Monday, 19 November 2012

Interview: John M W Smith

What have you had published?
I have had many 'twist in the tale' short stories published in the high circulation women's weekly magazines like Take A Break, That's Life, and Bella. I have also had stories published in literary journals and the small press.
What genre(s) of book do you write?
I write in the short story genre. I also write novels in the young adult/teen genre (Look Out....Mum's Gone Crackers! Hunting The Beast, May Never The Dead Return, Running With Zombies, all e-books on Amazon), and am currently working on a 'crossover' thriller (teen/adult crossover).
What inspired you to write your first book?
I felt a need to write because I became convinced that a lot which could be said was not being said by existing writers, and what was being said sounded stale and unoriginal. I thought I could do better.
What is the working title of your next book(s)?
(a) Nightmare in Shangri-La (teen/adult crossover) (b) The Wacky Blogger: a collection of my widely followed weekly blogs over the past six months, in an expanded version, about events in my life.
When and why did you begin writing?
I began writing as an escape from the tedium and soul destroying boredom of my variously held jobs. I hated office politics, the lies, the back-biting, the casual emotional brutality. How you are forced to belong to one camp or the other when all you want to do is to be left alone to get your day's work done well and further your career through hard work. I was never a team player anyway. There are whole wide worlds waiting to be discovered even within the imaginations of ordinary human beings, and it is so sad that we have to spend our entire lives earning a living rather than exploring the wonders of being alive. I wanted to give my readers a glimpse of what they were missing.
Do you self-publish your books or go through an agency?
Self publish. This is the way of the future. I would not accept a contract from a conventional mainstream publishing house now. For the first time, this year, e-book sales have outstripped paper book sales on Amazon, and this is the way to go. Dozens of bookshops are closing every day. Very regrettably, even libraries are closing. Agents and publishers are a waste of time---they are running so scared of financial ruin that now they will only stick to their existing stables of tried and tested commercial authors, so knocking on their doors is like singing a beautiful song to an empty room.
What part of writing books do you find the hardest?
The building of a really good and original enough plot. Many new and modern formats exist, but for me nothing beats the carefully crafted story with a beginning, a middle and an end which leaves the reader fulfilled and amply rewarded for his/her time. Anything else is, in my opinion, just lazy on the part of the writer, or a misplaced need to appear fashionably arty or experimental (it rarely works).
What do you do in your spare time?
I wish I had some! But if you insist, well, I read, read, and read. Oh, and I love cooking and listening to The Moody Blues ("thinking is the best way to travel"), Cake ("let me swim in your kidney-shaped pool"), and The Doors ("show me the way to the next whisky bar"). I am happy to live inside my head. I've given up watching movies as I can tell how they are going to progress after the first 10 minutes (yawn! yawn!). I can walk for many miles without getting tired, and some times I end up lost!
Who is your favourite author?
Hemingway. Also Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. They tell the truth. For anyone who wants to know how a great short story writer writes, go no further than Somerset Maugham. A genius. Also Alice Munro. And for novels, of course, James Hadley Chase, the greatest thriller writer of all time, the master of the page turner. I used to finish a book a day when I was in my teens, and then pass it on to my dad (he took much longer). Whatever damage this might have done to my eyes, I like to think that this was more than made up for by the value added to my brain.
What is your favourite genre to read?
I don't have a favourite genre. I'll read anything that manages to hook me in the first couple of pages. I am impatient, I cannot wait for a writer to tediously unfold swirling visual vistas from his/her imagination, since I have my own imagination to do this. But if you were to press me, then I would have to say my favourite genre would be the well written thriller which grips you by the throat and doesn't let go until it's almost shaken the life out of you.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
There is much glamour associated with being a writer. If this is what you are after, then forget writing. Try the X factor. There are only two rules for making it as a writer. (1) You must be convinced, in the very depths of your soul as you come face to face with it at 3am (incidentally the hour at which most deaths in hospitals occur), that you have some real talent as a writer. (2) You must be prepared to work incredibly hard and be able to handle the huge disappointments that will no doubt come when you throw down your  meticulously created pearls before bird-brained swine (enough said on this last point!). Also you must go on a correspondence course with a reputable and old established writing school, because from them you will learn technique. They will know how to polish your raw talent and turn it from a dull lump of coal into a shining diamond. The first time I sent my writing to my tutor, he tore it to shreds. This was a big blow because I thought I was fantastic. The next piece of work I sent him was slightly better. The third piece of work I sent him received his unadulterated praise. By the time I sent the fourth, he was talking to me as an equal. At that stage I left the course, as he had nothing more to teach me. And I think he knew this, so he didn't mind. So, at the risk of sounding pedantic/patronising, I repeat; spend some money and enrol with a good writing school, for it can do wonders for you. Also you must send your first manuscript to a critique agency; there are many that are not too expensive and are extremely good, and will more than justify the investment in them that you make. Don't argue, accept all their recommendations and suggestions. Oh yes, just one more thing; Read. Never stop. Even if your eyeballs start sizzling like grilled tomatoes threatening to pop. Read everything and everyone, and observe all non-human animals closely, for you will be amazed at the insights they can provide. Listen to the way people speak, the words, the phrases, how some people seem to say a lot in a few words by letting you automatically fill in the blanks. Look out for body-language and use its description when shaping your characters. Overhear conversations shamelessly and learn dialogue from the way real people talk. I mention the need to read?

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