I recently did a Q & A for a magazine in the UK.
- In addition to writing books, you have taught drama for many years. Tell us a bit more about your career.
I have had a varied career that has mainly involved drama and the theatre. I began work after university as house manager at the Bristol Old Vic before moving to Cheltenham as an assistant to the technical manager. I really wanted to be on stage so trained as an actor at the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts in London. I then worked as an actor and director in a whole range of things from theatre, TV, and film. After working for about 9 years I decided that my career was not going to land me that dream part with fame and fortune so trained as a teacher at the University of the West of England in 1997.
- What made you decide to make the transition from actor to teacher to writer?
Acting was always a struggle as the work was often in short supply. My sister was a teacher so I spoke to friends and family who all felt that I would be great at it. So fundamentally it was a conscious decision to make a change in my life. I had written stories from and an early age and had the book in mind. It went through a number of drafts over a few years but drama teaching took up a huge amount of time. I am a great believer in following a course when one thinks that the time is right and so a left my job and finished the book.
- Tell us a little more about some of the school plays you have written.
I have always loved devising work with students. Getting a theme and then playing around with it until it takes shape. Much of this work is related to student issues such as alcohol, drugs, family life and bullying. So I started creating ideas that I thought they would like and wrote plays such as Through a Glass Darkly with teenagers in mind. Fortunately, they loved them!
- How would you describe your books? Are there any other authors who have inspired you?
They are books that follow the personal struggles of the characters and how the landscape mirrors this. We sometimes forget we are animals and that we have a genealogical connection with the natural world. I just try to tap into that raw emotion and use it and the landscape as metaphors for the story. I have read a huge range of books but I suppose it was Nicholas Evans, author of the Horse Whisperer, which showed me how my style of writing could be successful. Nicholas was also very kind to give me advice now and again during the process.
- Do you think that your experience in the theatre and working for TV and film has had any influence on the way you write your novels?
I think it has. I tend to see things cinematically and how important the visual image is in creating drama and tension. We live in such a multimedia orientated world that readers are used to seeing events evolve in front of them so I try to write in a way that draws the reader visually into the narrative. I want them to see what I as a writer can see but also through the eyes of the characters.
- Your first novel, The Cry of the Loon is set in the forests of central Quebec. Why did you choose to set the book in Canada?
Bob’s cabin, where Jack Clark goes to stay, is based on a real place where I had a really great vacation. It sort of stuck in my mind as a great place to set a story. I also liked the way Quebec is so unusual. It looks like North America with the same cars, similar styles of buildings but it has the French language and a real mix of places. There are towns with typically French names next to one that is English and this can be mirrored in small communities where French is not the dominant language. This allowed me to mix the cultures which make the diversity of characters more interesting and reflects how the whole of North America was colonised.
- Some authors have faced a lot of rejection getting their first book published. Did you have these problems? Have you embraced digital downloads?
It was a hard to get anyone interested in the book but fortunately, we live in an age where self-publishing is an option. I used Amazon’s Createspace to publish it myself and plan to release my others in the same way; unless a publisher comes along with cheque book in hand. There is a Kindle version of the book and it is a great way of encouraging people to take a chance on reading something for a fraction of the cost of a book. The Cry of the Loon costs around £1 as a digital copy.
- You are currently working on your second book, Embers. What can you tell us about the book?
I came up with the idea at about 3 in the morning a couple of years ago. I sat down and wrote a 3000-word summary/plan for the whole book in about two hours. The story is about Sarah Crawford, a young Equine Vet who leaves Colorado for a new job amongst the ranching community of a small Wyoming town. She relishes the chance to discover the landscape and people that defined her mother’s character; following her recent death. Sarah does not foresee the prejudice that she will encounter as a young woman amongst the hardened ranching community.Sarah is also drawn into a mystery surrounding arson attacks on ranches along the state line between Wyoming and Montana. She tries to discover who is setting the fires and killing the horses and what she finds will define more than just her.
Embers is a cathartic journey of self-discovery; at times painful, disturbing and sometimes harsh like the wild and beautiful landscape. It is however, uplifting and embodies the strength of the human spirit.
- Do you have a release date in mind for Embers?
Hopefully some time in 2014. I recently became a father for the first time and my young son takes up a lot of time! I would also like to get back to Wyoming and Montana as it is a few years since my last visit.
- Cry of the Loon in based in Quebec and Embers is set in Wyoming. Have you written – or plan to – write anything with a setting closer to home? Or do you think the settings of both Cry of the Loon and Embers add a sense of scale, scenery or romance that you couldn’t get from a book set in the UK?
I seem drawn to the landscape of North America. It is so diverse and there is still the opportunity to explore wilderness, something that we have lost in the UK. I first visited the USA over twenty years ago and have travelled thousands of miles through the country so I cannot see myself writing a novel set in this country just yet.
- Does nature play an important role in your books?
As I said before the natural world is an essential part of the writing but also of me. Although I grew up in Bristol my parents often took us to the country and I had a fascination with nature from an early age. As children, we would often be found in parks building dens, watching wild birds or cycling from Downend to Chipping Sodbury common; long before the ring road cut its way through the area. Nature is awe inspiring. I remember about 20 years ago I watched a sunset over the Grand Canyon and the colours it produced on the rock are still etched in my mind. I think we can all see a bit of Nature’s magic now and again and if people can find it in my writing, then go and see things for themselves, I hope that they get the same pleasure that I always can. My grandfather was a Vet so I think an interest in animals came from there too.
- We see that you are also planning a third book, which is in its very early stages. How is it developing?
The working title of the third book is ‘Looking for Neil’ and I have a brief idea of the story although nothing is actually written. As a teacher, I have come across many children with various forms of autism and wanted to write a book about a child and the positive impact they can have on those around them. The idea is to have a teenager with a form of autism, possibly Asperger syndrome, who watches a programme about the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969 and wants to meet the man in the moon – Neil Armstrong. He packs up and leaves his home in Seattle to make his way to Neil’s home in Ohio; a journey of nearly 2500 miles. On the way, he meets a disabled veteran of the war in Afghanistan and the two of them make their way to Ohio. The journey will be a road trip of discovery as the soldier tries to cope with his new disability and the fact that that the authorities are on their trail. Watch this space!
- Reviews of your first book suggest that it would make the transition to the big screen well. Have you thought about what actors you would like to play the part of protagonist Jack Clark or the supporting characters?
I have been in contact with a Los Angeles producer and a well known Native American actor, Gary Farmer, who I could see in the role of Mack but not really thought about Jack Clark. Gary has read the book and felt it would make a good film but these are just early days and there are no guarantees with anything; particularly. I suppose if I was to choose two for Jack and Annie it might be Christian Bale and Anne Hathaway, although as ‘A’ list actors they would be very expensive. However, the chemistry would be exciting.