Monday, September 5, 2011

Interview with Ellis Jackson, Author of "Simon and the Wardrobe of Destiny"

The latest interview in our series of Author Interviews is with Ellis Jackson. His book, Simon and the Wardrobe of Destiny. It's a fantasy novel now available on Amazon and Smashwords right now. Also, check out his Author Profile at Smashwords and his blog.

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. What else do you do besides writing? 

By night a fantasy author, by day a humble Civil Servant... I actually work for Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunal Service in London, England, but it really isn't as interesting as it sounds. My job is to force criminals to pay their court fines or face prison. As far as jobs go it’s pretty dull compared to what I have been: An Army Officer, TV Producer, Motorcycle Journalist and much more. It's always a worry knowing your most interesting years are behind you!

My hobbies - besides writing of course - include motorbikes and learning. I go to Latvian language classes most weeks, and am about to start studying for a post-graduate diploma in management. Not sure how much that will help the writing though! Oddly enough, for someone who spent 8 years working in television, I don't actually own one. Most evenings I write, or surf the web researching stories or just reading the news. It's amazing the freedom gained by not having a TV.

2. How did you first get into writing?

It's a very odd story I suppose. I started writing for a small motorcycle magazine in the UK, simply because I liked the idea. I've always enjoyed writing, and felt I was pretty good at it. Turning that into books took two very odd interventions: a facebook post and a foreign girlfriend.

I spotted a friend's facebook post one day and it said something like "I've just got a book deal!" For some reason this upset me - I wanted a book deal - and eventually I worked out why I didn't have one: I'd never written a book. So I sat down and decided I'd write one, just to see if I could do it.

It probably would never have happened if my girlfriend hadn't moved back to Latvia for nearly a year to finish her studies. I ended up living alone in a house with no TV and no internet to speak of, so I saw my writing as a way to stave off boredom and insanity as well as complete the challenge. I never planned to make money from it, just put it on Kindle and find out if anyone likes it. Now I find I've caught the writing bug, and I have another 2 novels in the works, and no time to do anything!

3. Tell us about your latest book. 

"Simon and the Wardrobe of Destiny" is my debut novel. It's a humourous fantasy novel about a bored office worker who finds himself dragged into an alternate reality filled with Orcs, Elves and more. He's forced to fight for his life (something none of us really does these days) and lead an army into battle to save their city. In a way it questions whether or not any of us would survive if we were thrown back into the middle ages, and whether the knowledge we have lost in the last hundred years is more valuable that what we have gained. It's also got loads of battles in it!

What makes the book a little different is that it's open-source: If you like it, and feel you want to write the sequel, then you can. I'm a big believer in open-source software, and indeed the book was written exclusively on open-source software. I felt it would be interesting to see if anyone would take up the challenge, and when I decided to do that I didn't have a clue how to write a sequel anyway. Now however, I've got half-a-dozen ideas, and I can't pick which one to write!

4. Is it part of a larger series?

I never intended the book to be part of a series, as some series can annoy me. Some writers leave books open-ended, to allow then to sell the next book, but I like to see a story properly finished. This doesn't mean you can't have sequels if the book finishes properly, so "Simon and the Wardrobe of Destiny" could well end up being part of a series. There are so many places Simon could so, and adventures he could have that I may well end up writing more. I just have to finish the other books first though.

5. What was your inspiration for your book?

I guess there were several. Overall, I think Terry Pratchett was my inspiration. I love his books - I've read virtually all of them - because they are great stories, they make you laugh out loud and make you reflect on the world we live in. Sure, they're not the toughest or most literary reads, but I like that too. Reading should be fun, not a chore, and many fantasy books are really heavy going. I also love the "Flashman Papers", by George MacDonald Fraser. If you haven't read them, I can't recommend them enough. They are wonderful books, beautifully written, thoroughly researched and absolutely masterful. They also feature the greatest anti-hero the world has ever known!

In terms of characters, it's a little narcissistic to say it, but the inspiration behind Simon was me. I was stuck in a tedious job that I hated, but I was in a rut and unwilling to change it. This is what Simon feels at the start, and throughout the book he feels a little alien, like he doesn't belong wherever he is. I've felt like that a lot in my life, so it felt natural to write what I knew. Simon isn't based on me - he's far more handsome - but he is based on that feeling I have when I know I should change things, but I'm not sure how. Writing the book was part of making that change.

6. What motivates you to want to write? What do you enjoy about it?

The challenge. I love a challenge, and a big driving force behind "Simon and the Wardrobe of Destiny" was proving to myself that I could do it: I could write a novel. Now I know that I can, the challenge has become to write a better one. And the challenge itself breaks down: can I write this difficult scene, can I make the characters believable, likable, realistic?

There is always the terrible moment in writing a book when you realise the last 6,000 words are garbage, and you have to delete them and start again. The challenge then is to pick yourself up and keep moving with it. Every day I try to write 1,000 words, and most days I don't manage it. But I know that if I at least try to do that, if I force myself to push past the blocks, the bits that aren't working, then I will find a way round them later, rather than being stuck for a day which ends up being a month. As a biker in the UK we always talk about "Making progress". In biking terms it normally means always pushing to get ahead of the guy in front of you. When you're stuck in traffic you may not be going fast, but you're still moving. You're making progress, no matter how slow, and when you're not stuck behind a slow vehicle, or at traffic lights, then you can really open the throttle and pick up speed. I feel like that with writing: as long as I'm making progress, no matter how slow, soon there will come a bit where my hands can fly across the keyboard, where everything works PERFECTLY, and that is the bit we all love.

7. Do you have any advice for new writers about perfecting their craft?

I feel a bit of a fraud answering this question, because I'm still a new writer. The truth is you can only get better by taking criticism. And you can only do that by writing, and having other people read it. It's impossible to critique your own work, so you need to give it to others to help you. Writing may be an individual pursuit, but improving your writing can't be. It must involve either a critic, or a teacher capable of telling you how to improve. Never be afraid to ask for help.

No comments:

Post a Comment