We’re never sick of saying it: we love writers here, and we’re keen to learn from them.
Born and bred in Newcastle, Jim worked on local and national newspapers before turning freelance. Under another name he has published a four-book crime series set in Kenya as well as over a dozen non-fiction titles. He now lives in the north of England with his wife, daughter and ageing dog.
Jim has kindly agreed to answer some questions about his writing process.
What’s your writing process? What comes first – plot or character?
It’s usually the first scene! As a young journalist I was schooled in the art of writing an attention-grabbing opening paragraph, and I’ve stuck with it in my fiction work. Obviously I’ve got a pretty good idea of the plot in my head going into the book, but that opening scene tends to set things off on a path of their own.
Take us through a typical writing day for you?
I’m very much a night owl. During the day there are too many distractions – and in my other life I still work as a freelance journalist – but after 7pm the email, Facebook and Twitter interactions tend to die down and I can get on with it. Trouble is, next thing I know it’s 2.30am and I’ve got to be up in four hours for the school run.
For my forthcoming Bug House series I have leaned heavily on Ed McBain for inspiration, but I can happily spend a couple of hours in the company of any of those stripped-down, hard-boiled American writers from the 1950s and 60s. Elmore Leonard said he left out the bits that readers skim through, and that’s become my motto too. I’m a big fan of Jake Arnott – I like the way he combines fact and fiction, and Harry Starks is a great recurring character in his novels. Like most teenage boys I began a love affair with Martin Amis’s tour de force Money which has endured to this day, and once or twice a year I always dip into my dog-eared Woody Allen anthology for a good laugh.
What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?
The beauty of writing is that you’re always learning, and I’ve been lucky that my career has been largely pain free largely because I love what I do. The blank page is always a challenge, but in a good way.
How do you deal with feedback?
I thrive on it. There comes a time in the course of every novel when a fresh pair of eyes is required, and for me the editor’s notes are an essential part of the creative process. I’ve also got an ace copy editor who is a whizz at untangling strangulated prose and making me sound better. In the past I’ve had some great reviews and some stinkers, but then in the past I’ve been a reviewer myself so I know how subjective it is. As long as they’re not all stinkers I don’t lose sleep over it.
How have your own experiences shaped your writing?
The Bug House series is set in Newcastle, where I grew up and worked for the local newspaper for many years – so I know the city, its people and its stories very well. But the journalistic discipline of being able to fill the empty page continues to prove invaluable.
It should always be a pleasure, never a chore. And, in the words of Faulkner “In writing, you must kill your darlings” – in other words, if you’re stuck don’t be afraid to scrap it and start again.
What’s your best advice for an author looking to get into the marketplace…
Don’t take no for an answer.
What’s next for you?
Crossing my fingers that the Bug House series is a success – and in the meantime writing a stand-alone to keep me out of mischief.
Jim’s website is www.bughousefiles.com and he Twitters at @JimFordBooks