’ve always switched between the two roles as and when the mood takes me, but one of my NY resolutions (along with dusting off the exercise bike) is to allocate one hour a day on marketing, and three hours a day on actual writing. The rest of my time will be spent examining navel fluff, playing mind games with the cats and slaying errant dragons for my kids.

Jane: Where is home and how does your environment influence your writing?

Joe: Home is a house in the hills of Tenerife. The peace (relative!) and expansive outlook are vital ingredients of my creative soup. Without them it would just be off-the shelf processed productivity. (Can you tell it’s lunchtime?)

Jane: It sounds idyylic. (And soup sounds like an excellent idea.)

With the number of self-published books increasing by 59% last year alone, it is really difficult for authors to make their books stand out. How do you go about this?

Joe: By being as professional as possible. By that I mean making sure your cover doesn’t look like something your kids pasted together at nursery school, and employing the services of an editor and proofreader.


Jane: If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first book on the shelves?

I contributed a chapter in a travel anthology and first saw the book on the shelves in a bookstore in Philadelphia airport on a stopover to Las Vegas. It provided an unexpected buzz and led to a frenzy of shelf shuffling, much to the disdain of the shop assistant.

Jane: Have you ever seen a member of the public (whom you don’t know!) reading your book… in any unusual locations?

Joe: Nope, but it’s a hope I still hold.

Jane: Do you think literary agents are vital to an author’s success?

Joe: Not vital, but definitely useful, and not necessarily to secure a traditional deal. I’d like to work with an agent principally to help sell foreign and film rights.

I’m also keen to become a hybrid author, with a traditional print deal for some books but with the ability to still self-publish other titles. I see this as a way of maximising exposure.

Jane: Which publishing platform/s have you used and why?

Joe: So far only Kindle and Createspace, but I am trying out other platforms with Even More Ketchup than Salsa at the moment. Amazon have such a hold in the market that I’m still not convinced it’s worth being anywhere else, but I guess I’ll know in a few months when I look at the results of my tinkering elsewhere.

Jane: Which professional services won’t you skimp on? (editor/ professional proofreader? designer for your book interior.)

Joe: I wouldn’t dream of putting a book out if it hadn’t been professionally edited. It’s like trying to build an office block without an architect’s plan – eventually it will just crumble amidst a tirade of finger wagging and ‘told-you-so’s’.

Jane: What was your first recognition/success as an author?

Joe: When More Ketchup than Salsa was voted as Best Travel Narrative 2007 by the British Guild of Travel Writers at their awards ceremony at The Savoy in London. I missed the event, naturally.


Jane: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?

Joe: I had about 25 rejections from agents when I first started touting More Ketchup. It was quite disturbing at the time, but it actually made me even more determined to get my book published as I don’t like taking no for an answer.

Jane: What are you working on at the moment / next?

Joe: I’m currently working on two books. One is a memoir of my travel writer days and how I became a travel writer, a story that involves extra strong lager, stalking and an obscene letter.

Jane: Do you have a writing routine that you stick to or do you write when inspiration strikes?

Joe: Wake up at 6am. Converse with the cutlery, kettle and other kitchen implements while I make coffee, trudge across the garden to my writing shed (Jane: he has a writing shed!) and try and hit 1,000 words before the kids reap havoc on my unfettered mind. At 11am I emerge from the shed, do some marketing and attend to any other business such as feature deadlines.

Jane: Inspired by the mention of a shed, I’ve just dug up this piece on famous writers retreats, some of which are a little grander than the humble shed. 

Do you use any writing software such as Scrivener, ByWord or Mars Edit?

I swear by Scrivener these days. I just hope they eventually manage to create a version that will sync with iPad too.

Jane: Where do you get your inspiration from?

Joe: People. I love people watching and picking up on little traits, ticks, mannerisms and odd sayings. Thankfully I have an extended family who are prone to bizarre and random comments.

Jane: is your writing plot-driven or character driven?

Joe: Definitely character-driven. A lot of reviewers comment on the characters and that they feel that they know them. Which is nice.

Jane: Do you write your first draft on paper or do you prefer a computer?

Joe: Erm… computer. Does anybody still write books with a pen these days? I doubt I could remember how to use a biro.


Jane: There are many things that distract writers. Virginia Woolf complained of  “always being distracted – by Leonard sorting the apples over her head in the loft, or the church bells at the bottom of the garden, or the noise of the children in the school next door, or the dog sitting next to her and scratching itself and leaving paw marks on her manuscript pages.” Do you need silence or are you a fan of noise?

Joe: Up till recently I needed absolute silence. As the kids got older I realised either they had to go or that particular need had to go. Headphones now do the trick, and if the background decibels get too frenetic, I drown the world out with some repetitive mind candy like trance music.

Jane: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?

Joe: Yes, bits of poetry that I needed to write at particularly poignant moments in my life. They served a cathartic purpose at the time, but there’s no place for them now.

Jane: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?

Joe: Most favourite is creating, especially when in the zone. Least favourite is that moment of pre-work anxiety wondering if you’ll ever get in the zone again.

Jane: What advice would you give aspiring writers?

Joe: Use your buttocks. Make sure your make them sit in a chair on a regular basis so you can actually get words down on paper. Until then, you’re not a writer, you’re a dreamer.

Jane: Couldn’t resist this article on famous writers working at their typewriters.    

At the beginning of 2013, Smashword’s Mark Coker predicted that ‘Global’ would be the year’s biggest story. Do you have a readership in a country other than your own?

Joe: Yes, I sold the Polish rights to More Ketchup than Salsa in 2013 and I believe sales are doing very well there.

Jane: Are there any books on writing that you find useful and would recommend? 

Joe: Definitely On Writing by Stephen King. It’s full of useful nuggets and dispels the myth that there is any one right way to write a book. I read it just before I wrote Even More Ketchup than Salsa: The Final Dollop.


Jane: Where can we find out more about you and your work? 

Facebook –

Twitter –

Blog –


Jane: And finally, is there a phrase or quote about writing that you particularly like?

Joe: “The first draft of anything is shit.” I think it was Hemingway. That quote gives you the freedom to just get your thoughts down on paper without having to produce an ‘instant’ polished product first time round.