Monday, November 5, 2012

Author Interview: M.J. Johnson

Please welcome to WLB M.J. Johnson. Martin is the author of  Niedermayer & Hart , which is an amazing, well-written horror/thriller (if you need to put a label on it) that I have reviewed here and is worth checking out. (Really, one of the best books I have read this year, and I read a lot.) On to the questions:

Describe your ideal writing space. How does it compare to reality?
George Bernard Shaw and Roald Dahl used to write in sheds in their gardens. Sir Henry Rider Haggard used to write in a room above an elegant archway in his Victorian lodge home that crossed the road at Maze Hill, St Leonards, East Sussex. I don't think I've ever had an 'ideal space' clearly pictured in my mind. I've had the odd fantasy about converting an attic room into a special study, its walls lined with beautiful oak shelves bearing every reference book I might ever conceivably need. Alas, this I realise, is nothing more than a pipedream!
I write in a corner of our dining room and have done so for a number of years now. What was once upon a time our 'dining table' and still referred to by this name (old habits die hard!), is generally covered with reference books, notes and old drafts. Occasionally it gets cleared when people come over for dinner, though generally (if you've been invited more than once - and therefore regarded as someone we don't have to impress anymore) we eat in our kitchen which has an extendable table. I have a set-up alongside the window which looks out at our often sadly neglected garden. I think it's absolutely essential to be able to look out for an occasional daydream and couldn't conceive of a space that didn't have a window or some kind of changing picture, a cloud or bush blowing in the breeze, a spider on the window spinning its web, or observing the rain. I enjoy watching the battles and antics of our local cats taking short-cuts along our fence and occasionally shake a fist at them when they do what cats love doing best in finely raked soil! Grrr! I work on a PC and set myself a target of 2,000 words a day for a first draft. I used to write my first draft in longhand which is a way I loved to work, but once I'd completed a draft I then had the extra labour of typing-up my often fairly messy pages. I've got used now to working directly onto the screen.

What is the first story you remember writing and what was it about?
The first thing I ever wrote was a story about a secret agent called James Wheaton. He had many very striking similarities, eg a love of gadgets etc, to that other secret agent named James. I was ten/eleven at the time and recall working furiously at it in a small, thin, ruled, exercise book. I'm not sure if I ever finished it and I recall that I became a little disheartened when it was pointed out, not in an unkind way by one of my teachers, that what I'd written (twenty or so chapters!) would probably only amount to two or three pages of a book.

Name a memorable book from your childhood. Why is it memorable?
I think the book I still love most of all from my childhood is The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. I read the book to myself and I adored the characters then and still continue to do so. Mr Mole, Ratty, Badger and the incorrigible Mr Toad have lived in my imagination ever since. In my mind's eye I can still picture the charming illustrations by E H Shepard that accompanied the version I had.

If you could ask any writer (living or dead) a question, who would it be and what would you ask?
This one was the hardest to answer, because I've always read a great deal and admire so many writers. After much deliberation I decided on James Clavell (1924 - 1994). He wrote what is to my mind one of the finest adventure stories ever written, 'Shogun', and I am awed by the sheer size and scope of this novel. If I could, I'd love to be able to discuss with him, or better still be a fly on his study wall and observe his working practices. My question to him: how do you absorb the research information necessary for your writing without getting too bogged down in the detail?

If you could pick any of the worlds or characters you have created, which would you want to visit or spend a day with?
Thanks, Brinda, an easy one! I'd love to meet or better still be considered a friend of Reynald De Sauveterre's. He is one of the main characters in the old tale that runs through my book 'Niedermayer & Hart'. Reynald is kind, noble, loyal and always prepared to do what is right and to see it through to the bitter end no matter how difficult this may turn out to be. I think he'd give a great guided tour of medieval Acre, be fun to be with and what's more it would have really cut down on research time when I was trying to get the feel of the place right!

What is one thing you like to do when you are not reading or writing?
I love to walk. I take a walk every day and miss sharing these with our characterful old dog Bob who passed away a short while back. I'm very lucky to be married to a woman who shares this joy of walking with me and our weekend never feels complete if there hasn't been time for a decent walk. In the summer just gone by we went to the Tyrol, Austria and spent two glorious weeks going up and down on cable-cars (another shared pleasure!), taking long daily hikes and eating spinach and nettle knödel (dumplings) smothered with parmesan cheese at the Gipfelrestaurant right at the top of the Hohe Salve (whenever we could engineer arriving there by lunchtime!)

What are you currently working on?
I'm doing some last minute corrections and changes to 'Roadrage' which will be coming out next Spring and is a dark psychological thriller. I'm also seventy thousand words into the first draft of a new novel that doesn't yet have a title and is the sequel to 'Niedermayer & Hart'. I was a bit nervous about doing a sequel but so far I'm satisfied with the way it's going. I hope to have it complete and ready for publication in 2014.

I was looking forward to a new book, but a sequel, too? I am intrigued. Can't wait! Thank you for taking the time to answer all of my questions!

To find out more about Martin and his writing:
Amazon UK

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