John is a writer of speculative fiction. His scribblings are usually born in the early hours of the morning when the mystical mind-hamsters tickle his brain until he gets up and tells them stories. He doesn’t really mind. He likes how quiet it is in the mornings, and the hamsters are really quite sweet. He has worked as a physics lecturer, a medical researcher and a music teacher. His stories have been published in Every Day Fiction and Havok. His story Night Terrors was placed first in our Jan 21 competition.
Here, he continues our author profile series by giving us the lowdown on his writing process.
Firstly, tell us a little bit about yourself, and the kind of stuff you like to write.
I live in Shipley, West Yorkshire with my wife, two kids and a cat. I have a day job. I’m a physicist working with MRI scanners for both the NHS and Leeds University where I do research. This is possibly the reason why I write a lot of science fiction. But I’ve also written stories with no speculative element at all. So far, I’ve written flash fiction, short stories and novellas. I’m also a musician. I teach drums and guitar. I play in a working functions band called Motif, a folk band called Wovenchord, and I’m very proud to be the drummer for the guitarist Dave Brons on all his albums.
How long have you been writing, and what was it that first got you started?
I’ve been writing seriously, by which I mean actually finishing stuff and sending it out, for about two years. What got me started? Perhaps the simplest answer is that I finally started to believe that maybe, just maybe, it was possible that I could write.
What does your writing day/schedule look like?
I don’t write full time. I work for the NHS as a medical physicist, and I work as a part-time music teacher. We also home educate, so my only writing time is in the mornings. I get up at half five, make a very strong black coffee and try to get a good hour in before I leave at half seven. And I love doing that by the way. I love the early morning when everyone else is asleep and I have the house to myself, apart from Mable the cat who doesn’t talk much. I love doing something creative before my brain gets filled with all the other stuff it has to think about during the rest of the day.
How have you found writing during lockdown times? Has your writing day changed much from how it was pre-lockdown?
It’s pretty much the same. I get up, I write, then the rest of life happens. It’s just that during lock down the rest of life was at home as well.
Tell us about the last thing you were working on. And also, a little about your very next project.
The last thing I completed was a short story called The Traveller about a woman whose son was kidnapped and taken on a generation ship. Generation ships are city-sized space-ships that make life-time length journeys to hospitable planets. The Travellers are the only people who can travel the huge distances between planets, by teleportation. But the process does something to them. They lose their ability to empathise. I’m very excited about the story. I think it’s one of the best things I’ve written so far. The very next project? Well, I’m thinking very hard about whether I am ready to try and write a novel. I’ve a lot of ideas bouncing around my head but I’m a bit scared about taking on something so big.
What successes have you had in the past? How do you feel when you see your work in print?
My story Take Me With You was published in Every day Fiction, I had a story about music called Counterpoint published in Havok, as well as winning first prize in Cranked Anvil for my story Night Terrors, which was really exciting.
Each one of these has meant the world to me. As a beginning writer you spend many hours battling with the voices that say you can’t really write and no one, except your wife and best mate, will ever read your stuff so why bother? Honestly, I enjoy it so much that I think I would do it anyway, but when people who actually know about writing like your stuff enough to want to put it in their magazine it feels affirming. And then when people, actual people that you don’t already know, read your stories and like them… Well that is a wonderful feeling.
Do you have a particular place where you go to write?
So long as no-one else is up I can write anywhere, so I tend to write at the kitchen table because it’s warm. On the weekends I go down to the basement and write on a little desk in the corner because it’s out of the way and I’m less likely to be interrupted by a child who wants to talk about Minecraft.
Do you have any tips or advice for other writers?
For your first draft take your inner critic and lock him up in a box. Take that nasty inner voice that tells you that that last sentence was just embarrassing, and you could never write anyway, and how can you be a writer if you don’t really know how to use a semicolon, and do whatever it takes to get them out of your head. You just need to be able to write. For me, I do that by just admitting to myself that the first draft is going to be bad. “Ok Mr critic. So we’re both agreed that this first draft is going to be a festering turd on a page, so you can just shut right up and let me get it over and done with, ok?” That seems to shut him up pretty well. Then, for drafts two to two-thousand and fifty nine, I let him back out again so he can help me with my grammar. But for the first draft he stays in the box.
Finally, some quickfire answers:
Planner or pantser? Pantser. Oh to be a planner and know where I’m going. But alas, no. I never know what’s going to happen next.
Computer, pen & paper, or typewriter? First draft: pen & paper (my inner critic is in cahoots with my spell-checker. They were at college together I think.) Later drafts: laptop.
Do you write every day? Yes. Yup. Absolutely. Every day. Every single day. Well, ok no. Not every single day. Actually it depends on how early I get to bed. But I really do intend to write every single day.
Do you have a daily/weekly word count target? No. I don’t need another reason to feel like I’m failing. I aim to do one good hour every day. If I’m doing that then I’m doing ok.
You can follow John on Facebook here.