Thursday, 22 April 2010

INTERVIEW: Joe Donnelly

Having arrived late to the phenomena that is Joe Donnelly's Jack Flint trilogy, we thought that it would be pretty nifty to accompany our reviews with an interview.

Here, Joe chats about his secret reading location, telling tall tales as a lad and above all which of his characters are most like him. We hope you enjoy...

Falcata Times: Writing is said to be something that people are afflicted with rather than gifted and that it's something you have to do rather than want. What is your opinion of this statement and how true is it to you?

Joe Donnelly: For me it’s both. Something I really enjoy doing, but it can be a compulsion too. Once an idea for a story begins to germinate, it gains a life of its own. The story wants to be told…and it makes me want to tell it.

FT: When did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?

JD: As a boy I made up adventure stories to tell my brothers at night. I think even then I had a notion to be a writer. It became much stronger in my late teens when I really began to write for pleasure.

FT: It is often said that if you can write a short story you can write anything. How true do you think this is and what have you written that either proves or disproves this POV?

JD: I can’t speak for other writers. Some are brilliant at short stories and others much better in the longer format. However, managing to encapsulate an idea into a few pages is a gift, so I suppose it’s true. My drawers and shelves are full of short stories I have written over the years. Not all of them brilliant, of course.

FT: If someone were to enter a bookshop, how would you persuade them to try your novel over someone else's and how would you define it?

JD: I would lock the door and refuse to let them leave. Seriously? I’d get a friend to tell them it was a good book and worth reading. I’d be too shy.

FT: How would you "sell" your book in 20 words or less?

JD: Myth, mayhem and magic. Adventure for young people…. of all ages from nine to ninety..

FT: Who is a must have on your bookshelf and whose latest release will find you on the bookshops doorstep waiting for it to open?

JD: I’m a glutton for books – adventure, crime, thrillers, science fiction, science fact, natural history. Fellow Scot Christopher Brookmyre is a must. He’s wonderfully funny and one of the cleverest writers I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy.

FT: When you sit down and write do you know how the story will end or do you just let the pen take you? ie Do you develop character profiles and outlines for your novels before writing them or do you let your idea's develop as you write?

JD: I don’t sit down and write until the story is fixed in my mind. It can take months for it to develop. But then I know how it will begin and end. It’s the middle that often takes me by surprise. A story evolves even in the writing. I do character sketches and outlines, just to keep me on track.

FT: What do you do to relax and what have you read recently?

JD: I play electric guitar. I like to fish in my local river. I get into the countryside as often as possible. Recently I read Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”. It’s very bleak, and although critics have raved about it, I found it dreary.

FT: What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?

JD: Reading in the toilet. Like most men.

FT: Lots of writers tend to have pets. What do you have and what are their key traits (and do they appear in your novel in certain character attributes?)

JD: I don’t have a pet. But as a youngster, I had several, including polecats, crows, owls and a kestrel falcon. I had an adder, which ate mice, but I let it slither free.

FT: Which character within your latest book was the most fun to write and why?

JD: In the Jack Flint trilogy, the fun character was Kerry Malone. Jack is the kind of boy I should have been, but Kerry is the boy I actually was. Mischievous, devil-may-care, and with a weird sense of humour. He is also a poacher…as I was.

FT: How similar to your principle protagonist are you?

JD: See above. Jack is honest, decent, straightforward and brave. There is no similarity at all!

FT: What hobbies do you have and how do they influence your work?

JD: All of my hobbies, from angling to climbing, playing guitar, even gardening, they all get a mention somewhere. Writers tend to go with what they know.

FT: Where do you get your idea's from?

JD: A strange and magical place. I don’t know. Take your pick. However, I often daydream and ask “what if”. In jack Flint, I wondered “what if a ring of standing stones was really an ancient gateway”. Then the story started to grow.

FT: Do you ever encounter writers block and if so how do you overcome it?

JD: I get good writing days and others that are less productive. What I do is get into my ideas list and plan something else. In summer, when the sun is shining, it’s harder to sit at my desk.

FT: Certain authors are renowned for writing at what many would call uncivilised times. When do you write and how do the others in your household feel about it?

JD: I write early in the morning, late at night, often in between, and at weekends too. There’s no set pattern. Sometimes I have a day off. Nobody seems to mind.

FT: Sometimes pieces of music seem to influence certain scenes within novels, do you have a soundtrack for your tale or is it a case of writing in silence with perhaps the odd musical break in-between scenes?

JD: For Jack Flint, I picture the action to the theme of the film The Last of the Mohicans. It had a kind of Celtic urgency to it. Very stirring.

FT: What misconceptions, if any, did you have about the writing and publishing field when you were first getting started?

JD: I didn’t have a clue. I just wrote a book. Somebody mentioned an agent’s name. She liked it and found a publisher. It seemed to happen very quickly. I was lucky.

FT: If music be the food of love, what do you think writing is and please explain your answer?

JD: Writing is the need to tell. Once the story sparks into life, it wants to be told and doesn’t let you rest.

FT: What can you tell us about the next novel?

JD: I’m working on two books at the moment. One is a global thriller based on real scientific developments in the 21st century. The second is an adventure, based this time on Norse mythology where two young guys find themselves in a desperate situation and then….oh, you’ll have to wait until I finish it.

FT: What are the last five internet sites that you've visited?

JD: All scientific sites, I’m afraid. Boring I know, but I’m interested in almost everything, from dinosaurs to dahlias and from medicine to microelectronics. A geek in other words. Or is it a nerd?

FT: Did you ever take any writing classes or specific instructions to learn the craft? If so please let us know which ones.

JD: No. But I became a journalist at the age of 18, which taught me to write and type really quickly, which is an asset. Also, I learned never to break a deadline and I don’t mind editors telling me where I’ve got it wrong. Which they do.

FT: How did you get past the initial barriers of criticism and rejection?

JD: I was lucky, to have got my first book published very quickly. Rejection came later during the last recession when my previous publisher let me, and others, go.

FT: In your opinion, what are the best and worst aspects of writing for a living?

JD: The best aspects are being your own boss, being able to tell lies for a living, and getting paid for it. The worst is having to be disciplined. And writing is an isolated occupation. I have to get out and about and meet people.

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