CJ Cooke grew up on a council estate in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She started writing at the age of 7 and pestered publishers for many years with manuscripts typed on her grandparents’ old Remington typewriter and cover notes written on pages ripped from school jotters.
Finally, in 2009, her hard work paid off, and her debut novel, The Guardian Angel’s Journal, about a woman who dies and comes back as her own guardian angel, was sold at a four-way auction at the Frankfurt Book Fair to Piatkus as their 2011 superlead title. The novel was published under the name Carolyn Jess-Cooke in 23 languages, and was an international bestseller. She has published two poetry collections, a creative anthology (titled Writing Motherhood) and her sixth novel, The Lighthouse Witches, is published in October 2020.
Also a poet (published under Carolyn Jess-Cooke), CJ’s prizes for writing include a Northern Writers Award, an Eric Gregory Award, a Tyrone Guthrie prize, and she has twice received a K Blundell award from the Society of Authors. Her third poetry collection, We Have to Leave the Earth, is published by Seren in October 2021. CJ holds a PhD in literature and film, and has taught creative writing since 2002, creating a vast range of approaches to writing for adults and children in a variety of settings, including universities, schools, libraries, prisons, and mental health institutions. Now Senior Lecturer at the University of Glasgow, CJ convenes the prestigious MLitt Creative Writing and researches ways that creative writing can impact mental health.
In March 2020 CJ Cooke set up the Stay-At-Home! Literary Festival, in partnership with the creative writing incubator, Paper Nations, in response to Covid-19, and as a venture to provide people with accessible, eco-friendly engagement with literature.