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Monday 15 July 2013

Guest Author Spot - Clive Johnson

This weeks Guest spot belongs to Clive Johnson, author of the Dica series. If you enjoy Clive's interview please check out his work here

1. When did you start writing and was there any particular event that drew you to the pen?
Believe it or not, I started writing ’Leiyatel's Embrace’ around 1978. There was nothing in particular that sparked it off.  I'd always had a bit of an interest in writing - purely for my own interest and enjoyment, you understand.  It was called ’The Winds of Change’ until the idea of actually publishing became a serious prospect.
This might sound a bit weird, but the writing was only to satisfy a strange need to fix a place I'd long had in my head.  I suppose Dica was an amalgam of all the books I'd read, films I'd seen, even people I'd met and places I'd been.  You see, Dica had been a real place to me for quite some time before I even started writing about it.
I'd tried to capture it in drawings and paintings at first, but realised just how limited that medium was, and so how damned long it would have taken to capture such a complete, intricate and rich world.  It wasn’t so much an event as a place and story that pushed me to the pen, a place and story that most definitely had an independent life of its own.

2. Do you have a favourite character from another author’s book? 
Hmm! I don't really have favourites, not as such.  There are characters I've liked for various reasons; Gandalf for one, but in all honesty there’s not a vast number. Many of Dickens’s own, of course - spoilt for choice there!
I've always enjoyed the more complex, deeper characters, ones with the kind of contradictions and uncertainties you find in real people.  I think it's too easy to come up with archetypes, which is what you often find.  The real challenge is in presenting characters who hold the full gamut of human foibles, failings and feelings as much as idiosyncrasies, strengths and beliefs.  The kind of things you find in the people who thread their way through your own daily life.
My greatest passion in my younger days was traditional fantasy, science fiction and what was not yet then dubbed speculative fiction.  Unfortunately, those genres haven’t been particularly strong on character development, falling back more often than not on the archetype I mentioned earlier.
Why I have a particular knack at character development I don't know.  Perhaps it's come from my later reading; historical fiction, King’s early horror work, and more of the classics - like Dickens, Bronte, Peake and the like.  Now I think about it, certainly Richmal Crompton with her ’Just William’ series.  Ostensibly children's books, they were secretly quite adult in their own way, with excellently developed and nuanced characters.

3. Do you pre-plan your stories or are you a take-it-as-it-comes writer?
I learnt long ago that whatever arrogance plans, life quickly trips up.  I have a rough idea where the story’s headed, but I'm relaxed enough not to want to fight its own inclinations.  Stories have their own lives; they breathe of their own volition, know better than I what is right and wrong, and where they want to end up.  My task’s simply to help them along, and make their voice as enjoyable as possible to the reader’s ear.
In a way, a book’s story should be like real life - largely unknown by those it carries along, until it’s far too late.  Maybe that's why all my books are mysteries, despite having science fiction foundations and the appearance of fantasy.
I've always wanted to be intrigued by a book’s tale, and have it slowly reveal its true nature as I tread its path.  I've never seen the enjoyment in setting out knowing exactly where you're going to end up.

4. Where does your inspiration comes from? What motivates you? 
I don't honestly know. It's probably that I’m an alien, or I was born at the wrong time, and so find most things about this planet thought-provoking.  Perhaps if I fitted in somewhere, then, who knows. 
This question keeps coming up, and I think it's because a lot of authors suffer from block at some time or other, but I never have.  I've currently got two books waiting in the old grey-matter, and I'm sure when I write those they'll create a further four. 
I have a theory! Actually, it is quite a serious theory - so just bear with me being po-faced for a moment - normal service will be resumed shortly:  I reckon I have an unusually high interconnectivity between the two lobes of my brain, so making me more prone to lateral thinking. 
My logical and creative areas mess with each other more than is usual.  It means that a thought triggers off umpteen other avenues, often of only rather oblique relevance.  So, one story thread easily creates loads more.  All I then have to do is choose between them.  It also means I'm left with a warehouse full of filtered-out ideas, somewhere to wander around when I'm having one of my long, contemplative baths. See, I said normal service would soon be resumed!

5. Do you have set schedule to write to or do you grab the time as it comes? 
I've never had a very regular life, really. Once we had a horse, and anyone who’s kept one of those knows they eat time like there's no tomorrow - as well as your money.  The past ten years I've worked strange shifts, and now I'm working from home. No, I've never been one for too much routine - I'm pretty sure it’d bore me. 
I fit writing in when I can, although I know it has an unreasonably high priority.  So lots of other things tend to fall by the wayside in its wake.  The problem is, I could actually write solidly all my waking hours ... In fact I think I often have! Hmm!

6. How do you take writing interruptions?

Yes, I'm sure it is, my Dear.

7. What do you enjoy and what do you hate about writing? 
I enjoy everything about writing, except when my laptop starts to run slow.  I’ve even learnt to enjoy my own editing. I know I should nowadays include the promo side in this question, but I still don't reckon it belongs here - so I'll ignore it again.

8. Mostly for our other authors out there, what’s your advice as to how to handle a bad review? 
Be honest with yourself and take the criticisms on board.  Everything for a writer is a learning opportunity - so learn from it.  You have to be clinical and objective about it.  Few reviews are dishonest or spiteful.  Understand what it was about the book that they disliked, then decide if there's a case for you to change anything about your writing. 
If they’ve criticised your word craft then I'd suggest you dig into the accusation and find out if they're right, and if so then do something about it.  On the other hand, if they just didn't like the way you wrote, or the nature of the story, or any other subjective things about it, then it's their opinion and your call.  They've a right to say whatever they like about your book - remember, you published it to a public domain in the fist place. 
You've got to be realistic.  Not everyone’s going to like your book, but you do need to keep a sense of perspective.  If you’ve had lots of reviews and everybody hates it, then it's likely that you're not yet quite up to scratch as a writer, and maybe you shouldn't have published so early. 
One thing that's worth checking out, though, is your marketing. Maybe you’re targeting your book at the wrong readership?

9. What other projects do you have on the boil? Are there any more books in the Dica series to come? 
I've already said that I've at least a couple of further books in mind.  They'll be set within the Realm of Dica, but I'm keen to make each new volume different in some significant way.  Cold Angel Days for example - my latest - has a new protagonist, a rather feisty woman, and a romance element.  The love content is unusual, though.  It's the story of how a woman helps resolve her beloved older sister’s failing relationship. 
What I would never countenance doing is just cranking out the same old story, only with a few minor changes to details - like you often see in the later books of many series.  Unless the story’s completely fresh I simply won't bother. 
I'm pretty sure that the two I have in mind will fit the bill, though, so my readers will get the old familiar feel but beneath a wholly new and surprising story.  My latest lead character from Cold Angel Days, Prescinda, has gone down very well.  As I thoroughly enjoyed helping her come alive, I'm keen myself to have her involved in my next book.  More than that, though, I'm not yet prepared to say!


  1. fabulous post , guys , well done, David and Clive ... most enjoyable , thanks :))

  2. Great interview. Fascinating insights into the mind of one of my favourite authors.

    1. Thank you Jenny. I'm very grateful to Clive for agreeing to take part.