As queen of escapist fiction Jo Thomas looks forward to the release of her new novel, she told us what it's like for her living and working in Pembrokeshire.

“On an autumn morning like this one, as night turns to day, and I look out towards Goodwick harbour and the lit up boats waiting there, I am reminded every day why I love living in Pembrokeshire,” she begins.

Jo lives in Pembrokeshire with her husband and three children, where cooking and gathering around the kitchen table are a hugely important and fun part of their family life.

“I holidayed in Newport every summer as a child. Those holidays stay with me. They seemed to last forever. The freedom we had, life lived by the tide times, by the sea and friendships we made; the one thing we had in common was a love of being where we were, right there and then, in the now.

“There was crabbing, sailing and swimming and a common understanding of being wary of the tide changes and the strong current. A respect for the sea. And grilled mackerel. Every evening, on the campsite, the daily catch would come in and be sold around the field. Camping stoves would be lit and mackerel fried. I remember the smell so well. The setting sun, the smell of frying. A squeeze of lemon and buttered bread.

“That and ice creams! Our big treat out was the ice cream parlour in Tenby where I remember the ice cream I had being as big as my head!

Jo Thomas in ice-cream van
Author Jo Thomas on an ice-cream van tour to promote her novel Summer at the Ice Cream Café (Jo Thomas Instagram @jothomasauthor)

“It is quite unbelievable to me then, that I have ended up in a place that I loved so much as a child and been able to call it home for me and my family.”

Jo's debut novel, The Oyster Catcher, was a runaway bestseller and won both the RNA Joan Hessayon Award and the Festival of Romance Best eBook Award. Her recent book Escape to the French Farmhouse was a #1 bestselling eBook and in every one of her novels Jo loves to explore new countries and discover the food produced there, both of which she thoroughly enjoys researching.

“Often, on the map of life, you find yourself going the long-winded route to ending up where you need to be. And for me and my family it’s here in Pembrokeshire.”

Jo had worked for many years as a reporter and producer, including time at Radio 4's Woman's Hour and Radio 2's The Steve Wright Show. Now she does a weekly cookery session on her Instagram account every Friday where she cooks in her kitchen and talks about books.

“Once I became a writer full time, with three small children and my husband working away as a television producer our path back to Pembs has been varied.

“Starting out just outside of Cardiff working at the BBC there for Radio Wales, then to London where I worked for Radio 2, back to Wales where we had our family and then three years in Galway where my husband was working for an Irish language TV company on their popular soap opera Ros na Run.

“Returning to Cowbridge my feet itched to be back in Pembs. I returned to the campsite in Newport where it had all began and spent summers there with the children, writing whilst looking out to sea and the children spending days crabbing, swimming and understanding the tide times.

“Life had come full circle. It was no surprise then, that as life moved on a plan was put in place to move full time. But with young people finishing school and moving on, the timing had to be right.

“We managed to buy a small house which became known as The Writing Pad, and I spent more and more time looking out to sea and writing… the point that the family thought I’d left home and one by one came to join me. We were bursting at the seams! But we had moved. There was no plan, no big leap of faith, it just sort of happened.

“By the time covid happened we were all living in The Writing Pad, taking daily walks, opening up the bar in the basement kitchen in the evening and organising darts tournaments on the kitchen fridge.

'Jo sweeps you away to a better place with every book, which are always filled with warmth, love and a big spoonful of happiness'

Veronica Henry

“I worked with the family, my husband, the children and dogs all around me, in the place I loved to be.

“And it’s home for all of us still now. Despite my husband and son going to work away, this is where they come home to.“

In her books, Jo always brings readers to a new, exciting location and celebrates the culture, history, and most importantly, the food of the places she sets her stories.

In her new novel, the bestselling author takes readers to Canada to celebrate food, love and friendship in another brilliantly escapist read.

Countdown to Christmas is available as an ebook and will be published in paperback form on October 12, 2023.
Countdown to Christmas is available as an ebook and will be published in paperback form on October 12, 2023. (Jo Thomas on Instagram @jothomasauthor)

Countdown to Christmas takes readers to Québec, where heroine Chloë, who usually can’t wait for Christmas to be over, discovers she might be entitled to a plot of land. With 22 days until Christmas, Chloë finds herself on a plane to Canada. Suddenly, her new countdown to Christmas involves a log cabin in the middle of a snowy forest, a community that's worried for its future, a gruff lumberjack who gives her butterflies and a lot of pancakes with maple syrup. This Christmas is full of surprises!

Stack of pancakes
“In Countdown to Christmas, this delicious breakfast pairing is a staple in the diner – everyone loves pancakes and maple syrup,” says Jo. “You can serve these in a few ways, but my favourite is with bacon as I love the sweet and salty combination. But you can also serve with any fruit of your choice and some whipped double cream.” See the author’s Instagram account for the recipe. (Jo Thomas Instagram @jothomasauthor)

It may be Canada for Chloë, but the author’s own story has led her back to Pembrokeshire and life in The Writing Pad.

“This is where the central hub of the family is. I work every day from my office in our new home, an old pub, in north Pembs, that looks out to sea. It’s here that I write my books, cook in my kitchen, and spend time walking the beach.

Pembrokeshire seaside sunset
(Jo Thomas Instagram @jothomasauthor)

“Sometimes in life, you just have to follow your heart. After years of being on the move, it’s here that is home.”

Countdown to Christmas by Jo Thomas is published on October 12 by Penguin (Paperback, £8.99). It is also available as an ebook.