First of all, a huge thank you for rising to the Double Espresso challenge, John. We’ve worked together as part of the Writers in the Peak monthly critiquing group for a while now — and as a group we always have great fun together — and learn a huge amount from each other in the process. But I don’t know much about your background in writing. When did you start writing and why?
I began writing fiction in retirement — as therapy whilst undergoing intensive treatment for cancer. My first novel, A Surprising Legacy is basically a love story that is interwoven in local myth, legend and folk-lore. I had carried that story in my head for about seven years before it was written, and once completed, that led to The Lightning Tree and others.
Our critiquing group is focused on novels at the moment — a world away from Flash Fiction, in terms of word count, at least! Do you think the two disciplines have anything in common? How did you find the experience of writing a flash fiction? Indeed, have you written one before?
I’ve never attempted Flash Fiction before but in trying this I found that my mind was focused to write condensed prose that isn’t so vital in a novel. I can see that Flash Fiction is beneficial to a novelist because agents, editors and publishers do not want extraneous waffle.
I understand, John that you have also worked in partnership with other writers around the world. I know you have linked with one writer in New Zealand, for example. Can you tell us a little bit about the partnerships — how they were set up, and what you get out of them? A.
I’d hardly call it a partnership. In the case of Dr. Trisha Nicholson (an ex-pat living in New Zealand) she found me by the internet as a result of my book A Surprising Legacy, and that was the beginning of our friendship which has endured for some years. Trish has a doctorate in anthropology and she’s a brilliant writer with lots of books to her name. That theme of anthropology runs through her book From Apes to Apps. She first assisted me in things I was writing, then later she sent me her work-in-progress to gain my views, and that’s how it’s developed. Her most exciting book has yet to reach the publication stage. It’s an account of her time working in Papua New Guinea and she describes treks through jungles, nerve tingling mountain ledges, and negotiating primitive bridges over raging torrents. There she became desperately ill with malaria. I was fortunate to be able to review this book for her. Trish recently completed a tour of some countries of the European continent and the UK providing workshops for writers and for the first time we met face to face in Nottingham.
My author friend in California, USA, is Jill Schaefer (another ex-pat) who has several books to her credit. Our friendship began in much the same way as with Trish Nicholson. Jill’s most recent book is The Red Cloak which is a story of a heroine’s effort in smuggling a relative’s child out of communist East Germany through Checkpoint Charlie and the notorious Berlin wall, under the noses of the border guards. In reviewing her story I became convinced that this was a true life story and that Jill herself was the story’s heroine. That, for me, is the finest tribute to her writing I can make to have convinced me so when she assures me it is complete fiction. Jill, now widowed, was married to a German national, and her account of life in Germany in the build up to WW11 opened my eyes to the fear and intimidation ordinary people were exposed to from the Nazis.
You chose Adam’s Cross from a long list of (Peak District OS map) names. Why did you opt for Adam’s Cross in the end?
Adam’s Cross resonated with me simply because I was aware of another landmark of that name in Cumbria, above Raven’s Cragg, S/E of Keswick.
Your Adam’s Cross is very visual. Did the setting come to you first? Or was it the character or narrative? And how did you bring them altogether for this piece?
I pondered long on what to write. I was on the isle of Anglesea, visiting the now defunct copper-rich quarry above Almwich, when the weather suddenly closed in – that gave me the spark of an idea of setting, but I still wanted a spectacle to happen at the summit. Then I happened to catch part of a radio program which gave me the inspiration for Jane’s dance. So, the setting came first and characters second.
And finally John, I know you are working on a novel at the moment. What’s next? Another novel? Something different?
The novel I’m working on, is almost Dickensian fiction but it has content that I hardly think Dickens would have contemplated. Some bits are rather naughty – hardly Fifty Shades of Grey, but certainly with a touch of Ooooh-la-la about it. I’ve also got several short stories sitting in the computer, gathering dust, that I’d like to attack. They’re childrens’ stories that all come under a banner heading of Tales from Gramp’s Mountain. My home is high in the peaks and part of my land is a huge hill behind the house which the grand-children used to call ‘Gramp’s Mountain’ thereby lending itself to the silly stories I used to tell them.
As for something new, as you know I’ve just entered a literary competition for the very first time, and you were kind enough to help with your expert knowledge of the German language which was crucial. I don’t have any great expectations of my chances in the competition, but I just wanted to try – just as I wanted to try your Flash Fiction.
I’ve just completed an Open University course on writing fiction that I found very useful.
Time is my problem – there’s never enough of it to everything I need to do. Apart from my novel writing, I also write music to accompany a large U3A singing group and I play keyboard for them. In addition, together with my family, I’m a member of a hand-bell concert group for which I also write the music. Life is rather hectic.
Thanks again for taking part. It’s been a pleasure to have you on board.
Thank you, Helen, for giving me this opportunity.