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Author Q&A: Sarah Jost

Cindy Burnett
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Five First Chances by Sarah Jost

Five First Chances, Sarah Jost's debut novel, published in April. In Jost's novel, Lou feels like she is stuck on the wrong path. Consumed by "what ifs," she slips back in time to a night two years ago, and finds herself stuck in a time loop of her own making.

Sarah Jost’s debut novel, Five First Chances, published in April. In Jost's novel, Lou feels like she is stuck on the wrong path: alone, in a city far from home, watching other people be happy. When the man she's in love with announces his engagement to someone else, Lou is consumed by “what ifs.” That's when she finds herself slipping back in time to a night two years ago, where one small decision changed everything…. Suddenly, Lou has a chance to fix her mistakes. But as her choices lead her down roads she never could have imagined, she finds herself stuck in a time loop of her own making. And with each slip, Lou notices her life intersecting with one person again and again, someone who is slowly becoming the one person who makes her feel like she might finally be on the right track.

Author Margarita Montimore raves: “Sarah Jost takes an irresistible concept and imbues it with tenderness and introspection. Five First Chances is a touching time loop story that explores the nuances of love, family, and friendship, and the beauty of life's imperfections.”

Sarah Jost was born and grew up in Switzerland, against the backdrop of Lake Geneva and the Alps. She moved to the UK in 2008 to learn English for a year and somehow managed not to leave. She now works as a French teacher and pastoral manager in a girls’ school, which she considers an immersive course in character study. Her debut novel One Last Chance (UK) / Five First Chances (US) came out in April 2023. Some of her favorite themes are art, empathy, female protagonists with space to grow, love stories in all shapes, and quirky animals. Sarah lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband Luke and their adorable (and hard to keep up with!) golden shepherd Winnie.

Sarah answers some questions that I posed to her about Five First Chances:

What inspired you to start writing Five First Chances?

I wish I could say I woke up one fine morning with the ability to time travel and that’s what gave me the idea! But alas, there was no supernatural power or light-bulb moment. After writing two first drafts of other (darker) novels, I decided I wanted to write something more personal: an emotional love story carrying an uplifting message. I have struggled with low-level anxiety all my life and am fascinated by how our mental states can affect our perception of time; it then turned into the concept of a main character who is so anxious about her own choices she quite literally gets stuck in a two-year time-loop…and Lou was born. I knew I wanted her to have a deep, life-changing arc, learning to live life fully without shying away from difficult events, which is something I have been grappling with myself, and I thought more people could relate to. 

Can you share something with me about your book that is not in the blurb?

Expect an emotional read! Expect to follow a main character who is getting things wrong at first, struggling to connect and look outside of herself… and see her grow as she learns about what matters and what it means to turn up for the people she loves. There are some tough themes in the book (cancer, miscarriage, depression), but it is also funny at times and it contains plenty of elephants and otters cameos for animal lovers. And a Bernese dog called Chomsky, who I really wish was real (but my own dog might get jealous).

What do you hope your readers take away from your book?

Some readers have commented that Five First Chances made them want to make the most of every day that they have. There can’t be any better takeaway! It is so completely surreal to see readers connect with your story and your characters and for it to have an impact on their outlook on life. I am humbled and honored that they trusted me to take them on that journey and that they invested some of their precious time reading my book.

I think we all need a reminder to be brave and take chances – I wrote Lou’s story to remind myself of this too. It is so easy to get so consumed by “what ifs” that you end up stuck in a rut – but I wanted to show how taking chances can bring incredibly positive change too. So if it gives any reader a little impulse to, maybe, ask someone out, or go for a different job, or even just change their usual route to work or lunch order… who knows what could come out of it?

Do you have any say in what your book cover looks like?

To be honest, I didn’t need to, as it was very close to what it is now the first time I saw it! We only suggested a couple of tweaks such as the font for the title. I love this cover – from the striking, deep purple to the ways in which the design alludes to the time travelling angle: the otherwordly rain was a stroke of genius from the designers (Steph Gafron and Kelly Lawler), and I hope readers will notice that Lou and Nick are broken up in their reflection, which alludes to the different iterations of their lives. It has received such positive feedback from readers already, and I know it will entice future readers to pick the book up!

What is the most difficult part about writing for you?

Plotting is the hardest part for me. Creating characters and working at sentence level is what comes naturally to me. I love metaphors (you can probably tell if you’ve read Five First Chances!) and emotive writing, and I am at my best when I have the plot sorted and I can keep adding layers of meaning and complexity to characters’ experiences and interactions. Now, unfortunately, when you’re in the business of writing novels, none of this can happen without a plot…. I have to work really hard at making sure that the scenes follow each other in a logical sequence and that I don’t just write something cool or that takes my fancy. I need constant reminders to think a bit more dramatically about what is happening for the characters, how they can really drive the plot. I’m very lucky that my Sourcebooks editor (the wonderful MJ Johnston) is brilliant at asking me the right questions and providing the guidance that I need to put me on the right track.

What are you reading now and what have you read recently that you loved?

Right now I’m reading The Cloisters by Katy Hays; I’m working on my second book which is inspired by my love of sculpture and leans a little bit more into the “dark academia with a touch of magic” genre, and this book was recommended to me. I’ve recently read and loved Her Majesty’s Royal Coven by the incredible Juno Dawson, which I highly recommend. It’s exquisitely written and through the story of modern witches takes a deep, hard look at some very current issues around gender and identity. It’s also a cracking story that will keep you turning the pages. And it is the first one of a series, which is always a bonus! I love books that use an element of magic as a different lens to examine current issues, and make you think while enjoying your reading experience at the same time.

For more book recommendations and bookish thoughts, see Cindy’s monthly Buzz Reads column, her Thoughts from a Page Podcast or follow @ThoughtsFromaPage on Instagram. Find upcoming Conversations from a Page events here.

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