JENNY Valentine, whose first novel, Finding Violet Park, was published in January and whose second is already completed, has recently started a new job at Hay Wholefoods.

It's the only thing I know how to do," she says, having worked in a wholefood shop in London's Primrose Hill for 15 years "selling more organic loaves than there are words in this novel".

Finding Violet Park suggests, however, that there's something else she does very well indeed. Just last week, to Jenny's surprise and delight, she found herself featured in The Guardian, with Anne Karpf declaring her first novel "a wonderful debut".

Lucas Swain is almost 16 when he first finds Violet Park, "what was left of her", on the shelf in a minicab office in an urn. Convinced that Violet is communicating with him, Lucas sets about rescuing her and it's not long before he discovers that they have more in common than he could possibly imagine. The more he learns about Violet the more he learns about himself.

Jenny confesses that the meticulously controlled plot owes more to luck than judgement: "Ten pages before the end I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen or how I was going to finish it."

She had no detailed plot in mind, just a story she really wanted to tell.

"Reading something Stephen King wrote in On Writing, that if you know what's going to happen, so will the reader,' was freeing. Once, I had sheets of paper stuck everywhere trying to plot an earlier attempt at a novel. I finally realised that being that organised is just not me."

It was while working in the Primrose Hill wholefood shop that Jenny came across the inspiration for Finding Violet Park and, through a customer who was also a writer, Belinda Hollyer, found an agent to represent her.

"Among the customers at the shop was a very feisty, flame-haired pianist, one of those wonderful eccentric characters, called Eileen Matthews. When she died I learned that her ashes were in an office nearby."

Fascinated, Jenny tried to find out more about Eileen. "In the end I got her confused with Eileen Joyce, the pianist who contributed to soundtracks for Brief Encounter, The Seventh Veil and other films. The two Eileens then became Violet Park.

"I always wanted to write a novel but, before I had the children, Molly and Ella, I didn't put the work in. And nothing clicked the way this did. It's about taking a risk and doing it. Once I had what turned out to be the second sentence of the book - that's where I met Violet Park, what was left of her' - I knew it was going to work.

Although she has gone back to work in a wholefood shop, this time in Hay-on-Wye, Jenny, who is married to singer-songwriter Alex Valentine, already has ideas for her third and fourth novels. "It's very easy to have an idea," she says. "There are so many fascinating things you see and hear."

Finding Violet Park is published by HarperCollins, price £10.99. Alex Valentine's new album Tardis Heart, from £7.29 on Struck Dumb Records through Universal Distribution and on iTunes, was released last week.