John writes crime and horror stories, often mixing the two genres into dark suspense fiction. He lives in the UK, where his short fiction has appeared in magazines and anthologies including The Mammoth Book of Future Cops, Crimewave, The New Writer, Ten Deadly Tales, Hideous Progeny: A Frankenstein Anthology, Acclaim, the British Fantasy Society's magazine Peeping Tom, and the Fish Short Story Award book Scrap Magic and Other Stories.
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. The only other careers that appealed to me as a kid were President of the United States or an astronaut. Since you had to be born in America to qualify for the first and extremely lucky to get into NASA for the second, I abandoned them as possible careers aged around ten. From then on, I wanted to be a successful writer. I knew it would take years of practice before daring to submit anything – so I started writing stories for my own entertainment. I have boxes of my early efforts locked away in the attic, where they should always stay. Those stories were never meant to be read by anyone apart from my family, as I wanted to learn the skills necessary for publication before sending anything away.
I only started submitting my stories to magazines after a teacher secretly submitted one of my short stories to a regional competition. It won first prize, which was a great boost.
These days I enjoy writing short stories because the time involved is short, but I also like writing longer pieces, like my first crime novel Acting Dead and a YA dark fantasy called The House on Willow Lane.
FW: Tell us about ‘Edge of Crime'.
Edge of Crime is a collection of crime stories written over a period of about a decade. Most of them are dark suspense, with twists, though some were added for a little light relief. It’s an omnibus of two smaller collections – Under Dark Skies and Thirteen: Unlucky For Some – plus some extra stories. I wanted to produce a single-author collection of my published stories, with a few new ones.
I have also published a collection of horror stories called The Bone Yard and Other Stories.
FW: And what do you have forthcoming?
I have a load of unfinished novels and short stories on my computer. Too many to count! I plan on finishing some of them, while also working on new stories for competitions and anthologies. I don’t believe anything you write is ever a waste of time. It is all experience. Right now I’m rewriting a comic fantasy novel that I started at university. My manuscript wasn’t ready back then for publishing – but I can see how to improve it now.
FW: What tips can you give new writers?
Read widely outside your chosen genre. If you don’t, you will write generic rehashes of the works of others. The wider perspective might make you realise that you like other genres, which happened to me. I used to think I’d only write horror because I liked reading Stephen King, Clive Barker and Shaun Hutson, but I discovered Dan Simmons mixing genres and realised I didn’t have to limit myself to just one genre. One of my favourite writers – Joe R Lansdale – writes horror, crime and SF, often all in the same story. Cross-genre fiction is a huge success thanks to writers like Stephenie Meyer creating a new genre. You have to think outside the genre expectations.
Never use a fancy word for ‘said’. Never add an adverb to the describe how something is said, either. Good dialogue should stand alone. Only use ‘said’ sparingly as a pause. Elmore Leonard gave great advice on this subject.
Avoid clichés like the plague.
Don’t take rejection personally. There are a thousand reasons for it, none of which has anything to do with your submission. Don’t assume your story is bad.
Don’t choose to be a writer unless you have enormous patience and realistic expectations.
Don’t expect instant success. It’s a rare thing. Prepare for the long term.
Write what you want to read.
Edit for your audience.
Keep a book like Fowler’s Modern Usage within reach for tricky grammar problems.
Keep writing. And writing. And writing.
FW: When writing, music or silence?
I prefer silence when I’m trying to focus on a first draft. It’s important to have no distractions. If I listen to music, I tend to stop writing to listen to my favourite songs. I turn on the radio when I’m editing a completed draft because I don’t need to concentrate as hard.
FW: At home, or in a coffee shop?
JK Rowling loved writing Harry Potter in a coffee shop – but I would never feel comfortable writing in public. I’d be too distracted by the noise of conversations at nearby tables, which I would eavesdrop for story ideas. It’s amazing the personal stuff people will say out loud – things too interesting to ignore. I’d never get a word written in a coffee shop.
I can’t write anywhere except at home, where I have everything handy – like a good dictionary, reference books and a drink of coffee that didn’t cost £5.
FW: Who is your biggest influence, and why?
I suppose my biggest influence has to be the writer that made me want to write. That’s Stephen King. His books were in my local library so I read them when I was about eleven. Wow! His short stories were exciting and inspiring. I filled dozens of notebooks with my own stories after reading his collections – so he had a huge influence. I admired his prolific output, too. After the massive success of Carrie, he could have rested on his laurels. But he didn’t. He wrote the epic Salem’s Lot and The Stand, as well as hundreds of short stories. Even after his tragic accident, which he wrote about in the excellent book On Writing, he didn’t stop. That’s inspiring.
FW: What is in the future for you?
I just like to keep on writing and hopefully have people read my stories.
FW: Anything else you’d like to add?
I’d just like to say that I am optimistic about the changes to publishing brought on by the digital revolution. There are now thousands of writers producing great work that would not have been published traditionally. It’s great to see them finding an audience for their work, which would remain unread if they could not self-publish. The publishing business is like the Wild West at the moment with writers and publishers fighting each other to get their books noticed – but I hope everything will become more civilised as the business matures. Once we have a fair system, properly policed, I think writers will be better off in the long term.
FW: Thanks for coming in and talking to us John.
You can find more about John here: www.mybookspage.wordpress.com
Or on Twitter: @mybookspage